Why does God allow it?

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1 Why does God allow it? A talk by Rev Timothy Wood, Pastor of Wigmore Evangelical Free Church A pastor one morning has a distressing phone call from one of his members. Her four year old daughter had just been killed by a lorry as the daughter pulled away from her mother s hand and ran across the road. The inevitable question that the pastor had to deal with, was why? A young man, age 16, who was seen by his Sunday School teachers as a very promising gifted boy, keen and eager to serve the Lord, was seen by his pastor as a man for the ministry, was cycling on his bike, starts to wobble, falls off and is instantly killed by a car. The question: Why does God do that, take away a promising gifted Christian who could have been so useful to the Lord? A newly wedded couple, excited in their early years had an experience of tragedy. The husband woke up unable to speak. He woke his wife up, and points to the mouth. A quick phone call to the doctor. issues in a quick trip to the hospital. The next day, the surgeons operate for cancer of the brain. The trauma of the surgery is worse. They caught the cancer in time, but the husband has lost all memory, all feeling and can no longer feed himself, wash himself and care for himself. The wife now has the role of watching him, caring for him and feeding him. She has to put up with his frustrations, outbursts and mood swings. She has to hold him when he walks, and pushes him in a wheelchair. Why? Is it enough for us to say this is a consequence of sin? Is it enough to say God cares for you? Is it enough for us to say God is in control? A minister, who had a fruitful ministry came home one day, to find that the police were waiting for him in his house, saw his wife weeping, where upon the police asked him to accompany them to the police station. He was charged for abusing boys. His marriage fell apart, his church asked him to leave, his family disowned him, who as a result of who their father was, also suffered abuse. It turned out, that one of the boys who made this charge, 1

2 admitted that he had a grudge against this pastor, cos he banned him from the youth club, and admitted that he made the whole thing up. The minister was acquitted, but he has a broken family, no job, and no ministry, when all the time he was innocent. Why does God allow this? I wish that some of these stories were made up. But they are not. In fact, I am sure that all of us could add on to this list. The truth of the matter is that all we have to do is live long enough, and we also will suffer. This represents the suffering that takes place in this world. Add war, racism, conflict, poverty, starvation. And what shall we say about natural disasters? Each year thousands die of starvation because of famines. Millions suffer because of earthquakes, and so-called innocent people get caught up in accidents due to other people s mistakes, or evil. In any and all these tragedies, in all of this pain, why does God allow these things to happen, why does he allow it? Let me begin by saying, that this subject is a massive one, a broad one, and time will not permit us to deal with this subject in perhaps a way it deserves. So I will have to narrow it down. Secondly, I will have to say what this paper is not about. Its not a quick answer to difficult questions about suffering. Nor is it a defence of the existence of God. Its not even the sort of paper I would suggest giving to those who are suffering. Still less is it an academic discussion of philosophical problems. So what is this paper about? Its primarily a preventative medicine. What I mean by that, is that one of the major causes of devastating grief and confusion among Christians is that our expectations are false. We do not give the subjects of evil and suffering the thought it deserves, until we ourselves are confronted by them. If by that point our beliefs not well thought out but deeply ingrained - are largely out of step with the God who has disclosed Himself in the bible, then the pain may be multiplied many times over as we begin to question the very foundations of our faith. Of course, not all doubts arise from false expectations. At the intellectual level, a Christian may be orthodox, yet so lack spiritual maturity 2

