QUESTIONS FOR GOD
WHY IS THERE SUFFERING IN THE WORLD?
PASTOR ED YOUNG
MAY 31, 1992
Would you please take out a pencil or a pen and if you could grab a piece of paper, maybe the bulletin or something else to write on. If you don’t have a pen or a pencil, you could borrow from your neighbor. What I’d like for you to do is to write down the biggest problem, the greatest suffering, that you are enduring at the present time. It could be a financial problem, a death in the family, an illness, a rebellious teenager. What are you going through right now? A time of suffering. I’ll give you a couple of moments to write that down as I record mine.
For this message to really impact and change your life, I want you to put this particular subject at the forefront of your minds. When we try to tackle this question, “God, why is there suffering in this world?” I want you to think about what you’re going through and ask the Lord to apply biblical principles to your life. I’d like to briefly share with you what I recorded on my piece of paper up here. The greatest suffering that I’m going through right now has to do with my six-month old son. After Lisa and I had LeeBeth who now is five years of age, we wanted to have another child. We tried for a couple of years. Nothing. We saw all the infertility doctors and specialists, until finally, Lisa became pregnant. We were so excited! People were praying for us, and she miscarried. That was stuff to deal with, but we said, “I know God you have another child for us.” So, more doctors. A long period of time elapsed. We prayed and we found out we were expecting again. I was overjoyed! I wrote down in my prayer journal for years, “God, give us a child. May he or she be healthy. I dedicate this child before it is born to you.”
On and on I wrote and six months ago we were so excited—the perfect, healthy, baby boy. Almost 9 pounds. The family was there. The friends. Many of you came by and visited and we were so excited.
When EJ was three months old, Lisa took him to our pediatrician for a routine check-up and the pediatrician noticed six small skin discolorations on his body. We didn’t think anything about it, but the doctor informed Lisa that he had a symptom of a disease called neurofibromatosis, which is a neurological disorder that affects the nervous system. The doctor said, “He’s perfectly healthy now. He could live a normal life with just spots on his body or the consequences could be severe, in many cases, fatal.”
I was keeping LeeBeth that Thursday afternoon. Lisa walked through the door of our house from the garage and she was pale. She told me the news and my first words were, “What? Why would God do this to me? I’m a pastor. I’ve dedicated my life to the Lord. Why would God do this to us, Lisa?” I said, “Why? Why? Why?” And folks, I’ll be honest with you, this has been the most difficult thing that I’ve ever been through in my life—the uncertainty, the question marks, the suffering.
Over the next couple of moments, I want to share with you what God has done in my life through this suffering because I have great news. The Lord Jesus has deposited some incredible blessings, some beautiful principles into my life concerning suffering.
Take your Bibles and turn to the book of Romans, Chapter 5, if you would. We’re going to be in this chapter the entire session this morning.
Why is there suffering in the world? I hear that question often. People say, “Ed, if you can answer, man, I’ll become a Christian.” How about the little babies over in Zimbabwe or this person having cancer or the car wreck or the murder or the building burning with hundreds of people… Why? Why is there suffering in the world? I think to answer this question we have to look at the source of suffering. What’s the source of suffering?
Romans Chapter 5, Verse 12 gives us the source. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin and in this way death came to all men because all sinned.” Why is there suffering in the world? The Bible says because of the fall of man. I’m not talking about man just tripped up. God created man with the freedom of choice. He created Adam and Eve. Everything was perfect in the Garden of Eden. God says, “I have a perfect will for your life.” Everything was hunkey dorey but God gave us a freedom of choice. He didn’t make us like robots.
You remember the Jackson 5 with Michael Jackson, the dance he used to do, The Robot? I used to love that dance. I think sometimes people say, “God, I wish you could make me into a robot.” [God controls us saying,] “It’s time to pray now, Ed. It’s time to share Jesus, Ed.” Now, we could live a perfect life, but if God made us like robots, we wouldn’t be human beings.
So, Adam and Eve had that choice and they fumbled the ball. They rebelled. They chose to go their own way and the Bible says from that moment on, sin entered the world.
