Why Believe? Why does a good God allow suffering and evil? (John 9)

MOTIVATE

Message have sought to address big questions people have about God and why they do not believe in Christianity.

  • How we know God exists? (Jn 1) / Which religion is true? (Jn 3) / Why Christianity feels restrictive? (Jn 8)
  • Today we reflect on why God allows suffering/evil? If God could, He would. If God is good, He should.[1]
    Does God lack the “good” or the “could”? Or possibly, there’s no God.
  • For many, lack of faith is not philosophical but personal; not theological but emotional.
    • Something happened to them or loved one and its caused doubt or distance with God.
  • Lost a child
    • Victim of abuse
    • Disability
    • Chronic pain
    • Circumstances keep feeling challenged / treading water and waves keep coming. 
  • In all, there’s no rational argument against the God of Jesus based on suffering/evil because Christianity never claimed bad things never happen to good people.
    • 3 interactions with suffering
      • Enduring struggles. You face an uphill battle, a dark valley, or surrounding storm. You feel alone and like no one cares.
      • Exiting a struggle. You have recently had answered prayer with beginning turn of blessing. You’re not certain what’s next but you’re thankful you have survived. You don’t want to go back or repeat circumstances, so you should reflect on life lessons.
      • Entering a struggle in future. It’s possible you have side-stepped or escaped stresses or trials. Or, maybe you’re too young or sheltered to experience significant struggles. Give thanks to God for His grace and protection from known and unknown happenings! But pay attention bc all face trials. 

EXAMINE           Why Believe? How does a good God allow suffering and evil? (John 9) 3 reminders

Jesus sees everyone.

Jesus is traveling through Jerusalem for just over two years into His public ministry. So far in John’s Gospel, Jesus has seen:

  • Ordinary people called as His followers/disciples. (Jn 1)
    • Note just clever and capable, but reminds us everyone has a purpose.
    • Where fishermen became fishers of people.
    • Where sons of thunder are transformed into being tender and loving.
  • Newlyweds who were drained of hope but refilled with the joy of Jesus. (Jn 2)
  • Religious man who looked good on outside but inwardly needed a fresh start. (Jn 3)
  • Immoral woman whom everyone dismissed but Jesus gave dignity (Jn 4)
  • A desperate parent needing their child changed and made new (Jn 4)
  • A disabled man wanting to walk again (Jn 5)
  • An unsatisfied crowd searching for aid and guidance (Jn 6)

In this passage, Jesus withdraws from a mob scene and passes by a man who was blind from birth. He saw the blind man. Jesus has a habit of seeing people, especially the disheartened and disabled. However, the Disciples have a habit of seeing problems rather than people. The problem the Disciples began to banter was philosophical of why God allows suffering: “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”  

The age-old problem of why evil and suffering exist has been bantered by philosophers, theologians, scientists, and the everyday individual. During OT times and in Jewish teaching, general assumption was held that God punished sinful people with suffering, sickness, disease, and disability and of course ultimately death. Such individuals would live as outcast, condemned to beg or depend on others for assistance.

  • Do you see people or problems?
    • You should be careful about commandeering other people’s pain to build your case and conclusions against God. For many people, suffering is a path that leads one closer to God not separated from faith.
    • When we see suffering, do you seek to be an answer or an antagonist?
      Matthew West captures it in his song, “Do Something”

I woke up this morning, Saw a world full of trouble now, thought
How’d we ever get so far down, and How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven, I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery. The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, yeah, I created you”

  • Month of May, each week take a prayerwalk around your neighborhood; praying on site with insight. Ask God to help you see your neighborhood through the eyes of Jesus.

Jesus works in everything.

While this man was born blind, it was not his or his parent’s fault. Jesus acknowledged this world is wrecked by sin, tainted by transgressions and the effects of human choice. Sickness, disease, and defects were not part of God’s original design for the world. Yet, when humanity doubted and decided against God, the natural consequences of sin entered to decay our world and the process of dying began.