3 that when the first crisis hits, all the orthodox commitments are thrown back in the melting pot. Nevertheless, its hard to think of Christians agonising over basic questions if their suffering has not, to say the least, been based upon false expectations as to what God is like, what God does, and what suffering has done in this world. For instance pain, suffering, and seeing others suffer often poses the question why? If its personal, its why me? That soon gives way to why are you punishing me or why are you picking on me? If its seeing others suffer, its very often why does God allow this to happen? E.g. a common view amongst the unconverted if they see innocent children suffer, maybe because of child abuse or starvation, is, if God is true, why does He allow all this to happen? The implication is, that the very existence of evil calls into question the existence of God. For others, its not the mere existence of evil that is the problem, but it s the abundance of it, and the large scale of it. One might argue that the presence of some evil is not damaging to faith, or the assumption that God leaves people free to rebel. But how can this sort of theory account for natural disasters, for the sheer quantity of suffering that bears no clear relation to good and bad people, to age and experience, to unambiguous punishment? The fact is, there are even some Christians who have a problem with all this. And this is the angle which I wish to address. Pastors dealing with people who suffer and ask the question why? Or pastors having people who see disasters and ask the question, why does God allow it? In attempting to deal with this subject, it must be stressed first of all, that to ask the question why does God allow? does not always mean the person is questioning the sovereignty of God. Quite often, the person who undergoes trials or sees disasters asks the questions why and then feels guilty for asking the question why. Spurgeon points out that this a tool that the devil adds on to the sufferer, making the sufferer feeling guilty and doubt. But this isn t always the case. You will find many examples of characters in the bible who asked the question, but it was not to question the sovereignty of God. To question the sovereignty of God is when the person is resentful or scornful of God, and resents God s eternal decrees, but to ask the question 3

4 why does God allow, does not always mean the person in questioning the sovereignty of God. Sometimes to ask the question why is not really seeking the question to be answered, but crying out for help. Sometimes, in our dealing with people who ask the question why, the answer isn t always necessarily what they need, but comfort and help. Yet others who ask these questions cannot bear more than the briefest reply. When a Christian asks that sort of question our response ought to be something like this, I cannot give you all the answers to your why? But you may draw courage from the fact that the one who loves you so much that He died for you asked the same question, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Of course, at some point you may have to deal at some length as to why. But all our answers may never give the sufferer or searcher satisfaction. Obviously, there has to be a point where we have to say we don t have the answer to that. And even in our attempts we are always left inadequate. E.g. in my experience of a member in our church who had contracted HIV, I felt totally inadequate in attempting to answer all her questions. Nevertheless, people want answers, where we can give them, and we must give them the answers. To ask why, is not always a question of rebellion, but one of searching. It is a question frequently asked in the bible by men of great standing. Jer 12v1 Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Ps 73v11 Does the most High have knowledge? Matt 1v3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? And what of Job rated as the greatest man among the people of the East. He asked more than his share of questions. Does that mean he was ungodly? On the contrary. Yet he still asked in ch 3v11 Why did I not perish at birth? He even questioned God s justice in allowing the ungodly to quote Job 21v1 spend their years in prosperity and go down to their graves in peace? Of course, then came the turning point of the whole story of Job when God spoke and asked Job questions as ch 38v4, Where were you when I laid the earth s foundations? v12 Have you ever given orders to the morning or shown the dawn its place? v35 Do you send the lightening bolts on their way? v33 Can you set up God s dominion over the 4

5 earth? The point here is God reminding Job that He is not under obligation to explain anything. The nearest God came to answering Job s questions directly was to ask in ch 40v2 Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? Let him who accuses God answer him. And then v8 Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God s? God told Job nothing about the cause of pain, but focussed on man s response. The individual pains that came to Job were enormous. One terrible day, 11,000 of his animals were stolen, servants were killed, 10 of his children perished when a tornado struck his house. Then his health began to deteriorate, covered with boils, his skin started to peel off, his eyes grew weak, his teeth rotted, he was hit with diarrhoea, fever and depression. An inner circle of friends were far from sympathetic. Why? Job wasn t told. But he was told 4 things. Firstly, God was in absolute control of the universe, and nothing can frustrate His eternal purposes. 42v2. Secondly, no man is in a position to argue with God or question his dealings with Him. 42v3. Thirdly, that the most important thing of all, when a person undergoes trials is a right relationship with God. 42v5, and last of all, that all people should confess and repent from all questioning of God s power, love and justice 42v6. Job did not get detailed answers to his specific questions but learned to trust God in the face of all his sufferings. The question we have to ask ourselves is how well are we getting our people to respond to their own personal sufferings and the suffering people of the world? C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The problem with pain after the death of his wife, No-one ever told me. I never forget hearing of a pastor who had heard that a member of his church was dying; He went to the house straight away only to find that she had already died. The doctor who had been there, packed his stuff and walked out, then returned, puts his hands on the minister s shoulders and says Rev, teach 5

