Thursday, 2 December 2010
Thursday, 25 November 2010
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
Monday, 25 October 2010
The presence of so much suffering in the world can seem inexplicable to many people of many different beliefs. It can, however, seem especially incompatible with a belief in an all powerful, all knowing and all loving God. However, suffering is not something new and it is something which Christianity has long learned to live with and about which the Bible has much to say. The Bible offers a number of coherent explanations regarding the existence of suffering in our world. However, it must be acknowledged that it does not offer comprehensive answers. Precisely how we fit the tragic death of a baby into this framework can, at times, seem unclear. However, the Bible is also clear that we should not expect to be able to understand why God permits so much evil in this world. The Bible stresses that God does not think like we think and that we are incapable of approaching him as his intellectual equal. However, in a sceptical age it seems unreasonable to hold such blind faith in our own cognitive facilities that we believe that if we cannot see the entirety of the explanation for all suffering there must not be one.
The Bible offers a framework for understanding suffering which, although not complete, is certainly logical. In fact the Bible offers considerable explanation for the existence of so much suffering in our world which is noticeably lacking in other frameworks and philosophies. Any claim that it is not logical to believe in a God of love when there is so much suffering in the world fails to take seriously the explanations given by the same Bible which asserts that God is a God of love. However, ultimately the belief in the God of the Bible is not a result of a logical analysis of the suffering in our world. Rather belief in the God of the Bible is a result of God’s revelation to us primarily in the person of Jesus Christ. Even if the existence of so much suffering in the world does create a logical barrier to believing in the God of the Bible this is not strong enough evidence to counteract the evidence for believing in him offered by the written accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. In the person of Jesus, God came to earth as a human and revealed himself to us. He lived on earth, he suffered on earth, he died on earth and he came back to life on earth. The evidence offered by eye witness accounts is so strong that any problems offered by the existence of suffering cannot be sufficient to logically keep anyone from believing in the God of love the Bible presents.
At the heart of the issue of suffering (this is part 4 of the discussion I think) is the question of if there was a God of love why would he not do away with all suffering and make a world where there is none of the suffering which seems to plague our world? Although the Bible gives us numerous reasons why God currently allows suffering in this world, the Bible’s answer to this question is that ultimately this is exactly what God is going to do. The Bible clearly states that one day Jesus will return to judge this world finally. On that day this world will be destroyed and God will create a new world. The Bible describes this new creation as a place with no tears, no death, no mourning and no more pain. So the very thing people think that God should do is, absolutely, his intention. If the question is why a God of love would not create a new world in which there was no more suffering then the answer is that he is going to.
So why not now? Why does God not just get on and create this new world? The Bible’s answer to this begins with the assertion that not all people will be a part of this new creation. In order to be part of God’s perfect new world people must be made righteous. As none of us have lived righteous lives we cannot rely on this and so we must be made righteous by faith. Therefore it is only those who have believed in Jesus and accepted the forgiveness he offers who will be part of this new creation and escape the full judgment they deserve. Therefore God does not bring in this new creation immediately so as to give as many people as possible the opportunity to find the righteousness offered through faith in Jesus and, therefore, be spared their just punishment and, instead, become part of his new creation without pain or suffering. It is perfectly logical for God to create a world with no more suffering. However, it is equally logical for a God of love to delay this, even if that means the continuation of suffering on earth if, by doing so, he can give more people time to find the righteousness he offers and be able to become a part of his new creation without any pain or suffering.
Friday, 22 October 2010
Whilst we must not overlook the punitive nature of this world’s suffering the Bible also clearly presents suffering as rehabilitative. Suffering is not merely God’s judgment but also one of God’s means of challenging and changing people. The most significant way the Bible talks about God using suffering is to call people to repentance. This is seen throughout the Bible. The pattern of people rejecting God, people suffering and people returning to God is present throughout the pages of the Old Testament. This is again seen clearly in the book of Joel. Whilst Joel does begin by showing that the locust plague is God’s judgment, he then moves on to use this judgment to encourage the people to repent. Joel seems to clearly indicate that the correct response to recognising that suffering is a result of God’s judgment is repentance. Jesus also sees suffering as a call for people to repent. In Luke 13v1-5 Jesus uses examples of suffering to remind people that this is what all people deserve and that repentance represents the only correct response.
So whilst the suffering humanity endures clearly represents part of God’s punishment on humanity it is also used by him to remind people of their rebellion and the judgment which they deserve in order to bring them back to him in repentance. It is therefore completely logical for God to give this world some small tokens of the judgment they deserve, if by doing so, he can cause some people to turn to him in repentance and avoid his final judgment.
