Tag Archive: suffering

See now that I, I am He,

And there is no god besides Me;

It is I who put to death and give life.

I have wounded and it is I who heal,

And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.

Deuteronomy 32:39

What a hard, awesome statement declaring the absolute sovereignty of God. What a sobering thought, that the Lord has the right to wound me or to heal me, to give me life or to take it away. The Scriptures, especially the Old Testament, abound with such declarations of His absolute rulership over all in the universe. No other doctrine stirs such fear and awe and humility.

Yet how often have people shied away from this Biblical concept of God, concentrating only on His attribute of love, praising only the soft, friendly image of deity. But of course never, ever, is love bad, for “God is love.” Yet He is more than just love; He is the King over all heaven and earth. He is not just the Savior we befriend, but the Sovereign we revere.

Yet many revolt at the idea that God kills or causes suffering. “Would not He in all His all-powerful sovereignty be no better than a murderous tyrant?” they say. And if God were just another human being, puny and corrupt, a being not worthy to destroy what he cannot even create, the objection would be correct.

But God is not a man. And therein lies the chasm of difference extending to infinity. For God in a sense is infinitely higher than man: He is the Creator. Does not the One who makes have a right to do whatever He pleases with His handiwork? This very point upon God’s rightful sovereignty is what Paul stresses in Romans 9:18-23 when discussing why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart:

So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to

me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you,

O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you

make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the

same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although

willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience

vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory

upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory . . .

In answering the objection to God’s absolute sovereignty, that man would have no responsibility for his sins, Paul could have used the argument that though man is a slave to sin and cannot help but sin without God’s changing his heart, man loves his wickedness and desires to do it with all his will. Man knows full well that he is transgressing and rebelling against God and His order; and since no one forces man to sin but man loves to sin with all his heart, he is fully responsible for participating in his own pleasure, sin.

But Paul did not use that argument. Instead, Paul under the guidance of the Holy Spirit replied, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” We do not have a right to question! Who are we but clay pots in the Potter’s hands, made as we are for His own good pleasure? Why should we complain if He makes some ceramics as the pinnacle of His creation and loves them and sets them upon His mantlepiece in glory, while others He fashions to hold the scrapings from the plate? Paul in his reply was not so much concerned with satisfying our need for explanations as he was with setting firm our conviction of the grand, absolute sovereignty of God. He owes no one any blessing or any explanation.

Yet this God, this Fashioner of worlds and heavens and stars and atoms, is infinitely good and infinitely love. This very God enthroned beyond the galaxies came down to earth, was born with the lowing cattle, lived without a place called home to lay His head. How every dust particle must have rejoiced at their Creator’s touch when He walked the roads of Judea! He died agonized and humiliated, the death of a criminal. O, how the sky and the earth mourned with lightning and quaking in that hour, as the Sovereign suffered for mere creatures!

But they are, we are, His creatures, the ones He chose before the foundation of creation to love with everlasting love. How love is praised when one lowly man sacrifices his life for another, but how much more is this love glorified when a King sacrifices His life for the lowliest of His people? When He loses His life for those who hate Him! Some would call it foolishness, but is not the wisdom of God the foolishness of the world? For God in His perfect sovereignty will bring all that He loves, all those of His who hate and despise Him, to faith in Him. Not one can be lost from our sovereign God’s arms until each one enters into glory and worships Him in heaven.

And so, the sovereignty of God glorifies His love. The fact that this awesome God stooped down to love us and suffer to save us makes His love so much everlastingly more incomprehensible in depth and width and breadth! What an ocean of mercy extending to infinity! O, now we can begin to grasp the sheer magnitude of the simple phrase, “God is love!” Now we can know why the Old Testament so stressed the sovereignty and power of God, so that when the New Testament revealed the love of the cross we will fall to the ground and cry and rejoice, “Our Creator came to us! Our holy Judge became our Savior – our Sovereign has become our Friend! Glory be to God in the highest! Glory in His mercy and grace!”

Now we can rest with confidence upon His promise that “all things work together for good for those who love God,” for God in His sovereignty will bring His perfect plan to fruition. If He has granted us disease, goodness is there. If He has granted us persecution, goodness is there. If He has granted us death, goodness is there. All the good and evil of the world He is working to a glorious goal in perfect sovereignty:

No eye has seen,

No ear has heard,

And no mind has imagined

What God has prepared

For those who love Him.

