30 Minute Radio Lesson - WAVG Radio 1450 AM
Clarksville church of Christ
September 3, 2000
Speaker: Richie Thetford
"Human Suffering and the Existence of God"
Good morning and welcome to another presentation of "What Is Truth?" I'm Richie Thetford, evangelist for the Clarksville church of Christ, located at 407 W. Hwy 131 in Clarksville. I want to thank each and every one you for taking the time to listen this morning as we examine another truth of God's word.
In our study this morning I am going to discuss one of the great questions that has been asked by mankind for centuries. The question is: "Does Human suffering disprove the existence of a benevolent God?" How often the infidel and the agnostic has raised this question to seek to throw some doubt upon the reality of our God.
To introduce the study, I want us to look back to the book of Judges, chapter 6. Verse one begins by telling us that the children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah and Jehovah delivered them into the hands of the Midianites for seven years. The people were forced to seek refuge in dens and caves, their crops were destroyed, their flocks were stolen, times were very, very difficult. Verse 12 tells us that an angel of the Lord appeared unto Gideon, a prophet, and said, "Jehovah is with you." To which the prophet responded, "Oh, my lord, if Jehovah is with us, why then is all this befallen us?" Here we find the same question asked almost four thousand years ago, that is being asked by so many today.
How often has the sufferings of humanity caused the question, "If there is a God, why am I afflicted with cancer? Why was my wife killed in the car wreck? Why was our child born dead? Why are we afflicted with tragic illnesses?" These and a thousand other similar questions have been asked that reflect the same conclusion.
Let me state the problem as clearly as I can. With many people, the great obstacle to belief in God is the problem of evil and human suffering. Since suffering is here, a part of each life, many assume there cannot be a loving God such as the Bible teaches.
The Greek philosopher Epicurus (270 B.C.) argued: "If God wishes to prevent evil, but cannot, then He is not all powerful. If He can prevent evil, but will not, then He is not good. If He has both power and the will to eliminate evil, then WHY is evil in the world?" His statement has been voiced over and over down through the years. How often have we heard, "If God is so good, why does He not stop all of this evil, all of this sickness and heartache?" But, my listening audience, there is a tragic mistake in this line of reasoning. The mistake of the argument is the assumption that no good purpose can be served by the allowance of evil and suffering in the world.
Surely, we cannot completely understand the problem of suffering. Other than what has been revealed to us through God's Word, the mind and purposes of God are unknown to man. Romans 11:33, states, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!" There are just many things that we in the mortality of the flesh will never understand about God. The only thing we can know is whatever He chooses to tell us. But, enough of the answers have been given in the Bible to allow us to accept, by faith, the loving God who always does what is right. The inspired writer tells us,"Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17).
Let us look at the problem. First, when a person raises the question of "evil," he is inadvertently appealing to some universal system of justice, which evil allegedly violates. If there is no God, hence no universal system of "righteousness," how could there be any such thing as "evil"? Does not the word itself "evil" suggest the violation of some standard? Let atheism (those who deny the existence of an eternal God), therefore, define for us that standard by which certain things are judged to be "evil." Actually, no atheist can, consistent with his own philosophy, even introduce the problem of evil. Because he denies an eternal system of justice and law.
Second, one must note something of the nature of God, and how He has constituted mankind. 1 John 4:8, tells us "God is love."Man's creation was an expression of God's love. Also, God's love was demonstrated in that humanity was endowed with FREE WILL; granted freedom of choice. In Genesis 2, verses 16 and 17, we read,"And Jehovah God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die." Adam and Eve had a choice. Joshua 24:15, reads,"And if it seems evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."Those people had a choice. We, too, have a choice. We can choose to serve Jehovah, or we can choose not to serve Him. He wishes that we serve Him, but it is our choice, it is your choice, it is my choice.
It is difficult to conceive of a loving God who created intelligent beings, but then forcing them to serve Him without personal will power. God is love; But love allows freedom of choice; thus, God allows freedom of choice.
Further, where freedom of choice is permitted, there is certainly the possibility that finite creatures, such as you and I, will make the wrong choices. But, wrong choices must entail some adverse consequences. If all actions or choices, both good and bad, produced the same effect, how would one ever learn to choose the good and reject the bad? It should be clear to all, therefore, that finite beings with personal will power, must be allowed to suffer the consequences of the wrong choices if they are to learn that the good is to be valued over the bad. We have seen thus far that a loving God has given us the privilege of making our own decisions or choices and that having made the wrong choices we must suffer the consequences of those wrong choices.
