Why? Making Sense of God’s Will July 13, 2014
Week 1 – Why do the Innocent Suffer?
Today we begin our sermon series asking those ‘Why’ questions that can often shake our faith to the core. When faced with suffering, we may truly question our faith and doubt that God cares about us at all. Consider these stories as noted in our text for the series:
- Ø A woman is viewing a scene on television describing a natural disaster that forced millions from their homes in a poor country. The death count was rising. Speaking to no one in particular, the woman says, “How can you still believe in God when you’ve seen something like that?”
- Ø A man who lost his entire life savings in the Recession of 2008 wonders why God is punishing him. “I gave to the church, I volunteered to serve others, and I lost everything!”
- Ø A young widow left with two small children to raise, after her husband died, was told by several people that it must have been God’s will for him to die so young. Rather than being comforted, she feels nothing but anger.
As we begin to explore this topic of why the innocent suffer, I would like us to consider two broad assumptions that are often made. Perhaps you’ve heard these or even expressed them yourselves. The first assumption is this: If we are serving God, trying to do good in every way we can, it seems logical that God would bless us and take care of us so that nothing bad would happen to us. When something goes wrong and we experience suffering, it must be God punishing us for something we did wrong. We either begin to question God’s wisdom, or we begin to wonder if there is even a God at all.
When we begin to delve into scripture we see that the assumption that nothing bad will happen to us is simply unfounded. There are numerous stories of those who were faithful to God only to experience times of suffering. Our story from Genesis is one of those. Joseph was the youngest among his brothers. He was favored by his father; this favoritism in turn instilled tremendous jealousy among his brothers. They become so enraged they first plot to kill him only to settle for selling him into slavery. His brothers wanted him eliminated and devised a way to do so without feeling the guilt of killing him outright.
From what we know of Joseph, he was a God-fearing man. He was blessed with the gift of dreams and perhaps was a bit zealous with wanting to share those dreams with his brothers. Joseph was a follower of the law, yet he was nearly killed and sold into slavery by his own family. Other stories in the Bible show similar types of suffering among servants of God. Look at David who was pursued for many years by Saul. For some truly upbeat reading, try the book of Job. The prophet Elisha was running for his life after defeating the prophets of Baal.
Let’s not forget that a large portion of the New Testament centers around the son of God, “…who was beaten and abused and finally nailed to a cross. His followers were nearly all put to death for their faith.” Others endured persecution, hardship, and exile yet continued to cling to their faith in the midst of these tremendous trials. There is no general teaching or example in the Bible of God promising a life of ease for God’s followers. What we are given is a sense of comfort, strength and hope in spite of our suffering. There is a contemporary Christian song that puts it this way, “Sometimes he calms the storm, and other times he calms his child.”
The second assumption many have concerning suffering is the notion that everything happens for a reason. To follow this train of thought is to say that God has a master plan, and every event in our lives, including the suffering we endure, happens as part of this plan. If this is true, than every bit of suffering you endure must have been initiated by God to meet with God’s ultimate plan for you and for me. I have heard it said this way, “It must have been the will of God.”
We see horrors each and every day depicted on the news. When children are sold into the slave trade, is that really God’s will? When a baby dies from leukemia before it even has a chance to walk, is that really the will of God? When someone is raped and murdered, did God really will that event for the woman who suffered or for her family who must endure this terrible loss? Is it God’s will for millions to die daily to starvation “…or is it God’s will that those who have resources work to help those who do not?”
Each day we take precautions to care for ourselves and our loved ones. We wear seat belts, get check-ups, take vitamins, look both ways before crossing the street. If we truly believe that everything happens for a reason, it would seem we are going against God’s will by trying to prevent the inevitable. I believe God is a loving, caring God who sees us through our suffering. I believe suffering happens. We are fragile beings susceptible to disease and injury. I believe there is evil in the world and those who succumb to that evil often cause innocent ones to suffer. I believe the universe was created by God and is good, but often natural disasters take place that cause tragedy as humans get caught in the midst of these events.
Natural disasters seem to have a lot of people question God and God’s will. Would God actually cause earthquakes and tsunamis for the sole purpose of wiping out humans in the process? God created the earth and saw that it was good. But in order to allow the earth to sustain life, there has to be an allowance for releasing heat from its core to avoid superheating the whole earth. Earthquakes and tsunamis are a result of plates shifting to allow the release of heat necessary to sustain life. If God were to intervene and stop the process, the earth as a whole could not exist.
Often we as humans get caught in the midst of these and other events leaving devastation and destruction it its path. Are we to simply sit back and wonder at God’s will, or are we to step in as Jesus taught us to do by extending aid to those in need? Jesus gave us an example to follow as he clothed the naked, fed the hungry, healed the sick, and befriended the outcasts. I’ve heard a statistic that of all those who respond to help after a natural disaster, 80% come from churches. We live out our faith in every way by following Jesus’ example to love God and love our neighbor.
When viewing suffering we need to consider that which is caused by human decisions. We’ve talked about our nature which is to turn away from God. We have the freedom of choice and at times we as humans make the wrong choices. When we question why God is punishing us when we lose everything, we need to consider whether we were making bad choices with our money. Were we concerned with only making wealth for ourselves, in the face of volatile markets when all of our advisors warned us against our choices? When someone chooses to drink and drive, I do not believe it is God’s will to take the life of a child struck by that drunk driver. When we choose to succumb to evil, often others suffer because of our bad choices. At times we suffer because of the bad choices of others. As human being we are given a conscience to determine what is right and what is wrong. In our world there is cause and effect. When the cause is poor judgment, the effect is often suffering.
It may seem logical to want God to restrict our freedom of choice. If we are only following a master plan that has already been laid out, we no longer remain human but more like puppets or actors on a stage, doing and saying only those things that are preplanned. The core of being human is to be able to choose right from wrong. At times we will make the wrong choices. At times others will make bad choices that have consequences on us. Those are the times when God provides us with comfort and strength and assurance that we will overcome.
One aspect of suffering seems to strike most of us at one time or another –the aspect of sickness. When we become ill or one of our loved ones falls prey to a terrible disease, our first question is often, “Why me, God?” We may see illness as a punishment from God and wonder what we ever did to deserve this. Yet we know that we were created in the image of God. We also know that we are fragile and finite beings. We are susceptible to disease and injury. We are not immortal. Our fragile bodies are resilient but not fool-proof.
I do not believe that God causes sickness. Jesus revealed this when he would go around healing all who came to him. Our bodies are made to withstand a lot, but we are not completely immune. The human body as a whole works remarkably well yet our ‘parts’ wear out over time. We can expect to live roughly 80+ years on this earth, but at some point we will all die. Great strides have been made in modern medicine to not only increase our lifespan but improve our quality of life. Yet even in the midst of illness, we fight against disease with all the tools at our disposal. I believe God is with us, working with our physicians and nurses, calming our spirits so that we do not fear our condition but take comfort in the loving arms of God that cradle us through the storm. No one will live forever. Yet we do not need to fear death for God is with us in this life and beyond. The gift of eternal life is our hope and our strength.
We’ve covered a lot with this subject on why the innocent suffer. Perhaps you will begin to read scripture differently or even question your deep rooted beliefs. That’s ok. I would encourage us to continue the conversation. Perhaps we can tackle this as part of a Bible study or small group so that we can truly see God as our loving, caring Creator that is absolutely crazy about God’s creation. You were made in the image of God. We will experience suffering. We are not immune from experiencing heartache. But we have the reassurance that God is with us and will bring light out of the darkness. God is with you now and always. Amen.