We are born with a sin nature. No one taught me how to sin. My first grade teacher didn’t say, “Ed, after we finish this writing assignment, I’m going to teach you how to cheat. Here’s how you cheat. And after cheating, we’ll go into stealing. You see, when someone’s looking this way, you take this and put it in your coat, and kind of walk off with it.” My teacher didn’t do that. It’s natural. We were born that way. We inherited it from Adam. Much of the suffering in the world is due to the fact that we live in an imperfect world. We live in a fallen world and we make poor choices. That’s why there is a lot of suffering.
But there is another reason. You see, the evil one was defeated at the cross, but he’s allowed to roam and to torment and to tempt and to ridicule until the final judgment.
The fall of man—that’s a reason for suffering. Satan is a reason for suffering. Also the Bible says, the consequences, the judgment of sin, is another reason some people suffer. If you’re wondering, “Am I suffering because of a sin?” then you’re not suffering because of that sin. If you are suffering due to a specific sin, you will know it. There will be no doubt about it.
Miriam, back in the Old Testament, tried to challenge the authority of Moses and God struck her with leprosy. Ananias and Sapphira, they were hypocritical. They lied. They cheated. God struck them dead. A modern-day example: We wouldn’t have the venereal disease that is around our world if men and women had obeyed the principles of God way, way, way back there. One woman, one man, having sex in marriage. But because men and women went their own way and had sex outside of marriage, you have these venereal diseases. So, a consequence of sin is the result of some suffering in the world.
But there is another reason God allows suffering and that is for the Lord to be displayed, for the Lord to be glorified in a life. You remember the disciples? They were walking around with Jesus one day and saw a blind man. They said, “Lord, I’ve figured this thing out Jesus. This man is blind. Now, did he sin or did his parents sin or his grandfathers way back there in the generations?” Christ said, “None of them sinned. This man is blind so the glory of God can be exhibited.”
Another reason for suffering, the source of suffering: To sum it up in one word—imperfection. We live in a fallen world. It’s sad to say, but when suffering comes knocking at the door of our lives, most of us go through four typical scenarios. We’ve seen the source. Now let’s look at humanistic, typical scenarios that we go through when suffering comes our way.
The first scenario is the side-step scenario. It’s kind of like Michael Irvin, he catches a pass and tries to side-step everyone. He’s this way and that way. “Whoa! I’m not going to get touched!” He wants to make it to the end zone, and a lot of people live their lives like that. They’re going to side-step suffering. “Hey, I made it. Whoa! Almost suffered there.” Living your life like that is like playing dodge ball with Nolan Ryan. Nolan’s going to nail you. You’re not going to be able to dodge that ball. The Bible says suffering is inevitable. It’s going to happen. If you’re breathing, if your heart is beating, you will go through some type of suffering, some type of distress, problems or pain. It’s going to happen! So don’t live your life on the defensive and “Whoa! I hope I’m not going to suffer.” Go ahead and step out and follow the Lord and let Him carry you through the suffering.
The second typical scenario we enter when suffering comes knocking is the smile technique. I call this the Ed McMahon technique. Ed, for 35 years, had that fake laugh, “Ha! Ha! Ha! Yes sir. Ha! Ha! Ha!” We have no clue if Johnny was that funny or not, but Ed, “Ha! Ha!” And Ed would be going through personal problems and just, “Ha! Ha!” Sounds like you, doesn’t it? You’re going through suffering. “Everything’s fine. It’s cool. I’m smiling. It’s phony. It’s hypocritical. It’s a fake job.” Sidestep, the smiler.
How about the super-spiritual scenario. Some think, “I’m going to be super-spiritual. You know, God is like Jose Canseco with a giant Louisville slugger and He likes to whack Christians about every day. It’s spiritual when you suffer. I can’t wait till the next suffering. Oh, I’m a martyr.” We think that God is masochistic and we run around and suffer and say, “I’m the most spiritual because I’ve gone through this suffering. I’m going through such a terrible time. Praise the Lord. Isn’t it great?” [Laughter] You know people like that.
How about the sink technique, the sink scenario. We get on the high dive like Greg Louganis. We tie a weight around our waist, and we dive into a pool of despair, sit on the bottom, and drown in our suffering. We blame God; we blame authority figures—teachers, pastors, whoever. “I hate you. I turn my back on you,” and we drown in this water. Could that be you? Could that be me? Do those sound familiar, those typical scenarios of suffering?
