Volume. XXX, No. 33
Sunday, 07 February 2016


Evil & Suffering - A Biblical Theodicy


This article is about a Christian response to suffering.

‘Theodicy’ is a term coined from the Greek words theos (God) and dike (righteous) used to attempt to justify or defend God in the face of evil. Many atheists have framed the following argument in an attempt to show that because evil exists, the God of the Bible could not exist:

  • If God were all powerful, He could destroy evil.
  • If God were all good, He would want to destroy evil.
  • But evil is not destroyed.
  • Therefore, an all-powerful and all-good God does not exist.

There are many people who object that if God were Almighty and perfectly good, He never would have allowed evil to enter the world; and evil is considered the primary cause of all suffering of humanity. Suffering is a daily reality which everyone experiences, whether Christian or non-Christian. Human suffering vividly marks the presence of evil in our world. Every day we are confronted by horrifying reports by both the print and electronic media – images of death, hunger, diseases, earthquakes, floods, drought, wars, suicide activities, a child or woman is raped, a school shooting, genocide in another country, a terrorist bombing, thefts etc. It cannot be denied that the entire religious systems in the world have come from human attempts with the view to providing some explanation for evil and to give people a reason for continuing the daily struggle with evil, and the pain and suffering brought about by it.
Everyone has struggled at one time or another in life or still struggle with why suffering happens to someone; either ourselves, our family, our friends, our nation, or perhaps some particularly disturbing instance in the news.

Being a Christian is no exception to suffering. The problem of evil affects us so deeply that it touches us at the core of our very existence. This challenge cannot be avoided any longer but must be responded to with convincing answers. Some seem to find answers in philosophy or theology, while others confess their struggle and anguish. The issues are many and deep, and the answers are elusive, especially as we attempt to find them within our own paradigms of theological thought. The problem of evil is that it challenges our belief systems and forces us to reconsider our thinking about humanity and God. This problem shatters every preconceived notion by which we may comfortably attempt to explain evil away, and haunts us with questions too deep to be satisfactorily answered by our own thinking.

Therefore, it is prudent to allow God to reveal to us what we cannot otherwise know by ourselves, and to endeavour to look at the problem of evil and its many related issues as much as possible from God’s perspective. We must have a thoroughly Biblical approach, letting Scripture, rather than our own preconceived belief system, indicate the path to follow; otherwise the misconception of suffering will continue haunting us. One of the major causes of devastating grief and confusion among Christians has been that our expectations are false. It has been observed that we do not give the subject of evil and suffering the thought it deserves; not until we ourselves are confronted with tragedy. If, at the point of such an experience we are out of step with the Triune God, then the pain from the personal tragedy may be multiplied several times over as we begin to question the very foundations of our faith: ‘Why me?’, ‘Why are you picking on me?’, ‘Why are you punishing me?’ This could be a whisper from far bleaker thoughts, whether articulated or not:  ‘Maybe you aren’t a God of love, but capricious’.

The ‘Already’ and ‘Not yet’ tension
As Christians we remember the testimony of Jesus Christ in Rev 22: 20, “Surely I come quickly” and the church responds with might, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”. We live in the light of the end that give Christians the prospect of vindication and resurrection without which our faith becomes irrelevant (1 Cor. 15: 19). For many centuries several groups of believers proved it difficult to get the balance between the fact that the Kingdom of God is already here with us, but there is also a sense that the Kingdom of God is not yet fully come. These facets have a strong bearing on how we look at evil and suffering. John the Baptist began to preach, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3: 1, 2); the same proclamation by Jesus at the launch of His ministry here on earth (Matt. 4: 17; Mk. 1: 15). The question might be how near is ‘near’? Is this in reference to time (soon) or physically near? The tension between the “already” and “not yet” means once the consummated kingdom has dawned, there will be no more evil or suffering among the people of God. But in the meantime, even though the kingdom has been inaugurated, evil and suffering are on one hand said to be defeated in principle, yet on the other hand are palpably present and in some ways can be on the increase. Therefore, it is important to look at evil and suffering from God’s perspective to give us the assurance of victory with Him over evil and suffering (1 Pet. 1: 3 – 9; 1 Pet. 5: 10).

It’s comforting and encouraging that the God on whom we rely knows what suffering is all about- not merely in the way that God knows everything, but by experience when He sent His Son Jesus Christ to suffer cruelly on our behalf. 

