South Sydney Anglican Church

Apologetics: Defending the Christian Faith (4th Sunday)

5 May 2024

Series: Apologetics

Bible Passage: Genesis 3:1-19

A Good, All Powerful God is not Inconsistent with Suffering

Intro:  Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and today we continue our study of Christian Apologetics. Over the past few weeks, I’ve provided some arguments FOR why we should believe in God and over the next few weeks I’ll address some arguments that are often used AGAINST believing in God. So today we are considering the issue of HUMAN SUFFERING.

Prayer:   Well the most common argument AGAINST belief in God comes from human suffering. Just after Christmas in 2004, there was a 9.1 magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean. This led to a massive TSUNAMI TIDAL WAVE – some 30 meters high that struck 14 different countries around the Indian ocean. The death toll ended up being about 250,000 people. Now in the aftermath – we saw news report after news report asking; where was God? How could a good, loving God allow so many innocent people to suffer? Versions of this argument come against us as Christians – every time there is a calamity. But sometimes it also comes personally from deep wounds.

The argument against belief in God because of suffering usually goes something like this (Slide 2). Now at face value this is a powerful emotive argument. But we need to recognize that there are actually some HIDDEN PREMISES in this argument. For instance (ENTER) the first hidden premise is that suffering is never loving or good. But most people know that some suffering in the gym or on the treadmill can be good for us. We also discipline our children to bring about better, more thoughtful behaviour. So we know good things can come from suffering – even though its often not pleasant…

Another hidden premise is (ENTER) – God could create a world with no suffering. Is this really true? It seems logical. But we know that much suffering in the world comes from humans making poor choices. So, to remove this suffering God would have to take away our free will – which would make us automatons or robots.

Third, this argument also includes the hidden premise (ENTER) Human beings are innocent and deserve no suffering. But even secular courts generally agree that human beings are not always innocent. People sometimes do evil things that deserve fines and jail time.

Now the minute Christians begin to expose these hidden premises THE ARGUMENT against belief in God because of suffering begins to fall apart. Even secular philosophers now generally agree that this argument against belief in God because of suffering is not logically coherent. A) God can be good and all powerful AND B) human suffering can exist. The two ideas are not MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE.

But for most people – the issue of suffering – is NOT a logical problem. You’ll often hear people say things like – “I could never believe in a God who allows little children to die of leukemia.” At this point the argument against belief in God has nothing to do with logic. It has to do with the personal experience of suffering. And the only way to address the argument is now pastoral, not logical.

 Point 1:         Sin and Suffering traces itself back to Adam & Eve’s Original Sin

Show:                        Gen.3:6-7 (READ)

Explain:         Well, most people who have grown up in the western world are familiar with the story of Adam and Eve. God places them in a beautiful Garden, called Eden. They are free to eat the fruit on any tree, but they are not free to eat the fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of course, we all know what happens next. They eat the forbidden fruit and everything begins to get messy.

Now Genesis 3 is like THE HINGE between the perfect world of Genesis 1 & 2 and the world of suffering we experience as humans. Genesis 3 explains why the world is no longer good. And while Genesis 3 comes to us as a quaint, almost whimsical account of Adam and Eve, it is also a profoundly deep theological explanation for why our world experiences suffering …

So at one level we see SUFFERING is the product of a serpent. The serpent tempts Adam & Eve to sin. And their original sin begins to wreck everything. God designed His world to work on a TEMPLATE of trusting God. So when Adam and Eve 1) stopped trusting God and 2)stopped trusting each other everything goes to poo fairly quickly. So why did God create a world that could get messy – so quickly.

Well, questioning God on why he created the world the way He did – is not really mans place. God is God and much of what he does is 1)above our pay grade and also 2) above our intellect. In theological circles the origin of evil and suffering is called “theodicy”. And it is generally accepted by Christian scholars that there are aspects of evil and suffering that we cannot answer. For instance, in the biblical book of Job (which also deals with the issue of evil and suffering) – the book finishes with God more or less saying “Who are you, O man, to question God?” (Job 38:2-12). There are some questions that will only truly be answered in heaven…

But in Genesis 3 – we see that part of the reason for evil and suffering is that human beings were given free wills. This is what is represented by the TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL. What this tree really represents is man’s ability to choose. And this freedom (however you conceive it) is one of the QUINTESSENTIAL elements of being human. Man has the ability to choose good or evil; love or hate; life or death. Animals tend to be instinctual. They just do what is necessary to live. But human beings have been originally given (and ultimately redeemed in Jesus) a FREE-WILL to rise above our basic instincts and make thoughtful, sometimes even sacrificial choices.

In some ways this is one of the most fundamental things of being human – the ability to choose between A or B. Now if I said to any human being – are you willing to give up your ability to make all choices (in order to end all evil and suffering in your life) I think most of us would still hesitate in giving an answer. Our will and ability to make choices is profoundly connected to who we are as human beings. So if God made a world with no evil or suffering – we would need to be very different beings with far lower capabilities.

