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19 The Problem of Suffering

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

Join us in looking carefully at something we have all experienced, suffering. This is possibly the one thing more responsible than anything else for a person becoming an agnostic or atheist:  The Problem of Suffering. 



19 & 20 The Problem of Suffering
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The Problem of Suffering


God and Suffering Theodicy=God’s justice Theodicy means vindication of God. It is to answer the question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil, thus resolving the issue of the problem of evil. Wikipedia Like it or not the Devil has played a master stroke in having God portrayed as a harsh, severe, arbitrary being in the Old Testament. .

Suffering

1. Many have grappled with the problem of suffering. 2. Many different answers: Fatal flaw, Chaos, Karma, Fatalism, Nihilism 3. Universal experience: Life is a series of giving ups 4. Cause of many agnostics and atheists. 5. Biblical Explanations: Evil people. Punishment for disobedience. Enjoy the good while it lasts. God is Testing people.

God allows Evil. Dualism of God Apocalyptic Revelation

God and Suffering

1. Many who believe in a god have grappled with the problem of suffering. How can a good God allow suffering?

Greeks: God is all powerful. God is Good. There is Suffering.

All three statements can’t be true. Explanations often deny one of the three: God is NOT all powerful (Kushner God is NOT only good but also created evil (Jews-Isaiah 45:7, Perisans-Ahura Mazda, Hindu-evil gods There is no suffering. (Aristocratic pretence) Extenuating circumstance: God punishes in love! God tests people 2. Cause of agnosticism and atheism.

Unrealistic expectation of God lead to disappointment. Process: 1. Unmet expectations of God. (Buddhism is a reaction to suffering and the Buddha’s

solution was to eliminate desire by meditation.) 2. God does not care about me.

3. I wonder if there is a God. 4. There is no good God because of suffering in the world. Ivan Karamazov (returns the ticket because of suffering of children), Charles Darwin, Susan Jacoby, Bart Ehrman and I suspect most agnostics. The personal experience of suffering has a profound impact on people.

3. Universal experience: Life is a series of giving ups

As we age we give up our parental home, youthful energy, vocational potential, good health, meaningfulness of vocation, friends who pass away, loss of mobility.

Death is the inevitable end of every person on the planet. No one ever got out of life alive! Eventually we give up life.

We are resigned but keep looking for the elixir of life. Bumper sticker: Life’s a bitch and at the end you die. Teenagers have time and energy but no Middle aged Seniors have money and energy but no time.

Seniors have time and money and no energy. 4. Many different answers:

Greek plays: Everyone has a fatal flaw which leads to their downfall -Achilles heel, Chaos: there is no explanation. We live in the middle of Chaos. Life is unpredictable.

Chaos theory from sub atomic particle behaviour is a practical example. Karma: Our behaviour in this life determines our status in the next life. Fatalism: Our fate is determined. There is nothing we can do to prevent the determined

outcome. It was not my time. Nihilism: Life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.

Biblical explanations for Suffering Disobedience towards God:

God Blesses obedience & God Curses disobedience (Deut 28; Lev 26)

Punishment for disobedience. (Amos 1-9.10) Read 3:2 onwards.

Most stories of suffering in the Old Testament are because of disobedience. Prophets are rooted in this story: Israel was suffering in Egypt and God redeemed them. This means God is omnipotent, Israel are his people, he will save them. If they suffer it is because they are unfaithful to God. The prophets rail against the disobedience of Israel which means God must curse them and punish them! Example in Amos 3:2; 4:9

Testing from God causes suffering

Tree of knowledge of good and evil results in suffering Job suffers to prove that he serves God unselfishly. Job never knew about dialogue in chp.1&2

He thought God was punishing him. Abraham offers Isaac to demonstrate that he loves God. Influence of Mesopotamian gods in his life that he could believe that God require him to sacrifice his son.

God allows Suffering

Job 1 & 2 tells the story so graphically that this explanation is one of the most common among Christians. Assumption is that God is Omnipotent and can prevent all suffering. Failure to separate moral and physical control. Moral freedom, given by God, is never over ridden by God. This is our freedom.

Ecclesiastes has another explanation

11: 7-10 CEV Nothing on earth is more beautiful than the morning sun. 8 Even if you live to a ripe old age, you should try to enjoy each day, because darkness will come and will last a long time. Nothing makes sense. 9 Be cheerful and enjoy life while you are young! Do what you want and find pleasure in what you see. But don’t forget that God will judge you for everything you do. (In your joy be upright!) 10 Rid yourself of all worry and pain, because the wonderful moments of youth quickly disappear.

