Finding Your Father Amid Life's Ruins, Part One
It is the age-old question: “Why does God allow suffering?”
If God is good, if He is all-powerful, if He is all-knowing and all-loving—as He claims to be—why does He allow terrible things to occur? Terrorist attacks, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis—the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami took over 200,000 lives. The Haitian earthquake in January 2010 left such devastation we may never know the total loss of life, but it has surpassed the tsunami.
When we’re hit by such disasters—events that take thousands of lives—some cannot help but cry out and ask, “Where was God?” We recently observed the 10-year “anniversary” of 9-11.Shortly after the Twin Towers fell, a man wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper. He was angry about something Adrian Rogers had said.
“Christians claim,” he wrote, “that they have an all-powerful, all-knowing God who knew what was going to happen on September 11 and had the power to protect innocent human life, but He didn’t. They claim He did act in some small ways to comfort people. But they can’t have it both ways. Either their God could act and chose not to, or He didn’t have the power or will to do so. Either way, their God is not so all-powerful or all-loving.” The logic goes: if God were good, He would destroy evil. If God were all-powerful, He could destroy evil. But evil is not destroyed—hence there is no such God.
In this Digging Deeper study, we will look at what God has to say about this in His Word because, very frankly, in these times there is no other place to turn but to the Word of God. As people who are struggling, we find encouragement there.
In the disasters we’ve seen in recent years—including economic ones bringing loss of jobs, home foreclosures and suffering in families—we see a manifestation of both “Mother Nature” and human nature. We’ve watched people react to these horrendous tragedies. Some have simply lowered their heads and endured in suffering and confusion. Others turn to anarchy, looting and depravity as a response when the thin veneer of civilization is scraped away. Some have blasphemed and cursed God.
Others have humbled themselves and turned to God with greater faith. Many ask the honest question, “Why did God allow this?”
THE SINCERE QUESTION
As saints of God, how should we react to those things over which we have no control? What is the viewpoint from Heaven?
To begin with, we need to understand, very simply: suffering is the fruit of sin. Not necessarily the personal sin of an individual. But we live in a world that is infected with sin and, therefore, calamity.
Turn in your Bible to Romans chapter 8, one of the greatest texts in all of Scripture.
| A CLOSER LOOK: What Scholars Have Said about Romans
We are about to see in Romans chapter 8 that the entire creation groans and travails in pain. Suffering and devastation are part of the human condition in a fallen world.
1. At this point, before digging deeper into this topic, write on the following lines a situation or event in your life where you asked, “Where was God?” or “Why, God?” or perhaps said, “I cannot make sense of any of this!”
Christians are not immune to pain and suffering—“Rain falls upon the just and the unjust.” Many godly people who love God with all their heart have suffered terribly.
Romans 8:20-23 speaks to this question. Fill in the missing words.
20For _____________ was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him (God) who hath subjected the same (creation) in hope, 21because creation itself shall also be delivered from the ___________ of ____________ into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22For we know the whole creation ___________ and ___________ in __________ together until now. 23And not only they, but _________________ also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
In this passage, the concept of groaning appears three times.
- The groaning of creation.
- The groaning of the Christian.
- The groaning of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit Himself
These three “groanings” are important because they unlock this mystery.
1. The Power of Sin and the Groaning of Creation
“Creation was made subject to vanity…. We know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now.”(v. 20, 22)
We talk lovingly of “Mother Nature,” but Mother Nature is not a kind goddess. As a matter of fact, it’s time for all those who worship nature to turn from Mother Nature to Father God.
If you look at nature, all creation is marked with sickness, disaster, storms, fires, earthquakes—calamities of every description. Creation groans and sighs, pressed down with grief and distress. Everything around us suffers from the foul, gnawing tooth of decay. It’s easy to see that something is wrong.
Why the confusion, the frustration, the suffering?
The word groan used here actually means “labor pains,” as if the Earth were a woman in labor. When people see calamity, they ask, “Where is God?”
Let me emphasize: God is not the author of chaos, sin, anguish or pain. When God made this world, He made it perfect. He stepped back and said (turn to Genesis chapter 1), “It is good.”
2. Look at Genesis chapter 1. Beginning in v. 4, going through the end of the chapter, how many times do you see the phrase “it was good”? _________
At the end (v. 31), the phrase changes a little. As God evaluates the entirety of His creation, He says…
31And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was _________ __________. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
And He made His creatures absolutely free.