Of course, the minute God gave us free-wills – it ALLOWED for the POTENTIALITY of evil and suffering. We can choose to reject God. We can choose to do evil. This evil may then deserve Gods punishment (which brings further suffering). So, should God have created a world where human choice did not exist? And if God created a world where human choice did not exist – would you still be human? I am simply showing you that while we can’t biblically answer the question of evil and suffering completely – the Bible does link evil and suffering – with our ability to choose good or evil. Now our ability to choose is part of Gods good creation. THE PROBLEM is that ability to choose which is good, can be used poorly which is evil. So really – when we say God should have created a world without any evil or suffering – we are saying God should NOT have given us our humanity or freedom.

So if we come back to THE ARGUMENT (Slide 4) against belief in God because of suffering we see that Genesis 3 has kind of defeated two of the hidden premises in this argument. First, (ENTER) we can’t really claim that human beings are innocent and do not deserve to suffer. We know human beings often make evil choices and they suffer as a result. So the Bible confirms what we know is true. Second, (ENTER) it is also very HARD TO EXPLAIN how God could create a world without suffering, while creating us as humans with truly free wills. Finally (ENTER) the premise that suffering is never loving or good – also begins to fall part when you accept man has a problem. Chemotherapy always produces some suffering – but it is loving and good – if it fixes the problem of cancer. So generally speaking the logic of THE ARGUMENT against Gods existence because of suffering simply does not work. It can be defeated logically in numerous ways…

I want to show you a quote by the famous apologist CS Lewis. (Slide 5). THE POINT IS some suffering and evil may be the price we have to pay simply for being human. But praise God – Jesus ultimately paid this price for us – as he died on the cross…

 Point 2:         Sin & Suffering leads to the blame Game

Show:                        Gen.3:11-13 (READ)

Explain:         Well as you can see sin and suffering immediately leads to the blame game. ADAM blames Eve for the sin and suffering. EVE blames the serpent for the sin and suffering. And eventually THE SERPENT turns the blame game full-circle and suggests we should blame God. THE ARGUMENT against believing in God (because of sin and suffering) really lays the blame back on God for sin and suffering. God shouldn’t have given us free wills. Instead of recognizing that the cause of sin and suffering is ultimately us using our free-wills poorly – we put the blame back on God for giving us free-wills. Of course, we all play the blame game when we do the wrong thing. Its not my fault – they made me do it…

I watched an INTERVIEW ON YOUTUBE this week with Dr Phil – where Palestinian women were trying to put the blame on Israel for Hamas attacking them on 7th October 2023. They were saying ISRAEL was to blame for Hamas raping women, beheading innocent people and killing children. Dr Phil spat the dummy. He said – what Hamas chose to do of their own free-will was evil and they are responsible for that evil and the consequences of that evil.

But humans blaming God for the suffering and evil in the world is even more crazy than Hamas blaming Israel. The problems and suffering in this world is ultimately our own doing. But pointing this out to the average person who is really suffering in war, or addiction or a broken marriage is RARELY CONDUCIVE to a good Christian conversation. If you tell a person A) who has lost a child in cot death, or B) who has just lost their family in a car accident – that they are suffering because of their sin (OR even Adam & Eve’s original sin) – it is a conversation killer. It may be true. But you’re not speaking the truth in love. When people are really suffering the last thing they need is a logical, rational explanation of all the contributing factors to their suffering. No, what they need in that moment is love.

So when people say I could never believe in a God who allows innocent people to suffer – we need to realise that most of the time – this is not the place for deep apologetics, but loving pastoral way. When we encounter people saying they could never believe in a God who allows suffering – we need to realise this is rarely an INTELLECTUAL PROBLEM.

(Slide 8) If you look at this diagram – it helps us think about this issue. THE PROBLEM is we all experience suffering at times, and we don’t like it. Now occasionally, this leads to an intellectual problem – how can God be good and let me suffer. The extreme version of the intellectual problem is THE LOGICAL ARGUMENT against belief in God because of suffering that we have been considering.

That is the person truly can’t RECONCILE – the concept of God and the reality of suffering. But let me say this is rarely the true problem. If people are arguing against belief in God because of suffering – they are usually trying to supress the truth about God. People like Richard Dawkins and atheistic university students may play this game – but most people don’t. The logical argument simply doesn’t work and is rarely really used as a truly logical argument.