No justice, no after life, this life is NOT a rehearsal for anything.


Help the suffering and sick who cannot help themselves Enjoy the good in life while it lasts. Help others enjoy their lives too.

Dualism. (The deity has opposite characteristics. E.g. male and female)

Judaism was and is sure that God made both good and evil. Isaiah 45:7 CEV I create light and darkness, happiness and sorrow. I, the LORD, do all of this. Lamentations 3:38 CEV Good and bad each happen at the command of God Most High. Deuteronomy 32:39 CEV Don’t you understand? I am the only God; there are no others. I am the one who takes life and gives it again. I punished you with suffering. But now I will heal you, and nothing can stop me! (Uber Pharaoh) Therefore suffering comes from God.

Humans have Free will. We must chose the good (Joshu

We create suffering by poor or wicked choices. War, Empire building, Slavery, Racism, Sexism, Addictions, Eating from Tree in Eden,

Idolatry But there is no explanation for most natural disasters which are not caused by humans as far as we can tell. Spanish flue, COVID 19, Earthquakes Tsumani's, Tornado’s, Volcanoes The first two chapters of Job show that the Devil has control over nature and can cause natural disasters. The OT writers did not know this. We know because of Jesus.

Apocalyptic Revelations — the role of Satan or the Devil

A revealing of heavenly secrets which explain human suffering. Human suffering is not from God but from God’s supernatural enemies: Satan and his angels or demons. Sources are Daniel, Apocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls.

This thinking is carried into the New Testament. Jesus enlightens us with regard to Satan’s agency for suffering in this world John 8:44, John 10:10, John 12:31 The book of Revelation continues this explanation with its sequences of sevens. These sequences reveal the evil caused by the Devil and his demons and their eventual demise.

Apocalyptic Insights

Benefits of: Takes evil seriously. Evil is bigger than we are BUT God will deal with evil.

God will more than recompense what we have lost.

Death is not the end.

Disadvantages of:

Complacency towards hunger, justice, suffering, prejudice, slavery, ecology Belief that Second Coming is imminent.

First generation of Christians, 1844, 1888=1848+40, Imminence of the End of the World

“World One” – computer program developed in 1973 at MIT, predicts 2020 to be the start of a 20-year process of the slow demise of human civilization. The Second Coming – 1973 book by astrologer Jeane Dixon, Jesus is scheduled to return sometime in the years 2020–2037. She also predicted that there would be a cure for cancer by 1967.

The Viking stone – Swedish researchers deciphered a stone slab dated 800 CE. Viking prophecy: end of the world due to a “battle with the weather”

The Mayan Calendar - End of the world is December 21, 2012. “12/21/12”- Faced with the wealth of alarmist information available on the world wide web, NASA was compelled to publish an information page about why the world would not end on December 21, 2012. Camping and the Rapture - world was to end on October 21, 2011. American radio host Harold Camping had arrived at the date for the apocalypse through a series of calculations that he claimed were based on Jewish feast days and the lunar calendar. After October 21, 2011, the self-proclaimed prophet stated that “nobody could know exactly when the time of the apocalypse would come.” The Black Hole from Geneva - Scientists use the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland, to set up controlled collisions of particles at very high speeds. Some postulated this would cause a black hole to swallow up earth. 2000, or Y2K - “Millennium Bug” threatened banking systems, planes, and even the safety of weapon systems, leading to an all-consuming chaos on planet Earth. However, at midnight on January 1, 2000, the world celebrated the new year, and no planes dropped out of the sky. The Great Flood and the Flying Saucer - Chicago housewife Dorothy Martin (a.k.a. Marion Keech) claimed to have received a message from planet Clarion in the early 1950s: the world was to end in a great flood before dawn on December 21, 1954. Martin and a group of followers were convinced that a flying saucer would rescue the true believers before the inevitable destruction of Earth. The belief was so strong that some broke completely with their previous lives, quitting their jobs, leaving their spouses, and giving away money and possessions. Social psychologists Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter infiltrated Martin's group to study the effects of such convictions and the group's reactions when the prophesied event did not occur. Their work, When Prophecy Fails, delivers the first instance of Festinger's noted theory of cognitive dissonance.

