Read Jacob Haywood’s article in LifeWay’s Facts & Trends titled, “3 Apologetic Approaches to Reach the Next Generation.”
We’re designed to be together.
Suffering and hardship are inevitable in this life. There are two constants in life, as the saying goes…death and taxes. Both bring suffering and hardship! This is a reality Jesus spoke of when he promised, “In this world you will have trouble…” hardship’s inevitable. BUT, when life gets hard, God gives us each other. We’re designed to be together.
The Apostle Paul, who knew suffering and hardship more than anybody—it was actually the calling Jesus placed on His life—said in Romans 5:3-4, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…” Now, the context of this passage can easily be overlooked. Paul is not writing to an individual, but he is writing to a group of Christians living in Rome. This letter was meant to be read aloud, together.
Think about if you read this passage through an individualistic lens. Say you just got an F in a class you worked really hard in. “YES! HOORAY! I failed this and have to retake it!” That’s crazy, right?! Or suppose you rear-end someone and have to pay tons of money and your car is totalled. “AWESOME! I rejoice!!! My savings account is depleted and I have no way to drive myself to work to pay for my mistake!! I REJOICE!” That’s insane! Literally.
Paul says we can “rejoice” in our pain, but nobody throws a party when they fail a test, get their hearts broken, or make a big mistake. Now, the more you trust God (who is trustworthy), the easier it is to trust Him in your sufferings, but you and I both know it’s still hard to rejoice in our sufferings. But, Paul’s words were not written to an individual. They were written to a community.
Later in the same letter, in Romans 12:9-21, Paul says again, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation…” He says this, though, in the middle of advice on how we can love each other better. He says things like, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality…live in harmony with one another…If your enemy is hungry, feed him…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We are to show the love of Christ to one another and to our enemies…while we “rejoice in hope” and are “patient in tribulation.” When life gets hard, God gives us each other.
When something hurtful is done to us, God gives us each other. When we suffer a tragedy or loss, God gives us each other. When we make a huge mistake, God gives us each other. When we are quarantined to our house because of a global pandemic, God gives us each other.
There are over 50 “one another” passages in the New Testament. Of the four things Acts 2 shows that the early church was devoted to, fellowship and breaking of bread are two of them. The outcome was incredible. Daily there were those who were being saved. We were designed for togetherness. The church is a purposeful creation by a good God. It is a mystery that has been in the mind of God for all time but just revealed in the last 2,000 years. God has created us to need one another.
In this time of being alone, of being separated, may we seek more and different ways to be the church, to be together. Not just in person, but in passion and purpose, striving towards the same goals, building one another up and serving those who are in need. It is now more than ever that the world needs to see the “one anotherness” of the church. It’s now more than ever that people need to see the church come alongside them in their hurts and fears and loneliness and even sickness.
To conclude these thoughts, think on this: If you’ve ever played on a sports team, you know that victory is sweet when it’s celebrated together. When you’ve gone through hardships together. When you’ve experienced blood, sweat, and tears together. When that victory comes, all the pain that led to that moment fades into obscurity, and the celebration of that moment is all the greater because you are crossing that finish line with someone you’ve run the race with, played the game with, struggled with.
My son and I just finished C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicales of Narnia series on Sunday night. We’ve been reading them each night throughout the year. Each book has a whole host of people, some good and some bad. There’s always hardship that has to be overcome in these books. There’s always heartache and loss. We finished The Last Battle and we couldn’t help but be overwhelmed. They had made it to Aslan’s Country, which is synonymous with heaven. And all of these characters, who have fought and struggled and loved, and suffered, and hoped together, are all there, together. They fought the good fight together and get to experience the victory together. And the eternal victory is all the sweeter because they are together.
Hear this excerpt from the end of the last book and, as you hear names you may or may not know, picture people you do know. People you’ve struggled through life with towards the goal of Jesus.
“Everyone you had ever heard of (if you knew the history of these countries) seemed to be there. There was Glimfeather the Owl and Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, and King Rilian the Disenchanted, and his mother the Star’s daughter and his great father Caspian himself. And close behind him were the Lord Drinian and the Lord Berne and Trumpkin the Dwarf and Truffle-hunter the good Badger with Glenstorm the Centaur and a hundred other heroes of the great War of Deliverance. And then from another side came Cor the King of Archenland with King Lune his father and his wife Queen Aravis and the brave prince Corin Thunder-Fist, his brother, and Bree the Horse and Hwin the Mare. And then—which was a wonder beyond all wonders to Tirian—there came from further away in the past, the two good Beavers and Tumnus the Faun. And there was greeting and kissing and hand-shaking and old jokes revived, (you’ve no idea how good an old joke sounds when you take it out again after a rest of five or six hundred years)…”
And Aslan said to Lucy to conclude the last book, “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
That is what God has for us. That is what God wants for us. But far too many of us are missing out on the joy of the struggle together. This time of quarantine I think is good for us. It has made us reevaluate our priorities. We realize, wow, I actually need those people. We get a glimpse of community through a livestream church service and realize it’s a pale comparison to an in-person church service with our community that we have taken for granted. Then we realize, just like Narnia, that even our gatherings here are but pale comparisons to the community that we will experience in the heaven that God has prepared for us to enjoy together forever.
