The bible describes two foundational balances:
1. Suffering is both just and unjust.
2. God is both a sovereign and a suffering God.
On page 131, Dr. Keller tells us, “Human beings were not created to experience death, pain, grief, disappointment, ruptured relationships, disease, and natural disasters. The world we were made to live in was not supposed to be like that. A frustrated world is a broken world, in which things do not function as they should, and that is why there is evil and suffering.” That is the theme of Genesis 1-3. We now live in a world that falls short of its design. Paul explains this in Romans 8:18-21.
So in this context, we understand that the Bible teaches that suffering is a form of justice. Throughout history peoples and individuals have been rewarded or punished as natural consequences of their choices and actions. Much of the suffering we see around us results from violating God’s moral law which has its consequences just as jumping off a building in an attempt to violate the law of gravity will have rather painful results.
Now some take this idea to the degree that every instance of suffering has a specific wrongdoing for which one is being punished. We also recognize that suffering is not proportionate or fair. Many bad people live very good lives while some of the best people have absolutely terrible lives. Yet we can indeed cry out in our confusion.
The Bible reveals both of these ideas to us. Proverbs shows how justice is related to suffering as the result of wrongdoing, that hard work leads to prosperity and laziness leads to want. But Job and Ecclesiastes show that it doesn’t always work that way, that suffering is definitely not the result of wrongdoing, it is often unjust. But the Bible also teaches that the world is the creative product of one all-powerful God for the sheer joy of creating and that there is a fabric of design or structure and a foundation of moral order.
Next we learn of suffering as the enemy of God. It is an intrusion into creation. The explanation of this is found the narrative of Jesus raising Lazarus from death. When Jesus approached the tomb, the Greek word used describes that Jesus “bellowed with anger.” Death is the object of his wrath it is that which he came into the world to destroy. As we learned previously, evil is so rooted in the human heart that if Jesus had destroyed evil he would have destroyed us. But instead he came in weakness and endured the cross to pay for our sins so he can wipe out evil in the future without ending us.
While philosophers (and non-philosophers) decry an all-powerful and all-good God, the Bible goes beyond these abstract ideas. God is not just all-powerful he is sovereign over every event in history. God is not just all-good he entered into this world and experienced greater evil, pain and suffering than any of us have experienced. Sometimes this doctrine of sovereignty is called compatibilism. He is in complete control of what happens yet exercises that control through the free choices and actions of human beings who are responsible. His plan is worked out perfectly through our choices and willing actions, not despite them. He never forces us to do anything, we always do what we want to do and our choices have consequences.
In the Book of Acts, Peter explains that Jesus was crucified according to God’s plan, yet it was lawless men who killed him. Joseph, in Genesis, explains to his brothers that what they intended for evil, i.e. selling him into slavery, God intended for good, i.e. raising him up to save innumerable lives from famine. In Exodus, the text describes that Pharaoh’s heart is hardened by God and by Pharaoh himself both equally. So which is it? Both. So at the most practical level, we have “crucial assurance that even wickedness and tragedy, which we know was not part of God’s original design, is nonetheless being woven into a wise plan. So the promise of Romans 8, ‘that all things work together for good,’ is an incomparable comfort to believers.” (page 144)
Next week Chapter Seven: The Suffering of God.
Until then, don’t take my word for it, read the book – don’t wait for the movie,
and have a little hope on me,