Now, let us look at suffering in our world today. Some suffering comes as the direct result of our making the wrong choice ourself. We often bring suffering upon ourself because of the bad decision which we made. As we read in Judges 6 to begin our lesson, Israel did that which was evil and they suffered the consequences of their choices. 1 Peter 4:15, states, "For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evildoer, or as a meddler in other men's matters:" If a man steals and goes to prison, is it not his fault? If a man commits murder and is executed, shall God be blamed? Is it God's fault, or is he not suffering the consequences of his own deed. But, someone may argue, God could have prevented the crime, hence, the suffering. Not if He wanted to preserve man's freedom of choice! God limits His own activity by lovingly granting you and me the freedom of choice. So, often we suffer because of our own personal wrong choices. If I touch a hot fire and am burned, is that God's fault? No, I am the one who made the mistake of touching the hot fire. And it is I who shall suffer the consequence of the burn. So again, much suffering is the direct result of the wrong choices we individually make.
Secondly, some suffering comes about because of the personal choice that someone else has made. A considerable amount of suffering is caused by the bad choices of our fellow man. Someone else may make a wrong choice and then we suffer because of it. But, we cannot argue that WE must be allowed freedom of choice and yet it should be denied everyone else. You see, each one has the same privilege---to choose. God is no respecter of persons. So says the apostle Peter in Acts 10:34, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that fears him, and works righteousness, is acceptable to him." Then, in Romans 2:11, we read,"for there is no respect of persons with God."
Thus, an innocent child or person may be killed in a wreck involving a drunken driver. But, someone says, "Why did not God keep the drunk from driving?" If that would be done, then God would have removed the guilty man's choice. The drunk made a choice. Obviously, it was the wrong choice that he or she made. And it carried with it dire consequences. The drunk has the same choice that the innocent one has. And sometimes the innocent suffer because of the wrong choices that others make.
In times of war, many are killed as the consequence of the evil decisions of a few evil leaders. Evil men made their decisions and often multitudes suffer the results of their choices. We sometimes pay the price for other's freedom of choice. We could multiply these few examples by thousands of other examples where people suffered because of the evil choices of others. It has been a little over a year since the Columbine shootings, where some of our fine young people suffered because of the evil choices of their classmates. Those who were guilty made the wrong choice and others suffered the consequences. We can pick up our newspaper on a daily basis, or turn on the television for the evening news and hear over and over that some innocent party suffered because of the choice that others made. So, some suffering comes upon us because of the personal wrong choices of others.
So far we have seen that God is love. And a God of Love will allow his creation to make their own choices, so we have freedom of choice. But freedom of choice when it involves wrong choices, incurs consequences. Mankind with freedom of choice often makes the wrong choice. If I choose to jump off a ten story building, can I blame God for my decision? No, that is not God's fault, it is my fault.
We have seen that some suffering is the result of our own personal wrong choice. I have pointed out that some suffering is the result of the personal wrong choice of someone else.
Thirdly, sometimes suffering is occurred because of the personal wrong choices of former generations. Much of the world's suffering is the result of the freedom of choice that was abused by generations of the long ago. If we reap the benefits of the good labors of former generations, can we avoid reaping the evils which they chose as well? God warned that rejection of Him would effect generations yet unborn. Listen to the book of Exodus, chapter 20, verses 5 and 6, "you shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them; for I Jehovah, your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing loving kindness unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments."
Innocent children starve to death in India because their ancestors turned from God and decided to worship the cow. Thus, the cow has become sacred there and Cows in India cannot be used for food today. No doubt, there could be many other examples used to illustrate this point: that suffering often is the result of wrong choices made by generations long since gone.
With reference to this point, let us observe that mankind is blighted with numerous diseases. Why did and why does God allow deadly germs? Germs that cause immense pain and suffering. This a highly complex area, but we note some points briefly. Disease is ultimately related to man's bad choices, which we call sin. Before their transgression, Adam and Eve were unaffected by disease and death. They rebelled and were deprived of the "tree of life." They became heir to the conditions they introduced into the world. Note the reading of Romans 5:12, "Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned." In 1 Corinthians 15:21, we read, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." Thus, death and all things which lead up to death came about as the results or consequence of sin. And sin is the consequence of bad choices upon the part of mankind.
There are many organisms, though often harmful, yet are also very beneficial. Certain types of bacteria help facilitate digestion or the decomposition of waste materials. Were it not for bacteria or decomposition, this world would be one huge, stinking garbage dump.
But, what of the suffering in today's world as a consequence of natural phenomenons, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and such like? The first question here is to ask, "What produces the violent physical conditions of this planet?" The answer is the drastically different geophysical features of the world on which we live, such as mountain ranges, deserts, varying pressure areas, etc. But, what created these divergent conditions, which precipitate the disasters to which we suffer? Many scholars believe that the universal flood of Noah's day described in Genesis, chapters 6 through 8, brought about these conditions.
