Archive for category Evil & Suffering
While I have enjoyed this rather faithful telling, I have also been reminded of just how violent and barbarous the OT can be, and some of the acts/commands given by God make me squirm in my seat. What about all those Egyptian babies slaughtered by the Angel of Death because of one pharaoh’s stubborn heart? How many times do we hear the Israelite men yell out “For Israel” before plunging their sword into an enemy’s heart? And its hard to watch the Israelites ruthlessly invade city after city as they take the Promised Land for their God.
Now, I am well aware of the many ways evangelical Christians try to soften these stories, or justify the violence. Still I can’t help but wonder how these portraits of God can be easily reconciled with the portrait of God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ who tells us to “love our enemy” and shows us a way of non-violence in dealing with our enemies.
If you share these feelings then I recommend checking out the honest ponderings of Greg Boyd on this difficult subject. No evangelical scholar is more honest and courageous in working through the complexities of this issue than Boyd (and sure to be controversial). Read this for starters. Love him or hate him, Boyd is not afraid to ask the hard questions that many of us are afraid to admit out loud. Agree or disagree with his conclusions, but don’t accuse him of not wrestling with Scripture in a vigorous and Christocentric way.
I just got home from the most painful kind of funeral. A young man, in a moment of despair, took his life. He was deeply loved, and will be deeply missed. I was his basketball coach years ago – a wonderful kid. These kind of funerals are becoming all too frequent. Here’s a piece I wrote a couple years back in a similar situation. May it be an encouragement to others, and provide a Christian perspective on such tragedies. -JB
The forces of darkness are always around us. Most of the time, if we’re fortunate, the dark cloud of death is not hovering over our home. Though our number is coming, and many have already faced difficult seasons of suffering, pain, death and loss in our own lives.
Maybe cancer has taken a loved one long before their time. Maybe a car accident stole away a life in it’s prime. Maybe you lost a child before they even had the chance to be born. Darkness is real. The world is broken.
This week darkness and death won a victory in Burnsville, as a young man, “16 years old, full of life, and smiles,” took his own life in a moment of desperation. The young man has been described over and over again with words similar to these by a Young Life leader:
“He was very involved in Young Life Ministry — committed his life to Christ at camp, spoke at their banquet, and was in a campaigner bible study 3 or 4 hours before he hung himself. He was a fun loving kid, hugged everyone he could pick up (and being a heavy weight wrestler, that’s everyone) and had a smile that lit up the room. Kids, leaders, we all loved him.”
In the wake of this tragedy, many students connected to our youth group are struggling to make sense of it all. Read the rest of this entry »
Every year around Halloween, I like to explore the topic of spiritual warfare — you know, angels, demons and the cosmic forces of evil. Here are some of the posts on this topic from the past.
Today I want to share Greg Boyd’s basic articulation of what he calls a “Warfare Worldview” — that is, how can Christians affirm that God is all-powerful and still believe that other evil forces (human and angelic) are working to thwart God’s will? If created beings have genuine free will, then how can we be certain that God is really in control of this broken world? Here’s how Greg approaches these questions.
The warfare worldview is based on the conviction that our world is engaged in a cosmic war between a myriad of agents, both human and angelic, that have aligned themselves with either God or Satan. This is the view that is presupposed throughout the entire Bible, and it’s especially evident in the New Testament. For example, Jesus unequivocally opposed evils such as disease, demonization, and even natural disaster (i.e. when Jesus rebuked a storm) and saw them as originating in the wills of Satan, fallen angels, and sinful people, rather than in the will of God.
“We are like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect….What I am trying to say is that the pain one endures from losing their beloved, is part of the happiness they shared while together.”
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus. But so that the works of God might be displayed in his life, we must continue to do the work of him who sent me while it is still day” (John 9:1-3).
When bad things happen in this world, and unjust suffering befalls the innocent, we often jump to the ‘Why’ question first. The disciples lived in a world where it was popular to believe that disease, birth defects, and other forms of suffering were punishment for sin — either the person suffering or his parents.
Today, many assume the same thing: This suffering must somehow be God’s punishment. But this is not the kind of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. In this story, Jesus is asked why this man is blind – why, why, why? Good question, yes; but wrong focus as far as Jesus is concerned.
