“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me…Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:1, 27. NKJV
In mid-December 2018, I spent four days in Berkeley, California, doing street ministry. I walked the local streets of that area, in and around the University of California Berkeley and Berkeley High School wearing a sandwich board sign which reads, “Marriage Alway=’s 1 Man & 1 Woman.” I received a variety of responses regarding my sign, both positive and negative, even enjoyed great dialogue with those brave enough to discuss the issue of marriage. It was then that I was approached by a couple of University of California Berkeley students, a male and a female, who asked me a series of questions – as a Christian I’m often presented with the ‘I got you moment’ kind of question. First, the female student, maybe 20-25 years old, a native of India (Hindu religious upbringing) is studying in the United States and a male student (atheist) of similar age, initially challenged my belief that Christianity was the only true religion, stating to the effect, “What makes you think Christianity is the only correct way when there are so many other religions that may be just as correct as yours? Your religion works for you, but it doesn’t work for me.”
My response to them was that we can examine or test the claims of each religious belief systems to determine their validity. One thing we can admit – is that all religions can be wrong, but they cannot all be right. Why? Because each religion, although having some basic commonality, holds its own religious distinctives (for example Hinduism believes in over three-hundred million gods; Buddhism and Atheism believe there is no god; Islam believes in One God, but has incorrect concepts about Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit; Judaism believes in One God, but denies the first advent of Jesus Christ; Christianity believes in the One True God, etc.) to name only a few. Only one of them can be right because they each hold to teachings that are exclusive to one another. Each discipline must sufficiently answer the question about pain and suffering.
I believe of course, that although pain and suffering presently exists, God had already initiated a plan in the garden of Eden – that the blood of His Son Jesus Christ would eventually redeem us from the bondage of death. So, in God’s omniscience, despite the Fall, Redemptive Value has been produced through pain, suffering and death. As I mentioned in part-one, based on the Genesis 3:15 protoevangelium noted almost six thousand years ago in the garden of Eden stating, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” referring to the Good News of the Gospel that would be brought forth through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection which is the only power capable of restraining and neutralizing Satan’s death grip. It was fulfilled almost two-thousand years ago covering (ancient past and will continue into the future until the complete restoration of all things), better known as Paradise restored. There will be no more pain, no more sorrow and no more death. Christ is Victor. It is the blessed hope in which all Christians faithfully await.
My conversation with the university students eventually turned to the subject of pain and suffering, which I welcomed gladly. Generally speaking, I would ask those challenging the inadequacy of God’s love and power as creation’s best-case scenario. However, I forgot to ask the two university students their resolution regarding this issue, “If you were God for the next five minutes and could do whatever you wanted – How would you end pain and suffering in the world?” I first responded to the female. I challenged her need to explain her own Eastern Indian religious belief on pain and suffering before attempting to question Almighty God’s allowance for pain and suffering in the world. I informed her that it was somewhat arrogant, although allowable, that she challenges the Christian faith about pain and suffering when she can’t explain her own Eastern Indian religious position on suffering. I informed her that Hinduism, is one of the cruelest and most evil forms of pain and suffering in the world. Consider your caste system: Karma, which is an integral part of the Hindu religion where people, even children, have to suffer severely due to past life experiences they have no knowledge of. In India, adults and children are being discriminated against, starved, beaten, crippled, murdered based on a caste system they are born into due to transgressions they have committed in previous lives.
In Hinduism each individual must endure millions of painful experiences during each of the hundreds of episodes of reincarnation until they obtain Nirvana (A final release and become one with the universe). She quickly realized that her Hindu religion created a far greater dilemma than a solution to the problem of pain and suffering. She stood by silently for the next few moments before having to leave. I was then questioned by the male student (Atheist). He informed me that he came from a wealthy family (likely one of the reasons he has a difficultly with pain and suffering, and belief in God). For the next thirty to forty minutes, eight to ten people standing around listened in, as he and I discussed this issue partially to his satisfaction (an audio version on The Problem of Pain and Suffering can be heard on our website). He asked me, “As a Christian you believe and teach that God is All-powerful and All-loving and yet, God does nothing to end suffering?” It seems his main discontent is that God allows people to experience severe suffering through earthquakes, famines, diseases, war and He does nothing. I began to explain to him the reasons why Christianity has the best answer to the questions about pain and suffering. God has done something – He sent His Son – who was innocent, yet suffered, died and rose from the grave as victor over both death and the grave in order to redeem mankind of their sins.