God is held morally responsible for SufferingOld Testament: Habakkuk 1:12,13 NLT O LORD my God, my Holy One, you who are eternal—surely you do not plan to wipe us out? O LORD, our Rock, you have sent these Babylonians to correct us, to punish us for our many sins. 13 But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil. Will you wink at their treachery? Should you be silent while the wicked swallow up people more righteous than they? • New Testament: Reve 6:9-11 NLT When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I sawunder the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. 10 They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” 11 Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them.

Suffering and the morality of God.

Is it moral for God to allow suffering? How can we decide on this matter if God created

morality? We are moral beings. We have a sense of integrity — independent of God. We know if something is wrong or right. We might differ on what is right but we all know there

is a right way and a wrong way. This is true for all on the planet (Except psychopaths). One does not have to be a Christian

to be opposed to suffering. One does not have to be a Christian to alleviate some

suffering in the world. We can and do judge God on the matter of morality. The existence of atheists demonstrates

this is true. God invites us to do so (Isaiah 1:18). Most atheists have judged God immoral or non - existent. Christians often adopt a servant mentality by saying, “Whatever God does is OK with me.” When Christians insist God will burn sinners forever they are not presenting God as a moral being! John 15:15 “You are my friends, not servants.” In all our suffering God has been present - suffering with us.

Judges 10:16 KJV "His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.” "Isaiah 63:9 (KJV) In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. Hebrews 2:10 NLT For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. Psalm 103:13-17 (NLT) 13 The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. 14 For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust. 15 Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. 16 The wind blows, and we are gone— as though we had never been here. 17 But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him.His salvation extends to the children’s children

To demonstrate his presence in suffering God became a human being and suffered with us. As a human he suffered more than anyone else in the Universe, This is why we can say God is moral. He has never been immoral. Morality trumps physicality. We can be dying of cancer and still be morally upright. It is this sense of morality, given by God, which God respects and which he does not over- ride.

In all our suffering God has been present suffering with us “The cross is a revelation to our dull senses of the pain, that from its very inception, sin

has brought to the heart of God.” (Education 263) God never wanted suffering for himself or others. Suffering is the greatest evidence that we live in a free universe. It forced its way into the universe and brought anguish to all. It will not be this way forever. We are privileged to be part of this experience and to triumph with God over sin in due course. How blessed we are! God has also promised to more than restore what we have lost. Job 42 (NLT) 10 When Job prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes. In fact, the LORD gave him twice as much as before! 12 So the LORD blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 teams of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. 13 He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters. 14 He named his first daughter Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15 In all the land no women were as lovely as the daughters of Job. And their father put them into his will along with their brothers.

Like it or not the Devil has played a master stroke in having God portrayed as a harsh, severe, arbitrary being in the Old Testament. We now know, because of Jesus’ eye witness testimony, that God is not this way. We now know that suffering is the result of the Devil’s hatred for God. No explanation of the origin of evil.


Suffering Requires Patience

Revelation 4: Throne in Heaven - God and angels rejoicing.

Revelation 5 Sealed scroll which no one could open - Not even God who is holding the scroll could open it!!!

This situation caused John to weep bitterly

From what follows - this scroll is the explanation of the problem of when the seals are opened they are all about suffering — Deception, War, Famine, Disease and Death, Martyrdom, Mass Suicide, and finally Silence in contrast to the rejoicing in the throne room of chapter four. Revelation 5 Only the slaughtered Lamb can open the seals - OnlyJesus life and death and resurrection can explain the morality of suffering in the universe. His personal suffering, although innocent, shows that God has suffered more than anyone of us. It shows that in a universe run on love it is possible for evil to intrude and cause suffering. This existential experience is one of the evidences that “God is love” is true beyond any doubt. Revelation 6:9-10 NLT When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. 10 They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” This universal cry for redress, for an end to suffering, comes from every person who has lived on this planet. The divine answer is in the next verse. It is not what was hoped for. Revelation 6:11 NLT Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them.

  • “White robe:” indicates a position of favour since workers did not have a white robe after working in the field.

  • “Rest a little longer” like birthing a child, like getting over COVID-19, like cancer, like the aged dying.

  • There is no explanation for the origin of suffering.

Revelation 13:10b “This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.” Persecution from the devil. Suffering will have an end. Pray for the Second Coming, “Even so, Lord Jesus come!” One day you will stand on the sea of glass and praise God for his suffering which has finally resolved the problem of suffering and evil. Hallelujah.


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