The NT says it best, Romans 8:19-23 “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

When Jesus comes face to face with the problem of suffering, He does not attempt to explain suffering but enter it. Jesus says, “this happened that the works of God might be displayed in him” (Jn 9:3). In other words, Jesus is saying even though life is hard, God can heal; even though our world is broken, God can rebuild and redeem. Jesus does not give an academic answer or theological treatise to the disciples’ question. Instead, Jesus’ response is focused on mission: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day, night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (Jn 9:3-5).

After this, Jesus responds to the blind man by approaching him and touching him. He puts spit and mud together and anoints the man’s eyes, then telling him to go and wash. Jesus heals the blind man! It is likely Jesus was recalling the act of creation where God created our bodies from the dust of the earth and the eyes of man were opened the very first time.

If we remove God from creation, the evolutionary model depends on the ebb and flow of decay and death. Natural selection relies on destruction and violence of the strong against the weak. The atheist has no foundation for believing in human dignity, equality, and justice. These ideas were introduced by Jesus. Until Jesus, people worshiped gods to not make them angry and avoid their wrath. Indeed, Christians believe God will judge those who reject Him, but the fact God sent Jesus into the world not as judge but as substitute for our penalty is radically different from all other religions. “For God so loved the world that He sent His Son…”

  • Atheism claims no design, purpose, or reality of evil or good.
    • Buddhism offers value in suffering from the emptiness of atheism by seeking the enlightened path through detachment. 
    • Christianity was birthed in a world of pain and evil and somehow over 2K years later it still is vibrant religion because it’s not fragile to secular philosophies or suffering circumstances.
       – C.S. Lewis, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless -I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.“
    • In short, the problem of evil, suffering, injustice is a problem for every worldview – whether religious or irreligious.[2] And the person who says, so what if philosophically I shouldn’t be an atheist, I’m still angry. But this is precisely the point Christians make – that God comes to alleviate the heartache of suffering. While Christianity doesn’t try to explain away our pain, it provides us with tools for navigating our trials and a comforting presence to endure all that we experience.

In specific to this man, Jesus is compassionate. Jesus drew near this man to indicate even the disabled have dignity and worth in God’s eyes. With Jesus, every person matters and there are no insignificant people.
As for those today who have physical, learning, or mental disabilities, God has a design for every disability – whether genetic, circumstantial, or from infection. His purposes are higher and beyond our understanding because they are about His glory and not our personal comfort. Even more beyond our comprehension, God sometimes chooses not to bring healing this side of eternity but will do so in the new kingdom through the resurrection.

  • “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11)

What we see in Jesus is that the disabled belong in the family of God.

  • Every person is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)
  • Every person is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Our life is not defined by statistics or inabilities, but by the fact that God has placed a portion of His intrinsic splendor and specialness inside of us – our face, body and limbs, and personality. And Jesus died for us even when we were at our lowest (Romans 5:8). The price God paid to free us from sin and death was not a low-ball number because of our weakness, but instead was the highest purchase price – the death of God’s perfect and only Son (John 3:16). We are who God says we are and not who others assume we are.
  • Luke 14:12-14 “Jesus said, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers, or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
  • While some might downplay or demean the uniqueness and value of disabled persons, Jesus does not. If it were not for the weak of this world, we would not be understand the wisdom and strength of God.
    1Cor 12:23-26 “on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
  • German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer expands this idea in his book Life Together (p.94), writing,
    “In a Christian community everything depends on whether each individual is an indispensable link in a chain. Only when even the smallest link is securely interlocked is the chain unbreakable. Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of fellowship… Once a man has experienced the mercy of God in his life he will henceforth aspire only to serve. The proud throne of the judge no longer lures him; he wants to be down below with the lowly and the needy, because that is where God found him.”
  • So SPBC, when we see people – especially those who are suffering or disabled – let us be like Jesus and speak hello, shake a hand, extend an embrace. Let us see individuals as people and not as problems. Let us see with the eyes and heart of Jesus. Let us know that God is at work in everyone’s life.
  • Likewise… to those who are caretakers, you experience daily challenges as well. Your fears, hopes, and family life experience has equal stress as you wonder where your next ounce of energy and strength will come. In the tiredness of your soul, Jesus is calling you to trust. God’s rest and redemption are available to you each day (Matthew 11:28-29).