Those of us living in the industrial and technological age are committed to fulfillment through the pursuit of happiness by attempting to negate all forms of pain and suffering. I made clear to him that in our culture we seem to believe that any type of suffering, especially severe pain, cannot be useful or redemptive. I explained, if people are willing, they can often learn valuable lessons through suffering and the most important question is not how we die, but where will we spend eternity after we die. Grave sites are filled with all ages, from one-day old babies to adults over one-hundred years old. Whether it comes through natural disasters or human agencies everyone is going to suffer and everyone is going to die. The young man accepted much of what I said earlier but still wasn’t completely satisfied and repeated his challenge, “Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? If God could have easily prevented it, why didn’t He?” In other words, he couldn’t wrap his head around why? It is a great question, because most people believe that an All-loving and All-powerful God having the means to prevent pain and suffering in the world, would prevent it. It is apparent that they lack understanding who the True and Living God is and the purpose He sent His Son into the world.
The two university students, like most people, begin with what I believe is a wrong premise. They believe First, Christianity alone must answer this question. However, all disciplines must be able to provide a convincing, reasonable answer to the question of pain and suffering. Second, when we can’t explain away pain and suffering it is categorized as evil and has no redemptive value. Third, some people believe they can do whatever they want and receive no negative consequences and, Fourth, we are unaware that more people have been afflicted by pain, suffering and death throughout history by the hands of mankind than all combined natural disasters.
Some might suggest I have a bias in making this statement, but I believe Christianity has the strongest and most compelling answers for the reason and purpose of pain and suffering in the world (compared to atheist or many other religious systems). The challenge, I believe, is whether we can approach the issue honestly. Each discipline must be asked, “If you could be God for the next five-minutes – please share with us how you would end pain and suffering in the world?” Within moments of attempting to answer the question they immediately find themselves on ‘the horns of a dilemma.’ For many people, pain and suffering, is apparently the “make-or-break” reason for doubting the existence of God. If God is all loving, and could, why wouldn’t He prevent pain and suffering in the world? The pain and suffering arguments are the strongest deterrence’s made by atheist, non-religious, and sadly, even some Christians (likely carnal ones), against the existence of Almighty God. What is important to note is that God will never violate His own moral character, nor will He allow himself to be dictated by the whims of sinful man.
This is a question people are constantly seeking answers for, that needs to be addressed. It is one of the most difficult and important of life questions. However, since God is God, the creator of all things, He can do whatever He wants to do. God can give life, take life, heal, allow pain and suffering and no one can rightfully question His actions (see Isaiah 40:13-14; Romans 11:34,35). This often finds them dumbfounded. The difficulty is their own preconceived notions and conclusions of creating a world of human’s void of freewill, and yet not be afflicted by pain, suffering and death is unnatural and impossible.
There seems to be only four possible solutions. Three of the four possibilities produce their own unique problems. Only one of the four proposed solutions can be considered the best-case scenario. You can either:
You can create a perfect world and give mankind (as free moral agents) freedom to obey or disobey you as Creator and accept the benefits or consequences that follow their own choices.
Create people as artificially intelligent androids/machine that thoughtlessly, mechanically obey you (having no free-will).
You can force people through harsh means to obey you (such as in slavery); or
You can create a universe void of any human life (only consisting of plants, vegetation, trees, insects, birds, land and marine animals).
So, humans must either be created as androids (programmed, artificial intelligence) or as God created them (the most perfect solution – as free moral agents). Being created as free-moral agents is the only true way love can be expressed (with one’s ‘right and ability’) to obey or disobey the Creator and reap the benefits or consequences. As the best-case scenario (man’s freewill), compared to the other three possible scenarios, number one is the only prescription that can truthfully reveal the intent of man’s heart. Whether or not we desire to build a true and loving relationship with the Creator, Almighty God or desire to willfully reject His love extended towards us. Apparently, number one is God’s best-case scenario for creation – for humans – despite the fact that we experience some kind of pain and suffering each day in our life.