I Corinthians 2:9

May we all glory in the sovereignty of God.


Life in Death: a play

by inhonoredglory

A dim-lit room is occupied by two men: Joshua in a bed, facing the audience, and Thomas standing by his side. A window in the upper left of the room has its shades open, but clouds cover the sunlight. Overcast light shadows the room.

Joshua (weakly): I know it’s been a long time, son.

When the dark reveals the light

Thomas: Yeah, Dad.

Joshua: But I’m glad you’re here, now; it’ll make me feel better.

Thomas: Let’s not talk about it. Happy times.

Joshua: I understand, son. But—

Thomas: Like the reunion at Jim’s. Or—

Joshua: Thomas.

Thomas: Dad.

Joshua: Thomas. (pause) Thomas, I know it’s uncomfortable. I know we’ve never wanted to talk about it. And I understand that. It’s just . . . I’m not going to be seeing you.

Thomas: Do you really want to talk about—

Joshua: Yes, Thomas. Yes, before it’s too late. I want you to understand something. I want you to know the peace I’ve—

Thomas: I know where you’re going with this. Please, Dad, I want this to be happy. Let’s not go there.

Joshua: I understand. (pause) Thomas, I’m going to do something to spare you pain later.

Thomas: What—?

Joshua: Remember your grandfather?

Thomas: Well, uh, yeah. Yeah I remember Gramps.

Joshua: He died in our house, you know. I was there.

Thomas: And how does this relate to, to what you said?

Joshua: Patience, son. Well, Father – you’re grandfather – I was with him in his last moments. You could never see so much agony. Because he was unsure – he didn’t know where he was going.

Thomas: Dad, stop.

Joshua: He wanted to believe. He wanted peace. But something kept bothering him. He couldn’t give his heart to God not knowing how to answer the pain in his life, the evil in the world, the suffering. (pause) And I know you think the same way.

Thomas: Dad, stop it.

Joshua: That’s why you’ve never wanted to come up after your mother died. Maybe that’s why you joined that group in the hills. Maybe that’s what’s giving you pain. With the divorce. . .

Thomas: Please, Dad, I’ve got my own life.

Joshua: Maybe, but you haven’t got your own happiness; you haven’t got your own hope. You haven’t got your own peace and love inside.

Thomas (quietly): Dad?

Joshua: Son, I understand what you’ve been through. I walked down your road when my father died. I cursed God, just as I’m sure you have. How could He take him from me, I asked. How could He be good if He did that.

Thomas (quietly): God doesn’t care.

Joshua (coughs): That’s what I said.

Thomas: But what’s left? I didn’t know what to do. Clara brought me to the Society. I wanted it to fill me, but it didn’t. But God didn’t care. What could I do? Where could I go? The world is empty. Dad, what’s the answer? How could God do that? You said you’re at peace— How? How could you when the world is nothing, all evil?

Joshua: Son, Thomas, I know the answer. God knows the answer. We just must listen. I was angry at God because I didn’t stop and let Him tell me His point of view. I was just thinking of my position. (coughs, then continues exasperatedly) Son, let me tell you. No, let God tell you. (He takes a thin Bible from under his bed covers and taps it lightly.) We pass judgment on God without letting Him take the stand. But He tells us why. He wants us to know. That’s why His testimony is everywhere – in this Book.

(coughs hard. Thomas holds his jerking body.)

Thank you, Thomas.

Thomas: But how can God explain it?

Joshua: Thomas, I am ill, only because I know what is health. The blind from birth cannot understand vision because they have never experienced it. Son, God does the same. How can we know love and good and beauty if we are not given pain and evil and ugliness? We cannot know the light without the dark. We cannot find the truth without there being lies for us to avoid.

Thomas: Why didn’t He make us all perfect to begin with?

Joshua: He couldn’t. God’s people would be blind then. They could not appreciate His great goodness without knowing the abhorrent evil that is not Him. Even the angels, unknown to sin, must be shown the panorama of mankind, in order to learn the evil of the other side, and the beauty, holiness, and grace of God.

Thomas: What about good people? Why are they punished?

