The Origin of Suffering

Steve Viars April 5, 2008 Genesis 50:

 

- this morning I’d like to begin by asking you a very hard, but important question...

- Does God have anything to do with the suffering that people face?...

- and let’s not answer that in a sterile, academic sense...please think about any way that you might have suffered this week [do any come to mind?] ---did the Lord have anything to do with that?

- then please consider ways that you’ve suffered more significantly in the past...or perhaps a trial you watched someone else have to endure...

- I realize this is a sobering question...but it’s one we need to face---did God have anything to do with that?...

- many people would answer that question with a very firm “no”...absolutely not...but for a variety of reasons...

1. There are those who would say...I would answer “no” because I do not believe there is a God...

- some atheists would point to the existence of evil and suffering in the world as one of the stronger reasons they have to justify their unbelief...

- that doesn’t provide a whole lot of hope or direction as they face the difficulties of life...but that is the approach that many in our world take...

2. Some would strongly react to that by saying...I believe there is a God, but He is not involved in suffering because this is not His world...

- He has turned the world over to Satan and so the events that occur here are entirely outside of His involvement or control...

- so when there is a sickness, or a job loss, or a harsh word, or the price of gas goes up...

- that is no threat to their theology because God had nothing to do with that...this is not His world...in other words, God is off the hook for the problem of suffering...

3. Others would say...God is good enough to prevent suffering but lacks the power to do so.

- so at this point in history there is a cosmic struggle going on between good and evil and neither force has complete domain...

- so there again, for a different reason---God is off the hook...

4. Another popular position is that God allows people to make their own choices and that is the extent of His plan.

- as soon as the decision was made to allow men and women to have a will, evil and suffering would inevitably result...but don’t blame Him...blame man or some other force..

- philosophers call this the “free will defense” --- but as with all the other positions, God is off the hook...

5. One approach that is gaining more and more attention is called Open Theism...

- this is the view that suggests that God does not and should know the future...

- they believe that if God knew the future, then any choice you or I made would not really be free...

- so God has to wait like everybody else to see what choices we will make then He has to decide how to respond...

- if that’s the case, then again...God has no part in the suffering that people face...

- Mark Talbot, a professor at philosophy at Wheaton College addressed this issue by quoting one of his students who wrote – “Open theists are trying to let God off the hook for evil.  The problem is, God doesn’t want to be let off the hook”.

- friends, when we open the pages of Scripture...that student’s position is far more correct than the other’s I’ve mentioned...

- The God of heaven doesn’t need to be defended [or excused, or explained away]---He needs to be understood...He deserves to be taken at His word...even if that means that you and I have to go deeper in our relationship to Him...

- that’s why this morning, we’d like to talk about The Origin of Suffering.

- with that in mind, would you please open your Bible to Genesis chapter 50...

- page 40 of the front section of the Bible under the chair in front of you...

- last week we started a series entitled Seeking God’s Plan in Suffering.

- we want to bring to the Scriptures some of the hardest questions of life...

- there are some things about suffering that we don’t understand...

- dare I say it, there are some things about suffering that we don’t like...

- and we are glad that the God of the Bible doesn’t ignore our questions, or tell us to go away...

- His attitude is reflected in verses likeIsaiah 1:18 - - Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord...

- that’s exactly what we’re trying to do in this series...

- now, here’s how we would like to divide our time...let’s begin with...

I. The First Book of the Bible’s Answer to our Question– if we’re talking about origins, let’s go to the book of origins...

II. A Young Lady in our Church Family’s Answer to our Question – I’d like you to hear the story today of someone who has tested these truths in the crucible of an unthinkable trial...

- then we’ll conclude with...

III. Direction for Sufferers and Those Who Serve Them

I. The First Book of the Bible’s Answer to our Question

- I asked you to turn to Genesis 50...which is actually the end of the book, and also the end of the story of a wonderful character in the Bible named...Joseph...

- let’s start at the end and work backwards...

- if you know the story, you know that Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery...and then told their father that he had been killed...

- eventually Joseph became a leader in Egypt, like a prime minister...

- and he explained to the Pharaoh that God had revealed that the country and surrounding regions would enjoy seven years of prosperity followed by 7 years of famine...

- so Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of a massive operation to store up food during the prosperous times so there would be plenty available during the famine not just for the Egyptians but for the surrounding nations...

- in the providence of God [and that’s what this whole story is about], Joseph’s brothers were sent by their father to buy grain in Egypt...

- they eventually came to Joseph himself although they didn’t recognize him...

