Gary Swisher

Posts Tagged ‘Human Suffering’

God Intentions

In Christianity, Theology, Uncategorized on February 2, 2011 at 12:22 am

Why does God allow human suffering? Theologians love to tackle this question. It’s a favorite atheist objection to the existence of God. In all honesty it is a fair question and one that every Christian faces as well. But I thought I might pose another question in contrast to this familiar one. If Satan exists, why does he allow human pleasure?

Scripture seems to say that Satan is the god of our world. If so, why do we experience times of peace? Why do so many children come home from school unharmed? Why are there so many charities aiming to assist people who need it? Why have there been so many medical advances in recent decades? Maybe Satan takes some pride in his world. His followers are good people too. He doesn’t want a complete mess of his dominion does he? How embarrassing would that be?

Here are some more questions about good things. Why is there physical pleasure? Why are so many people leading comfortable lives? Why do restaurants have such sensational deserts? Why are there so many Xboxes in households today? Oh wait, are these all good things from God’s perspective? Many good and pleasurable things are used to lull people into spiritual sleep, distract them from what has true, lasting value, and cause them to question God when he takes something away. Then again, we may seek this type of comfort in response to our pain, emptiness and loss; never really learning that they are not what we need. The god of this world knows how we each use such “good” things. All good things come from God, but how one defines good things depends on his mindset. So an illness could be truly good, while pleasure is ultimately bad. To my understanding this issue hinges on our perspective. It is about the spiritual man versus the natural (soulish) man.

This is not one of those “glass half full” or “glass half empty” propositions. I just think we have really missed the significance of both good and evil in this world. The thing is, good can be used for evil and evil can be used for good. When Joseph was sold into slavery and finally caught up with the brothers who put him there, he revealed that God meant it for good. Being sold into slavery was good. That was God’s estimation.

It was God who asked Satan to consider his servant Job. Not the other way around. Satan takes orders from God. He is not a rogue element, out of Gods’ control. It was the Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. Look it up. Paul was ministered by Satan to rid him of pride (see 2 Cor. 12:7). And Paul said that all things (good and evil) work for the good of those that love God. Notice it doesn’t say all things are good, but that all things work for our good. That is the understanding of those who love God. We cannot have that perspective if we doubt God in this. That is being double-minded. God puts all kinds of things to work for his good purpose, and for our good. No discipline seems pleasant at the moment—makes me wonder how much discipline I’ve had.

So why do we have suffering? No one likes suffering, nor should we seek it. But God exercises his providence, over the schemes and roadblocks that come before us, for his ultimate purpose. God does authorize suffering as we see in the case of Job, Paul and many others. Our natural mind wants to grasp this, understand it and ultimately control it. But, as God said to Job, you learn to be a creature, subject to all that happens, and I will take care of the divine role all by myself. When these things happen we want to lean on our own reasonings, seek advice and ask lots of questions, just as Job did. Why me? Why this? Why her? Why now? Why, why, why? All those things have their root in the natural man, which is why such questions are so often posed by atheists. They become obstacles that will either block us and cause discouragement or they will be overcome by something of a higher order. I believe we are meant to experience these things in order to learn what cannot be learned through our intellect.

Consider this. Jesus learned obedience. You can tell a three-year old that he should not do certain things, and attempt to reason with him. But only through pain will he ever learn certain lessons, whether the pain comes from a bad result or a fore-ordained punishment. My child’s comfort is not my number one priority. He primarily needs to learn to listen to his father and mother. The lesson is obedience, and pain is often the teacher. We do not just teach our children to avoid touching hot things, we teach them obedience. They must learn submission. A child who learns submission has learned a lot.

Discipline means to teach. It can also mean to spank. If you are a parent you know that some things are learned without any pain at all but many things are not. We are the same way. We cannot truly mature in our spiritual lives if we are so glued to this natural man who seeks whatever pleases him at the moment. Jesus learned obedience… through suffering.

Pain and discomfort can cause us to move, change, open our eyes or test our foundations for trustworthiness. The low-risk method by which we prefer to learn is to receive information. In churches we spend a lot of time in the classroom setting; reading, learning, sitting, watching, discussing, etc. These things have had their place. But whether we are talking about children or Christians, information often remains at the intellectual level. It does not often result in change. It, alone, does not transform.  The Jews were lawyers. The Greeks were philosophers. Many theologians are primarily intellectuals and little more. But Christ does not seek students. He makes disciples.

Jesus learned obedience through suffering. He also said “Come learn from ME.” Your Bible version may say “Come learn OF me”, but that is not the best translation of the word. We have spent plenty of time learning about Jesus. But if we are to learn from him, we may need to turn our attention from our familiar doctrines and teachers. How else can we learn from him but to get alone with just Him? Jesus does not just teach book knowledge. Bible school is important, but we are not in relationship with the Bible. Doctrines and knowledge do not transform us. We only tend to become puffed up with what we know. At some point we must move from what we know to Who we know. I hope God sees fit to take us out of the conventional classroom for his purposes. We can really learn something when God takes us to school.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, for those who have been trained by it, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace. (Heb 12:11, ISV) 

© 2011 Gary Swisher. All Rights Reserved

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