Tried and True

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The problem of suffering is a universal dilemma.  Many do not resolve the problem in an acceptable way.  When faced with extreme suffering, our faith in God is tested.  The classic example of patience in the face of suffering is provided by Job (James 5:11).
Three Ways of Solving the Problem of Suffering That Fail
Consider Hinduism.  In Hinduism, suffering is the result of sins committed in a previous life (Hinduism affirms reincarnation). Karma–where the good and bad deeds performed by human beings in the present determine the quality of their lives both now and in future births–such that the suffering we experience now is seen as the punishment for bad things done in previous lives.  Karma is an impersonal, cosmic principle at work in the universe.  In Hinduism, suffering is the result of bad karma.  Hinduism fails to resolve the problem of suffering because reincarnation is a false concept (Heb. 9:27).  Karma does not exist.
Consider Buddhism.  Buddhism’s central teaching is based on the problem of suffering.  The Four Noble Truths are:  (1) The truth of suffering (Dukkha); (2) The truth of the origin of suffering (Samudaya); (3) The truth of the cessation of suffering (Nirodha); and (4) the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering (Magga). For Buddhist, suffering comes about because of the mismatch between what we desire and what we receive. The solution–we must get rid of desire.  If we can desensitize ourselves sufficiently, then,  nothing can hurt us.  The problem with this view is that it is not possible nor practical to turn off all desire.  Some desire is good and profitable (Matt. 5:6).  Buddhist believe that suffering is the result of bad desire.
Consider Atheism.  To the Atheist, the material universe is neither good or bad.  In a blind physical universe, some people are going to get hurt, others are going to get lucky.  We have only blind, pitiless, indifference.  Suffering is the result of bad luck.  However, luck itself does not exist except as a false god created by people to describe the unexplained (I John 5:21).
All three views described above are bad news for sufferers.
The Christian Viewpoint.  When we ask, “why?” the question reveals that we believe in God and not blind chance.  Let us turn to the book of Job for an answer that will address the problem of suffering.  The central question in the book of Job is: “Will Job still honor God when all his prosperity is taken away from him?”  Does Job truly worship God or does he worship what God has provided?
Job’s Suffering.  After Job suffers the loss of his ten children, and his source of wealth, he declares: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: The LORD gave, and the LORD taketh away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job. 1:21).  In spite of all that Job suffers, including the loss of his health (ch. 2) he still trusts in God.  Job’s wife tells him to curse God and die.  Job rebukes her with these words, “What, shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). In all of this, Job did not sin with his lips.
Job’s Friends’ Bad Theology.  The majority of the book of Job is given to the bad theology of his friends.  Bad theology does not solve the problem of suffering.  Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu fail Job.  They believed that he suffered because of his sins.  In Job’s case, this was not true.  It is true that some suffering that human beings experience is the result of sin.  However, in Job’s case, suffering was the result of testing (Job 1).  Job’s faith is tried in the fire (I Pet. 1:6-7).
The Answer to the Problem of Suffering.  The only answer to the problem of suffering in the book of Job is to reflect on the universe and observe the power, skill, and wisdom of God demonstrated therein.  God asks Job many questions that Job could not answer.  God never directly deals with Job’s suffering.  He asks Job to consider His glory as demonstrated in the created acts.  If God is able to create and order the universe, then, God is more than capable of overseeing the details of our lives.  When God asks Job to reflect on His being and nature, He is asking Job to develop confidence (trust, faith) in His credibility and qualifications to rightly guide Job’s life.  Job must resolve the problem of suffering in love, trust, and devotion to God.  He must see the connection between suffering and worship.
The End of the Story.  At last, Job is vindicated by God (Job 42:8-9).  Job’s friends were condemned by God.  God was gracious to Job and doubled Job’s possessions and blessed him with seven sons and three daughters.  God glory and God’s grace provide the answer to suffering.  Job lived 140 years after this period of testing and died being old and full of days (prosperous).  God is great and God is good.  Blessed be the name of the LORD!
The Application.  God desires genuine human relationships based upon love and trust.  Job was an innocent sufferer and his experience points to another time when an innocent would suffer on a cross for the greater good of humankind and bear tremendous suffering out of love for God and us.  God has not been passive about evil in the world.  He has provided redemption through His Son, Jesus Christ.  God deals with suffering by sending His own Son to suffer for us that we could one day be liberated from all suffering and taken to a heavenly place where there will be no more suffering. (reference: Paradoxology by Krish Kandiah, pp. 85-111).

The “Vale of Soul-Making”

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     Recently, many people throughout the world have experienced dramatic earthquakes.  In the last 30 days, the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) has recorded several hundred earthquakes all over the world.  Some of the worst earthquakes have hit in Haiti, Chile and Taiwan.  The earthquake in Haiti was 7.0 in magnitude.  Its epicentre was 16 miles from Port-au-Prince.  It hit Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010.  Between 217,000 and 230,000 people have been identified as dead.  300,000 have been injured.  1,000,000 people are homeless.  250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings have collapsed.  The earthquake in Chile was a magnitude 8.8.  It occurred on Feb. 27, 2010.  The total costs have not yet been determined, but hundreds have been killed.  The earthquake in Taiwan occurred on March 4, 2010 (more than one quake it on this day).  It was magnitude 6.4.  Its epicentre was 40 miles east southeast of Tai-nan.  How do we explain these natural disasters? 
     Some natural disasters occur as the result of the physical design and forces necessary to the operation of the universe.  God has created the best of all possible worlds as a “vale of soul-making.”  The phrase, “vale of soul-making” was first used by John Keats in 1819 in a letter to George and Georgiana Keats.  In this letter, Keats sets aside the phrase “vale of tears” preferring the phrase “vale of soul-making.”  The phrase helps define the purpose for which the world was created.  Keats states, “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?  A place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways.  As various as the lives of men are–so various become their souls, and thus does God make individual beings, souls, identical souls of the sparks of his own essence” (—  March  1, 2010).  Suffering develops patience (endurance), compassion, love (Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:30-37), good-will toward men.  Suffering also impresses each of us with the brevity and uncertainty of life.  Through suffering we learn our own helplessness and the great need we have for God, His help and His mercy and grace. 
     Some disasters are the result of God’s chastening men for their sins.  This fact is illustrated by:  the flood in Noah’s day (Gen. 6-9); the plagues brought upon Egypt (Ex. 8-10); the drought in the days of Ahab (I Kings 17:1; Luke 4:25; James 5:17).  These calamities were brought about by the miraculous hand of God and were designed to be punitive in nature.  The reason we are aware of this fact is the revelation that God made in Scripture specifically indicating His involvement.  Today, we do not have direct revelation from God concerning whether or not He is involved in the disastrous event.  God is still ruling among the nations (Dan. 4:17).  While it is possible that God is chastening a nation, it is not possible for us to know this with certainty.  We may only say “perhaps” (Philemon 15) and recognize God’s providential Will.  Christians should withhold judgment in such matters simply because they do not know with any certainty what directly caused the disaster. 
     The sufferings of this present time should cause us to reflect upon the brevity and uncertainty of life.  They should cause us to realize that this world is not our final abode.  In the face of the reality of disasters, we grow in our understanding of the need of God and of being in a right relationship with Him through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.  Whenever our soul is secure in the hands of God, we can confidently face life or death.  Christians look forward to an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled and fadeth not away reserved in heaven for us (I Pet. 1:4;  See also Rom. 8:18-25). This world is not our home, but it is a vale of soul-making!