The Struggle Has Ended

Greg Hewlett passed away on January 17th after nearly eight years of battling colon cancer. While we grieve his loss, we are comforted to know that he is with his Lord.

If you would like to leave your thoughts on Greg, please see this thread.

If you would like to make a charitable donation in Greg's honor, please see this thread.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Outrage at suffering

some thoughts about suffering, evil, and the existence of God

I have been recently thinking about how I consider the presence of suffering in the world - or more specifically, my own. (Yes, it seems a bit odd to think about one's own thoughts, but doing so is sort of a hobby for me.) To put it mildly, I am unsettled at the injustice, or at least the unfairness, of my situation. But I know I am not alone in these thoughts. It seems that everyone else also has an inner outrage at something in the world relating to suffering or evil. For some, it is a simple inner revulsion at a particular form of political oppression or hypocricy. For others, it is an inner angst at the unfairness of suffering. For still others, the presence of injustice in the world causes them an uneasiness.
Much is made about the presence of evil and suffering in discussions concerning the existence of God. It is often said that the presence of suffering is inconsistent with the existence of God. But I would submit that outrage at suffering or evil is inconsistent with the non-existence of God. We humans have a sense that things in the world are not "right". We cry out to our Creator and ask "why?", either consciously or subconsciously. We have a sense of what "ought" to be, even though it is not. This oughtness, I submit, is based on a degree of knowledge of our Creator and his purpose.
C.S. Lewis puts it this way: "When I was an argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A person does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line...Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning. "
As to whether the presence of evil is inconsistent with the Christian God, who is said to be loving and gracious, I would simply point to the reference source of Christianity, the Bible. I will readily admit that the light-weight, simplistic, Christianity found in much of America is indeed inconsistent with the presence of evil. But authentic, historic Christian faith is not. The Bible is full of honest reckoning with evil. It does not deny evil and suffering, unlike the situation where no one wants to speak about the 500-pound gorilla in the room. Rather, the Bible confronts evil directly and presents Christ as interacting with, confronting, and having victory over evil. While some might say the Christian God cannot exist with suffering in the world, the Bible implies that we cannot even conceive of the true Christian God without it!
This victory over evil as described in the New Testament is not yet complete. The resurrection of Christ is called a "first-fruit", which happens to be one of my favorite Biblical terms. As a first-fruit, the resurrection is both the taste and the guarantee of the ultimate consummating victory over evil. Whether one agrees with this is one thing. But one cannot say that Christianity is inconsistent because of the existence of evil and suffering. After all, it only exists intertwined with it.
All this is to say that authentic Christian faith cannot be shaken by the presence of suffering. In fact, it cannot exist apart from a true reckoning with suffering. This is not to say that the heart does not wrestle with these things. Mine certainly does! I even find solace in the idea that the heart must wrestle with suffering if it is to find God. One might even say that only in suffering is God most clearly understood. Drawing again from the words of C.S. Lewis: "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.�


Byron Black said...

Amen! Well Said! Praying for you and with you brother ---- byron

Kraemer said...

All mercy comes with a cost to the one who offers it. Mercy will cost us our money if we use it to feed the poor, our time if we use it for good works, or our sense of justice if we use it to forgive. This humbling thought makes me think about the cost of the ultimate act of mercy that Christ paid for us on the cross.
When I think about your thinking about your thinking (is that meta-metacognitive studies?) I learn a lot about a physical condition of pain that I have not yet had to face. You continue to be a blessing in my life. May God be with you and strengthen you through this trial in the wilderness.

Carl said...


Glen Ragan said...

In "First Round Chemo Complete", you mentioned the difficulty of taking a pill which you know will cause pain. (God gave us an instinctive reaction, usually nausea, to things which make us sick. It must be very hard to keep taking those pills.) Those pills are a symbol of Christ -- they are offering you life eventually, but guaranteeing you pain immediately. Christ is quite clear that following Him includes suffering (e.g., John 16:33). However, Christ guarantees us eternal life, whereas the pill only increases your chance of temporal life; Christ gives us joy through our suffering, which the pill definitely doesn't; and you choose the pill, but Christ chose you.
God bless you, Glen

Bill Peck said...

In Romans 8:17-18, Paul writes, "Now if we are children (of God), then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs withe Christ, if indeed we sharein his suffering in order that we may also share in his glory. For I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (NIV)
Paul then goes on to declare that we have the "first fruits" of the Spirit as a sort of down payment on that eternal glory.
Then, in verse 26, he says, "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness."
All this (and much more) to say that we can be joyous, despite our sufferings, because God has provided the perfect respite from our sufferings. And we know about it BECAUSE of our sufferings.
The Peck family is praying for you and for Christine.

Roland Lindh said...

There is, or at least in my mind, a corollary to the presence of pain and evil in the world leading to the premise that a God could not exist because evil exists. That corollary says that God must exist because pleasure is in the world. Now how many of those who have experienced the good things of this life give thanks to God for providing the wonderful things - but rather claim is non-being or blame him for evil's presence. Note the scriptures on this point say how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. One Psalmist, I have forgotten the immediate reference says that the true mark of the unbeliever is unthankfulness. Or to put it another way, self sufficiency, "I will be my own God..." and a return to Eden's failed moment with the God who is there.
Having said that, I do not minimize the pain of all who suffer, nor say how "blessed" you are. God Himself, in the incarnate person of Jesus, made healing the touchstone of his ministry. And we too must aleviate and comfort as best we can by the power of the human mandate, that creation ordinance to subdue the world of pain, together with the power granted us in prayer.
And lastly, to the power of prayer, I am struck often by the words in the gospels, "He (Jesus) could do nothing because of their unbelief..." As my wife (a survivor of WWII in Poland) sternly corrected me when I was suffering some time ago - "Where is your faith?" It was when I abandoned my own fears and turned in humble faith to Gods eternal purpose, not my own, that resolution and comfort became a reality. Both the human problem was resolved, and the hardness of my own heart was softened and thankfulness arose.
How we "complete the sufferings of Christ" I do not know. But we do! Can we be thankful in this? We must. I must suffer with Greg and plead in true faith that His glory will yet be revealed in Greg's body, in Christine's body, and in the body of Christ, His church, who suffers with them.

Craig Bradenbaugh said...

Excellent message! Preach it Brother.