Thomas Watson – 10 Ways the Evil of Affliction Works for Good

NPG D29707; Thomas Watson by John Sturt, after  Unknown artist

The evil of affliction works for good, to the godly.

It is one heart-quieting consideration in all the afflictions which befall us—that God has a special hand in them: “The Almighty has afflicted me” (Ruth 1:21). Instruments can no more stir until God gives them a commission, than the axe can cut, by itself, without a hand. Job eyed God in his affliction: therefore, as Augustine observes, he does not say, “The Lord gave—and the devil took away,” but, “The Lord has taken away.” Whoever brings an affliction to us, it is God who sends it.

Another heart quieting consideration is—that afflictions work for good. “I have sent them into captivity for their own good.” (Jer. 24:6). Judah’s captivity in Babylon was for their good. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted” (Psalm 119:71). This text, like Moses’ tree cast into the bitter waters of affliction, may make them sweet and wholesome to drink. Afflictions to the godly are medicinal. Out of the most poisonous drugs God extracts our salvation. Afflictions are as needful as ordinances (1 Peter 1:6). No vessel can be made of gold without fire; so it is impossible that we should be made vessels of honor, unless we are melted and refined in the furnace of affliction. “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth” (Psalm 35:10). As the painter intermixes bright colors with dark shadows; so the wise God mixes mercy with judgment. Those afflictive providences which seem to be harmful, are beneficial. Let us take some instances in Scripture.

Joseph’s brethren throw him into a pit; afterwards they sell him; then he is cast into prison; yet all this did work for his good. His abasement made way for his advancement, he was made the second man in the kingdom. “You thought evil against me—but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).

Jacob wrestled with the angel, and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint. This was sad; but God turned it to good, for there he saw God’s face, and there the Lord blessed him. “Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, for I have seen God face to face” (Gen. 32:30). Who would not be willing to have a bone out of joint, so that he might have a sight of God?

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D. A. Carson – Are You Sure You Want God’s Justice?

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When we suffer, which we will, there will often be mystery. Will there also be faith?

In Christian thought, faith is never naïve or gullible, but rather relies on the strength of its object. Faith that depends on a God who is a cruel tyrant or cheap trickster will be bitterly disappointed in the end.

When Christians think seriously about evil and suffering, one of the paramount reasons we’re certain God can be trusted is because he sent his Son to suffer in our place. The One for whom we live knows what suffering is about—not merely in the way he knows everything, but by experience.

When we’re convinced we’re suffering unjustly, however, we may cry out for justice. We want God to be just and exonerate us immediately; we want God to be fair and mete out suffering immediately to those who deserve it.

We Make Assumptions

The trouble with such justice and fairness, though, is that, if it were truly just and truly fair and as prompt as we demand, we would soon be begging for mercy, for love, for forgiveness — for anything but justice. For very often what I really mean when I ask for justice is implicitly circumscribed by three assumptions, assumptions not always recognized:

1. I want this justice to be dispensed immediately.
2. I want justice in this instance, but not necessarily in every instance.
3. I presuppose that in this instance I have grasped the situation correctly.

We need to examine these three assumptions. First, the Bible assures us that God is a just God, and that justice will be done in the end, and will be seen to be done. But when we urgently plead for justice, we usually mean something more than that. We mean we want vindication now! Second, to ask for such instantaneous justice in every instance is inconceivable: it would too often find me on the wrong side, too often find me implicitly inviting my own condemnation. But justice instantaneously applied only when it favors me is not justice at all. Selective justice that favors one individual above another is simply another name for corruption. And no one wants a corrupt God. And third, when I plead so passionately for justice, it’s usually because I think I understand the situation pretty well. I wouldn’t be quite so crass as actually to say I need to explain it to God, but that is pretty close to the way I act.

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Mike Frisby – What Do We Do in the Face of Suffering?

For many people living in the West where the cultural bias is towards an expectation of everybody being healthy and living longer, sickness readily becomes seen as the main focus of one’s “suffering”. But, suffering is a far broader concept than struggling with physical, emotional or mental illness.

The Dictionary defines suffering as

– A serious pain that someone feels in his or her body or their mind.
– A situation in which something painful, harmful or very unpleasant happens to you.
– Being badly affected by an unfavourable event or situation.
– The bearing of pain, inconvenience or loss; pain endured; distress, loss or injury incurred.

