What About Pain & Suffering?

-Can People Change?

There’s a scene, from the 2005 movie “16 Blocks”, starring Bruce Willis, where a prisoner that Willis’ character has to escort to trial, at the courthouse, tells him that, “People can change,” whereupon Willis’ character responds, “Days change. Seasons change. Not people.” So, what do you think? Can people change? Is it possible for people to change? Can we lose weight & keep it off? Can we do a better job at the job? Can our spouse ever change some of their ways?

-Hoping Church Will Change You?

I have found, through the years, that people often come to church wanting to change! To get better! To kick some old, bad habit! They’re hopeful that God might help them change! I’ve also watched people get frustrated & impatient when the change isn’t enough; or, it doesn’t happen fast enough! And, they begin to question whether faith, in God, really works! Back a couple of years ago I watched the trailer for a movie titled, “An Interview With God.” It dealt with perhaps the most difficult of all difficult questions:  “Why does God allow pain, suffering & Hurt? If He’s all-powerful, why doesn’t He stop it?” The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, was inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to address, in part, that difficult question.

-An Interview With God!

Think of it as a kind of interview with God, as we note what God has to say about pain & suffering! In no way is this meant to be an exhaustive message on the subject; but, hopefully helps us put together a bit of a Biblical theology on pain and suffering. Here’s what Jeremiah’s inspired text has to say about it:  God intends to train us, through life’s painful events, to trust His faithfulness & to look forward to redemption. Now, that’s certainly not the way Satan plans to use suffering! The enemy intends to use painful circumstances, in our lives, to destroy us. But, if you’ll trust God THROUGH the painful events, He’ll use those things to change you & to make you more like Jesus, our suffering Savior!

-No One Was Coming To Help!

At the time Jeremiah wrote down the words of his book, the end was very close for Judah & Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar & the armies of Babylon are at the gates of the city! Jerusalem has been under siege for more than a year & they’re experiencing severe famine. It says that there was no bread to be found anywhere in the city; and, there was no relief in sight! There was no one coming to help them! That’s the background to Jeremiah, chapters 30, 31, and 32. Here’s why this is important to us:  because the response, of the Jewish people, is so similar to our response to pain. Our default response to pain, suffering, and, struggles is to blame shift! And, all too often, we shift blame to God! We curse Him for our difficulties! That’s true, isn’t it?

-In Time You’ll Understand!

Here’s God’s response:  “Why do you cry out about your injury? Your pain has no cure! I have done these things to you because of your enormous guilt and your innumerable sins “ Jeremiah 30:15. Get the picture? In a modern translation, God is saying, “Why are you crying? Stop it! I’ve done this to you! But, it’s not what I wanted to do to you! I wanted to bless you! But, you’re guilty of so much sin I can’t even count ‘em all!” The chapter finishes like this: “Look, a storm from the Lord! Wrath has gone out, a churning storm. It will whirl about the heads of the wicked. The Lord’s burning anger will not turn back until He has completely fulfilled the purposes of His heart. In time to come, you will understand it” (30:23-24). So, God intended to unleash His wrath, against sinful Jerusalem, until they, “…come to understand…” that they were the problem, NOT God. Until they’re broken over their sin! We’ll get into this a little deeper next time!

God Punishes Because He Loves!

-God So Loved The World!

The most well known verse, in all of Scripture, is John 3:16. It says, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” In this way, God proved His love— He sent Jesus to atone for our sin by His death on the cross! That’s really the end of the argument against God! For all the doubters of God’s love, mercy & grace there is the One & Only “Exhibit A”— His Name is Jesus! And, He bore God’s judgment against sin so we wouldn’t have to! So that we could be saved!

-Brokenness To Openness!

But, it’s only as we experience our brokenness that we become open to God’s overtures to save us! And, punishment is often the tool He uses to expose our brokenness! So, ultimately, it is because God is love that He punishes us to bring us to the place of brokenness; where, He can redeem us! And, there is perhaps no better Biblical example of that than God’s judgment of Judah & Jerusalem as they are overrun by Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar; and, taken into captivity & exile! The Biblical narrative reveals that God first warned them; then, punished them; and, finally, in love, He redeems them! To accomplish God’s purposes in our broken world, He first warns!