Joshua: We are all children, even the men and women who know the truth of evil. We sometimes go wrong, forget the blackness of the mortal world, lose faith in God, maybe forget about Him and begin trusting ourselves. God is like a parent – our Father. He teaches us through circumstances. He wakes us up with pain. Happy times don’t get us thinking; hard times do. Maybe we need a slap in the face, to get us thinking about the eternal things, not mortal ones. We need a reminder of the unworthiness of the world and the worldly; we need a reminder that God is the only One we must depend on, the only One who gives us peace and hope. (coughs hard) You see, son, God knows everything. He knows us. Oh, He knows us all too well. He knows we are doubtful, that we question Him. He knows our hearts, our fear of Him, often our hate of Him and His watching of our personal evils. He knows that if He didn’t allow evil people to demonstrate that evilness, we would never understand His punishment of their hearts. We would never understand His justice against that blackness in the world. We would never understand the holiness that is required of coming to Him. (inhales deeply and reaches feebly for a glass on the dresser)

Thomas (quietly): But why mother?

Joshua (holding Thomas’s hand tightly): Thomas, it’s very hard, but we all need to experience evil. We all need to feel the power that it possessed in a world against God. Through our closest losses, we know that no one is separate from sin, that sin is what takes us all away. But such a loss is also an example to us; we understand just a little of the sacrifice of God for us – sending His only Son, the closest One to Him, to die for us. We can grasp the greatness of His love to die for someone who is not even worthy of salvation. We know at last that, though sin kills, there is Someone Who is greater than sin, Someone Who has led that powerful evil captive.

(Joshua coughs hard. Light begins to emerge from the window. Thomas looks down from Joshua’s eyes.) Son, God told Ezekiel and Paul that we shouldn’t ask God for explanations of the evil in this world. But even still, God tells us. God wants us to know Him, but He also wants us to know ourselves, too, that we are bad, in our very hearts. Even the most holy men recognize their unworthiness in the face of the great goodness of God. But God has chosen a portion of the wicked clay to mold into vessels of glory for Himself. He knows that we could never understand His eternal plans; we are mortal. But God never does something without a cause, even the evils, He tells Ezekiel. He provides us reasons for the things we can’t understand. He gave us a Book; He gave us His Word; He gave us His Son. Don’t ignore it, son. You can believe in God and in the sacrifice He made to set us free.

(He grasps his son’s hand.)

Thomas, believe.

Thomas (looking into Joshua’s eyes): Dad.

(The light from the window becomes brighter. A warm smile breaks over Joshua’s face. Then, as he is looking in his son’s eyes, the focus leaves his own. He stares softly, with a smile, into his son’s face.)

Thomas: Dad? (looks closer) Dad? (touches Joshua’s face) Dad, it’s not— not when you’ve just— Dad, (kneels beside bed, arms around Joshua) not when I can now see, now know. (looks up into brightening light and down to his father) God, forgive me. Dad. Oh, Lord. Father.

(The curtains move slightly; the light brightens around the bed, around the thin Bible near Joshua’s hand. Thomas pulls the Bible closer to him; it slides from under Joshua’s hand.)

God, forgive me. I have peace now, of knowing. Dad’s with You, Lord.

(He looks back at Joshua, suddenly smiling through moist eyes)

And, God, so am I.

The Purpose of Evil and Suffering

Almost nothing else pervades the world so deeply. Everywhere man travels, and everywhere he looks, he finds them. They wrestle inside his inner being and often reign victorious. From storm and sickness to lying and murder, they are the smear upon a glorious creation.

Why is there evil and suffering? And why would a loving, righteous, just God allow such terrible things? Men have long pondered over this paradox. Every religion has had to deal with the problem. It has caused some to assert that a loving God cannot exist at all. A few even deny the very existence of suffering and sin, claiming that reality is just a dream. But, when one reads the mayhem in the news, and sees the pain and wickedness in life, their existence is very real, and the soul longs for an answer.

The Bible is the place to look. Part of the explanation is right in the first book, Genesis. It records that after the Creation, mankind was tempted in the Garden of Eden by Satan, and they disobeyed God. As a consequence, God cursed mankind and all Creation. Death entered the world. Floods, storms, and droughts became natural occurrences. Thistles and weeds flourished in the once-perfect earth, and man had to toil in the ground for his bread.

