(Summary of Sunday Sermon, 03 May 2015)
WHY GOD? WHY?!
The world around us seems to be reeling under one catastrophe after another. Plane crashes, persecutions, massive earthquakes, shootings, rapes and numerous other forms of disasters. Not just in far-flung places on the globe but also in our own small knit communities and neighbourhoods. Suffering and pain are becoming a constant reality. Automatically, we fire our questions heavenwards – Why God? Why did You allow this? Where are You?
Recently, a pastor’s daughter passed away unexpectedly. She had been married only for a year and was serving as a missionary along with her husband. She’d gone on a Missions trip to Africa and on her way back, she contracted fever. Within a week of reaching India, the fever turned deadly and she passed away. Her family was heartbroken but they held on to their precious faith in God. But our mind struggles with the question again – Why God? Why did You allow this? Where are You?
THE COMPLETE GOSPEL PICTURE
Today let us make a small attempt to understand what God has to say about suffering.
At the outset, let me remind you that we must interpret and understand God’s Word correctly. There are certain doctrines doing the rounds that Christian faith will always result only in prosperity and healing and that nothing bad will ever happen. I am not against healing or prosperity. In fact, I have been blessed by God’s healing in the lives of my family members. However, the Gospel picture will be incomplete if we don’t recognize that suffering and pain is inevitable in this fallen world, but that our God is Sovereign and powerful.
It’s like reading a novel. Until we have completely read the story, we can’t comment about a particular character. Our opinion about a character’s behavior in one random situation midway through the novel wouldn’t be accurate or holistic. We have to read the whole novel to get a sound picture. Similarly, it’s important for us to understand and apply the Scripture correctly and holistically.
With that background, let’s delve deeper into the topic at hand – Why does God allow suffering?
LESSON FROM PAUL AND BARNABAS’ LIVES
Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren. 3 Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
4 But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles. 5 And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, 6 they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region. 7 And they were preaching the gospel there.
8 And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 9 This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 said with a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!” And he leaped and walked. 11 Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out 15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, 16 who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.
19 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
Acts 14:1-16, 19-22
Paul and Barnabas were proclaiming the Gospel in different cities. God was confirming His Word through many signs and miracles. But in the city of Lystra, the citizens were greatly astounded by the miracles and decided to worship them. So Paul and Barnabas stopped them from carrying out their worship plans. Meanwhile, some of Paul and Barnabas’ enemies instigated the crowd and the hitherto awestruck people flipped over and started stoning them!! This was a shocking incident. They were preaching about the Living God and instead of being welcomed they were being persecuted.
Paul’s hardship didn’t end with this chapter. He moved on to other places to continue to proclaim the Good News. But in all those places, troubles and perils awaited him. Nevertheless, great things were being achieved in Christendom. The Church of God was being slowly established. Jesus Christ was being made known far and wide. Despite every trial, the Omnipotent God was working.
GOD IS GOOD AND HOLY
Lest we misunderstand, let us be certain that this Omnipotent God, who is capable of anything, is incapable of one thing – Evil. He is a good God and because of that He cannot do any evil. No evil thing comes from Him.
Moreover, this good God has given us choices and the freedom to make those choices. But He doesn’t force His will on us. We all know that Hitler was a bad man because he was a dictator. He forced his will on people. But our God doesn’t do that. He lays down principles for us to lead our lives and directions about what is good and bad. But He doesn’t force us to make any decision. Again, not only is this God good but He is also Holy and Sacred. He is worthy of worship.
SOURCE OF EVIL
One of the major reasons for all the evil that we see around us is the evil that comes from within our hearts. That evil that is in us gets birthed, grows and manifests in rapes, shootings, natural calamities, accidents and every other kind of disaster that we can think of. It is subtly corroding our society, community and the country.
Now, we may deny the existence of evil in our hearts. We may believe that only God lives in our hearts and nothing else. But the effect of Adam’s sin and the fallen world around us has taken a toll on our hearts. We have enthroned evil and other things in our hearts. The Bible says in 1st and 2nd Peter that anything that takes God’s place in our hearts is an idol. The evil idols in our hearts take the form of money, girlfriends or boyfriends, positions, job, pride, envy, unforgiveness and lies.
HOW DO WE OVERCOME THIS EVIL?
The only way to overcome evil is to worship the Holy God. Late Archbishop William Temple defined worship as ‘the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.”
We must live this out daily. We must worship God wherever we are, whether it is at home, offices, markets or even in our neighbourhoods. Singing to Him in church is just one of the ways to worship. True worship is when our hearts, minds, conscience and will are offered in total adoration to the Lord.
When we worship God like that, the evil in our heart is put to death slowly. The lust, anger, pride, lies and every other evil slowly dies. We will begin to be transformed by the image of God. That image will kill evil and bring goodness. Christ in and through us is the answer to destroy the evil around us.
However, often we manifest a two sided behavior. We worship God in Church on Sundays and go out into the world and lead a completely different life. Our lives take on a split personality syndrome. God yearns for us to be the same inside and outside the church. He wants our private and public lives to match.
One day my wife Anjali asked me to pick some clothes from the terrace. I refused and instead asked her to do it. Pat came her reply. ‘Before marriage, you would say that you’d pluck stars for me from the sky. After marriage, you can’t even pick some clothes from the terrace!!’ Split personality syndrome in action!
True worship is not like that. It doesn’t have contrasting personalities. It transforms us to have a single personality where we love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. When that happens, our lives will become Christ like. The Christ like nature in us is the key to overcoming every evil and suffering.
I love Anjali. So I wouldn’t want to do any evil to her whether or not she is around me. Jesus died on the Cross for us because He loved us. By His death and resurrection He inaugurated the Kingdom of God. When He returns to reign over His Kingdom, He will alleviate every sorrow and pain. Meanwhile, He is redeeming this fallen, evil world little by little. We can be assured that His grace will sustain us all the way through.
REASONS FOR SUFFERING
There are many reasons for suffering. Some of them are –
- We are being warned. The great ship, Titanic received many warnings. But those warnings were ignored and many died due to it. In order to avoid greater suffering, we must pay heed to the warnings that come in the form of momentary pains. For e.g.- We give vaccinations to our children. As a result of that, the kids may have fever for a few days. Even though it hurts us to see our children suffer, we’ll continue with their shots in order to prevent greater calamities from affecting them in the future.
- Result of our bad choices
- Because God has chosen us for a special mission
- We live in a fallen world
- Our will and God’s will is different.
But the underlying common reason here for suffering is this – the evil within us. Let us not forget that this evil can be overcome by our true and genuine worship of the Almighty God through every area of our lives.