This paper seeks to widen our understanding and handling of some of the real life situations of suffering that confronts us on a daily basis. But, because of the breadth of the subject, it has been necessary to be selective on what areas and aspects of the subject to include. The hope is that the following material will help build a working Biblical framework for further thought and study on the subject.

Setting the scene

“Act of God” is a legal term for events outside of human control, such as sudden floods or other natural disasters, for which no one can be held responsible.

And the opening decade of the 21st Century has seen its fair share of them!

Europe Heat Waves (35,000 dead)
China Earthquake (70,000 dead)
Iran Earthquake (43,000 dead)
Guatemala/El Salvador Hurricane (1,638 dead)
Asian Tsunami (275,000 dead)
Global Swine Flu (11,800 dead)
Hurricane Katrina (1,800 dead)
Haiti Earthquake (230,000 dead)
Pakistan Earthquake (75,000 dead)
Pakistan Flooding (1,800 dead)
Myanmar Cyclone (146,000 dead)
Russian Heatwave (15,000 dead)

Notwithstanding, the sobering effects of these particular statistics, the United Kingdom based charity Oxfam has stated publicly that, “the number of people hit by “climate-related” disasters is expected to rise by about 50%, to reach 375 million a year by 2015”.

(For a helpful article on the issue of natural disasters see, “Do natural disasters disprove God’s existence” by John N. Clayton at www.whypain.org )

Not everybody blames “God” for these disasters, but standing in the bus queue, supermarket checkout, or in conversation over a pint at the pub, it is still very common to hear people raise the question of why the “Almighty” does not step in to prevent such devastation to property and human life? Or to put the question in more familiar apologetic terms, “How could a good God allow suffering? How can you believe in God when there is so much suffering and evil in the world?”

Michael Ramsden writing in a recent article on suffering says that in the Western world today, “the existence of any form of pain, suffering or evil has been regarded as evidence for the non-existence of God. If a good God existed, people say, these things wouldn’t. But they do and, therefore, He doesn’t”.

(It is interesting to note that in the same article, he states he has never been asked questions about God and suffering when travelling in India or other nations riddled with the daily realities of suffering!)

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Mike Leake – Tornadoes and Theology

Yesterday a tornado devastated Moore, Oklahoma. Leaving 51 dead, with nearly half of that number being children. Events like this leave those effected with a myriad of questions and a flood of emotions. One article I read described survivors as in a zombie-like state.

What would you say to those grieving in Oklahoma?

Mostly nothing. There is a time and a season for everything. This is not the season to theologize. At present we weep with them. Job’s friends were good counselors until they opened their mouths and tried to give an answer to Job’s questions. In the midst of a sorrowing event, heeding James 1:19 is a necessity. Slow to speak and quick to hear.

Those directly affected by these storms will experience a range of emotions. These emotions will be expressed within a whole range of theological positions. Ranging from this to varying atheistic expressions. In times like this one of the best things that we can do is direct people to use the Psalms to give words to the emotions of their hearts.

And just be there. Give a shoulder to cry on or a shoulder to punch. There might be a time to teach and help with theology…that is probably not today.

But there are also those that are not directly effected by the Oklahoma tragedies. We grieve. We weep with them. We ask questions as well. And at times events like this trigger our own pain. But we are in a much different position in regards to teaching. Our emotions are not as raw. Thinking through events like this will assist us in times when we are the ones with tears streaming down our face, filled with raw emotion.

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Colin Adams – The Boston Bombings: What Can We Preach?

Our hearts ache for the victims of the Boston bombings.

No words can describe such an act of barbarous cruelty. No language can express the sympathy we feel for those suffering its consequences. Our mouths are, quite paradoxically, gaping and speechless.

Yet pastors need to find words. Sunday is coming and the pastor will need to have something to say. Some will choose to address the Boston bombings directly. Others will simply mention the disaster in passing. Whatever path is chosen, pastors will wrestle with the question: what can I preach?

1. We can preach that even when hell breaks out on earth, God reigns in heaven and earth.

“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.’ The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.“ (Psalm 2:1-4. Cf Psalm 96:10, Matthew 28:18)

2. We can preach that God comforts those who mourn.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4. Cf Psalm 147:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:13)

3. We can preach that human beings have a profoundly sinful nature.

“Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5. Cf Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10-18)

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Matt Smethurst – 6 Pillars of a Christian View on Suffering

Ever since the ancient revolt, suffering has been woven, with perplexity and pain, into the fabric of human experience. We all live and move and have our being amid Eden’s wreckage. Affliction and evil—universal as they are real—haunt us, stalk us, plague us.