But, what was responsible for the flood? Man's wickedness and sinfulness. Had it not been for man's evil, the flood would not have come, the features of the earth would not have been so altered, and man today would not suffer the results of these things. So, we see that the choices of those generations long past bring upon us today many of the sufferings that we see about us.
We live in a world regulated by natural law. This being true, a certain amount of suffering seems inevitable. Let me use an example: If the law of gravity acts consistently, a building may fall or crumble, killing or injuring many. Jesus told of the fall of the tower of Siloam and the death of 18 men; yet, He states that these men were no greater sinners than the others. That is found in Luke 13:4,5. We benefit tremendously from the laws of nature, and we also suffer the consequences when they are violated, either ignorantly or otherwise. Take the law of gravity. How blessed we are to be held on the planet by gravity. Yet, the law of gravity can be very severe when a person falls from a building or off some other height.
Suppose an airplane crashes and many are killed. Shall we blame God because some engineer, some mechanic, perhaps a navigator, or pilot overlooked or ignored some problem, or perhaps the weather was not properly considered.
"But," someone asks, "could not God intervene, and prevent such disasters?" Do you realize what sort of world this would be if God directly intervened, suspending His natural laws, each time one of His creatures encountered a life-threatening situation. This would render the law-system of our planet completely undependable and make life a sphere of hopeless confusion. Such a haphazard system, in fact, would argue more for atheism than for God.
May I hasten to insert a thought here. How and when does God step in and answer the prayers of His children? I believe that God's children can and should offer petitions, prayers, unto Jehovah God. And I believe that He answers those prayers. Just when and where does He act in our lives is extremely difficulty to answer. But, that is another subject. One which we may discuss over this station in the near future. A lesson on "The hand of God and His providence" would be a good one.
Friends, I want to ask you another question. Are there any benefits of suffering? Is there any value to it? If we are honest, we must admit that there are many benefits to suffering. For instance, what if we could experience no pain. Suppose one's clothing caught on fire. The person may be entirely engulfed before he or she even realized what was happening, if it were not for the pain associated with it. Does not pain sometimes cause us to go to the doctor for treatment and cure. If there were no warnings of heart pain, many today would have suffered death. You see, the heart pain or attack, causes one to go to the doctor, to seek medical advice. Yes, there are many benefits to suffering.
And is it not true that suffering helps to develop the noblest qualities of which mankind is capable? If there were no suffering, could such traits as patience, bravery, loving kindness, and many other great virtues, ever be cultivated? Where there is only sunshine, there is desert. And who wants to live on a desert?
Suffering and evil serve to remind us that this world was never designed to be man's eternal abode. We are to consider ourselves strangers in this world. 1 Peter 2:11, reads, "Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." Hebrews 11:13, reads, "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." Truly, this world was not designed for eternity. It shall melt with fervent heat, 2 Peter 3:12. There is a place where the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. Job 3:17. The Lord has prepared a better home for those who serve Him, and suffering helps us to be "homesick." As the body begins to lose its strength and life becomes difficult, one longs to be taken home by the Lord.
Suffering is not contrary to the goodness of God and is revealed by the fact that even Christ, the sinless, perfect, son of God, was subjected to suffering. Look at Him on the rugged cross of Calvary, suffering agony, not for His sins, but for yours and mine. The Hebrew writer states, "Though He was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered: and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation" (Hebrews 5:8). In 1 Peter 2:21, we read, "For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth" Jesus knew what suffering was all about. How can I expect to go through life without knowing suffering.
We may not understand every facet of human suffering, but we do not have to. We can explain enough of it to negate the atheistic charge that misery is incompatible with the existence of God. If man will but employ the wisdom with which he has been endowed by God, he can use the adversities of life to mold the kind of character with which the Lord is pleased. These thoughts should lead and motivate us to desire a better place than this. A place not made with hands, eternal; with no tears, no heartaches, no suffering.
How may I go to such a place? How may you go to such a place? The answer is rather simple. By believing in and obeying an all wise heavenly Father. By surrendering your will unto the will of the Father. By being born into His family. The Lord demands of each one that we believe in Him as the only begotten Son of the Father. Jesus himself said, "Except you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins" (John 8:24). Thus one must believe that Jesus is the Christ. That kind of faith will lead one to ask, "What shall I do?" The answer to that question is given in Acts 2:38, "Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." By being immersed in water, you will have obeyed the command of the Lord when He said, "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). Then to walk with Him in obedience to His commands that Heaven will be yours when this life is over. There truly is an almighty God and He is giving you one more opportunity to make a choice in life. Will you choose to obey God and live eternally, or not to obey and suffer the eternal consequence?
This is Richie Thetford, evangelist for the Clarksville church of Christ thanking each of you for listening to this morning's broadcast and invite you to listen again next Sunday morning at 8:30 A.M. for another presentation of "What Is Truth?"