Let’s change gears here and talk about some exciting biblical points, biblical significances concerning suffering. I want to direct your attention to Romans, Chapter 5 again. We’re going to cover Verses 1 through 4. The significance of suffering. You say, “Now hold on, Ed. You’re telling me there is a biblical significance to suffering?” That’s right. The significance of suffering can be summed up in two phrases. It’s purposeful and it’s productive. Suffering is purposeful and it’s productive. But to lay the groundwork, the framework for this particular subject matter, let’s look at Verse 1 of Romans, Chapter 5. The significance of suffering.
First of all, it’s purposeful. Paul writes, “Therefore, since we have been justified…” In the original language, this word “justified,” means the subject, human beings, men and women, have received this gift. We have not initiated anything in regard to our salvation. We have just received it. We have not initiated it. “Therefore since we’ve been justified through faith….” Circle the term “through faith.” Not through works, not through being a great guy, not because my father was a deacon or an elder or I’ve been baptized, homogenized, pasteurized in the church—through faith. I’ve been justified through faith.
“We have peace with God.” The Bible tells us a very interesting concept. When we’re born, we are at war with God. There’s a war going on in your life and my life. We’re unbelievers. We’re at war. But the moment we receive Jesus Christ (God’s peace treaty) then we have peace with God. And once we have peace with God, we have the peace of God in our lives. Do you have the peace of God? Are you at peace with God? If you know Jesus Christ, you are justified. So, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith.”
Circle that phrase “gained access.” What if I decided this afternoon to go home and place a long distance call—I’ll pay for the charges—to George Bush. How many people in here think I could call George Bush, and he would answer? “Oh Ed, how are you doing? How are the services? I hear you’re at two services now—9:40 and 11:00. Great! That’s prudent.” [Laugher] How many people think I could do that? It’s not going to happen. George Bush is inaccessible; he’s relatively inaccessible. I couldn’t get in touch with him. When we’re unbelievers, when we’re at war with God, God is even more inaccessible than the President of the United States. But remember, once we receive Jesus Christ by grace through faith, then we have a hotline directly to the Father through the Son. The moment I trust what the Son has done, I know the Father.
So, “I’ve gained access by faith into His grace”—the word “grace” means God giving us what we don’t deserve—“in which we now stand.” I stand in the presence of God, not on my own merits, but by grace through faith, Christ is standing with me. I stand, I’m justified, “and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” So we understand we have to be believers. We’re seeing now there’s a purpose and a significance of suffering. Now let’s watch this concept get very vivid and clear.
Look at Verse 3; this verse totally blew me away. It says, “Not only so but we also rejoice in our suffering.” I’m thinking, “We rejoice in our suffering?” Lisa and I have been going through the unknown here with our child. God, you want me to rejoice in suffering? I want you to notice the Word of God does not say we are to rejoice because of our suffering or we’re to rejoice and enjoy suffering. It says we are to rejoice—what’s the word? Say it with me—in, in our suffering.
Remember the piece of paper I had you fill out at the start of this message? Whatever that subject or principle or person or situation is, insert it right now in place of the words “our suffering” in Verse 3. So, here is how it would read: Is this true? Not only so, but Ed, we also rejoice in the suffering of EJ (or in this particular illness or in the recent death of a loved one.)
It’s our choice to rejoice. So we rejoice in our suffering because we know that suffering is productive. It’s purposeful. God allows it. God does not cause all suffering. Most suffering, God does not cause, but we like to blame God. Why is there suffering in the world, God? It’s man’s responsibility. We’re the ones that mess everything up. God doesn’t owe us anything. And we want an explanation, don’t we? We’ve got to have an explanation for everything. I’ve got to understand this.
I’ve always wondered, “What if God gave us an explanation—A,B,C,D,E,F,G—about every suffering, every problem, every trial in the world, would it help the situation? Would it help the suffering? Would you say, “Oh, well, now I have an explanation, I guess now I can trust Christ.” Our minds are limited folks. We can’t understand the mind of God. We talked about last week that God’s ways are higher than our ways.