-A Skirmish You Can’t Win!

Disobedience to God & His Word will never turn out well for you! When you fight against God, it’s a skirmish you can’t possibly win! When I was young & very foolish I loved to get into fist fights out on the school playground! But, I always sized up the other guy first! There were some guys that I just knew I couldn’t take! So, I would find a way to wiggle out of that fight! I was foolish; but, I wasn’t stupid! I would do everything I could to avoid getting into a fight I knew I couldn’t win! So, why would anyone ever pick a fight with God! You can’t possibly win against a God who is all-powerful! You can’t outwit a God who knows everything there is to know! And, you can’t run away from a God who is everywhere!

-They Despised His Warnings!

And, yet, the Biblical account shows that Israel tried multiple times & lost! So, God warned them & warned them & warned them again! In 2 Chronicles, chapter 36, God reminds them of this:  “But Yahweh, the God of their ancestors sent word against them by the hand of His messengers, sending them time and time again, for He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they kept ridiculing God’s messengers, despising His words, and scoffing at His prophets, until the Lord’s wrath was so stirred up against His people that there was no remedy” (vs. 15-16)

-God’s Compassion Toward Us!

Did you notice why God said He sent them prophets? Look at the end of v.15. It says He sent messengers to warn them, “…because He had compassion on His people…” God warns because of His great compassion toward us! He warns because He is Love! When you  disobey God’s word you expose yourself to great danger! Sin lies to you! It promises pleasure! But, it always delivers pain! Sin is a destroyer! It destroys lives, families & nations! Just go back and read God’s 10 Commandments; and, consider the pain and suffering that comes to those who break them! The one who steals will be incarcerated! The one who lies will never be trusted! The one who sleeps with someone they’re not married to destroys relationships & families & brings hatred & disease upon themselves! Listen when God warns!

The Mysteries Of God!

-Why Doesn’t He Fix The World?

In my lifetime I’ve been in several conversations with individuals who had set themselves up as “judges” of God. “If God is all-powerful & knows everything,” they ask, “then why doesn’t He do something about all the bad stuff in the world?” Job’s picture could be placed next to that question! He serves as the epitome of unanswerable questions like that! How does God determine His will? Why does He seem to step into certain situations & not into others? Why does He permit wicked people, like ISIS, to continue ripping open pregnant women & beheading little children & killing people just for loving Jesus?

-Can You Fathom God?

The Book of Job seems to be an appropriate book for addressing the mysteries of God— “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens — what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave–what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea” Job 11. Scripture tells us that God’s paths are beyond our ability to trace out! So, what is an appropriate response, on our part, to God’s wisdom & knowledge? To His unsearchable & untraceable ways? The answer: HUMILITY! That is the only appropriate response! To humble ourselves before him & admit we haven’t got a clue! And, that He alone knows it all! And, He is under no obligation to share any more answers with us than what He has in His Word!

-Who Can Know God’s Mind?

We need to give God glory for His counsel— “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid?” Romans 11:34-35. Who has ever known the mind of God? Who can know what He’s thinking? So, who could ever offer God any useful counsel? But, still, we try telling God what He needs to do with His universe, don’t we? If you were God would you do things differently? If you say “YES” that’s exactly why the rest of us are glad you’re NOT God! And, you all ought to be equally glad that I’m not God, either! Ponder this thought— because God knows everything that’s knowable, that means He’s already considered your ideas & tossed them out as an unacceptable response to the situation! Right?

-The End From The Beginning!

Because you & I don’t know the end from the beginning, like He does, we really can’t offer Him any thoughts that He hasn’t already considered! “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…” Deut 29:29; “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways & My thoughts than your thoughts, says the Lord” Isaiah 55:9 . So, let us give God the glory He is due for His wisdom, knowledge & counsel! And, by faith, trust Him with all the things you don’t have answers for! I love how Tony Evans says it:  “Everything is either caused by God or allowed by God; and, there is no third category.” Paul concludes, “To Him be the glory forever” Romans 11:36. Let’s glory in God, His Son & the cross!