Sermon January 10: Problem of Suffering and Evil

                Ask me what gets brought up as an objection to Christianity or the existence of God in general, then I can probably give you a top ten pretty quick. The number 1 on that list of mine would include the problem of suffering and evil. Now this is a moral argument against God that goes like “If God is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful, then he should be able to get rid of evil. Since evil exists, God is not one of these 3, if He exists at all.” Now that argument is used in longer and shorter forms, but I hope you have the idea in mind. What I would like to do this morning is explore this problem and show that the problem of evil, like every other supposed problem I come across, can actually point people to God instead of away from Him. I will not be so arrogant as to say I understand why evil happens and to what purpose, but I will say that my God knows what he is doing.
                Being a scientist, mathematician, and self-taught philosopher, I like to make sure terms are defined before we go too far, otherwise all we will get out of this is confused. What do we mean by suffering and evil? Well I like to define evil as anything going against God’s law, but let’s dumb that down just a bit. There are two types of evil that I can define. There is moral evil, which I define as evil committed by humans, then natural evil, which is caused by natural events like tornadoes and earthquakes. Now sometimes these two evils are related, so they can be thought about together, but I wanted to clarify that these are the two type of evil in my mind when I am thinking about this problem.
Now there are cases where both of these events took place in the Old and New Testament, so I can imagine people of that time asking the same questions being asked now, so the problem of evil is nothing new. We can look at the story of Job in a case to have both at once. God allowed Satan to take Job’s family, lifestyle, and health away from him. His wife even thought something was wrong with him and told him to just curse God and die! Now Job knew that he had done nothing wrong, Job did not sin, and instead turned his thoughts and prayers to God. Now Job did take it a little far in his questioning of God and God stepped in and did some questioning of Job. The one thing I want to focus on with the story of Job so far as it pertains to what we are discussing is the fact that even in all of this, Job did not sin! He had trust in God and his plan such that he would not break from God’s law. Now there are those who will think that this is an Old Testament issue only and that Jesus made everything ok so that a Christian will have nothing but sunshine and rainbows for the rest of their lives, I have some bad news. We can look specifically at the book of James, where it describes this situation for you. James 1:2-4 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” I don’t know about you, but trials to me sounds like they could contain some amount of evil being done to you or those around you.
So God allows evil to happen to us, not because He is evil himself, but because He is strengthening our faith and completing His perfect work in us. You could say that he is working ALL things, both bad and good, to our benefit. Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, Romans 8:28! “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I can’t give an answer as to why God allows evil to happen in the first place, and I’m sure He could have created a world where suffering and evil doesn’t exist, but that would a world where you or I would not exist because a fundamental part of our humanity would be removed. If we could only follow God, then our free will is gone. This is the point of love, that we can choose to follow, or not follow God. Have you ever had someone with romantic interest in you, but you didn’t respond with the same feeling? If that person came back with “I am going to make you love me” or something like that, we have a phrase for that kind of behavior. Both parties have to choose to be with one another. God has already said yes, He is just waiting for you to say yes to his offer of grace and relationship through his son.
Now there is a second point of this problem of evil that the secular world loves to bring up. What about the evils perpetrated in the name of Christianity? Well I have a bit to say on that as well. As far as those Christians who go beating up non-believers, bombing abortion clinics, and shooting those involved in “sinful” activity, shame on you! We are called to love our enemies and to pray to those who persecute us. Even when Peter cut off the high priest servant’s ear, Jesus told him enough and healed the ear. We are not called to use violence to expand the kingdom of God, but instead to love the non-Christian and to make disciples of men.
So with all that we have talked about, is it still possible that I am wrong? What if it is easier to throw up our hands and say that evil disproves the idea of God? Well you do answer the problem of evil intellectually by eliminating God. Then what do you do about all of the suffering? It is still there, and if you follow this atheistic worldview to its conclusion, then there is no real justice. If death is the end, then those who have been killed by the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot will not be morally compensated, and the men responsible for their deaths ultimately got away with their crimes. But wait, can’t you derive morals from society? Well I can think of a few situations where you can, but let’s think about that for a minute. This leads to relativism, otherwise known as “true for you but not for me”. In this case we cannot make moral judgments of any other societies if their morals are different than yours. The other scenario that I can think of is derived from the naturalistic answer that we can get from Richard Dawkins’ book River out of Eden
The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
Here’s the funny thing about this though. If you subscribe to that view of life, that everything is blind, pitiless indifferent forces acting on matter, then where do you get off decrying the MORAL EVILS perpetuated by religion, Professor Dawkins?

So I said at the beginning that evil points to God instead of away from him. How do we get pointed in that direction? Well we have been talking about the negative of the moral discussion, evil, but what about good? How do we know that it exists in the first place? Because we are moral beings made in the image of God, and we all have an instinctual understanding of the moral law written by our creator. Now this doesn’t guarantee that good will happen all the time, especially since sin and Satan are loose in the world. We all have this need for good, which points us to a provider of good. This is like a quote that I’ve heard “We know there is such a thing as food because we experience hunger, not that this guarantees food, but that at least food exists.” We have a sense of evil because God wrote his law on our hearts and we know when that law is not being fulfilled around us, so then we have a knowledge of God so that none have an excuse. Let us pray.

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