- after a series of events, he revealed himself to his brothers and instructed them to go get their father and bring the entire family to Egypt...

- but in Genesis 50, their father Jacob died, and the brothers are afraid that Joseph is finally going to exact his revenge for the evil they had done to him and the suffering they had caused...but here’s what he said – Read Genesis 50:15-21

- those are the words of a person who understand the intricate balance involved in the origin of suffering...[he may have been the first “compatibalist”—more on that later]

- now, let’s go back and think about the argument of the book...Genesis makes it clear...

A. All that God does is right.

- throughout chapter 1 as God describes the creation process, each day ends with a summary statement – and God saw that it was good...

- then when the process was over, He said in verse 31...

- Genesis 1:31 - God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.

- that point is made throughout the Scripture...

- Deuteronomy 32:4 - The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.

- James 1:13 - Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.

- if we’re talking about ultimate causes, there is no way that a person could take the position that God created evil...from cover to cover the testimony of Scripture is that all that God does is right...

- now someone might respond to that with...”well, then it sounds like God is off the hook--He’s not involved at all”...friend, that’s not the case either...

B. God sovereignly governs all things for His wise and holy purposes.

- when Genesis 3:1 begins with the words...

1. Genesis 3:1 – Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field...”

- that did not in any way surprise the Lord...

- God did not look down from heaven and say, who’s that, and what is happening to my perfect plan?...

- God knew exactly who that was...

- that was Satan...the fallen angel Lucifer...who would not be satisfied with his position in heaven but instead wanted the place of God Himself...

- we read a bit about that inIsaiah 14:12-14 - How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’

- and we would do well to take Satan and his evil ways seriously...

- Scripture says that we are in a battle with such principalities and powers...

- we learn that Satan stalks us like a roaring lion seeking to devour us...

- he is a deceiver...a murderer...Paul told the believers at Corinth...

- 2 Corinthians 11:3 - But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.

- but please always remember this...

2. Satan cannot act apart from the permission of our sovereign God.

- that is one of the primary lessons of the book of Job...

- Job was a blameless and upright man...

- and Satan told God – that’s just because you’re so good to him...

- Job 1:9-12 - Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? “Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. “But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord.

- that is a fascinating passage...because the Bible does not blush in the least in explaining that God allowed Job’s suffering...

- Satan even viewed this as “You (God) put forth your hand”...what that clearly meant was...give me (Satan) permission to bring evil into his life...and within clearly established boundaries...that is exactly what occurred..

- the point is – the Bible declares from cover to cover that God is completely sovereign over the affairs of men...

3. God’s sovereignty is a major theme in Scripture.

Daniel 4:35 - All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’

Isaiah 46:10 - Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;

Lamentations 3:37-38 - Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?

Proverbs 19:21 - Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand.

Proverbs 16:33 - The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

Ephesians 1:11 - also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,

- we could multiply references like that for a long time...the student we quoted earlier is correct---God is not interested in being let off the hook...

- not please take that to Joseph’s brothers...does that mean they were absolved from their choices?...no, Joseph was clear about that...you meant it for evil...

C. God holds men and women responsible for their choices.

- and before we say...but, but, but...we need to just let the Scripture speak...

1. Was Adam and Eve’s choice part of God’s ultimate plan?...absolutely, or the verses we just read make no sense...

- were Adam and Eve responsible for their choice?...yes...

- was Satan responsible for his part in the matter?...yes...

2. What about the next chapter – the story of Cain and Able?...

- what God surprised by Cain’s murder of his brother?...

- of course not...

-  did God hold Cain accountable for His actions...He certainly did...

D. The Bible affirms the doctrine of compatibalism.

- as far as I know, this term was coined by D.A. Carson in his book How Long, O Lord.

The Bible as a whole, and sometimes in specific texts, presupposes or teaches that both of the following propositions are true:

1. God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in such a way that human responsibility is curtailed, minimized, or mitigated.

2. Human beings are morally responsible creatures—they significantly choose, rebel, obey, believe, defy, make decisions, and so forth, and they are rightly held accountable for such actions; but this characteristic never functions so as to make God absolutely contingent.

- that’s what I meant when I said – perhaps Joseph was the first compatibalist – “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good...”

- now, let’s test our theory in other parts of the Joseph story...

- one of the reasons Joseph’s brothers despised him was because their father Jacob showed favoritism to him...

- did God allow Joseph to be born into such a dysfunctional family?...yes...

- could God have prevented it?...sure...

- does that mean that Jacob is not responsible for the way he treated his sons?...no...

- could God allow, and even use Jacob’s failures in the accomplishment of His plans for the entire family?...