Jesus doesn’t answer the ‘why’ question. He instead focuses on what possible good, if any, can be made of this unfortunate situation. The Bible teaches a different world view than the one of Karma or angry vindictive gods sending disease to punish sin. In fact, the NIV and most English translations invite confusion over Jesus’ answer. The NIV suggests that this man was born blind so that God could glorify himself in healing him. But Gary Burge rightly says, “While a sound theology cannot doubt God’s sovereignty to do as he pleases, thoughtful Christians may see this as a cruel fate in which God inflicts pain on people simply to glorify himself” (Burge, John, 272). He suggests that the “purpose clause” (Gk. hina) should instead begin the next sentence as I have it above.
Here we and the disciples learn from Jesus something like, Read the rest of this entry »
This is a repost from last year. -JB
It’s that diabolical week again. This Sunday night many paranoid Christians will be once again hunkered down in their basements (if not at a “Harvest Party” at church) with their front porch lights off holding prayer vigils to ward off those sinners who participate in this evil Holiday.
Can I just say it straight? The cute little ghosts and goblins, witches and vampires who are knocking on your darkened door with disappointment that you’re not there are NOT the real evil we should be placing in the crosshairs of our spiritual warfare offensive. Doesn’t the Bible warn us that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light”? Then why are we so bent out of shape about all the children disguised as angels of darkness?
Might I suggest that the Evil One is much more powerfully at work in the ordinary business of our lives: the 10-year grudge we’ve been holding with a family member, our enormous financial debt weighing us down, the new luxury car we just bought to prop up our status, the job that gets more of our time than our spouse and kids, the hidden sin we’re afraid to bring out into the light because it would shatter our shiny Christian veneer of self-righteousness, and so on.
Yes, I know all about the pagan origins and godless rituals practiced by druid priests hundreds of years ago on “All Hallow’s Eve.” Let’s steer clear of that stuff, and not glorify evil. But I think the holiday as it is celebrated today is something altogether different.
The scariest thing I’ve discovered about Halloween is that Americans spent over 6 billion dollars in candy, costumes, and party attire last Halloween. This places Halloween spending in second place only to Christmas. Satan must giggle when he does the math and realizes that 6 billion dollars could bring clean water and sewers to the entire 3rd world. That scary hayride and haunted house down the street we’re avoiding might actually be raising money for orphans.
So, here’s my challenge this year: Let’s all just lighten up a bit, turn on the outside lights and brighten some kids’ night with a piece of candy and a Christian smile! This isn’t “the Devil’s Night” as they say. That was probably last night and the night before.
This essay was my first attempt in college at grappling with the issues related to Theodicy, that is, the problem of reconciling the existence of an all-powerful, all-good God with the presence of evil and suffering in the world. Like many, my first exposure to this issue led me to the more traditional view influenced by St. Augustine. I have since altered my views a bit — influenced by such writers as Gregory Boyd and Roger Olson. But there’s still much of value in this old essay, notably many great quotes from the likes of C. S. Lewis, Mother Teresa, Philip Yancey, Billy Graham, Peter Kreeft and more.
I. UNDERSTANDING SUFFERING
Suffering—a basic human experience transcending race, age, gender, class, and religion—has been defined and understood by poets, musicians, theologians, mothers, and fathers alike. No attempt fails to accurately express its essence, and yet no single attempt can be said to have exhaustively described the universal horrors of suffering. Suffering takes a new shape and form with each new person and circumstance in which it shows its ugly head.
Thus, defining suffering is no easy task and necessitates a highly arbitrary process. Putting suffering in a biblical context, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines it as “agony, affliction, or distress; intense pain or sorrow” and divides suffering into two types: 1) suffering that is “a result of evil actions and sin in the world as a consequence of the past fall in the Garden of Eden”, and 2) “suffering that is not related to past, but is forward-looking in that it serves to shape and refine God’s people” (Youngblood, 1995, p. 1207). In other words, certainly much of the suffering in the world is perpetrated by humans themselves. C.S. Lewis makes this clear in The Problem of Pain:
When souls become wicked they will certainly use this possibility to hurt one another; and this, perhaps, accounts for four-fifths of the sufferings of men. It is men, not God, who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs; it is by human avarice or human stupidity, not by the churlishness of nature, that we have poverty and overwork (Lewis, 1996, p. 79).
This essay is concerned with the second type listed above and attempts to understand the suffering of the innocent. However, the first type will be inevitably dealt with shortly when discussing the origins of suffering.