But there can still be an EVIDENTIAL PROBLEM with suffering. We believe that God is good and loving. But in the midst of suffering it is harder to see God’s goodness and love. The evidence is harder to discern. So as Christians we often talk about God using suffering to bring about some higher good. A common example is Joseph in the Old Testament. Joseph was sold into slavery. He was put in prison. His life was terrible. But in the end God raised Joseph up to be a leader in Egypt and he was able to save all the Jews in their hour of need. Voila – God brings good out of suffering. But sadly, the reality of suffering – makes it harder to see the good. Gods goodness is NOT always EVIDENT as you stand next to the grave of your child OR turn off the life-support for your mum. But the evidential problem is only really fixed with the eyes of faith…

Apply:            So in 99% of your conversations with people saying they can’t believe in God because of suffering – what you are dealing with is an emotional problem. They don’t need logical or evidential arguments. What they perhaps need is for you say; (Slide 9)It sounds like something really hurt you (or you’ve seen some great tragedy) and this has caused you to doubt God’s goodness – do you want to tell me about it…Now that question gives them the opportunity to speak personally or more generally. But obviously, it’s now going to cost you something. At least YOUR TIME to listen. But they may also be ANGRY and take their anger out on you. They may want to CRY on your shoulder or play their LITTLE VICTIM VIOLIN – until it drives you crazy. But when it comes to suffering – what most people need is not apologetics, but pastoral care.

Point 3:         Sin and Suffering is Experienced Personally and Naturally*

Show:                        Gen.3:16-17 (READ)

Explain:         Well, because of Adam & Eve’s sin – there is interpersonal SUFFERING. Eve is going to find it hard raising children. Adam and Eve’s relationship together is going to be fraught with distrust. But there is also going to be suffering from THE NATURAL REALM. Eve will have trouble giving birth. Adam will find it hard to grow plants and produce food. Relational suffering and natural suffering are the two main forms of suffering that come from sin. People hurt us and sometimes nature hurts us. Now the floods and bushfires and earthquakes are generally seen as a kind of wake-up calls from God – so that we recognize our need of God and turn to Him for help before we die. But sadly, personal and natural suffering often leads to death – which causes further suffering.

Now remember in the midst of all this suffering what people are doubting is GODS GOODNESS. Even though nature declares the glory of God, suffering clouds our vision. So, is there any place we can truly see Gods goodness despite suffering OR even in the midst of suffering? (PAUSE) Well, of course the answer is Jesus on the cross.

But as you try to get there – remember that you don’t know the exact reason for a person’s suffering. Sometimes you may see a link between their suffering and some stupidity in their life. But pointing that out is rarely helpful. What’s more, whenever their suffering arises from NATURAL PHENOMENA or PHYSICAL AILMENT – there is often no direct link between their suffering and some personal sin. Much of the suffering in this world simply comes from living in A FALLEN, SINFUL WORLD. So listen to the story and empathise with their complaint and if you are going to attribute their suffering to anything, speak generally of our fallen, sinful world. But perhaps speak of your HOPE in Jesus and that God promises that one day he will end all suffering and wipe every tear from our eyes. Explain this HOPE keeps you going.

Now in dealing with suffering – less is more. The less you speak and the more you listen – usually the better. Also, be very aware many people have severe suffering in their life because of sin committed against them. The suffering they’ve experienced is not always due to their sin, but other people’s sin against them. In such circumstances it may be worth saying – “You know, what you shared is terrible. I want you to know God did not do this to you. This was because of other people’s evil choices. But please know God loves you and he wants to help you – if you trust Him. Can I pray for you?

But please keep this in mind – the atheist or agnostic, the Buddhist or the Hindu has no real good answers for suffering. As a Christian you have better, more comprehensive and more hopeful answers for suffering. Darwinian evolutionary theory AND survival of the fittest – says if I’m suffering and dying – I’m obviously not one of the fittest (so you might as well shoot me. You know for the sake of the human gene pool). If I’m Buddhist or Hindu its probably Karma and I must somehow deserve it. So suck it up princess. Sadly, in the midst of suffering and without Jesus – most people – have zero answers. No hope in suffering. No purpose in suffering. No God who really cares about their suffering.  So you might say something like; “I know that in the midst of suffering it’s hard to believe God is good or that God loves you. But please know God sent Jesus to earth because he wants to help people in their suffering. He wants to help you.

Of course, as Christians we know God cares about us in our suffering. 1) He promises to comfort us in our suffering, 2) refine us through suffering and 3) ultimately bring an end to our suffering if we trust in Jesus. What’s more – even in the midst of terrible suffering – I can still look at the cross and know that God is good and God loves me enough to send Jesus to die for my sins. (GOSPEL) Yes, because of my sin I deserve to suffer and die. I’ve made poor choices. But God loved me so much that he sent Jesus to suffer and die on the cross for me – so that I may be saved by faith in him.

Jesus suffered and died for me – so that I might see Gods love and goodness and begin to trust him again.  In Jesus – we begin to see God is NOT against us in suffering, but with us in suffering. IN FACT, as Christians we are often more aware of Gods presence with us in suffering, than in times of ease. WHAT’S MORE in suffering – Christians have the hope that God is refining us AND the suffering is only for a short time.

 Now how you bridge this gap between 1) a persons personal suffering and 2) Jesus suffering and dying for their sin – will probably be different every time. But in pastoral love we need to bridge this gap and address the issue of suffering as best we can – because while we do not have all the answers to suffering – we have infinitely better answers and more hopeful answers than any of the alternatives.




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