James Patrick’s Blog

August 15, 2009

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

Filed under: Exegesis,Theology — alabastertheology @ 12:04 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The question of suffering is often one of the biggest problems people have with the idea of an all-powerful and all-loving God.  The testimony of Scripture is that when we look at Jesus we see the face of God.  There are few places better for revealing how Jesus regards suffering than the story of Jesus’ love for Lazarus:

An exposition of John 11:1-45

11:1-3        Lazarus was one of Jesus’ close friends – “he whom You love”.  This was not simply a ‘test case’ to make a theological point; it was a person Jesus truly loved.

11:4-6       Jesus knew beforehand what would happen – foreknowledge.
Jesus also decided not to intervene to prevent Lazarus suffering and dying, even though He loved him.  He chose instead to stay two days longer where He was – Jesus intended for Lazarus to suffer and die, even though He did not cause the suffering.  God is sovereign and completely in control, even in our suffering.

11:7-10      Jesus took a personal risk in returning to address this problem of suffering and involve Himself in the pain, but He knew that acting according to the light of God’s revelation would keep Him from stumbling.  Jesus risked everything to sort out suffering.

11:11-16     Jesus viewed death as “sleep” from which He Himself was able to “awaken” someone – a reversible reality.
Jesus chose not to be there when Lazarus died for the sake of His disciples, in order that they “may believe”.  The absence of the healing presence of Jesus in suffering and death provides an opportunity for faith, which requires the absence of sight.

11:17-20    In pain and grief, much as we appreciate the consolation of friends and colleagues, it is appropriate to go out of our way to seek Jesus.

11:21-22    Martha acknowledged that Jesus would have been able to heal her brother, but even though she did not believe he would be raised from death at that time, she was still able to testify that she knew Jesus to be no less able to heal.

11:23-27    Martha declared her belief that all believers will receive new resurrection bodies on the ‘last day’, the Day of Judgement.
Jesus then reminded her that ‘resurrection’ is not just an event, but a life-giving power that belongs uniquely to Himself – Jesus Himself is the resurrection and the life, life that is accessed through trust in Him.
‘Living’ refers to eternal resurrection Life, and Jesus assured Martha that (1) death is not the end, but is followed by Life; and (2) for believers, that Life will never end again, even on the ‘last day’.  The resurrection life that Jesus offers us is both certain to follow death, and also everlasting in duration.
Jesus challenged Martha to go beyond believing in Jesus’ ability to minister God’s healing, and beyond believing that there would be a resurrection of the righteous at the end of this age, and to believe that Jesus Himself is the resurrection and the life.  She responded with a statement of acknowledgement that Jesus is Messiah, Son of God, and the One who has come into the world from God.  It is important to clarify that the Jesus who is resurrection and life is the same one who is the object of orthodox Christianity.

11:28-31    Jesus ministers and calls to each one who grieves.  He doesn’t leave any out.
Jesus had intended to minister to Mary without the involvement of the comforters.  It is important that the mourner has the opportunity to interact with Jesus on a personal level without the constant presence of comforters.  Even so, it is important to accompany those who are grieving, perhaps especially in situations where the reality of the loss will be more in view.

11:32-33    Jesus is deeply moved in spirit and troubled to witness our personal mourning, but also specifically the grieving of friends and acquaintances.  Jesus never treats grief as unimportant, however near or far the griever may be from the situation.

11:34-36    Jesus invites us to return to the memory of the suffering and loss we have experienced, although His question to the mourners did not require them to do any more than give an address for the cemetery.
When the mourners invited Jesus to accompany them as they confronted the reality of the loss, this response moved Jesus Himself to tears.
Jesus also personally shares our suffering and pain and grief, because He loves us.  The ultimate expression of this is when Jesus chose to enter into our pain-filled world and accompany us in our suffering, even to the point of death.  He is not distant.

11:37-38    Even if we see that Jesus truly loves us in our suffering, it does not necessarily remove our question of why it had to happen in the first place, or the doubt about Jesus’ ability to prevent death.
The issue of a loving and powerful God allowing suffering is one that is asked even by those who are not personally involved in the suffering or followers of Jesus, and Jesus makes no attempt to defend Himself in response to this questioning.  We may not get an answer, but will that stop us from inviting Jesus to come with us into the pain?

11:39-41    The only command Jesus gives to mourners is one that provides an opportunity for faith to manifest itself.  By telling them to remove the stone, Jesus was inviting them to open up their wounds again, for Him.  They had to confront the reality of Lazarus’s suffering and death, and their ongoing pain, by opening his grave to see again his body lying there and the smell made by decomposition.  When Martha protested, the reason Jesus gave was that without faith they would not see the glory of God in this situation.

11:41-42    Jesus had already prayed and received the assurance from His Father that Lazarus would be raised to life.  He needed to do nothing else at that time, and His prayer in front of the tomb was just to reinforce to those watching that God was responding to the request of Jesus.  In the same way, when our pain and suffering is opened up to Jesus, there is nothing then that needs to be done except receive the life that Jesus has already been granted by His Father.  He doesn’t need to be persuaded.

11:43-45        Jesus’ miraculous resurrection of Lazarus was accomplished with just a word, and He not only restored the sisters’ joy, but received glory and faith from the crowds who witnessed it.  After this, all that remained was to free what had been tightly bound.  The suffering and death was not made to be as if it hadn’t happened and put back to the way it had been, but rather those involved were changed on the inside by the greater power of joy and life.  God’s plans were not just to deal with death, but to be glorified as our joy is made complete.  When it is, let us not hold on to the grave-cloths of pain and bitterness, but unwrap them to give glory to our Lord of Life.

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