Friday, May 23, 2008

WHY THE INNOCENT SUFFER

I hate trying to answer this question, because normally when it is asked, it is by someone in the midst of terrible grief. "Why did God let this happen to me?" The answer to this question cannot be learned or comprehended while in the midst of anger or grief. It must be learned and comprehended before tragedy strikes.

The tragic death of the daughter of Steven Curtis Chapman has gained a lot of attention the past few days. I also had a friend email me this morning to share some terrible things that he is having to endure. I want to give answers and give comfort, but at this time everything is just words.

So if you are grieving, you may continue reading, but know that the answer will anger you and frustrate you even more. You will say that I just don't understand how it feels, and until I've put myself in your shoes I don't know what I'm talking about. And you will be right.

So I want to be held accountable for the answer I am going to give. Whenever I hit a rough spot emotionally, I want someone to remind me of what I'm about to reveal. I will roll my eyes and cry and become frustrated because I don't know what I was talking about. However, it doesn't make what I'm about to reveal as untrue, but only very difficult to accept.

If you are not grieving, continue reading and learn this truth. God does not owe you anything. You are the one that has the debt that you can never repay. The real question should not be "Why do the innocent suffer?" but rather "Why am I spared suffering?" If you get this into your head now, when calamities come and you feel abandoned by God, you will know that you are not.

Bob Hayton has some quotes on his blog from R.C. Sproul's book The Holiness of God. Read Luke 13:1-5 for the background.

"The question is raised, 'What about… the innocent people killed by the falling of the tower? Where was God in these events?' The question under discussion was: 'How could God allow these things to happen?' The question is actually a thinly veiled accusation. The issue was, as always, how can God allow innocent people to suffer?

We can hear the implied protest in the question. The eighteen innocent people were walking down the street minding their own business. They were not engaged in playing 'sidewalk superintendent.' They were not heckling the construction workers. They were not running away after robbing a bank. They just were 'there,' at the wrong time and tin the wrong place. They suffered the consequences of a fatal accident.

We might have expected Jesus to explain it like this: 'I am very sorry to hear about this tragedy. These things happen and there is not much we can do about it. It was fate. An accident. As good Christians you have to learn to accept the bad with the good. Keep a stiff upper lip. Be good Stoics! I know I taught you that the One who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. But that was a poetic statement, a bit of hyperbole. Do you realize what a difficult task it is for My Father to run the universe? It gets tiring. Every now and then He must take a nap. On the afternoon in question He was very weary and grabbed forty winks. While He was nodding the tower fell. I am sorry about that and I will report your grievance to Him. I will ask Him to be a bit more careful in the future.'

Jesus might have said: 'I know I told you that My Father notices the landing of every sparrow and that He numbers the hairs on your head. Do you realize how many sparrows there are flying around? And the hairs on the heads! The afternoon the tower fell my Father was busy counting the hairs on the head of a particularly bushy-haired fellow. He was concentrating so hard on the fellow’s head that He overlooked the falling tower. I will suggest that he get His priorities in order and not spend so much time with sparrows and hair.'

That is not what Jesus said. What He said was, 'Unless you repent, you too will all perish.' In effect what Jesus was saying was this: 'You people are asking the wrong question. you should be asking me, ‘Why didn’t that tower fall on my head?’ Jesus rebuked the people for putting their amazement in the wrong place. In two decades of teaching theology I have had countless students ask me why God doesn’t save everybody. Only once did a student come to me and say, “There is something I just can’t figure out. Why did God redeem me?'

We are not really surprised that God has redeemed us. Somewhere deep inside, in the secret chambers of our hearts we harbor the notion that God owes us His mercy…. What amazes us is justice, not grace….

…We have come to expect God to be merciful. From there the next step is easy: we demand it. When it is not forthcoming, our first response is anger against God, coupled with the protest: “It isn’t fair.” We soon forget that with our first sin we have forfeited all rights to the gift of life. That I am drawing breath this morning is an act of divine mercy. God owes me nothing. I owe Him everything. If He allows a tower to fall on my head this afternoon I cannot claim injustice….

…We must not take His grace for granted. We must never lose our capacity to be amazed by grace….
" [The Holiness of God, by R.C. Sproul [Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1985], quoted from pages 159-161, 164, 167]


Don't get mad, just learn this truth now and remind me of it later when I suffer. There is not much comfort in this answer, but I am convinced that it is correct.

4 Comments:

  1. John B said...
    Brett, I'm not mad at you, but I can't agree either.

    Of course we expect God to be merciful. After all, God is love. God's very nature is mercy. When God acts mercifully, God is only doing what God said He would do. We don't deserve His mercy, it is a gift of grace. Why would God decide in one moment to bestow this gift and in the next deny it?
    Brett said...
    We can have a meaningful discussion and present our arguments and agree to disagree without getting mad at each other.

    I believe that man has free will, but not like you mean. Our free will cannot trump God's will. God is completely sovereign and in control of every aspect of the universe, down to the smallest detail.

    It is umcomfortable to think about, because we like to focus on the parts of God we like - Love, Grace, and Mercy. We like to ignore parts we don't like so much. If this happens we no longer worship the God who is, but the god we want him to be.
    John B said...
    Brett,

    Do you really believe that God caused the earthquake in China or the cyclone in Myanmar that claimed the lives of 10's of thousands? Obviously, if you believe that God is "in control of every aspect of the universe" then the answer is yes. I just can't buy this.

    While I agree that God is sovereign and if God wants to kill off all those people, it is well within his right as the creator to do so and no human being is right in say otherwise. But that makes God like a mean little boy who builts a sandcastle just so he can knock it down. God's sovereignty must be tempered with God's grace.
    Brett said...
    Do you think God was powerless to stop the earthquake and cyclone? Was the cause man's free will?
    I've heard the mean little boy argument a lot, and it sounds like good common sense. But the sandcastle didn't commit treason against the little boy. And the boy, who has his own faults, could choose not to tear down the sandcastle because he himself is imperfect.

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