6 your people do die properly. You see, although the woman was a Christian, she lacked assurance. My point is, how well are we preparing our people? We may not be able to give them the answers they want, but we can give them the answers they need. So in the face of wars, natural disasters, famines, child abuse and diseases, how do we prepare our people for questions such as, Why does God allow innocent people to get caught up in these terrible things? First of all, we remind our people that there is no such thing as an innocent person, and an innocent world. God created the world and it was without blemish. He made man in His image and made man perfectly, without sin or fault. He made man a personal being, capable of having a perfect relationship with God. He created man as a moral being, giving him a conscience, so that he will be able to tell the difference between right and wrong, good and bad. He was created as a rational being, able not merely to think, draw conclusions, but also to make moral choices. So in this perfect condition, God gave man the ability to obey Him or the liberty to disobey Him. But sin came into the world, and man disobeyed God, and these are the consequences, 1) man s relationship with God was shattered. Man still retains his spiritual nature, but lost his spiritual life. Secondly, he lost his innocence and his moral free will by becoming tied down with ungodly ideas. Thirdly, his own personality was ruined. He lost his self-esteem, became guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, afraid and anxious. Fourthly, his relationship with others had been poisoned by suspicion, distrust, and last of all, his body became subject to decay, disease and death. There is therefore a human condition which man has inherited, that as Paul says, all have sinned. Sin entered the world though one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned. 6

7 Adam sinned as the representative of the human race and because humanity is an integrated being, he took the entire species with him. So as a child is conceived, he even, while in the womb, as the Psalmist puts it, sinned. Therefore, no-one is innocent. All are capable of committing the worst, because the evil of all evil is the failure to do what God demands or the performance of what God forbids. That means we are capable of committing the worst. Listen to Lee Marvin s confession. How did I feel when I saw myself on screen? I found it very unpleasant. I remember, we made it for the violence. I was shocked at how violent it was. Of course, it was 15 years ago. When I saw the film I literally almost could not stand up, I was so weak. I did that? I am capable of that kind of violence? See, there is the fright. And this is why I think guys back off eventually. They say No, I m not going to put myself to those demons again, the demon being self. In Blanchard s booklet Where was God on September 11 th? quotes an article in the Times What s wrong with the world? The answer I am. The consequence also has affected creation, the entire cosmos, including the solar system, leaving creation, as Paul puts it in Romans 8v22 groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. For all its beauty, the world as we now see it, is not in its original condition, but is radically ruined by sin. Therefore, by our sin, we are responsible for earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes. No man is innocent. The big question here is, why did God take such a big risk in giving man moral freedom in the first place? Wouldn t it have been better if God had created robots in us? But that is not God s way. God s way is perfect, and as fallen creatures we need to swallow our pride, whatever the pain, and realise that none of us are innocent. But notice secondly, even though no-one is innocent, there is such a thing as innocent suffering. The case of Job s goodness highlights this fact. This means more than not all suffering is directly related to a specific sin: it means that some suffering in this world is not related to any sin. Undoubtedly, one can point out indirect connections by appealing to other scriptures about the fall and the universality of sin. But they do not rob the book of Job of the point being strongly emphasised, e.g. when a baby is born, and born with AIDS, her 7

