Monday, July 27, 2009

No, No, No, No!

This morning I heard a pastor talk about suffering. It was well meaning. However, I am going to say not just that I disagree with it, but that it is a view that is pernicious, destructive to faith and unworthy of God. (I have held it, and preached it, and that is how I know this.)
The talk went like this:
1. Why does God allow suffering?
2. Because God is using it for our good to make us like Christ.
3. When we get the lesson He is trying to teach us, we won’t have to be in pain anymore. (yes, that is what he said.)

The fact that God has, through the great reversal of the cross, redeemed suffering should not be used as an explanation of suffering. God does not explain evil – he only trumps it, on the cross. He takes the worst that his enemy can do – the death of the Son of Man – and turns it around into the best that can ever happen. And that is what he does with suffering, and with evil. He does use it for our good – but that is not a why – it is instead a how.

The question is asked “What is God tying to teach you in this?” Yikes. God does not try. God is not up there saying “Gee, she/he still doesn’t get it! I guess I will keep her from getting pregnant/let her child be in pain/give him a brain tumor/” NO, NO, NO! Infertility and pain and sickness are part of this fallen world. God does not stop them. But he will transform them, make them into instruments of His love and use them for our sanctification. It is indeed true that the mercies of God, experienced through suffering can deepen and remake human beings. As C.S. Lewis said “Pain carves out places in our hearts for joy to dwell.”

And when you “get it” you do not get out of your pain. This is the equivalent of the faith healer telling the sick person “if you had enough faith, you would be healed!” It is cruel, and wrong to say so.

If you are suffering, in pain, let me say this to you. God does not offer you an explanation. What explanation can be enough? ( “Our ears still ring with the cry of artists like Dostoyevsky whose Ivan Karamazov had protested passionately against suffering inflicted on a child, ‘I would persist in my indignation, even if I were wrong.’” Henri Blocher, Evil and The Cross) He instead offers Himself, entering into it in Christ, walking with us through it by His Spirit, and triumphing over it through the cross.

“…the problem of evil is not something we will “solve” in the present world, and ..our primary task is not so much to give answers to impossible philosophical questions as to bring signs of God’s new world to birth on the basis of Jesus’ death and resurrection and in the power of his Spirit, even in the midst of “the present evil age.” N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God

I am sure that that is what our good brother was after.


paula gamble said...

Good stuff CC - not to mention he is the "Man od sorrows acquainted with grief." if Jesus was so acquainted with it then we can only assume under the logic of that pastor's statement tha Jesus didn't learn his lessons very quickly.

if God is merely a cosmic school teacher who wants me to learn my lessons and inflicts pain to teach me then I want no part of it. How uninspiring not to mention debasing.

I am praying that something gets reversed from "up front" on this one.

Jayson said...

I think he misspoke, his semantics were not as accurate as they need to be in a sensitive area like this.

What he had intended to communicate in what you pointed as #3 was that when you see that God has a purpose for suffering or pain (whether it's to "carve out joy", to remind you that His "grace is sufficient for you", to glorify himself as with the blind man in John 9) it makes it easier to see it as a joy rather that a torment (James 1).

It's not the same as Job's friends. Job's friends were saying "you did something wrong so God is punishing you", Keith was saying "sometimes God uses pain as a lesson OR as chastisement."

I appreciate your question and it's an important one - thanks for thinking critically, it's extremely important.

Culbert Report said...

Thank you for "preaching" in response to this message. Our speaker's voice, although I recognize his hope to encourage us, reminded me of Job's friends so long ago simply telling Job to repent and be done with this suffering. There is no formula, there is no easy fix, there is simply suffering added to more suffering, (no whistle signaling the completion of our growth lesson.) Our hope cannot rest in the quick alleviation of our pain - this makes us even more unsympathetic and dangerously offensive to those in need. Our hope must come from the knowledge that our Redeemer lives, and one day He will stand upon the earth. And after our skin has been destroyed, yet in our flesh we will see God. We ourselves will see Him, with our own eyes! How our hearts yearn within us.

Dan Culbertson said...

Tim Keller, in 2006, gave an address at ground zero to commemorate the 9-11 attacks He ends quoting Dostoevsky: "Listen to how Dostoevsky puts it in Brothers Karamazov: “I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, of the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; and it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify what has happened.”

That is strong and that last sentence is particularly strong…but if the resurrection is true, it’s absolutely right. Amen."

Keller's, Dostoevsky's, and N.T. Wright's responses seems so much like Paul's dealing with suffering in Rom 8:18 (the immdediate context of the pastor's sermon passage) and 2 Cor 4:17-18.

The main thrust of the Good News seems to be that suffering is going to be crushed by glory. God doesn't collude with evil, He doesn't need it to grow us, and while He does use it against itself, ultimately it's doomed by the resurrection.

Mop said...

Carolyn: That is MOST helpful. We must say it loud and clear - the fact that good can come out of bad is no REASON for the bad.

Keep up the writing

John Ross

Carolyn Culbertson said...

Dan has nailed it here (good work, son!) Henri Blocher writes: "Such is the glory of the cross that one would be tempted to explain the permission of evil by this end, that love put to the test, revels itself in its ultimate intensity. One last time, we must resist the attraction of the thought, for it would cause us to fall back into a pseudo-rational Gnosticism; it would attribute to a holy God a calculating mind which would utterly appall Him. We have no other position than the foot of the cross. After we have been there we are given the answer of the wisdom of God, which incenses the advocates of optimistic theodicies or of tragic philosophies. God's answer is evil turned back upon itself, conquered by the ultimate degree of love in the fulfillment of justice."

Courtney said...

Have you heard this hymn?

Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul
by Anne Steele

Dear refuge of my weary soul,
On Thee, when sorrows rise
On Thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies
To Thee I tell each rising grief,
For Thou alone canst heal
Thy Word can bring a sweet relief,
For every pain I feel

But oh! When gloomy doubts prevail,
I fear to call Thee mine
The springs of comfort seem to fail,
And all my hopes decline
Yet gracious God, where shall I flee?
Thou art my only trust
And still my soul would cleave to Thee
Though prostrate in the dust

Hast Thou not bid me seek Thy face,
And shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace,
Be deaf when I complain?
No still the ear of sovereign grace,
Attends the mourner's prayer
Oh may I ever find access,
To breathe my sorrows there

Thy mercy seat is open still,
Here let my soul retreat
With humble hope attend Thy will,
And wait beneath Thy feet

paula gamble said...

That's an awesome hymn - and the story behind it one of those painful, powerful ones. Anne wrote it after her fiancé drowned (while bathing in the river) the day before their wedding.

Carolyn Culbertson said...

Courtney, thanks for that - I did not know the hymn - and it is so true and appropriate.

Taylor said...

I appreciate this post, Carolyn.... so true.

Cori Crawford said...

Powerful, Carolyn. I'm so glad you are speaking up.

Yes, we are always asking that question 'why' and not challenging ourselves on the point that it forces God into a uilitarian box, a box in which He would never sit.

Reading these comments is the first time I've realized that thinking that suffering is merely for some use -- like a lesson or chastisement -- is to assume that it's ugly and must have a utilitarian use. But that's American to assign value based on usefulness to something - not divine, isn't it?

If we are invited to the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, wouldn't that indicate something of beauty and prestige?

Carolyn, about the day you wrote this, several of us who consider you our Guru gathered for a picture at Moby Gym and prayed for you bc we missed you! the pic didn't turn out. but i think the prayer went ok. :)