In a recent lecture delivered at Houston’s Lanier Theological Library titled “Going Beyond Clichés: Christian Reflection on Suffering and Evil” , Don Carson proposes six pillars to support a Christian worldview for stability through suffering. “A Christian worldview rests on huge, biblically established, theological frameworks—all of which have to be accepted all of the time,” the research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and author of How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil explains. “And this massive structure is stable and comprehensive enough to give you a great deal of stablility when you go through your darkest hours.” His proposed pillars aren’t cute musings, in other words, but crucial bulwarks.

After differentiating “natural” evil (e.g., tornados), “malicious” evil (e.g., sexual assault), and “accidental” evil (e.g., a bridge collapse)—and observing that this isn’t a uniquely Christian challenge (“No matter your worldview, you must face the reality of suffering and evil”)—Carson proceeds to reveal the six pillars.

1. Insights from the beginning of the Bible’s storyline.

The scriptural narrative opens with God crafting a world of breathtaking beauty and unfathomable goodness. Paradise pulsates with order, harmony, wholeness, and life. But this garden scene is short-lived. Indeed, in contrast to other worldviews such as Hinduism and dualism, the Bible insists we are now dwelling in a Genesis 3 world marked by sin, suffering, death, and decay. Concerning Jesus’ reflection on suffering in Luke 13, Carson observes: “What Jesus seems to presuppose is that all the sufferings of the world—whether caused by malice [as in Luke 13:1-3] or by accident [as in Luke 13:4-5]—are not peculiar examples of judgment falling on the distinctively evil, but rather examples of the bare, stark fact that we are all under sentence of death.”

2. Insights from the end of the Bible’s storyline.

The believer’s ultimate hope is that the created order—now so disordered by the effects of sin—will one day be set right (Rom. 8:18-25). In Christ the King, everything sad will become gloriously untrue. Properly understanding and anticipating the story’s end, then, helps us to eschew a naïve (and ultimately crushing) utopianism now. As Carson reminds us, “We have just come through the bloodiest century in human history. This is a damned world. Human life has never been, is not, and will never be ‘perfectable-so-long-as-we-get-our-politics-right.'”

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Book Review – If God is Good by Randy Alcorn

Best-selling author Randy Alcorn, in his book If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil analyzes a subject that has vexed philosophers, theologians, and likely anyone who has been alive for any length of time, that of what is the purpose of suffering and who a loving and omnipotent God would allow suffering and evil to seemingly dominate life. Some philosophers and liberal theologians and certainly atheists continually point to the existence of evil and suffering as proof there is no God. After all, if there was a God who is supposed to be a being that loves and is omnipotent as the Bible claims, would He not love His creation enough to rid the world of evil and suffering?

The fancy philosophical and theological term for answering the question of why there is evil in the world is called theodicy. A theodicy is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “Argument for the justification of God, concerned with reconciling God’s goodness and justice with the observable facts of evil and suffering in the world.” Answering the question of why there is evil and suffering in the world is what Randy Alcorn has decided to tackle in his latest effort. If God is Good is not the typical approach to answering this difficult question. While other books on this subject approach the discussion from a more philosophical angle such as works by Alvin Plantinga, John Feinberg, or even William Lane Craig, Alcorn formulates his discussion directly from Scripture, starting with an overview of why evil exists in the first place.

If God is Good is divided into eleven sections, each addressing a different yet related issue ranging from a basic understanding of what evil and suffering is, a discussion of how evil is rooted in our sin nature, issues that non-believers must respond to, possible solution to developing a sound theodicy, how evil and suffering are a part of the drama of redemption in Scripture, the issue of divine sovereignty, heaven and hell, why God allows suffering to take place, concluding with a practical discussion of living in a world where evil and suffering are a reality. But wait, there’s more!

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Paul Copan – If God’s Creation Was “Very Good,” How Could Evil Arise?

Genesis 1 ends with God pronouncing His creation “very good.” Where did evil come from then? James 1 says God is neither the instigator nor the source of sin; He does not tempt, nor can He be tempted (verse 13). Rather, every good thing comes from God (verse 17). So evil did not originate with God but apparently with moral creatures (whether angelic or human) whom God created good. But isn’t this odd? Creatures in a perfect environment still going wrong? How did that first sin emerge?