This harsh world was actually necessary for sinful man. In Genesis 1:28, the Lord commanded Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” But now that man was fallen, how could he subdue the perfect earth? Thus the creation had to come under the Curse as well. Also, now that man was sinful, God made him toil and sweat just to get food so that man would not have so much free time to sin. The curse of work is actually beneficial to man, keeping him from slothful wickedness.

But, why did God permit the possibility of disobedience in the first place? If God knows all things and is all-powerful, why did He create man with the ability to rebel? And why was Satan allowed in the Garden? Why was Satan permitted to continue existing after he fell away, or why was he even created? Obviously, the Lord allowed the entrance of evil for a purpose.

Romans 9 gives an enlightening and piercing discourse pertaining to evil and God’s right to be God.

15) For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16) So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18) So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

So the purpose of Pharaoh’s life is to disobey God and try to prevent God’s people from leaving Egypt, so that the Lord may show His power through His miracles. God used Pharaoh’s sin for His glory, and He actually hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that Pharaoh, through his sin nature, would choose to disobey! This concept is at first quite unbelievable, even offensive for many. Paul, the author of Romans, senses his readers’ rejection right away, and so answers:

19) You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20) On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this?,” will it? 21) Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? 22) What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23) And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24) even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

Notice how Paul responds. He immediately rebukes accusing man for questioning God, for man is nothing. According to Romans, we are of the same clay lump, and God, the Potter, has mercy to shape a few of these clumps into glorious vessels for His enjoyment and the rest for dishonorable use. Do the clay have a right to tell the Potter what to make them into?

If the Lord wants “to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known,” why did He not just destroy evil when it sprung up? Why has the earth dragged on for thousands of years in sin? God has been so “slow” because He wants His chosen ones to know His great mercy and patience toward the wicked. Even though they deserve instant and eternal punishment, He yet waits until the appointed time of judgment, after all His elect have believed.

Pastor S. Lewis Johnson, in “The Goodness of God and the Existence of Evil,” states, “The Bible says simply, I think this, that God’s self-manifestation is the highest good.” He says that since the glory of God is the greatest good, then the ultimate, supreme purpose of all things is to glorify Him in all His attributes. For what other reason where all things created for? Johnson continues:

His mercy cannot be known if there are not some people who are miserable. And His grace cannot be known if there are not some people who are in sin. And His justice cannot be known if there are not men who are under condemnation. And so He has permitted sin in order that He might be perfectly glorified in all of His attributes, inclusive of His mercy and His grace.

The knowledge of God is eternal life. It is for men the highest good and so, consequentially, He must give us the knowledge of Himself. And that demanded sin, condemnation, and judgment. But He is good, and even this works for His good.

It is necessary that the Lord show all His attributes, and not just some. God is not one dimension. Yes, He is love, but He is also holy, just, righteous, almighty, all-knowing, wise, etc. He displays His love to His chosen ones, but His righteousness demands that justice be carried out. He is so, so holy, set apart, and incorruptible that He cannot tolerate sin, at all.

What better purpose can life have, but to glorify the Creator? Even the angels are watching us, seeing the display of the attributes of God that they never would have known without the entrance of evil.

This concept is so difficult for human minds to grasp. But we must remember, that we are just the little ants who try to understand Einstein’s mind. Is it possible that we, as mere dust, will understand the almighty, all-knowing God?

But for the mind repulsed by the thought that God would allow people to suffer for His glory, think of this: when Christ died on the cross, He bore the punishment for the sins of man. Each of our eternal punishments was laid upon God. He had to bear the greatest suffering of all. No pain of any man can compare to His pain on the cross. And so when people demand to know why God allows evil and suffering to happen to man, they are asking the wrong question. They should ask, “Why did God allow His Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer for wicked men?” For we were His enemies, and yet He died for us. He suffered more than anyone and everyone; God allowed Himself to suffer the greatest humiliation. Why? Because He loved us before the beginning of time. He chose us to be saved before the foundation of the world, so that we may see His glory, and worship the only One worthy to be worshiped. And is it not worth all the evil and suffering of the world to show such love and glory? As Paul declared, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18.

Note: Information from the New American Standard Bible and from pastor S. Lewis Johnson’s Systematic Theology, Part 1: Theology Proper, “The Goodness of God and the Existence of Evil.”