Let’s be a people who experience some of heaven on earth. God has given us each other.
Read Revelation 21:1-4.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Life is hard, and God is good. You don’t have to know why you’re going through what you’re going through. You don’t have to know if there’s any good coming from your suffering. God is working all things for good of those who love Him. God is in control, and God is good. You can trust Him with what you’re going through.
Many people don’t believe in God because of evil and suffering – some suffering that has happened to them or some evil act that they can’t see good that could come out of it. The existence of evil and suffering is one of the biggest objections against Christianity.
I don’t buy it. Having personally suffered the pain of death, I don’t know all the good that has come out of my suffering, but because you can’t fathom and see any good out of a particular situation doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Very smart philosophers use complex probability calculus, concluding that it is highly improbable that God exists because of evil and suffering, all the while cloaking their equations in highly subjective language. They reveal their real purpose, that their disbelief doesn’t stem from probability, but from the fact that they can’t fathom good that could come out of a situation. Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean an omniscient God doesn’t. These philosophers take the rules of atheism and apply it to Christianity, acting as if you can only explain things through the material world, without the supernatural. It is playing by a different set of rules.
If you’re really going to evaluate Christianity to see if it’s true or not, and you’re looking at the problem of evil and the problem of suffering, don’t use the rules of atheism to evaluate theism and Christianity. Look through the lens of a Christian for a second. There is an all-knowing God. We are finite creatures with limited brain capacity. We can’t understand things in our everyday lives. Who are we to expect to understand the depths of evil and suffering? Christianity shows us that God is good, that God is all-knowing, and that God has far-reaching good plans for even suffering that we can’t imagine right now what the good could be (Romans 8:28; Hebrews 11:32-40). Just because you don’t understand a good that could come out of a seemingly gratuitous evil act doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist and that He doesn’t have good plans.
Dear sufferer, your suffering isn’t the end of the story. God is bringing an end to all evil and suffering, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, purchasing for you (if you believe in Him) an eternity without sin, an eternity without crying, an eternity without pain, without mourning, without tears, and without death. That is what God is preparing for those who love Him (Revelation 21:1-5). He is a good God. He is an all-knowing God. He can be trusted. Only with God is your suffering redeemed. Only with God there is hope.
Evil is a real problem. It has hurt many people. It has caused much pain and confusion. Many people wonder how an all-loving and all-powerful God could allow so much evil and the specific evils that have hurt them personally. This problem is the underlying reason many people do not believe in God. I want to devote my life to thinking critically, conversing about, and studying this philosophical quandary, the problem of evil. This post won’t get to the depths of the heart of the matter. I suspect that over the next several years, there will be many posts on varying aspects of this topic. For now, this post will get us started.
There are three main reasons why people don’t believe in God. There are intellectual, emotional, and willful objections that people have. With the problem of evil, the main objections are emotional or willful. Someone has a hard time believing in a God that has allowed such evil and suffering to happen in their life (emotional), or they don’t want to believe in a God that allows such evil and suffering to exist (willful). Though these objections are very real, and they matter very deeply to the one holding them (because they stem from some deep hurt), they aren’t necessarily based on reality. The only types of objections that hold ground in terms of what’s really real are intellectual objections.
Just because I feel a certain way or don’t want to believe a certain thing does not make that thing not exist. It can cause someone to reject reality, but it does not change what’s really real. This is the problem many people have within the problem of evil. They fail to examine what’s really real because of the dark blinders of suffering.
There are many explanations as to why God would allow suffering, but outside of all of those defenses and theodicies, one thing must always be remembered. God is not exempt from evil and suffering. He took on flesh to take on evil and suffering. He willfully suffered excruciatingly at the hands of evil to defeat evil. And He did. He died. But by His death, death was defeated. And because He is alive, He has provided an eternity (FOREVER) where 1) there is no more evil and suffering and 2) we will fully comprehend the love of God through the sacrifice of Jesus.
This is good news. This is good news that would be no news apart from the bad news of the existence of evil.