Jesus enables us to overcome.

After Jesus put the mud in the blind man’s eyes, he went and washed and he received sight (Jn 9:11). His testimony was so simple and pure, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (Jn 9:25).

The Pharisees were not happy about the healing. They interrogated the former blind man, asking: who healed him, how it was done, where is the man, how can this man do such signs? The Jews did not want to believe Jesus’ power to heal that they even rejected this man was blind to begin. They called the man’s parents and asked if this was their blind son. The Jews were so intimidating that the parents abstained from discussing how their son was healed. “We know that his is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself” (Jn 9:20-21).

The Pharisees sought to divide Jesus as separate from God and the Law of Moses. They claimed to be disciples of Moses. The blind man essentially claimed to be a disciple of the one who opened his eyes to sight (Jn 9:30-33). The blind man had just received a miracle from God but the Pharisees cast him out of the temple.

When Jesus heard the man was cast out of the temple, Jesus found him and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man was willing to believe but wasn’t sure who he was. Jesus told the man it was Him (Jn 9:35-37). The response from the blind man was to worship Jesus.

The concluding exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees was ironic. While the blind man now sees and believes, the Pharisees see but are blind. Their refusal to see and believe Jesus made them guilty of their sins. Our refusal to believe in Jesus’ miracles or message doesn’t mean it’s not true.

  • Christianity weaves together your story with God’s glory. Like a cross-stitch or tapestry project – on the backside we cannot understand the tangled mess. However, once we view the flipside, we understand from God’s perspective how our problems and pain fit into the beautiful picture God was creating.
  • The aspect of suffering turning people away from faith is primarily a Western mindset and “First World” nations. When you travel to places outside the global West, or interact with those from third world nations, what you find is extraordinary poverty and suffering, but extraordinary faith. 
    • What one person views as suffering, another may value as the most significant aspect of their life that though is difficult brings the greatest joy.
      • Childbirth & Parenting
      • Terminal patients who find Christ and likely wouldn’t have without the diagnosis.
      • Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) worked as a child in father’s arms machine factory. He experimented with chemistry and explosives and as danger would have an explosive accident occurred with the tragic cost of his younger brother’s life and four other factor workers. This led Alfred Nobel to study harder and he patented a mixture of nitroglycerin and an absorbent substance producing what he named “dynamite.” Several years later, another Nobel brother passed and a French newspaper erroneously published Alfred’s obituary, which condemned him for his invention of dynamite, embarrassment to family, and danger to humanity. Alfred read this and was humbled, and used the bulk of his family’s estate to establish the Nobel Prizes to honor those for outstanding achievements toward human peace. After his death, his estate charity totaled over 250 million dollars to fund prizes toward the good of humanity.
      • Friend Thomas considered death & life bc of 9/11 and became Christian and today is a pastor.
      • My long season of loneliness in college and studies of liberal views led me to pursue God’s word deeper.
      • Danielle planned to go to Czech Republic for extended months of mission trip but was significantly sick. If she had gone the timing in our relationship would likely had deterred us from eventually getting married.
      • Story of Joseph – beat, sold into slavery, unjustly imprisoned, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good” (Gen 50:20) 

APPLY/THINK

  • Jesus doesn’t explain suffering, He enters it. I don’t offer spit and mud but faith, hope, and love. The Bible encourages us to pray in faith and invite the Holy Spirit to heal us. Anointing oil is symbolic of God’s presence on and in our life. We invite you to come and receive anointing prayer if you are experiencing problems/pain in need of God’s help.
  • Jesus calls us to work while it is day; night is coming… Gracious Unity & Gospel Urgency @SPBC. “There is no better way to thank God for your sight than by giving a helping hand to someone in the dark.” – Helen Keller

[1] Some thoughts from message by Andy Stanley, “Who Needs God? Who Defines Justice?”

[2] Further insight see Tim Keller, The Reason for God, p. 27, ff.

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