God and Suffering. What’s the Point?

Posted: April 27, 2015 in Article, Think ABOUT Faith, Think THRU Faith
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Note: This post is not meant to comfort and ease. It is an attempt to consider a usually not considered perspective.

If you’ve never heard of Dennis Prager, he’s a radio talk show host, among other things. I don’t always agree with him, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders and is not afraid of dealing with the deeper, tougher issues. One especially cool thing about Dennis is that he will do an “Ultimate Issues Hour” on his show where he addresses some major spiritual or life impacting issue. Kudos to Dennis. He will actually bring on people he disagrees with just to bring up the conversation and get people thinking.

Well, a while back he had on Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a best selling author, who has been described as “America’s rabbi.” He has a book out called “The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Suffering and Tragedy.”

The whole basis of his book is that God does not want us to suffer, and therefore in the face of tragedies (like Sandy Hook) we should not tell people that God has an ultimate purpose or that their loved ones are “home now” with God or any other number of plattitudes we tend to offer. He said, on the program, that we shouldn’t seek to find the good in a tragedy, but instead recognize that all suffering is evil and seek to end all suffering.

That’s when it occurred to me that Shmuley has an idol problem. He has placed comfort and physical, earthly well-being above the holiness and glory of God.

God’s main concern with our well-being is not our physical conformt or emotional satisfaction, but our spiritual condition, namely our righteousness (or our tremendous lack thereof).

Shmuley contends that God could easily find some way to teach us our lessons or get His points across without allowing suffering. But really, I think Shmuley misses the boat. Ending suffering is just simply not on God’s top priority to-do list.

Suffering is a result of SIN, and it will end when everything is made new as explained in the book of Revelation. God’s issue is with the root cause of suffering (sin) not how much of it we experience.

You need examples. Ok.

In John 11 Lazarus dies. Jesus KNOWS he is sick and will die. He purposely waits for Lazarus to die and THEN goes to Bethany. Read the story. Mary and Martha are definitely suffering. Not to mention the other mourners that are mentioned. And what about Lazarus? Any death causing illness could not have been pleasant to endure, especially one that took days to kill him. There is lots of suffering going on … and Jesus could have spared them all if He would have just come sooner (actually, He is capable of long distance healing as we see elsewhere). But he didn’t … ON PURPOSE. The greater thing for everyone to experience was not a lack of suffering, but to witness that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah who held power over death.

In John 9, Jesus heals a man who had been born blind. A MAN… adult. So for several decades this guy … and his parents … had to suffer the hardships of blindness in 1st century Israel. The disciples of Jesus were debating about WHY the man was born blind, and Jesus’ response …? that the works of God should be revealed in him.”

That’s it. All the suffering of this man’s life, not to mention the hardships it put his family through, for decades, all so on this one day Jesus could display the power and mercy of God by healing him.

God has bigger concerns than our temporary, earthly comfort.

But Shmuley’s a Jewish Rabbi, not a Christian. So let’s go Old Testament.

Check out Numbers 21. The Israelites start bad mouthing Moses and God, so what does God do? Verse 6, So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.” And that’s not suffering He “allowed”, God was the CAUSE of that suffering.

Have you read the book of Judges? God uses foreign nations to send judgment on His people. When a foreign power takes over (especially back then), they don’t just take over the capital and hang out new flags. People (God’s people) would have been killed, beaten, have their possessions taken, and let’s not even dwell on what the conquering people might do with the women. And this pattern repeated over and over.

In Exodus, the plagues that God sends on Egypt.

God is not concerned about our comfort level here on earth. We have a far bigger problem: SIN.

The perfect, righteous, holy, Creator of the universe looks at mankind and sees a hard-hearted group of rebels. We, by nature, are sinful, treacherous, usurpers in open and defiant rebellion against God. The Bible says we are “storing up wrath” (Romans 2:5), and one day God is going to settle this once and for all.

If what it takes to get the point across to us hard-headed stubborn rebels is some suffering … then suffering is what God will give us.

And it is possible that He also just simply allows suffering to occur as the natural consequence of sin, just so that we get the picture of how serious and damaging sin is. Sin is our problem, not our suffering.

Jesus didn’t come to end our suffering. He came to forgive our sin. And one day when He establishes His kingdom and puts and end to sin … the suffering will be gone, too.

But I will agree with Shmuley on one point. People who are suffering do not need our platitudes … they need our compassion. In John 11 when Jesus goes to Bethany to raise Lazarus, He doesn’t give Mary and Martha a sermon on divine purpose and the Messiah’s reign over death. He doesn’t explain how God has a higher purpose or that Lazarus is home now. 

He weeps with them.

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