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Framing the Conversation (part 2)


Now that we’re aware of some potential missteps in the conversation on evil and suffering, how do we proceed in a healthy and productive way that is honest and authentic?

First, any conversation concerning suffering must be conducted with deep and abiding humility. Clearly the most obvious question we pose when we face adversity is the question “why?” That’s a great question that, by the way, never offends God. It is our nature to seek understanding when trouble comes. But the question “why?” often leads to “why me?” If we get locked up thinking about why adversity has struck we’ll transition from seeking understanding to defending our innocence. In other words, we begin to rhetorically declare that we are not deserving of what we are facing. But humble spirits and humble hearts lead us from “why?” to a better question: “what?” What is it that God is saying through my pain? What is it that God is trying to teach me? What is it that God is trying to develop in my character through this challenge?

Second, any conversation concerning suffering must be done with balanced Bibles. If you’ve ever had a tire on your car get out of balance you know the frustration that can develop from such a seemingly small problem. When we think about suffering in a Christian context, sometimes we misunderstand a number of important texts (or ignore them altogether). There are many Christians who possess an attitude of triumphalism that is more American than Christian. I quick reading of Hebrews 11:32-40 will show you what I mean by this. It is true that many times God’s people receive spectacular and miraculous deliverance. It is also true that many times God’s people do not receive spectacular and miraculous deliverance. In this life, anyway.

Next, any conversation concerning suffering must move beyond pat answers and clichés. I have come to the place in life where I can hardly enter a Christian bookstore because I’ve lost patience with the Christian plaques and platitudes that are available for people to adorn their homes and offices. Just once I’d like to see a knick-knack for sale with a scripture reference from Job! As Christians we live in the tension between faith and mystery. We want to know, but many times we don’t or even can’t. We live in mystery, which according to the apostle Paul is like looking at life through tinted windows (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Finally, any conversation concerning suffering must focus on the cross. Romans 8:31-32 declares, “What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?”
If God has permitted such suffering to come upon his own Son, who am I to think I am exempt? Through the cross we learn that God’s love and presence is constant, and that there is nothing can separate us from the love of God. The cross is not simply the entry point of faith. The cross is the totality of our Christian experience. The cross helps us encounter God through the forgiveness of sin. The cross is the way we understand our lives and our adversity.

Categories : Broken, Evil, Suffering

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