8 suffering is the result of sin someone else s sin: she is innocent. Or an 18 month old baby, covered with cigarette burns inflicted by her father. It was the father who did it, where the 18 month child was innocent. When a father rapes his six year old daughter, in what conceivable sense is the daughter responsible? Her suffering is the result of sin someone else s. But that is exactly what makes her the innocent victim. Doubtless she is not innocent on any absolute scale. Six year olds cannot possibly be innocent on any absolute scale. They take after their parents. But what sin has the girl committed that makes her rape an appropriate retribution? Look at Job again. The losses he faced were the result of human making, the Sabeans and the Chaldeans, who took all his livestock and servants, and then the natural disasters the fire and wind, which killed all his children. But behind them stood Satan, and behind Satan stood God. These things happened to a man whom God calls blameless, upright and God-fearing. So although the bible insists that all sinners will suffer, it does not insist that each instance of suffering is retribution for sin. Doubtless if this were not a fallen world, there would be no suffering. But just because it is a fallen world, it does not mean there is no innocent suffering. Taking this into account, knowing this is the root of all the problems, it s still the symptoms that bother people. Of course, we must draw people back to the root of the problem, but how do you deal with the symptoms? Lets look at some of the symptoms. First of all, why does God allow famines? Why does God allow little children to get caught up in famines? This, no doubt, is one of the worst calamities to befall mankind. To see suffering children and people in distress and eventually dying brings untold misery. Whether its caused by crop failure, bad management, political malice, military action, people never ask who is responsible, but why does God allow this. Because of the nature of sin, people blame God. Yet, looking into God s word 8

9 for help in arriving at a right attitude to something as distressing as famine, we are faced with a number of inescapable propositions which are not popular. First of all, famine is a consequence of human selfishness. There is no escaping the fact, that man s inhumanity to man leads to the awful situations we have seen in a number of African countries. Is God to be blamed for this? The fault is mans. The siege of Jerusalem, seen in 2 Kings 25 by king Nebuchadnezzar was by no means the first or the last of its horrible kind, where the king deliberately surrounded the city, so the inhabitants starved as no food could get into the city. This was an action by man. Secondly, famines are not only a consequence of sin, but God actually allows it. 2 Kings 8 v 1, we are told that God decreed a famine in the days of Elisha. Yet the point is this, God is able to accomplish amazing purposes through famines. The famine led Jacob s sons to go to Egypt, to see their brother who was though to be dead. It was because of the famine that Naomi s family left Bethlehem and returned with her daughter-in-law Ruth. In distress, people turn to the Lord. In the l980 s thousands of refugees fled to Kenya from Mozambique and the Sudan, who were denied the gospel in their own country, only to come within reach of it, and were converted, and carried it back to their own countries. God allows famines to accomplish His amazing purposes. Thirdly, famines are an act of God s judgement. We are prone to forget that national sins lead to national judgements. The famine upon the lad of Israel in the days of Elijah seen in 1 Kings 17 & 18, was a direct result of rebellion. National sins lead to national judgements, and only days of genuine national repentance can heal a land as seen in 2 Chron 7v13&14. Fourthly, famines should always arouse deep care and concern, and if necessary help. Remember how the famines affected Jeremiah that it caused him to weep seen in Lamentations 2v Fifthly, remember that God is always moved by the sufferings of sinful humanity. Jesus had compassion on the multitude, because they were 9

10 like sheep without a shepherd. And that s the message we need to deliver. Famines are a consequence of man s greed. Why is it that the European Common Market burnt six billion tonnes worth of grain? Because it would have lowered the price of grain. This surely is not God s fault. A second symptom people often refer to is war: Why does God allow wars? God does allow war, to show the folly of man. To quote L-Jones It is not that war as such is sin, but that war is a consequence of sin or if you prefer it, that war is one of the expressions of sin. L-Jones makes three main headings. First, he says it is clear that God permits war in order that men may bear the consequences of their sin as punishment. He answers the objection yes, but why do the innocent get caught up in wars? By saying that we all have to reap the consequences, not only of our own personal sins, but also the sins of the entire human race. He continues, We share the same sun and rain, as other people, and we are exposed to the same illnesses and diseases. We are subject to the same trials by way of industrial depression and other causes of unhappiness including war. Thus it comes to pass that the innocent may have to bear part of the punishment for sins for which they are not directly responsible. Secondly, he says that God allows war in order that man may see through it, what sin really is. And last of all, he says that God permits war, with the purpose of bringing us back to God. Clearly, war then is seen as an act of God s judgement. That does not mean to say, there is no such thing as a just war. Indeed, the Second World War in one sense was just. Likewise, it does not mean that war should be entered into hastily, without making every effort for peace. Nevertheless, we should 10