- God was heavily involved in that...

- let’s throw Potiphar’s wife into the pot...you remember that Joseph eventually ended up as a slave in Potiphar’s house...and the Bible says that “The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man”...

- was that part of God’s plan?...of course...

- here’s another detail...”Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance”...was that part of God’s plan...it sure was...

- and Potiphar’s wife thought he was good looking...and she tempted him day after day to have sexual relations with her...

- did God allow Joseph to face that kind of temptation?...in a way that still kept Potiphar’s wife responsible for her actions?...

- and do you think that Joseph saw God even in the midst of that suffering?...

- absolutely...because what Joseph said to this woman was...your husband has trusted me with this entire household --- “How could I do this great evil and sin against God?”

- throughout this story you see people making evil choices...and others suffering as a result...

- but instead of God sitting on the sidelines wishing there was something he could do...

- you see Him actively involved...sovereignly involved...using the evil choices of people and the suffering of his servants as a means of accomplishing His will and glorifying Himself...

- it was not in Joseph’s best interest to never have to have to face suffering...

- it was not in his best interest to live in a world devoid of evil...

- what was best for Joseph was to be in a position where he could prove that God could sustain him even in the midst...”to bring about this present result...to preserve many people alive”...

- compatibalism doesn’t defend God, it doesn’t excuse Him or try to explain Him away...it grabs hold of the lion’s mane believing that His ways are best...

- now, I’d like you to hear the story of a young woman in our church who was called upon to put these truths to the test...

- her story isn’t that she’s a super saint, but that her Lord is a powerful God...

II. A Young Lady in our Church Family’s Answer to our Question

August 14, 2005…Does this date stand out in your memory? As you have probably guessed, it is a date that my older brother and sister and I will never forget. It started out as a normal Sunday morning. As I was having my devotions to prepare for the day, my mom called me. My mom and I were best friends, calling each other MANY times a day. She was calling that morning to check to see how I was doing because I was feeling nervous about starting a new position the next day at my school. It was a short phone call that ended with the promise of seeing each other later in Lafayette so that we could go to Tropicanoe Cove. I continued to get ready that morning. As I got ready I heard sirens, I said a quick prayer for whoever might be involved. Little did I know I was saying a quick prayer for my own family. I headed off to come here to church that morning. I got to my Adult Bible Fellowship and was chatting with people about the first day of school the next day. As we settled down for class to begin, I saw Lori Walters come in the back asking someone a question. She came over to me and said that there had been a family emergency and someone was on the phone for me. I figured it had something to do with my grandpa who had just been in the hospital a couple weeks before that. However, the phone call I was about to take would change the course of my life.

      You see, my dad was an elder in their church near Rensselaer, IN. They always had to be at church early on Sunday mornings for the elders’ meeting. As they were headed to church that morning, a young man with two passengers, who had been at an all night party were also out on the road. Failing to yield to a stop sign, the young man hit my parents, killing them and a passenger from his car instantly. All three boys had drugs and alcohol in their systems.

      Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought something like this would happen. I will be forever grateful for the position that the Lord put me in that morning to receive this terrible news. I was obviously grief-stricken. However, the Lord had already started to gather people there that morning to be with me and to speak truth over me. As Rick Wasson received the call at the Welcome Center, he and Dave Jones set about getting women from our church to help me. I recall as I hung up the phone, I truly FELT the Lord’s presence as he surrounded me with the words of verses I had memorized over the years pour into my mind. I was shocked that something like this could happen but I knew that Lamentations 3:21-23 was true, “YET this I call to mind and therefore I have hope, because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is his faithfulness.” I remember thinking, I don’t know how we are going to be able to get through this but I know that somehow we will by God’s grace. I was so thankful to be at church when I found out, instead of being alone. I recall Kelly Keck, Laurie Dutton, Janet Aucoin and Joy Heim gently speaking truth and praying for me. When people started to hear about what happened, prayers were being raised for us – for strength and that we would not be bitter and angry over what had happened.

As news reached us about the cause of the accident, we were all astonished at the grace and forgiveness the Lord poured over us. Before this happened, I had heard about instances where families who had lost loved ones in drunk-driving accidents forgave the driver. I was always amazed and wondered if I would be able to do that but never dreamed I would have to be in that situation.

