January 23, 2017, by Todd Neva
The following is a transcript from the first of three Good News You Can Use radio spots, which aired January 16-18, 2017, on WMPL 920 AM. I spoke on the topic The God of Suffering.
Todd Neva is a lay preacher at Evangel Baptist Church. Nearly 7 years ago, he was diagnosed with ALS, a terminal disease that causes total paralysis. He lives in the Hancock area with his wife and two children. He and his wife Kristin authored the book Heavy, A Young Family’s First Year with ALS, and they blog at Nevastory.com. Their speaking and blogging ministry focuses on the topics of grief, suffering, and finding meaning after a terminal diagnosis. As a complete quadriplegic, he is uniquely qualified to discuss the topic for today: God of Suffering.
Thanks, Mitch, I’m so glad to have the opportunity to share what’s on my heart. Today and over the next two days, I’m going to talk about The Problem of Suffering, insufferable Christians, and then The Purpose of Suffering.
For the first topic, The Problem of Suffering, I really mean the problem with reconciling suffering to an all loving, powerful God.
“With all the evil and suffering in the world, I just don’t see how God could exist.”
That sentiment has been expressed so many times by so many people, I don’t even need to attribute it. I’ve heard it said. You’ve heard it said. You may have even said it yourself. It sure has crossed my mind.
This is really a challenge to the Judeo-Christian God. Suffering does not surprise people who adhere to other religions — their gods are vengeful and merciless, or there’s karma that requires payback, even for misdeeds in prior lives.
But Jews and Christians have to deal with a bit of a paradox — an all powerful and loving God who allows suffering.
The Apostle John tells us that God is Love, and love comes from God. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. The Apostle Paul calls God the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. We’re told that God is all-powerful, sovereign. And Jesus encourages us to pray because our Father in Heaven gives good gifts to those who ask him.
Some people cannot reconcile those beliefs with the present condition of suffering. The challenge would be more accurately phrased: “God couldn’t possibly be all loving if he allows suffering, or if he is all loving, then he’s certainly not all-powerful.”
The typical response to this is that God is all loving, but he’s also just. Everything was perfect until Adam and Eve sinned, and then death entered the world. That is true, but it rings hollow for many people. If somebody is questioning the existence of God, it gets a bit deep in the weeds to talk about the Doctrine of Original Sin.
And if somebody is truly questioning the existence of God, it might help to first step back and examine if this world, with its order and beauty, could be anything but a work of creation. Prof. John Jaszczak will be here next week to discuss the God of Science, but in the meantime let’s assume that our suffering skeptic has some level of faith, but is just questioning God’s goodness.
I would point out that God created man and woman in his image. This means that humans are spiritual creatures. We differ from animals in that we have souls, and our souls will continue to exist even after our bodies waste away.
God is in the business of creating souls. I’m glad he created mine. By one estimate, there has been over 100 billion people born on this planet.[i] About 7 billion of those are alive today. Maybe he could have allowed the Earth to be populated by the first 20 or 30 billion and then put an end to it all, but he didn’t.
He’s allowed our world to continue with its cycles of life. Many have come, and many have gone, and now we’re here. I’m glad for the time I have. But why is it that some have eighty years and others eight minutes? I can’t answer that. Death never feels right. It always seems untimely. But whether it’s eighty years or eight minutes, it’s a blink in all of eternity.
So there is life and there is death, but couldn’t we just be born, live a charmed life, then die peacefully in our sleep at some appointed age? That’s not how it works. The process is messy.
Some children are born to broken, abusive homes.
There’s birth defects and deformities.
In my case, total paralysis.
Why does life have to be so hard?
In Romans 8, Pastor Paul writes, “18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
In other words, yeah, life is hard, but heaven is going to be awesome. But your soul has to be right with God, and God put in place the conditions on this earth so that you would long to be with him.
This is Todd Neva, from Evangel Baptist Church. I’ll be back tomorrow to discuss Insufferable Christians.*
* The transcript from Insufferable Christians will be posted at a later date.
[i] http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2002/HowManyPeopleHaveEverLivedonEarth.aspx, as accessed on January 4, 2017.