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Why Does God Allow ________?

Anytime we see the devastation caused by something like Hurricane Harvey, we can’t help but ask, “Why?” Why would God allow such weather patterns to persist where an unprecedented fifty plus inches of rain would fall in one geographic area? Why would God allow loss of life, human suffering, and economic fallout of over $160 billion, which is more than the costs of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy put together?

When we ask these questions at a global level, we also begin to ask them at a personal level. Why did God allow my child to get cancer? Why did God allow me to lose my job? Why did God allow my marriage to fall apart?

You know, as well as I, there are no easy answers, because these are not easy questions. Shallow answers given to deep questions of pain and suffering help no one. Deep questions require deep answers. And there is no greater depth than love.

In a lecture at Socrates in the City, Dr. Peter Kreeft shares several answers to the problem of suffering. One answer is God’s invitation to trust, the same invitation parents give to children: “You can’t understand right now, but you can trust me.”

Another answer is hope, which is directed toward the future. Saint Teresa of Avila experienced more than her fair share of suffering. In her search for answers, she wrote, “The most horrible life on earth filled with the most atrocious sufferings will be seen from the viewpoint of heaven to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel” (“Making Sense Out of Suffering,” Socrates in the City, 54).

The deepest answer of all, though, is love. What’s the true aim of love? Oneness. Closeness. Intimacy. “According to Christianity,” Kreeft writes, “God acted that way. When He came to earth to solve the problem of suffering, He didn’t give us a technique for getting out of it; He didn’t give us a philosophical or mystical explanation of it. He invited us to participate in it, because He participated in ours” (idem.).

He concludes by saying, “I think the most moving divine answer to the problem of suffering is the shortest verse in the Bible. When Jesus’s close friend Lazarus died, He went to the tomb, and the words are, ‘Jesus wept.’ In the next verse, everybody says, ‘See how He loved him.’ That shows us what God thinks of our suffering” (idem.).

To all those suffering in Texas and Louisiana, and to all who endure the shockwaves of pain that continue to rip through our broken world: God doesn’t give a lot of words to answer the problem of our pain. “According to Christianity, He gives us a single word, and His name is Jesus” (ibid., 55).

“For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings,
so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too”
(2 Corinthians 1:5).

If you’d like to turn your love into action and help those affected by Hurricane Harvey, please go to http://www.east91st.org/hurricane-harvey-disaster-relief/.

Living In A Culture of Narcissism

This will not strike you as breaking news, but one of the functions of a pastor is to help people. Likewise, one of the functions of the Church is to help people. Since I’ve been trying to do this full-time for over 25 years (sometimes more successfully than others), I find myself in the midst of an ongoing struggle: How do I genuinely help people without leaving the impression that Christianity is all about making them feel better (or how to have a better marriage or live a happier life)?

We live in a culture that places the individual at the center of everything. We are self-absorbed consumerists. Narcissism is the religion of the day. Whether this has developed because of the promise of instant gratification or the expansion of technology centered on self [have you seen the exponential growth of “selfies” and Snap Chat?], individualism is on the rise, and it’s reflected in the church as well.

If you need any proof, look no further:

  • 84% of US adults and 66% of practicing Christians agree that the “highest goal for life is to enjoy it as much as possible.”
  • 91% of adults and 76% of practicing Christians believe that “the best way to find yourself is to look inside.”
  • 97% of adults and 91% of practicing Christians agree that “you have to be true to yourself” (Kinnaman and Lyons, Good Faith, 228).

When we look below the surface, we discover that millions of Christians are using “the way of Jesus to pursue the way of self” (idem.). Our discipleship, ministries, programs and sermons, if not careful, cater to an iFaith more than a faith centered on Jesus.

Converting to Jesus means we deny ourselves in order to find ourselves (Mark 8:34-35). We leave the pathway of individualism and enter the path of community. We discover that self-fulfillment comes when “self” is aligned with Jesus.

Notice the impact this truly makes. Our marriages are strengthened as we sacrificially love and serve our spouse more than we seek to be served. Our children grow as mature believers in Jesus when we point them to Him more than give in to them. Our churches grow in healthy community as we focus on others more than ourselves. Our culture is transformed when we stop catering to consumerist demands and live out our faith over the backyard fence and in the public square.

As Kinnaman and Lyons write,

“Christianity is not iFaith. It’s not just for Sunday mornings when we feel like it or weeknight Bible study when we don’t have anything better to do—and it’s certainly not just for making us feel good about ourselves. It is an inward work of the Spirit than turns us outward as Christ’s body to God’s purposes for the world. The sooner [we] renounce me-me-me belief, the sooner we can offer others a way out of their own self-centeredness” (idem.).

Perhaps the answer to my dilemma of how to help people without feeding the individualistic beast is to bring the healing of Jesus to broken people so they can become healers too.

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