However, God does not only use suffering to bring people to repentance and back into relationship with him but he also uses it to bring about other good effects. The suffering of individuals throughout history has, at times, brought great benefits to both the individual and society at large and so the fact that suffering can lead to good results is undeniable. However, the Bible does not merely observe this reality but repeatedly claims that God uses suffering to make them better people. In Romans 5v3-5 suffering is presented as God’s means for producing endurance, character and hope. In James 1v2-4 suffering is seen as the very thing which tests people’s faith and makes them perfect, complete and lacking in nothing. The Bible repeatedly presents suffering as part of God’s plan for moulding his people and making them better. God created us to be in relationship with him, to love each other and care for creation and suffering is one of the means he uses to make us more like the people he created us to be. The greatest problem to people’s enjoyment of this world and fulfilment in life is not suffering but, rather, their inability to live in it as God intended. It is therefore completely logical for God to allow suffering if by this people are changed in such a way that they live life more like God intended them to.
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
However, we do have to acknowledge that there is a certain amount of suffering in our world which would exist even if humanity were not involved. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts and famines may cause more suffering because of human involvement but would still cause some suffering even without. The Bible clearly states that it is God who rules this world and who sustains it. This leads to the question of why a God of love would allow such suffering to come into the world? Surely if he is omnipotent, omniscient and completely good he would rule the world differently so that the suffering of natural disasters were not a part of it.
However, the Bible clearly presents suffering as not merely permitted by God, but part of his plan for this universe. In the beginning God created a world in which there was no suffering. However, when mankind rejected God and decided they wanted to live their own way, then, not only did humanity begin causing suffering for themselves, but also God judged them by bringing suffering into their lives. So in Genesis 3v14-19 we see God pronouncing his judgment on people for their disobedience to him. This judgment includes a breakdown in the relationship between people and the natural world so that the natural world now is the cause of much suffering for humanity. The Bible therefore clearly presents suffering as part of God’s judgment on humanity for their rebellion. Throughout the Bible we see humanity’s suffering repeatedly as God’s judgment. The book of Joel was written regarding a locust plague which had devastated Israel and Joel clearly presents this as a judgment from God. So the explanation the Bible gives for suffering is that it is not merely allowed by God but rather it is part of God’s judgment on a world which has rejected him.
This leaves us with an obvious question of whether it is logical for a God of love to bring such suffering into the world as judgment? Many people see the idea that God loves and that God judges as mutually exclusive. So God is presented as either a God of love or a God of judgment but certainly not both. The problem is that these two aspects of God’s character are not mutually exclusive but rather mutually dependent. If God truly loves creation and he loves people then he must judge people when they act wrongly towards it. When God sees the damage we have done to our world by rejecting him and going our way God cannot simply ignore it because he loves his creation too much. The ability to ignore evil is not a sign of love but rather of moral indifference. It is precisely because God loves the world that he cannot let our wilful abuse of it go unpunished. Humanity’s problem is that we have forgotten how bad we are and therefore lost sight of the judgment we deserve. It is a mark of our lostness that we think we deserve the times of blessing and prosperity and that the times of suffering are not only unfair but call into question God’s goodness, or his power or even his existence. Really the truth is that we deserve much more severe judgment than we receive but the peace and tranquillity we enjoy show us God’s goodness and forbearance. The Bible therefore presents the suffering we receive as a logical part of God’s judgment on us for rejecting him, rejecting his ways and damaging his creation.
Sunday, 17 October 2010
The first thing the Bible asserts is that human beings are responsible for their actions and therefore the suffering they cause. As we examine whether the existence of so much suffering makes belief in a God of love illogical it is essential that we do not overlook humanity’s contribution to that suffering. Secular journalist and author P.J. O’Rourke sums up humanity’s contribution to the suffering in this world brilliantly in the introduction to his book, ‘Holidays in Hell’. He writes:
‘I wanted to know where trouble came from and why the world was such a lousy place. I wasn’t curious about natural disasters – earthquakes, mudslides, floods and droughts. These are nothing but the losing side of the
The first explanation of why there is so much suffering in the world is that it’s because of people’s actions. The Bible’s summary of God’s standard for people is that they love him with all their being and that they love other people like they love themselves. It is mankind’s failure to obey God specifically in this second area which is responsible for there being so much suffering in the world. The fact that people choose to do terrible things in this world which God created cannot easily be used to demonstrate God’s lack of love. When you examine the suffering of the world you cannot help but conclude that much of it is a consequence of human action. War and violence are obvious examples. When you consider, however, how much suffering man could prevent then mankind’s responsibility becomes even more striking. When you consider the three million children who die each year from diseases for which immunisations are developed and available and the deaths from flooding in Bangladesh which are compounded by both tree felling up-stream and the fact that the poor are made to live in dangerous low lying areas, it becomes apparent that even much suffering which we would consider humanity to be innocent of is still a result of human decisions and actions.
