Monday, June 27, 2016

The problem of suffering

Last week someone on Facebook posted a picture of a well-known televangelist holding a healing service. Below that picture he had another picture showing children in a third-world hospital obviously ill. The person posting asked another individual why these pastors didn't go to such hospitals to heal these innocent children.

His comments were obviously reflecting his feelings toward this individual (who is definitely not a pastor) as well as his feelings towards God. Another person chimed in stating her strongly atheistic beliefs. I wanted to respond, but I made a decision a long time ago to avoid Facebook discussions on the existence of God and most theological questions. It's simply not the best medium for such discussions.

But, his question and the lady's response did point out what is probably the greatest difficulty many people have in believing in the existence of God. They insist that if God exists, and if he is all-loving as Christians teach, then he could not allow innocent people to suffer. Their argument is that since people do suffer either God doesn't exist or is incapable of doing anything about their suffering or that he doesn't care that they suffer. Therefore, either he does not exist or, if he does, he is not worthy of worship.

Answering this question is one of the biggest challenges facing the church today as we attempt to reach out to the unchurched. It is also a topic that is seldom addressed in our pulpits simply because it is so difficult to answer.

Ravi Zacharias wrote Why Suffering?: Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn't Make Sense to respond to this very issue. Zacharias is a great Christian apologist who isn't afraid to tackle the tough issues that non-theists often raise. I would recommend that every pastor and anyone serious about reaching people for Christ to begin to study this issue of suffering, and this book is a great place to begin.

Zacharias begins by responding with a question of his own. He asks, "Why is it that we finite, self-serving, time-constrained, so-often-wrong human beings think we have all the wisdom needed in which to castigate God and hold Him before the bar of our wisdom within our timetable?" Great question, but fortunately he doesn't stop at asking questions. He goes on to demonstrate how other religions and worldviews have addressed the issue of suffering and points out how the Christian response is actually a more satisfying answer.

We are far removed from the time when a preacher could read something from the Bible and expect people to accept it simply because it came from the Bible. We now have to be able to defend not only our words but the Word as well.

In 1 Peter 3:15 the apostle commands us to "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you...." What is your answer to the one who asks how an all-powerful, all-loving God can allow innocent people to suffer? How do you answer the person who insists that all religions are basically the same and lead to God? How do you defend the existence of hell? What is your response to those who claim that morality is determined by each person for himself or herself?

We cannot avoid these hard challenges to the Christian faith that are raised by so many people today if we are serious about reaching people for Christ. These are serious questions that require serious answers.Let each of us study to show ourselves approved so that we will be prepared to respond to the challenges people have to the Christian faith.

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