11 never be taken by surprise by the presence of war, as this has always been a problem since the beginning after the fall. Christ Himself announces that wars will persist until he comes again. You will hear of war and rumours of war. The cause clearly for war as Jones puts it, is lust and desire. And this we need to remind people time and time again, back to the original problem, sin, as Albert Einstein says, What terrifies us is not the explosive force of the atomic bomb but the power of the human heart, in its explosive power for evil. A third symptom is why does God allow Natural disasters? Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, hurricanes, fires and Tsunami have claimed thousands of lives. The assumption is surely, you can t blame man for this! Therefore how can an all-powerful God allow his creation to get out of control in this way? But earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, hurricanes and the like were all unknown before sin entered the world, and the suffering and death they cause are ultimately due to man s contempt for God. Again, Christ warns in Matt 24 that there will be famines and earthquakes. That s not to say that we should be complacent about suffering caused by natural disasters. There are many responsible steps to take as we show the fruit of the gospel. How then shall we train our minds to look at disasters? One of the most helpful passages in Luke 13v1-5. Quote. Notice three important lessons. First, Jesus does not assume that those who suffered under Pilate or who were killed in the collapse of the tower did not deserve their fate. Indeed, the fact that he can tell His contemporaries that unless they repent they too will perish, shows that Jesus assures that all death is, in one way or another, the consequence of sin and therefore deserved. Secondly, Jesus does insist that death by such means is no evidence whatsoever that those who suffer in this way are any more wicked than those who escape such a fate. The assumption seems to be all deserve to die. If some die under a murderous governor and others in a tragic accident, it is no more than they deserve. But that does not 11

12 mean that others deserve any less. Rather, the implication is that it is only God s mercy that has kept them alive. There is certainly no xxxxx better off on their part. Thirdly, Christ treats natural disaster not as agenda items in a discussion of the mysterious ways of God, but as incentives to repentance. It is as if He was saying that God uses disaster as a megaphone to call attention to our guilt, to the imminence of His righteous judgement if He sees no repentance. This is an argument developed at great length in Amos 4. Disaster is a call to repentance. Christ might have added, as He does elsewhere, that peace, which we do not deserve, shows us God s goodness and forbearance. It is a mark of our lostness that we invert these two. We think we deserve the times of blessing and prosperity and that times of disaster are not only unfair, but come close calling into question God s goodness. Christ does not see it that way. If we are to adopt His mind we have some fundamental realignments to make in our assessment of ourselves. A fourth common question, why does God allow children to suffer? Babies who are helpless and dependant on adults become victims of famines, disaster, child abuse and wars, has always aroused our sympathy. No doubt this is a difficult one. Most of the people who I know who have been abused have learnt to overcome it. But still this doesn t satisfy many. After the Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells murders, I was challenged in a bank by someone who knows what my job is, if you say God is caring where was He when these two girls were being murdered? I pointed out, who committed this terrible act of evil, was it God or Ian Huntley? My point to her, was you can t blame God for an act of evil committed by man. I realise that talk of a loving Sovereign God, may not provide instant satisfying answers, but think of how much worse is atheism, which is incapable of either explanation or consolation. Nevertheless the whole point of God, is that justice will prevail. Remember what Christ says in Matt 18v6, of those who harm children, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. 12

13 The task we have as pastors in convincing people that God s justice will prevail. The last symptom, is why does God allow this to happen to me? This brings into context the whole of suffering, and is a reminder of why we have to suffer, but more God s gracious dealings with us in suffering. Clearly, the great intention of God s allowing us to suffer is to trust. Trust in the justice of God. Trust in His sovereign purposes, and trust that God works out all things for good, even if there is evil in human intent. Apart from the cross itself, one of the clearest examples is the treatment of Joseph. He was sold into slavery out of the malice of his brothers. Their intent was evil, and for years Joseph s experience was appalling. Yet he came to see that his brothers intent was not the only one operating. Gen 50v20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. In conclusion, before I deal with how as pastors we teach these things to our people, I realise several things. First of all, at no point do we have all the answers to solve all the problems, end all pain and tie up all the loose ends. Secondly, although we know where the real problem lies, the answers we give to some, will never satisfy people, and its an excuse for peoples hostility to the gospel. Thirdly, there is no logical basis for assuming that God owes us an explanation for anything or everything that happens in the world. Fourthly, to say that the scriptures do not tell us everything is not to say that it tells us nothing. And last of all, while the bible does not tell us all we want to know, it does tell us all we need to know. 13