The question which humanity is ultimately left with is not how a God of love can exist in a world where there is so much suffering but rather how humanity can be responsible for so much suffering. The Bible clearly says that mankind’s decision to reject God and go their own way has led to a break down in relationships between humans. This leads to human’s acting badly and inflicting much suffering on each other. Fundamentally the Bible’s answer to the huge amount of suffering caused by humanity is that we have all rejected God and his ways. This rejection causes us to be slaves to sin and so makes us incapable of loving people as we should. It is this lack of love for each other which leads to the pride, greed, selfishness, anger, hatred and neglect which causes so much of the suffering in this world. This Biblical answer not only offers some explanation of how it is logical to believe in a God of love in a world with so much suffering but it also offers an explanation for why man causes so much suffering. The Biblical answer of humanity’s fallen nature leading to us damaging the world and harming each other offers a logical explanation of why humanity inflicts so much suffering on itself. It is the Bible which makes us able to answer P.J. O’Rourke’s question of why man causes life to be such a frightful, disgusting and horrid thing for so many people.
Thursday, 14 October 2010
Monday, 11 October 2010
Thursday, 30 September 2010
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
Thursday, 2 September 2010
Wednesday, 25 August 2010
Wednesday, 18 August 2010
Saturday, 24 July 2010
Tuesday, 20 July 2010
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Friday, 28 May 2010
Saturday, 22 May 2010
Thursday, 13 May 2010
Wednesday, 28 April 2010
Monday, 26 April 2010
Wednesday, 21 April 2010
Monday, 19 April 2010
Thursday, 15 April 2010
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
Monday, 12 April 2010
Friday, 2 April 2010
There was nothing in the room to endear it to anyone. The walls were dark and empty, it was cold and there was no-one there. But it was locked and at least alone in this room he didn’t feel frightened. He hadn’t slept for a whole day and he knew that he should be exhausted but there was no chance of him sleeping tonight.
Jerusalem was always going to be dangerous but nothing could prepare him for the day he’d just had. It started with an arrest. His teacher, his guide, his leader, his friend. The person he’d spent the last three years of his life devoted to had been arrested. It all seemed to happen so fast. One minute it was just the group of them together and the next the soldiers were coming to take his friend away. He wanted to resist, he wanted to make it stop but it quickly became apparent that there was nothing anyone could do and so he had to watch as the soldiers led him away.
He decided to follow at a distance but it was obvious that Jerusalem was a dangerous place for him so he kept away and tried to avoid being noticed. But try as he might it seemed that people knew him and now in this room, alone he was forced to face up to the fact that whilst his friend was being tried, whilst his teacher was facing his accusers, whilst his leader was being sentenced to death he had been swearing that he didn’t even know him. He had been frightened, he had been scared but still he couldn’t believe he’d done it. He had thought he would do anything for this man. He had thought that he would willingly die for him but when a girl suggested he was one of his followers he had crumbled and said over and over again that he didn’t even know him! As he pictured each time he’d said he didn’t know him it hit him like a punch in the face. It would be easy to say that he’d panicked. It would be easy to say that he had no choice. But as he looked back he couldn’t deny that he knew exactly what he was doing, that he did it out of fear and that he definitely did have a choice!
It was almost too painful to remember but as the day unfolded the pain only became more and more real. The day itself was a bit of a blur and it seemed that confusion was widespread. But he remembers watching as his friend went from place to place being questioned and he remembers that before he’d really known what was going on the sentence was past and the verdict was death. He remembers a numb disbelief as he watched his friend carry his cross up to the hill. He remembers the despair and pain that swept over him as he saw the nails hammered in and he remembers the fearful hopelessness which swept over him as he saw his friend being taken away to be buried.
He didn’t know what to do. Who knew what would happen next. Would the authorities come looking for him? Were they going to round up his followers and kill them too? What was he to do? He’d never thought of what he’d do when he stopped following this leader. He’d always assumed it was a permanent position but now what? He’d never even considered that it might end and certainly not like this! Somehow he’d decided to come to this room knowing it would be empty and hoping it would be safe.
So there he sat alone with his thoughts. Anger washed over him as he thought of the injustice of it all. Anger at the guards, anger at courts, anger at the executioner, anger at God even anger at his friend. How could he die? How could this happen? But even stronger than the anger was the shame and guilt which seemed to be suffocating him. How could he have been so weak? How could he have been such a terrible friend? Why hadn’t he stood up and been counted? He thought he was better than that and yet when it had come down to it he had abandoned his friend to face his fate alone. As the day ended and reality sank in hopelessness overtook him. His life, his future, his identity and his hope had all been bound up with this man but now he was dead and the dream was over. Sat alone in this room he quickly found himself to be looking at a future with no meaning. He found himself questioning his identity. What sort of a man was he if he could deny his friend so easily and so completely? He found himself searching for hope but finding none and he even found himself looking at life and wondering if there was any point to it anymore! Now that Jesus was dead he was nothing more than a guy called Peter sat in a room in Jerusalem wondering what on earth he should, or even could, do next!
Tuesday, 23 March 2010
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
Monday, 1 March 2010
Tuesday, 23 February 2010
'God came from
I hear and my body should tremble and my lips should fail at the thought. I will quietly wait for Jesus to bring salvation to all his people and to return again in power.'