God allows suffering for a purpose. It’s significant. So, when you’re going through suffering, you need to say, “God, it’s difficult. I hate it. I don’t like it, but I want to rejoice in this circumstance because I realize it’s a gift from you. You trusted me with this gift and you’re going to do great things with my character, in my life and prayerfully God, you are going to be glorified through this suffering.” Our suffering can become an offering to God, an act of worship to God. Have you given your suffering to God? Are you realizing, “Hey, there’s a purpose behind this”?
But not only is there a purpose; it’s also productive. Let’s read on. “We rejoice in our suffering”—it’s our choice to rejoice—“because we know suffering produces”—and this is a spiritual chemical that it produces in your life and my life. I’m suffering. I see the purpose and here’s the spiritual chemical, PCH. You know what PCH is? I’m going through a turmoil. I’m going through suffering. God says, “It’s going to be productive, Ed, for your life. It’s going to produce PCH—perseverance, character, and hope. PCH. It’s going to produce that if we keep our eyes focused on the Lord Jesus Christ.
I talked to a couple last night in our church who have endured great suffering for almost a year. They told me the secret of going through the suffering, of staying on the higher ground, of being on top of the circumstances, was to keep their eyes on Jesus. They told me the moment they look to the left or to the right or at the crowd or the gallery, that’s when they began to experience turmoil and doubt and began to sink and drown in that pool of suffering.
So, it’s to produce perseverance. What’s perseverance? The word “perseverance” means “to hang in there.” To hang in there. LeeBeth just found a little turtle. His name is Mr. T—kind of an original name—and Mr. T has a little rock in his aquarium. He just hangs on the rock. Almost all day long, he hangs there, but Mr. T is tough. Don’t mess around with Mr. T. If you stick your hand down there, he will snap at your finger. He hangs there tenaciously, and that’s what the word “perseverance” means. It’s not a passive-type perseverance. “Well, I’m just going to sit back and take the suffering.” It’s not that. It is a tenacity. It is something we are living. It is something we’re going toward. You hear the words “Go for it,” that’s the word “perseverance.” And God says, “Through your trial, whatever it may be, you are going to produce perseverance. It’s going to build character.”
See the word “character”? The word “character” in the Greek means “proven reliable.” Proven reliable. Beginning next week, I’m starting a series entitled, “That’s the Way the Character Crumbles.” We’re talking about Christian character. But character means “proven reliable.”
1 Peter 1:7—I talked about it Wednesday night—speaks beautifully to this concept. 1 Peter 1:7 says our lives, when we go through sufferings and trials, are like gold. I want to produce perseverance, character, hope. He knows we are ready, He knows I am ready when He can see His reflection in my life. That’s God’s desire. That’s His dream. To see us emerge as stronger individuals for Him.
Perseverance, character, and the final word, “hope.” What is the word “hope”? Does it say, “I wish” or “I want.” It’s confidence that the Lord Jesus will always be there. The word, “Holy Spirit” means the Comforter, the one who comes alongside. That is what Christ does and He wants to do, and the Holy Spirit will do if we’ll allow Him. He’ll walk with us hand in hand through every bit of suffering we encounter. So suffering is productive and once it’s productive, we see it from a different perspective and once we see it from a different perspective, we see it produces PCH.
Go back to the little words you wrote at the beginning of the service. What are you producing? Are you producing anger, resentment, anxiety, or PCH? To conclude, I’d like to share with you briefly a couple of principles I believe you can apply to your life and that God wants to deposit where you are today so that you can get a grip, a grasp on suffering. Three principles.
Principle number one: You’re going through suffering, share your suffering with the Savior. The first principle—suffering comes knocking at the door, share your suffering with the Savior. The moment we found out about EJ, we began to pray, to share our anger, our resentment, our feelings with God. Read the book of Psalms. David, many times is angry at God. I thought God had betrayed me. “God, why? Why? Why?” I began to share my feelings with God, and the moment you share your feelings with God, oftentimes He will change our attitude more than He will change or alter the circumstances. So, I say, “God, I want an attitude of gratitude. I want to share my sufferings with you, Jesus.” And we think our sufferings are unique. We think, “I’m the only one that ever feels suffering. I’m the only one who has ever gone through this. No one understands. I am in my own little world on this island called suffering, and the mainland is over there where everyone else is. This is the way it is.”