  1. All suffering endured by God’s people serves, in one way or another, to work together for their salvation (Jer. 36: 3). Suffering stimulates prayer (Ps. 25: 17 - 18, 20 - 21). The positive part of suffering is that we are made aware of our wretchedness, and thereby stimulating us to seek God’s favour.
  2. Suffering leads us to find trust in God’s power. When God divests us of confidence in our own strength, then we take refuge in the grace of God.
  3. Suffering teaches us patience, hope and obedience. God desires evidence of His grace at work in the lives of believers. In order that we don’t get overcome by pride, the Lord interferes by means of the cross, subduing our arrogance…. As we do not all labour under the same disease, we do not all need the same difficult cure….so we do not undergo the same discipline…. God’s purpose is to provide a cure for all… and since all are diseased with sin, none of us is left free and untouched.
  4. God’s purpose is that we be conformed to His Son. Since our triumph is in heaven, we must be prepared for combat while we live here on earth. Suffering for the sake of God’s truth is for our greater good, and if this idea is repugnant to us, it is because we seek our rest here below rather than in the Kingdom of God.
  5. Christian joy centres in Christ (1 Pet. 1: 6, 7; Jas. 1: 2). Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It is a sustained mood of exultation coming from the assurance of God’s favour and the hope of an inheritance in the heavenly kingdom. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. We view trials like death, poverty and prison as evils - but when we understand they are turned through God’s guidance into helps and aids to our salvation, it is ingratitude to complain and not willingly submit to such trials.
  6. Suffering produces patience in us (Rom. 5: 1 – 5). Through his suffering, the Christian, by God’s all-sufficient grace, is strengthened in spirit, and though weak in body, is made more trusting, patient, humble, compassionate and thankful. The Christian regards whatever he bears as being dispensed to him by the hand of the most generous Father, and therefore, the Christian can glory – for whenever salvation is promoted, there is no lack of reason for glorifying. If tribulations do not accomplish the habit of patience in us, it is our sinfulness obstructing the Lord’s work.
  7. Suffering prepares us for eternal glory (2 Cor. 4: 17, 18). Suffering is not meaningless; though we may not in this life discover the meaning or purpose for the suffering. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

 


More Lively Hope

 

Announcements

*Baptism, Re-Affirmation & Membership Transfer will be held on 28 Feb. Candidates to submit testimonies to Pastor Ki by today.
*Easter Family Bible Camp - Volunteers required for the Camp Committee. If able to able please come to first meeting after worship service. 
*Please note: Emails about the Magill property were sent to all members on 25 Jan, & ECM announced from the pulpit last Lord’s Day.
*Hope Church’s 30th Anniversary celebration is on 14-15 May weekend. Programme includes afternoon Thanksgiving Concert followed by special Thanksgiving Dinner & Bible Conference. More details in coming weeks. Please contact Dn Wai Kin Wong or Sis Serene Wong if you have any queries.

Praise & Thanksgiving

  1. Journey mercies: all arriving safely at their destinations.
  2. Visitors & new worshippers.
  3. God’s daily mercy, guidance & blessings.
  4. Job for some Hopefuls. 

Prayer Items

  1. Health & God’s healing - Pastor Ki; Dr Gary Cohen (USA), Dr SH Tow (S’pore); Rev Patrick Tan (S’pore) & Rev George van Buuren; Rev Edward & Sis Lehia Paauwe;  & others in affliction.
  2. iSketch & Tell Ministry: Pr Hai Seng Lim’s ministry in Melbourne.
  3. Cambodia Missions.
  4. New Life BPC (London) - Dr Carl Martin; God’s guidance & encouragement for congregation.
  5. Providence B-P Church, Mawson Lakes - Ps David & Sis Susan Weng, & congregation.
  6. Youth & Assistant Pastor for Hope B-P Church.
  7. Journey mercies:  all those who are travelling during the summer vacation.
  8. Postnatal healing.
  9. Interpreters of sermon into Mandarin.
  10. Jobs: Those seeking for jobs in Adelaide.
  11. God’s guidance & provision of new church property for worship, office & fellowship activities.

 

 

© Hope Bible-Presbyterian Church
PO Box 398, Fullarton, Adelaide, South Australia 5063