14 So how does God answer all these questions? Three primary affirmations. The first affirmation is this; God didn t start it. We find that the origin of all evil is the rebellion of Satan against God. And the origin of all evil in all human history is Adam and Eve. But didn t God create Lucifer and Adam? Yes. Isn t He therefore responsible, albeit indirectly, for their evil acts? No. Why? God created each with freedom that allowed for the possibility of evil but He did not programme them so that they had to commit evil. To make evil possible, is not the same as making it actual. God not only gave Adam a free will, He also gave him a choice to make. Freedom has no value if there is no way to use it. The choice was symbolised by a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Not content simply to know good, they ate of the tree and brought the calamity of sin upon themselves and the whole human race. The second affirmation is that God did something about it. The giving of His Son. He went to the cross, which was the biggest miscarriage of justice ever, to make it possible for us to be delivered from evil. So instead of being critical of God for the evil in the world, the thing we must do is take advantage of Christ s victory over evil on the cross. Last of all, the bible makes it clear that evil will eventually be destroyed once and for all. So let me conclude with some pastoral reflections. First of all, in the light of such a question why does God allow evil? and preparing answers for such people, there needs to be more emphasis on the doctrine of God. That is of His sovereignty, providence, wisdom, glory and power, so that people may have a greater understanding of His mysterious ways and His dealings with this world. 14

15 Secondly, there must be more emphasis on the doctrine of original sin. Clearly, this is the root of all the problems in the world, that causes people to ask the question why? With this in mind, it is a good opportunity for us, to throw these evils back to ourselves, and say we are all responsible for all the disasters, famines, and violence in the world. Thirdly, we need to remember that when people face a disaster in their lives, people all respond differently, yet the grief passes through predictable stages. For example, when suddenly someone is bereaved, it is not uncommon to find such stages of grief as the following, we are in a state of shock, we feel depressed and lonely, we are experiencing symptoms of distress, we are filled with anger and so on. Clearly there is no immutable law about these stages. How many stages an individual goes through, and how quickly, depends on many things. Yet we need to be sensitive to them, as my point is that many forms of grief need time. Fourthly, we need to bear in mind that those who are asking the question, why does God allow? are not such much asking the question, but are seeking help, comfort and love and crying out for help. To this end, the most comforting answers are simple presence, help, silence, even tears. This can be more beneficial than an exposition of Rom 8v28. Fifthly, many verbal expressions of encouragement should not be based on the assumption that they must answer the question as to why does God allow. Not everyone asks that question. Some who need encouragement need reminding of simple things, not profound and complex answers to the why question. I know one person who was diagnosed as having incurable cancer. He never asked why, but some were trying to give him the answer. But the greatest encouragement he got, was when Christians came to him, reciting John 11, John 14, and 1 Cor l5. 15

16 Sixthly, we must not always conclude, that when such questions are asked, that the person is necessarily questioning the sovereignty of God, or is openly rebelling. Seventhly, when an unconverted person asks why does God allow? let us take it as a God given opportunity to turn the tables round. Eighthly, admit your inadequate position that you haven t got all the answers. Ninthly, in your preaching of such things, as disasters, famines, aids, war, keep a balance between total honesty and compassion. AIDS, war, famines, natural disasters are all part of God s judgement, sent and decreed by God, but this does not mean that Christians should walk away, not wanting, as it were, to interfere with the judgement of God. Christians should not walk away and ignore the homeless, the starving and the wounded. So while we utter God s warning about God s judgement, lets do so with a break in our voice, remembering the hope we have and offer it, not only the hope of the consummation, but hope even in the shorter term. To this end we must pray for those who suffer, remembering that God is the God of all comfort. In the deepest suffering, many find it almost impossible to pray. Should we therefore not intercede for them?.. 16

17 17

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