I must say, matter-of-fact, that it is quite arrogant and naïve that humans who consider themselves kind, loving and compassionate are allowed certain prerogatives when determining whether or not it is justifiable to take life, yet they have the audacity to question the Creator, Almighty God, the originator of all life. Take for example acts justified by human agencies: War, euthanasia, abortion, capital punishment, which our own Federal, State and local laws govern themselves by, or our own individual preferences regarding homicide and suicide, which are illegal yet practiced. While war, abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty are commonly accepted, with rare exceptions, as lawful and justifiable acts. However, homicide and suicide are not. We, as humans, either accuse or excuse ourselves based on the laws prescribed by Federal and State Laws (similar to Romans 2:11-15). Yet sadly, based on our own human standards we attempt to judge Almighty God, who created us. God is rarely afforded the same prerogatives we allow ourselves regarding the allowance of pain, suffering, life and death.
So, as it seems to be suggested by many, in their desire to eliminate all pain and suffering in the world – man’s impossible task – the only way this can be accomplished is with the immediate elimination of all sentient beings, including you – through death. In other words, all human beings must die in a very short period of time (within hours or a few days) to eventually eliminate all pain and suffering. What I have discovered in talking with most people regarding this subject is that they usually start out with preconceived notions, which in turn causes them to end up with the wrong conclusions about God. Our inability to understand that redemptive value can be discovered through pain and suffering is a difficult concept. Why? Because we often, like the two university students, believe chronic long-term pain and suffering has no redeemable value and is unnecessary, if God were really real. Therefore, often in an attempt to resolve or minimize our own pain, we often look for something or someone to blame. So, why not blame God? Unfortunately, although hard to believe, many of us have learned valuable lessons from the pain and suffering we have gone through in life.
It might seem strange even to make this statement about Americans. I am not suggesting that we do not experience pain and suffering, nor am I minimizing it, but our suffering is much different than that experienced in many oppressed third world countries. This has skewed our understanding regarding the issue. The majority of us live fairly comfortable lives – we have food, shelter, clothing, entertainment, employment, spendable money, transportation, travel, education, rights, hopes, etc. (we have many choices). We have enjoyed the freedoms offered by this country for so long that we have become pampered living for the pursuit of happiness compared to the majority of the world which lives in abject poverty, malnutrition, disease and death.
No one ever desires to experience extreme episodes of pain and suffering in our life, although it will be inevitable for us. Everyone will suffer some degree of misfortune in this life (each person, based on their personality, responds to suffering differently). The question is whether or not there is any redemptive value gained from our pain and suffering? es, there can be redemptive value if we are willing to learn from it. For the most part, both the person experiencing pain and those observing people going through extremely painful situations can gain some value. What we must decide is whether or not we are going to allow ourselves to be a continual Victim.
A victim is a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident or other event or action. This is a fact of life. A victim learns to admits the wrong that has happened to them, seeks appropriate justice, doesn’t hold grudges, is always forgiving and moves on with their life.
Trials and tribulations, or tests, prove and reveal what is exactly in our hearts, especially when we are under duress or in stressful situations (such as divorce, health issues, loss of job, suicidal, murder, kidnapping, identity thief, stock market crash, eviction notice, rape, etc.). Pain and suffering are one of the many ways in which we can learn the truth about ourselves and others. It demonstrates whether we are building true relationships and love one another. It’s about real sacrifice. Doing the right thing in times of adversity – when all odds are against you.
In the last of this three-part series The Problem of Pain and Suffering we will show how God created a perfect paradise for man. How man’s disobedience to the instructions of God has caused more pain and suffering in the world than all the natural disasters combined. God is the same yesterday, today and forever more in His moral character. How God’s final redemptive plan will occur in the last days when His kingdom will be established on earth throughout eternity.