“God cares more about our response to His Spirit’s leading today, in this moment, than about what we intend to do next year. In fact, the decisions we make next year will be profoundly affected by the degree to which we submit to the Spirit right now, in today’s decision.”—Francis Chan (via jme)
“‘Yes, that’s so,’ said Sam. ‘And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually — their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on — and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same — like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?’”—
Humble one another, scrutinize one another, pressure one another, embarrass one another, corner one another, interrupt one another, defeat one another, disapprove of one another, run one another’s lives, confess one another’s sins, intensify one another’s sufferings, point out one another’s failings … .
In a soft environment, where we settle for a false peace with present evils, we turn on one another. In a realistic environment, where we are suffering to advance the gospel, our thoughts turn to how we can stick up for one another.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, ”Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
All this means we ought to come to worship expecting first and foremost to see God. We come to encounter his glory, to be awe struck by his majesty. A worship service isn’t the place to showcase human talent but the place for God to showcase his divine treasure. We gather not to be impressed by one another—how we sound, what we wear, who we are—but to be impressed by God and his mighty acts of salvation. We come to sing of who he is and what he’s done. We come to hear his voice resounding in and through his Word. We come to feel the grief of our sin so that we can taste the glory of his salvation. We gather to be magnificently defeated, flattened, and shrunk by the power and might of the living God.
The curious as well as the critics of Christianity ask this question. If God is all-powerful and all loving, then why does He permit evil and suffering in the world? Various answers have been given but permanently settling the issue is impossible because so many of our answers raise further questions. Nevertheless, our lack of ability to answer the question perfectly does not mean that we cannot offer solutions. Of course, I do not assume to be able to answer these questions definitively, but I can offer some solutions.
First of all, it is possible that God has reasons for allowing evil to exist that we simply cannot understand. In this the Christian can have confidence in God knowing that His ways are above our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). As the Bible says, the just shall live by faith (Hab. 2:4).
Second, God may be letting evil run its course in order to prove that evil is malignant and that suffering, which is the unfortunate product of evil, is further proof that anything contrary to God’s will is bad, harmful, painful, and leads to death.
God gave Adam dominion over the world (Gen. 1:28). When he rebelled against God, he set in motion an entire series of events and changed the very nature of man and creation. Both were affected by sin. Creation was no longer a paradise, but bore thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:17-18; Rom. 8:22). People became sinful (Rom. 5:12;Eph. 2:3), who were haters of God (Rom. 3:19-12), etc. The only conclusion to such a situation is death. Jesus said, “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matt. 24:22).
Sin is rebellion against God and His created order. But God has not left us alone in this fallen world. He continued to enter this world, pointing us to Himself, to truth, to morality, purity, and love. He used the evil of the world (liars, perjurers, the envious, etc.), to bring His Son to the cross so that we might have the opportunity to obtain eternal life. In this, God has not stepped away from fallen creation, but has stepped into it by becoming Jesus. God works within the fallen world to effect change and He uses fallen people to accomplish His will. In this, He is proving His sovereignty over evil, suffering, and rebellious people, proving that sin and evil are utterly futile, and that He is worthy of honor and glory.
A third possible reason that God is letting evil occur is so that on the day of judgment, the condemned will have no right to say that their sentence is unjust. God is not stopping people from exercising their free will. Think about this: If someone said that God should stop evil and suffering, then should God then stop all evil and suffering? If God only stopped some of it, then we would still be asking the same question of why it exists. So, if we want God to stop evil and suffering, then He must stop all of it. We have no problem with this when it means stopping a catastrophe, or a murder, or a rape. But what about when someone thinks of something evil? Evil is destructive whether it is acted out or not. Hatred and bigotry in someone’s heart is wrong. If it is wrong, and if God is to stop all evil, then He must stop that person from thinking his own thoughts. To do that, God must remove his freedom of thought. Furthermore, which person on the earth has not thought something evil? God would be required, then, to stop all people from exercising their free will. This is something God has chosen not to do. Therefore, we could say that one of the reasons that God permits evil and suffering is because of man’s free will.
Fourth, it is quite possible that God uses the suffering to do good. In other words, He produces patience through tribulation (Rom. 5:3). Or He may desire to save someone through it. Take for example, the account of Joseph who was sold into slavery by His brothers. What they did was wrong and Joseph suffered greatly for it. But, later, God raised up Joseph in Egypt to make provisions for the people of that land during the coming drought of seven years. Not only was Egypt saved, but also his family and brothers who originally sold him into slavery. Joseph finally says to them, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:15-21). Of course, the greatest example of God using evil for good is the death of Christ. Evil people brought him to the cross, but God used that cross as the means to save the world.
But then we must ask, if this is true, are we working against God by working against evil and suffering? No, we are not. God says he does not want us to sin and suffer. But it is simply true that God can use evil despite its apparent despicable nature.
God is in the world using the world and its failures for His glory and the benefit of those who listen to Him.
But then, what about those who seem to suffer innocently with no benefit resulting? What about the woman who is raped, or the innocent bystander who is killed by a stray bullet. In both cases, the victims and families suffer nothing but pain and loss. What good can this possibly be?
I think that the answer is two-fold. One, ultimately, no one is innocent. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). There is none innocent. Though this is biblically accurate, it does not satisfy the question emotionally. Why do little babies suffer for things they have not done? I must acknowledge that I do not know. Ultimately, we must trust God who knows the beginning from the end and sees the grand picture. He will have the final word and He will be vindicated.
Suffering is the result of human sin. The world is not the way that God created it and because of that, all are vulnerable to the effects of sin in the world. Why does one person suffer and another does not? Why do catastrophes happen to some and not to others? It is because sin is in the world. But there will come a day when the Lord will return and cleanse this world of all sin and all suffering.
"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away," (Rev. 21:4).
“Remember this: Christ is still on mission in the world. The goal is to discern what He is doing and join with Him. With an absence of prayer, we begin doing our own things, not God’s things – we have good ideas but not God’s ideas. Without prayer, the mission ceases to be distinctly Christian and becomes our own work.”—Britt Merrick- from Wholly Dependent on Prayer
“Many persons hold up their hands in amazement at our assertion that Jesus was not a Christian, while we in turn regard it as the very height of blasphemy to say that He was a Christian. ‘Christianity,’ to us, is a way of getting rid of sin; and therefore to say that Jesus was a Christian would be to deny His holiness.
‘But,’ it is said, ‘do you mean to tell us that if a man lives a life like the life of Jesus but rejects the doctrine of the redeeming work of Christ in His death and resurrection, he is not a Christian?’ The answer is very simple. Of course if a man lives a life like the life of Jesus, all is well; such a man is indeed not a Christian — he is a being who has never lost his high estate of sonship with God.
But our trouble is that our lives do not seem to be like the life of Jesus. Unlike Jesus, we are sinners, and hence, unlike Him, we become Christians; we are sinners, and hence we accept with thankfulness the redeeming love of the Lord Jesus Christ, who had pity on us and made us right with God, through no merit of our own, by His atoning death.”
—J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith? (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 110-11