The Bible tells us in Isaiah 53:6, that Jesus Christ identifies with, He is very close to, and He understands our suffering. In fact, Isaiah 53:6 says Jesus Christ has experienced our sufferings first, before we ever experience them. So our emotion, our feelings of pain, are really secondary emotions because Christ has experienced them first. We’re to give them to the Lord. He’s sympathetic and He understands. So, share your sufferings with the Savior.
Second principle: Share your sufferings with others. Share your sufferings with others. Boy, I thank the Lord that we had a church full of dynamic Christians so I could share what was on my heart concerning my son. That I could share and they would pray for us. I’m a living example, a testimony of the grace of God. EJ is doing great right now. He’s the perfect six-month old baby boy. But I’m at peace because there’s a giant question mark for his future. I’m at peace with God and by God. Why? Because of prayer. Because of prayer.
Now, if I did not ask other people to pray for me, if I didn’t pray, I would look at everything from a horizontal perspective. But because I’m seeking the Lord, because others are praying for us, I see it from a totally different perspective, and I have the peace, folks, that surpasses all understanding. Yes, there are days that are tough. Yes, there are still days I question, I wonder, but there is the power, there is the underlying foundation of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit that comforts.
Let me say a word parenthetically about those of you who need to help others who are going through suffering. When people are suffering, a lot of us treat them like the plague. “Oh, I can’t get near them. Let me take some antibiotics. I’m going to stay away. They just had a death in the family. I found out they have cancer. They’re in the hospital. I’m going to stay way, way away because (here it is) I don’t know what to say to them during the time of suffering.” Have you ever said that before? I have. “I cannot go to ICU because I don’t know what to say.” People say, “Ed, how do you do it? You deal with a lot of tragic circumstances. What do you say to someone who has just lost a teenager due to a traffic accident? What do you say?” It’s what you don’t say. You don’t say a word. You just try and be there. Be there. Be there.
Don’t go around as Mr. or Mrs. Super-spiritual and say, “Let me quote you Romans 8:28, ‘For all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.’” “You know, it’s God’s will. I know it’s suffering now, but one day in heaven we’ll look back…” I know of more well-meaning Christians who have taken that attitude who have totally destroyed people going through suffering. Folks, put your arm around them. Love them. Cry with them.
One of the first pastoral assignments I ever had was with a family whose child had drowned and I walked into the situation. I was 23 years old. I started crying. I couldn’t even pray, couldn’t even talk, and I go back and I’m talking to another pastor and I said, “Man, I blew it. They must think I’m an imbecile. Here I am supposed to be strong.” He said, “What happened?” and I told him. He said, “That’s what you’re supposed to do. You just be there.”
Who is suffering around you? Who is suffering? Who is going through pain? Are you over here, removed, saying, “I’m not going to get near them.” God wants you to step out and to minister.
Here’s the third principle: Rely daily on the sufficiency of God’s grace. God gives us just enough grace to make it day by day. Don’t say, “What will I do next year? How about 10 years? How about 50 years?” You rely on God’s grace today and don’t worry about tomorrow. God is in control. Don’t worry about that. Three principles that God wants to deposit on your life.
During the great Chicago fire, Horatio Spafford’s house was burned to the ground. During the rebuilding phase, Horatio Spafford sent his wife and three children on a ship to Europe. The ship got near the continent and before it could get to port, a storm took it out to sea. The ship overturned. It sunk. Spafford’s wife went overboard. The three children went overboard and the children floated away from her grasp. She made it to England and she sent a two-word cable to Horatio Spafford which read, “Saved alone.” Horatio Spafford jumped aboard the next ship to Europe to be with his wife and he instructed the captain of the vessel to inform him when the ship was going to sail near the area where his three children had drowned. As he was passing over that area, the captain said, “Mr. Spafford, here’s where it happened.” He leaned over the rail and he wrote the following song lyrics:
“When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrow like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’”