On Suffering and Evil
We are posting this sermon excerpt today in the wake of the terrible theatre shooting incident in Aurora, Colorado.
It is an excerpt from a sermon on Mark 4:35-41 preached on June 24, 2012 titled “The Storms of Life.”
Hear the entire sermon: The Storms of Life (audio)
Watch the entire sermon: The Storms of Life (video)
Download MP3 of the entire sermon: The Storms of Life (MP3)
This week, after one of our families was directly impacted by gun violence, it’s an appropriate week to ask: why? Why does evil happen? Why does suffering happen in our world? Why does God allow it?
When the storms come, we ask these questions, and one thing that I can say with great confidence: God can bear your questioning Him. God’s got big shoulders that way! But in thinking about this, we need to ask a couple of deeper questions. Back when I was studying philosophy in college, when addressing this question of suffering, one of the first questions that philosophers will ask is “Is it unnecessary suffering?” Now that’s not a question I really want to ask when I’m suffering or in pain, I just want it to stop!
But it’s a question we must ask ourselves, because there are things that we do not understand, but we have to go through to learn, to grow, to mature. This is certainly something you can understand from a larger perspective even if you just have had a pet. You have to take your pet to the veterinarian for its own good, its own health, but the pet never wants to go and never wants a shot. And then you become a parent, and you understand a little bit of how God feels when you have to take the baby whom you love so dearly to their first round of vaccinations. And it hurts you more than it hurts the baby to listen to the cries — but it needs to be done! Just because we don’t understand why in that moment, when it hurts so much, doesn’t mean that it’s not necessary for us to go through. That’s one kind of pain.
C. S. Lewis, in his classic book The Problem of Pain, wrote that he could explain why we must have pain, but it was beyond his abilities to make it palatable.
But then in our world there’s a whole other class of suffering, that comes from human evil, that I really can’t explain. God has given us free will, and in giving us free will, He gives us the freedom to do what is good or what is evil. And there is absolutely no doubt that there is evil in the world, and that human beings hurt one another unnecessarily, and out of bad, evil motives. No doubt at all.
But think for a moment what the world would be like if God turned that off, and intervened. What would the world be like if every time someone wanted to misuse a baseball bat to hit someone in the head instead of using it properly to hit a baseball, it turned to limp rubber. What would happen if every time someone picked up a gun to use it for evil, it shot daisies. That would mean that those people also could not choose to do good to one another. That would be a world where there would not be free will. And in that world, we could not choose evil, but we could also not choose to do what is good. Does that take the pain of it away? No, it doesn’t, no it doesn’t.
One of the great messages that we get out of the Bible, and out of the New Testament in particular, is that Jesus, being as we believe in part God, being the face if you will of God, coming to earth to be and to live and experience humanity , one of the things that is a part of that is that He experienced suffering with us, and that is one of the most profound messages that we get out of the NT. That He has experienced these moments of pain, these moments of terror, these moments of fear with us, He has experienced us. So He has gone alongside of us.
There is the idea that came up a number of years ago, particularly from Henri Nouwen, of the “Wounded Healer,” in the pastor. The idea is that you cannot really be a healer if you haven’t experienced woundedness and pain yourself, if you haven’t been through some of the hardships of life yourself. That’s why some of the TV Prosperity preachers seem so fake when they get in their jet planes, and jet away on their silver planes to their next destination, and they get in their limo and are whisked by servants to their next podium, and they get up with their diamonds rings, and all the people waiting on them, and no suffering in their lives other than minor inconvenience that they can buy their way out of, and they preach that we can have lives just like theirs if we only live by the right formula, pray the right way, there’s something that just doesn’t ring right. It’s like a cracked bell, that when you ring it, it sounds with a dull thud. It just doesn’t ring true. It’s not genuine, it’s not real.
And so I think that every one of us, out of our pain, out of our experience of the storms of life, can reach out to someone else, and help them heal by sharing our experience. And that’s what being a Wounded Healer is all about, that’s what the Suffering Servant was all about.
And in fact that’s the message I would like to leave you with out of this story. The message is that when the storms of life hit you and overwhelm you, when the waves are higher than your head, when you feel like you are drowning and you can’t breathe, and you can’t figure out which way is up, Jesus is in the boat with you. Not somewhere else. He’s in the boat with you. And in that I find great comfort.
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