Peter Kreeft in Making Sense Out of Suffering, defines suffering as Christ’s invitation to us to follow him to the cross and share his cross. “Christ goes to the cross, and we are invited to follow to the same cross. Not because it is the cross, but because it is his” (Kreeft, 1986, p. 137). Mother Teresa also sees at the core of suffering an opportunity to share in Christ’s work. When asked how a merciful God can allow the suffering of the innocent, Mother Teresa responded:
All that suffering—where would the world be without it? Innocent suffering is the same as the suffering of Jesus. He suffered for us, and all the innocent suffering is joined to his in the redemption. It is co-redemption. That is helping to save the world from worse things (Egan, 1994, p. 56). Read the rest of this entry »
I am reposting this as a reminder to all of us wrestling with the ‘why’ behind the tragic earthquake in Haiti. Let’s be sure we’re cursing in the right direction. A special thanks to the Internet Monk for also sharing this post HERE. -JB
I was doing the annual spring yard clean-up this past weekend. My wife had done most of the raking and left them in neat piles for me to come behind and bag up. I’m a manly man, so I didn’t think I needed to wear work gloves to pick up a few leaves. What I didn’t expect as I thoughtlessly grabbed handfuls of leaves to stuff into the bags was that she had also pruned the rose bush nearby and buried the thorny branches in the same pile of leaves.
As the thorn punctured my hand I couldn’t resist cursing the ground under my breath. Before I could feel guilty for my foul choice of words, I was immediately reciting scripture in my head and reminded of the pain-filled world we inhabit. Yes, my careless yard work incident had suddenly transported me into a moment of deep theological reflection.
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field” (Gen 3:17-18).
As I continued to bag leaves — this time more cautiously and using a rake rather than bare hands — I made the following two observations: Read the rest of this entry »
With the recent tragedy in Haiti many are again asking the age-old questions: If God exists, then why would He allow such horrific suffering in his world? How can we face such gut-wrenching images on the TV of mass human casualty and still believe an all good, all powerful God is active despite it all? I recommend the following book to wrestle with such questions. Here’s my overview and critical review:
In Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy, Greg Boyd attempts to answer the question: “How are we to conceive of an all-powerful God creating beings who to some degree possess the power to thwart his will, and thus against whom he must genuinely battle if he is to accomplish his will?” In the process, he questions the viability of the traditional Augustinian view of God’s sovereignty that has shaped the majority opinion of Christians down through the centuries. He calls the traditional view “the blueprint worldview,” because it assumes “everything somehow fits into God’s secret plan—a divine blueprint” (13). There is “a specific divine reason for every occurrence in history”—even the most horrific experiences of suffering (14).
Against this Boyd argues that the world in which we live is a cosmic war zone between God and free moral agents, both human and angelic. He argues that evil is the result of free moral agents rebelling against God’s good purposes and therefore suffering and evil is not to be blamed on God but on Satan, his angelic cohorts, and humans who act contrarily to God. In order to make this argument viable, he must wrestle with many significant theological issues along the way: God’s omnipotence, God’s foreknowledge, human freedom, natural evil, hell and more. The bedrock of Boyd’s argument, the factor that remains foremost among his convictions, is that God is love and desires to have a bride who freely chooses to live in covenant with Him.
Boyd’s argument can be summarized into the following six theses: Read the rest of this entry »
The following post is from one of my favorite blogging friends Michael Spencer, known to most as the Internet Monk. Michael was recently diagnosed with cancer and is beginning that battle now. He wrote this piece only weeks before the diagnosis. Please lift up the iMonk in your prayers and check out his writing ministry at www.internetmonk.com. Enjoy this good reminder as we begin another year of life — never knowing how many more we’ll be given. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, iMonk.
The news story is strange and tragic. Three college softball players go for a night time drive in the country. On an unfamiliar road, they take a wrong turn and drive into a pond….and drown.
There was a day before. A day with no thought of drowning. A day with family and friends. Perhaps with no thought of eternity, God or heaven. There was a day when every assumption was that tomorrow would be like today.
(Note: My friend Gary passed on after I wrote this piece.) My friend Gary has been the night dean at our school for more than 20 years. His wife has been in poor health, but he has been a workhorse of health. He’s walked miles every day, eaten a vegetarian diet and always kept the rest of us lifted up with his smile and constant focus on the joy he took in his salvation.
Two weeks ago, the doctor turned to him and said leukemia. Today he stands on the crumbling edge of this earthly shadow, looking at the next world, fighting for his life with all that medicine and prayer can offer. Our prayers for him as a school community have been continuous, because we never thought there would be such a day.
There was a day before he heard “leukemia.” A day of work, chores, bills, hopes of seeing a grandchild, prayers for students, love for Suzi. Not a thought that the journey of life contained such a surprising turn for him.
And on that day, Gary was full of faith, full of a servant’s heart, ready for many more days or ready for this to be last one before whatever was around the corner.
We all live the days before. We are living them now. Read the rest of this entry »