I know that this situation did not catch my Lord by surprise. He had been preparing me all along the way for this very moment, not just to deal with the circumstances under which I lost my parents, but for losing them at all. My parents were incredible people. Perfect? No, but they sought to live by God’s strength each day and to be His light to those around them…especially their children and grandchildren. By God’s grace they had touched so many lives. So, because of the environment that we were blessed to grow up in, my siblings and I knew what our parents would do in this situation. They would have forgiven. They would have gladly given their lives up for the boys in the other car, knowing the boys might not be ready to meet the Savior. The court proceedings continued over the next two years as people involved were punished for their part in the situation. Therefore, this added more opportunities to forgive. Did we handle it the right way all the time? No. In some moments, we gave into anxiety and anger, but I believe because of God’s incredible grace to us and his answers to the prayers of so many, we have been able to feel not hatred for them but a deep desire for their hearts to be changed. Please pray for the driver and the others as we continue to have opportunity to be a witness to them.

Another way the Lord prepared me was that, in the months before the accident, the Lord led me to make things right with my parents and to let them know how much I appreciated them. The Father’s Day before, Pastor Viars challenged us to let our dads know how much we appreciated them. I called my dad that day to tell him I appreciated his godly example. In another incident, I apologized to my mom for not handling a situation well several years before that…knowing I had hurt her. I’m not telling you this because I think I did something right, but because I know that the Lord was helping me to have no regrets in my relationship with my parents.

The Lord used the relationships that had been developed in my ABF to help me in those days. The class members set up a round-the-clock prayer time for me during that first week. The ladies in the Career Class set up a schedule to stay with me on week nights for the first six weeks – this involved a 45 minute drive each way for them and most of the time I’m sure I was not very good company. My friends have helped me so much by listening to me, praying for me and with me, attending court hearings, offering godly advice and crying with me. Some are even here with me today to show me support. The list could go on and on of how they have and continue to serve me. They saw me in my worst moments when grief surrounded me. How invaluable are friends who love Jesus and who will stick by you even through the hard times of life.

The greatest way the Lord prepared me was with the Truth that I had memorized and heard over the years. These Words brought calmness and peace to my deeply troubled soul. Members of the Career Class, gave me index cards with verses on them. I would keep these nearby to read when with anxiety gripped me. Even in moments when I could not read the Bible, friends would read it to me, to remind me of the Lord’s promises to me. There have been many moments that I have felt sorry for myself and relied more on others than him, but every time, the Lord has been there waiting to hear my cries for help.

I didn’t want to tell you all these things because I want you to think I’m great or to feel sorry for me. I want you to know that MY GOD is great. Because we live in a sin cursed world tragedies like this happen. I know that it would not have happened if the Lord had not allowed it. Some might use that as an opportunity to curse the Lord. But because of the Lord’s mercy, he helped me to see the compassion and love he had for me in my most desperate moments through the way he prepared me for something I never saw coming. I know I am not the same person I was two and a half years ago. I pray that I will bring him glory by showing the love and compassion to others as they go through troubling times. I am also thankful for the clear testimony of my parents and the assurance that I will some day see them again because of their faith in Christ.  Unfortunately we will all have to deal with very difficult circumstances. We need to let the Lord work in and through us daily so that we can be prepared.

III. Direction for Sufferers and Those Who Serve Them.

A. God’s sovereignty in suffering can give you confidence.

- remember a passage that we mentioned last week...

- 1 Corinthians 10:13 - No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

- please also keep in mind what we saw in the story of Job...

- God set limits to what he allowed Satan to do...

- knowing that a loving heavenly Father is involved in the suffering can help you “be able to endure it”...[it takes a significant aspect of the unknown out of the equation—will this be more than I can bear?]

B. God’s sovereignty in suffering can help you dispel the world’s skepticism.

- Satan’s primary thesis was – all religious pursuit is ultimately grounded in self-interest...

- if you take your hand of protection away from Job – he’ll curse you to your face...

- and ultimately this was not a test of Job---it was a test of God’s ability to really transform Job into a man who loved him with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, regardless of his circumstances...

- interestingly – Job’s wife failed the test – her counsel was...curse God, and die...

- but how did Job respond?-- Job 1:20-22 - Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.

- C.S. Lewis – God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

C. God’s sovereignty in suffering can take you deeper in your relationship with Him.

- George Mueller of Bristol England. - On the Lord’s Day, February 6, 1870, his wife Mary died of rheumatic fever. They had been married 39 years and 4 months. The Lord gave him the strength to preach at her memorial service. He said,

“I miss her in numberless ways, and shall miss her yet more and more. But as a child of God, and as a servant of the Lord Jesus, I bow, I am satisfied with the will of my Heavenly Father, I seek by perfect submission to His holy will to glorify Him, I kiss continually the hand that has thus afflicted me.

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video