In this article, I first review certain biblical passages that allegedly suggest that God is the source of evil, which, if true, would contradict other Scriptures affirming God’s intrinsic goodness. Second, I examine one theologian’s problematic attempt to account for evil’s origin and then address the general Calvinist arguments to do so. Finally, I present what I take to be a successful account of primeval sin, which follows the book On the Free Choice of the Will by the notable theologian Augustine (A.D. 354–430). His approach adequately upholds both God’s goodness and genuine creaturely freedom.

What do I mean by freedom? I mean that the moral buck stops with the agent. Our actions are up to us. They are not simply the result of external influences (e.g., environment) or even internal states (e.g., moods, emotions). We cannot say, “I just couldn’t help doing what I do” or “My genes made me do it.” As 1 Corinthians 10:13 indicates, no temptation comes to us from which we cannot find a way of escape, with God’s help. Or, as God tells Cain, “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7, NASB). We are responsible for our actions, and we cannot blame God or someone else for our wrongdoing. Ought implies can, with the ever-available grace of God. Our ultimate point will be that sin originates in creatures, not in God, even if God’s purposes permit and redemptively bring about good from creaturely sin and failure (e.g., Genesis 50:20).

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Dr. Albert Mohler – The Goodness of God and the Reality of Evil

Every thoughtful person must deal with the problem of evil. Evil acts and tragic events come to us all in this vale of tears known as human life. The problem of evil and suffering is undoubtedly the greatest theological challenge we face.

Most persons face this issue only in a time of crisis. A senseless accident, a wasting disease, or an awful crime demands some explanation. Yesterday, evil showed its face again as a giant tornado brought death and destruction to Moore, Oklahoma.

For the atheist, this is no great problem. Life is a cosmic accident, morality is an arbitrary game by which we order our lives, and meaning is non-existent. As Oxford University’s Professor Richard Dawkins explains, human life is nothing more than a way for selfish genes to multiply and reproduce. There is no meaning or dignity to humanity.

For the Christian Scientist, the material world and the experience of suffering and death are illusory. In other religions suffering is part of a great circle of life or recurring incarnations of spirit.

Some Christians simply explain suffering as the consequence of sins, known or unknown. Some suffering can be directly traced to sin. What we sow, so shall we reap, and multiple millions of persons can testify to this reality. Some persons suffer innocently by the sinful acts of others.

But Jesus rejected this as a blanket explanation for suffering, instructing His disciples in John 9 and Luke 13 that they could not always trace suffering back to sin. We should note that the problem of evil and suffering, the theological issue of theodicy, is customarily divided into evil of two kinds, moral and natural. Both are included in these passages. In Luke 13, the murder of the Galileans is clearly moral evil, a premeditated crime–just like the terrorist acts in New York and Washington. In John 9, a man is blind from birth, and Jesus tells the Twelve that this blindness cannot be traced back to this man’s sin, or that of his parents.

Natural evil comes without a moral agent. A tower falls, an earthquake shakes, a tornado destroys, a hurricane ravages, a spider bites, a disease debilitates and kills. The world is filled with wonders mixed with dangers. Gravity can save you or gravity can kill you. When a tower falls, it kills.

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Randy Alcorn – Why Doesn’t God Do More to Restrain Evil and Suffering? (Part 2)

Susanna Wesley had nineteen children; nine of them died before they reached the age of two. Puritan Cotton Mather had fifteen children and outlived all but two. Ironically, the problem of evil and suffering seems worse to us who live in affluent cultures precisely because we face less of it than many people have throughout history.

I heard an exasperated woman at a restaurant table loudly proclaim that her Porsche had to be taken in for repairs and now she had to drive her Audi. In contrast I have met devout Christians in Africa and Southeast Asia who have endured famine, genocide, and persecution, yet smile genuinely as they affirm God’s goodness and grace.

C. S. Lewis wrote,

“Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it is a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.”

People who ask why God allowed their house to burn down likely never thanked God for not letting their house burn down the previous ten thousand days of their lives. Why does God get blame when it burns, but no credit when it doesn’t? Many pastors and church members have experienced church splits, feeling the agony of betrayal and disillusionment. But where were the prayers of gratitude back when the church was unified? Our suffering seems extreme in the present only because God has graciously minimized many of our past sufferings.

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