Saturday, May 1, 2010

The problem with pain.

A few months ago I posted a video on my Facebook showing some hard to watch scenes of Christian persecution overseas. It was painful and heartbreaking to watch my brothers in Christ beaten and abused because of their faith in Christ. It was a scene I don't think I'll even forget.

Yesterday I got an email from a dear friend about that video. Its images had a haunting effect on her and she struggled to put the images of such violence into context with her belief that God is a God of love.  She boldly wondered: "There is no God of Love if he will allow us to suffer so terribly. I would protect my children and NEVER let that happen"

Truth is I've heard that statement in various forms more times than I can remember. It's a powerful and difficult thing to try and reconcile the reality of true evil and the existence of an all powerful and all loving God.  Why would God allow evil, suffering, pain, heartbreak and the like if He has the power to stop it?

Below is my response to her and maybe to you too. Read it over and let me know what you think. How does it impact your view of evil and God? What questions does provoke? What comfort does it give? I'd love to hear your response!

"I'm so sorry that that video affected you that way. That of course wasn't the intention and I'm glad your heart pulling through.

One of the big questions I deal with (personally as well as from others) is exactly that: If God is so loving, why does he allow such pain and suffering in this world?

The best answer I found may surprise you. It comes back to His great love for us.  A bit surprising that His love for us would be the place to start to understand suffering but walk with me through the thought and let me know what you think...

Here's how the discussion goes...

1. God loves us.
2. God loves us so much that He (even though he doesn't "need" it) desperately want us to love him back.  Simply following him or obeying him isn't enough, he wants us heart, mind and soul.
3. That kind of close love relationship can only happen if we have the freedom to choose him.  If we were all pre-programmed to respond to God then we could never truly be in love with him. We'd be at best robots, at worst a form of unwilling slave.
4. So God made an unbelievable concession. He gave us "free-will" The ability for us to choose him, to love him (and really to understand his love for us) came at a incredible price.
5. That price was the reality that having the ability to choose him also meant we have the ability to NOT choose him. In fact we have the freedom to do whatever we want to do. good, bad or indifferent.
6. Evil comes of course as a direct result of people rejecting God and His love.

So what do I do with this? I look at a video like that and see evil. Pure angry mob evil. I think of Stephan, the first martyr, who died in a mob that I bet looked a lot like that.

But I also think of Saul. I think if we had the video of Stephan's stoning we'd be sick to our stomachs and most of out righteous anger would be directed at the arrogant jerk holding the coats so people could throw the rock harder.

But here’s where the "aha" moment came for me.  Why did God allow Stephan to be stoned?  He could have stopped it, intervened like he had for Daniel in the lions den or for the 3 in the fiery furnace.  Here’s what I think: God loves the "Sauls" just as much as he loves the "Stephens".  And because of that he endures the suffering of the Stephan’s for the chance to save the Saul’s.

This seemed harsh to me until I began to see it from an eternal perspective.  Really what’s 5 minutes of suffering compared to an eternity of paradise?  For the matter what's 50 years of suffering compared to 50 trillion years of paradise?

All that to say this: There is terrible evil in this world. But I believe that sometimes God will use the evil of the world to show us the lostness of our souls and to cause us to cry out to him. He's loves us so much (and so desperately wants us to love him) that He'll endure the suffering of the righteous for the salvation of the wicked, knowing that the righteous man reward won't be found on this side of heaven anyway.

Wow, that turned out a TON longer than I thought.  Sorry for rambling on but I really believe a understanding of this changed the way I see life and opportunity and pain and even my desire to live a comfortable life.  Hopefully something in all that help you too... "

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