10 Biblical Reasons God Allows Suffering

 

The existence of human suffering is arguably the most common and difficult problem raised against the existence and goodness of God. It is a particularly thorny issue because people experience it both emotionally and logically.

The problem of suffering has been with us since the Garden of Eden and it will be with us until Christ comes back. But suffering is not just a problem for Christians. Every belief system has to account for suffering in some fashion or another.

The purpose of this post is not to attempt a theodicy, that is, a defense of why God allows suffering. Many fine books have done this, including the classical book The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis or Why Does God Allow Evil? by Clay Jones. Rather, I simply want to highlight ten ways the Bible addresses suffering. These answers are not exhaustive, but they provide some biblical perspective for the inquisitive believer and non-believer:

1. Suffering is the result of mankind’s sin and rebellion against God (Genesis 3). Mankind chose to reject God’s one command, the world became corrupted by sin, and humans have suffered ever since.

2. God’s chosen people (the Hebrews) suffered when they disobeyed the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 28).

3. People sometimes suffer from the wrong choices of other human beings, even though God uses the resulting suffering for good (Genesis 50:20).

4. Suffering brings faithful believers into deeper understanding and relationship with Him (Job).

5. Believers suffer because of the jealousy and hatred of certain people who reject the Christian faith (Acts 7:54-60).

6. Believers suffer as a testament of faith to others (Hebrews 11).

7. God allows people to suffer so they will turn to Him in repentance and not perish for eternity (Luke 13:1-4).

8. Christians suffer so they can be conformed more closely to the character of Christ (Romans 8:28-30, James 1:2-4).

9. Believers suffer so they can know Christ more fully (Philippians 3:10).

10. To prepare followers of Christ for the glory of Heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Each of these points deserves much more explanation. And each point raises further questions as well. Remember, there is no single answer to suffering. But wrestling through these passages, and others, can help provide a biblical perspective on suffering.

Sean McDowell

seanmcdowell.org.

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What Walking on Water Really Means

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Tales of tempests battering ships inspire respect for the sea. En route to Capernaum, Jesus’ disciples watched these stories become reality as the roaring wind transformed the waters around them. As they fought against the waves and wind, they witnessed a miracle: “They saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat” (John 6:19).

Appearing in three of the four Gospels, this event inspires Sunday school lessons and has become ingrained in our portrait of Jesus’ life. As spectacular and unforgettable as the event is to us, however, a Jewish audience would have seen in it a profound theological meaning against the backdrop of the Old Testament.

An Old Testament Symbol

In the Old Testament, the unpredictable sea is a common symbol of cosmic disorder—conditions contrary to God’s design for an ordered world. This symbol for cosmic anarchy is also personified as a sea monster, known as Leviathan or Rahab. The image of chaos as an untamed monster in a churning, erratic sea was common throughout the ancient world. People accustomed to land would naturally view the vast, raging ocean as uncontrollable and potentially deadly, filled with terrifying unknown creatures.

Religions across the ancient Mediterranean often depicted their important deities destroying or subduing the sea dragon, thereby calming the sea and restoring order. In the Old Testament, it is Yahweh, the God of Israel, who conquers the forces of chaos and imposes order in the cosmos (Job 26:12–13; Psa 89:5–14). This imagery is applied even to the exodus from Egypt (Psa 74:12–17), where God split the sea to deliver his people, thereby conquering the forces of evil that sought their demise.

Final Victory

God’s ultimate victory at the end of the age is also depicted as God dominating the forces of the sea: “In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the twisting serpent, Leviathan the crooked serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea” (Isa 27:1). This is why the description of the final paradise of the new heaven and new earth contains the phrase, “the sea was no more” (Rev 20:3).

The prophet Daniel’s vision of the end of days and the kingdom of God includes four beasts that emerge out of a storm-tossed sea (Dan 7:1–8). These beasts are not aquatic creatures by nature. They come from the sea because they represent chaos. God’s heavenly court sentences the beasts to death (Dan 7:9–12), after which the “son of man” arrives immediately to receive the kingdom of God (Dan 7:13–14). All of this imagery informs John’s account of Jesus walking on the sea during the storm.

Jesus Christ, Lord over the Sea

John identifies Jesus as the Son of Man to whom the Father has given the authority to execute judgment (John 5:27; compare Matt 26:57–68). John also asserts repeatedly that Jesus is God incarnate. In John’s Gospel, Jesus invokes the divine name (“I AM”) seven times in reference to himself (e.g., John 6:35; 15:1). He declares oneness with the Father (John 10:30), and he proclaims that the Father is in him and he is in the Father (John 10:37–38).

For John, a Jew familiar with the Old Testament, the image of Jesus walking on the sea was a dramatic portrayal that Jesus is Yahweh—the one who subdues the forces of chaos and imposes his will on the waters and everything the waters represent. The kingdom of the Son of Man had begun, and all forces opposing God’s ordained order would now be defeated. Like Jesus’ disciples, we can find comfort in knowing that the one who treads upon the volatile sea can subdue whatever chaos threatens to overwhelm us.

(The three accounts of Jesus walking on water are found in John 6:16–21, Matthew 14:22–33 and Mark 6:45–52—the Gospels authored by Jewish writers. Luke doesn’t include this detail, perhaps because he was a gentile writing to a gentile friend, Theophilus (Luke 1:1–4).)

 

Dr. Michael S. Heiser

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How To Not Grow Your Church

There are five simple ways to make sure that your church will not reach its full redemptive potential. Follow one or more, and you can just about guarantee your church will not grow.

First, make your church all about the people it already has. Their care, their comfort, their concerns, their sense of being “fed.” Your mantra should be, “It’s all about them.” This means you spiritualize the idea of discipleship as the ultimate endeavor and then interpret the meaning of discipleship to be a weight-gain program of knowledge. Do not, under any circumstances, interpret the goal of discipleship to be for any sense of sacrificial mission to the least or the lost.

Second, cast a small vision. Or at least an insular one. There is a vast, lost world, but keep that from anyone’s thinking. Make the vision about something much, much smaller. As in… them! Cast a vision for deeper community and fellowship, small groups and men’s/women’s ministries – but be sure to stop there. Don’t go beyond the community of the already convinced.

Third, don’t talk about evangelism. If anything, put down churches that emphasize evangelism as if they are the shallow, undiscipling churches. Yes, you have to say you care about lost people, but keep it in a muted, vanilla way that never captures anyone’s attention. And for goodness sake, don’t make ANYTHING about evangelism seem as if it’s actually urgent, to be prioritized, or that heaven and hellare on the line. Then people might get exercised and want to actually do something.

Fourth, don’t let leaders lead. Do not let the people with the responsibility have any of the authority. Make sure you put decision-making in the hands of those who are removed from the day-in, day-out pursuit of that ministry. Think committees. That way the decisions are made by the least qualified or informed. The one thing to avoid is to let someone who might be closest to a ministry, most informed about a ministry, most passionate about a ministry, make a decision that might actually accelerate the effectiveness of that ministry. Put handcuffs on them as much as possible.

Finally, don’t make the church’s “front door” be open for anyone but the already convinced, meaning Christians who are church hopping and shopping. Focus on helping them make the best consumer decision. Give them everything they want. Which means don’t even think about the person who is unchurched. Who is unconvinced. Who doesn’t even have the memory of the gospel, much less is conversant and familiar with the evangelical subculture. Don’t be sensitive to their questions, concerns or issues. If they come, consider them an anomaly that is not in your wheelhouse, much less mission.

So there you have it: How to not grow your church.

J. White