Why did God make man a free creature? Because God wanted man to love Him. God cannot just “force” us to love Him. Forced love is a contradiction in terms. For a person to be able to love, he has to be able not to love.
Think about this, now.
- If we were created where we could only love and do nothing else, we wouldn’t be loving beings at all; we would be automatons.
- God gave man freedom of choice, the ability to choose good or choose evil.
- Love is the highest good.
- If God were to take away man’s ability to choose it freely, He would destroy the highest good.
- And if God were to destroy evil, giving man no opportunity to choose between good and evil, then that act itself would be evil.
God allows evil in this world. He does not create it, but He allows it. He does not destroy it, but He defeats it by putting His Son upon a cross and taking upon Himself the sins of all mankind. (Our Romans chapters 1-8 passage again). Our ability to choose evil must necessarily exist in order for us to have the ability to choose good.
“The Bondage of Corruption”
Let’s look at that curious phrase in Romans 8. When Adam sinned by his free choice, he dragged all of creation down with him. This is what the Bible describes as “the bondage of corruption” (v. 21). Why is there all this pain and suffering? Because of sin.
The great Bible teacher Dr. M. R. DeHaan once said that he was watching live satellite coverage of an earthquake that hit Mexico City in 1985. Devastation was everywhere. At the lower left hand of the television screen was this superscription: “Courtesy S.I.N.” That stood for the Spanish International Network. But he said there was something cryptic about that. Here was an earthquake, “courtesy of SIN.”
You could also say here’s a tornado, a hurricane, a flood, a mudslide—courtesy of sin. Look around and you’ll see “the bondage of creation.” Turn in your Bible to Genesis chapter 3.
- There is a curse on the animal kingdom. When Adam sinned, the Lord said to the serpent (Genesis 3:14), “Because you have done this, you are _____________ more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.” Not only was the serpent cursed, but the entire animal kingdom as well. One species preys upon another, “nature red in tooth and claw,” as Tennyson described.
- There is a curse on the mineral kingdom. (3:17) “Cursed is the ___________ for your sake.” We see deserts, waste places, and vast areas that are uninhabitable.
- There is a curse on the vegetable kingdom. (3:18) “Both ____________ and ___________ it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field.” The world has become a garden of weeds.
Courtesy of S. I. N.
WHY The CURSE?
But why did God put a curse upon creation? Why is there a curse on “Mother Nature”?
3. Look again at Genesis 3:17. To whom is God speaking here? ______________.
17 “Cursed is the ground… (for what?) for __________ _________.”
“What!” you ask.
Think about this:
The worst thing that could ever happen to human beings would be to live in paradise with sinful hearts! “Tra-la, tra-la” we’d go—steeped in our sin, never knowing anything was wrong!
You see, it’s the pain and fever that tell us our body is sick. It would be foolish simply to deaden the pain without dealing with the cause. So it is with the curse upon creation. The pain, the travail, men killing men, animals killing other animals—all this shouts at us: “SOMETHING IS WRONG!”
All this suffering, all this pain, chaos, and misery, are God’s reminders that there is something desperately wrong with creation and human nature. God, in mercy, allows this tribulation: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.” If we don’t realize we are desperately sick, we won’t seek a cure!
4. Turn to Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart [that’s your heart and my heart] is __________________ above all things and desperately ________________. Who can know it?”
The unregenerate heart, the heart that has not been given wholeheartedly to Christ, is terminally ill—and doesn’t know it.
We’ll put a bookmark here in the middle of our study. The problem of pain and suffering could not be fully developed in one or two short studies, but we can begin to unlock some of the mysteries of why we suffer—and Creation suffers. As we pause, let’s be aware that there is…
The Prospect of Hope
One day there’s going to be a change. The Bible says God has “subjected the same in hope” (v. 20), and I thank God for that. One day the desert is going to blossom as a rose. One day the lamb and the lion will lie down together. One day “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as waters that cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)
This will occur when Jesus returns, and I’m looking forward to that. But write this upon your heart: first we will continue to see the power of sin and the groaning of creation.
Next time, we will take up…
2. The Problem of Sin and the Groaning of the Christian
3. The Promise of Strength and the Groaning of the Comforter