Last Easter Eastside circulated a survey asking what questions people want to ask God. If you could ask God anything, what would you say?
We received thousands for responses and compiled a list of the top ten questions asked by those in our community that we will cover during this series.
This is often how Jesus taught. People would approach Him with a question and He would answer.
Why does God allow evil, pain, and suffering in the world?
In a recent national survey, this was the top question people wanted God to answer.
It would be so much easier if this were merely a philosophical, theoretical, or even academic question. But people are asking this question at a gut level; from somewhere deep inside, because pain and suffering take on a different dimension when it’s your pain, your spouse, your child, your marriage, your health.
How would you personally answer the question, “Why does God allow evil, pain, and suffering in the world?”
It’s okay to ask “Why?”
Have a volunteer read Matthew 27:46.
Sometimes people who follow Jesus think it’s wrong to ask why. So they cover it up and go to church and smile. But even Jesus, hanging on the cross, cries out and asks “Why?” And often underneath this question are some some troubling questions about God: Is God powerless? Or indifferent? Or uninvolved? Or maybe even to blame?
Have you experienced a season of doubt, when you’ve asked questions like these?
Did you feel guilty for wanting to ask God why?
Where does suffering come from?
Sometimes our suffering comes from our own sin. We do something wrong and pay the price for it.
Some of our suffering is a result of other people’s sin. If someone cheats on his or her spouse, that wronged spouse suffers as a result.
There are times when satan is at the root of the suffering going on. Although satan has limited power in this world, this is still his domain. The Bible tells us that the devil is here to kill, steal, and destroy. In the book of Job we read the story of a man who lost his family, his health, and his financial stability as a result of satan’s attacks.
But most of the time our suffering is the result of a fallen world, a world where people’s poor choices have broken the perfect world God created.
Some might ask why God doesn’t just override free will, but God gave us free will because God is love, and love can’t happen without free will. Love isn’t love if someone forces you to do it. The love you receive from friends or from a spouse is so powerful and so meaningful because those people choose you, because no one forces them to love you.
Part of God’s perfect world is the presence of free will. And if free will is present, then people can make poor choices that hurt others.
What do you think about the idea that evil exists because we have free will? Does this help you reconcile a belief that God is good even in spite of all of the bad things that happen?
Suffering the What
The reality is that even if you understand why something bad is happening, you still have to deal with what is happening.
Have a volunteer read John 14:15-27.
You do not have to be alone. Jesus has promised those of us who follow Him that His Holy Spirit will be with us to comfort us and bring us peace in the midst of any situation.
People often quote what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me,” as a statement about their ability to hit a home run or succeed in a business deal, but that isn’t at all what Paul meant.
The lines just prior read, “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Paul was saying, no matter what I suffer, no matter what trial I go through, I can make it because God strengthens me through His Holy Spirit.
Have you ever experienced an inexplicable peace, comfort, or strength in the midst of a difficult situation?
Have a volunteer read John 3:16.
No matter what you’re going through, God knows how you feel.
Many people find strength when they speak with others who have been through what they’re currently experiencing. On that silent night, on that holy night in Bethlehem, when Jesus was born, God let go of His only son, Jesus, knowing full well what would await this little baby in a manger.
God knew that Herod would seek to take the life of this baby. God knew the betrayal Jesus would experience by one of the men closest to Him. God knew that His Son would suffer the most cruel, drawn-out, painful, excruciating death possible for a human being. Yet God still let His son go.
The ultimate answer to the question of tragedy and suffering is not an explanation but the incarnation: Jesus Christ, God the Son, coming into our world to experience life and suffering.
How does it make you feel to know that God Himself has suffered so much as a result of sin? Does the fact that God did not even save Himself from that suffering impact how you think about the question of how a good God can allow evil in the world?
Have a volunteer read Psalm 56:8
Some may say, “Nobody knows the hell I’m going through at home right now.” But they’re wrong. God does. Some may say, “Nobody knows how I’m struggling to break this habit, this hurt, this addiction.” But God does. “No one knows the depression and fear and hopelessness I feel right now.” God knows how they feel.
How do you thing God feels about the suffering you’ve experienced recently?
Have a volunteer read 2 Corinthians 7:8-11.
Pain can serve a purpose. Sometimes God allows pain because He knows it’s will result in a greater good.
Maybe God allows the cancer to teach us to value what is eternal. Maybe God allows the difficult boss to teach us self-control. Maybe God allows the unemployment to teach us faith. Maybe God allows the baby that sleeps all day and cries all night to teach us patience.
God doesn’t cause everything that happens, but He does work them together for good. God never wastes a hurt.
There are many at Eastside right now who would say it was through a season of loss that they were drawn back to God into a relationship with Jesus. Even when someone goes through the worst thing to happen to them, God pulls them back to the most important thing.
When has God used a difficult season in your life to achieve a greater good?
Have a volunteer read Habakkuk 3:17-19
When the vines are empty and the fields are barren and flocks are gone, hang onto God and don’t let go.
We can endure a lot of pain if we know that there is a happy ending, a light at the end of the tunnel, a reward for being faithful during those times of testing. There is a reason to hold on. There is glory that awaits everyone in the end.
Have a volunteer read Revelation 21:3-5
John wants his readers to take the long view. This isn’t to deny or minimize the pain people experience in life, but it focuses us on the eternal reward we will receive if we pursue God in the midst of pain. John tells us what will not be present in Heaven: death, mourning, crying, pain, suffering, tragedy, and injustice. Instead there will be joy and renewal.
Does this long view change how you think about pain and suffering? If so, how?
Take a few minutes right now to consider which of these might apply to you:
Do you know someone who is going through a difficult season similar to one you’ve already been through? Offer to grab coffee and listen.
Do you need to be comforted yourself? Ask a close friend or group member to sit and pray with you.
Is there a struggle that makes you cry out “Why?” Start a prayer journal, and write down both your “why questions for God as well as your prayers for strength, peace and comfort. When you look back on it later, you may be amazed at how God has worked.
Do you fear that God doesn’t care or won’t be there for you? Meet with someone from the group to discuss your questions and concerns and to pray for support.
Before you leave, share what step you plan to take this week, and report back next week on how it went.