Hard Questions: Pain and Death

 

So today begins the first week of a short series answering hard questions about the Bible, thank you so much for sending in the questions you have submitted, they have been very good. If you have others, please email them or put them in the offering plate, and I will try to get to as many as I can.
Today we are going to be looking at a subject that was touched on by two questions. the first one was pretty specific. It is: “I never understood why little babies and children die so young. Why does God take them?”
The second is a little more broad and is: “If God is almighty and he can fix anything, why is there still pain and suffering in the world?”
While one is specific and one is general, they touch on the same question. It is the question of where God is in the midst of pain. Now, before we get to the actual answer of these questions and look to scripture for what God has said about these things, let’s pray and ask for His help in this process.
PRAY
Ok, you may not realize this, but behind every question about God is a presupposition that exists about God. Now, I will tell you that the answer to both of these questions is the same answer, the presupposition of each person is actually revealed in their question.
Let me illustrate what I mean. The first question is about why babies and young children die, but this person asks, “Why does God take them?” This question presupposes that God is active in the taking of children. The second question reveals the presupposition when it asks, “Why doesn’t God fix it?” The presupposition there is that God is not active in the pain and suffering in the world. Do you see how these people have the same basic questions, but have different suppositions about who God is, and what He is doing? So what I want to do before I get to the meat of the answer is to look at those presuppositions and see what is really going on from scripture, then get to the answer. But first, so you can know where I am headed, let me say my answer succinctly, and then tell you where I find this in the Bible.
So here is my answer, if it is confusing, hang on, and it will hopefully make sense by the time lunch rolls around: God’s uses pain and suffering in this world according to His will to bring himself the most glory through the redemption of all things, and sometimes that means babies and young people will die.
God uses pain and suffering: open your Bibles to Lamentations 3. I am going to read a lot. verses 1-38. What we see here is this text is a rundown of the suffering that the author has endured. This is some serious suffering. Now, who does the author attribute the suffering to? Over 20 times in this text, the author uses the phrase or the understanding that “he has” caused this suffering. This author, most likely Jeremiah is looking at his suffering as something that is delivered by the hand of God. and He caps it off with this explanation, “for the Lord will not cast off forever, but thought he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” So, clearly this suffering is attributed to the hand of God, now look for a second at the next verse, it says God does not “willingly” afflict or grieve the children of man” now, this could be confusing for a second, because he just attributed all his suffering to the hand of God, and then it says he doesn’t do it willingly. That is where a good hebrew scholar can help us understand what is not totally understood. The hebrew word that is translated here “willingly” is a compound word made up of the Hebrew equivalent of “From His Heart” so the idea here is not that he has no choice, but that he does not relish the suffering that he is inflicting on his people. Now, that will bring in the question if God uses suffering, does that mean he is responsible for sin? NO, God is not culpable for anyone’s sin, but He allows it, ordains it, and uses it as He sees fit. That may be another question that I am not going to get into today. The main point there is that here in Lamentations, and so many other places, the understanding was that the suffering that people experienced was from the hand of God.
According to His will. Here we have the truth that all things that come to pass are in the will of God. Now, I don’t have a ton of time to get into this, but when you speak of the will of God, you need to understand that there is the Commanded will of God, and the Decreed will of God. Essentially, this is the understanding that God has spoken to us His will through His laws and commands. Now the will of decree is the will by which he brings to pass what actually happens. I realize, this may cause more questions than answers, but let me give you some examples:
Since I cant say it any better than Jonathan Edwards, let me quote him on this: 
▪ We [know it was] God’s secret will that Abraham should not sacrifice his son, but yet his command was to do it.
▪ [We] do certainly know that God willed that Pharaoh’s heart should be hardened, and yet that the hardness of his heart was his sin.
▪ We do know that God willed that [the] Egyptians should hate God’s people. Psalms 105:25, “He turned their heart to hate his people and deal subtilely with his servants.”
▪ We do know that it was God’s will that Absalom should lie with David’s wives. 2 Samuel 12:11–12, “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes and give them unto thy neighbor; and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.”
▪ We do certainly know that God willed that Jeroboam and the ten tribes should rebel.
The same, we know, may be said of the plunder of the Babylonians; and other instances might be given. The Scripture plainly tells us that God wills to harden some men (Romans 9:18), that Christ should be killed by men, [etc.].
So, as God uses pain and suffering, he does it through his will of decree.
3. To bring Himself the most Glory: Here is really the crux of the situation that we are faced with. I hope that I have preached this enough that it will not be a surprise to you that the thing that God wants more than anything else in the world, is to bring himself glory. The Glory of God is the purpose behind everything that He does. So, it might be good to define the Glory of God quickly. John Piper defines it like this: “The most common meaning for God’s glory in the Bible assumes that this infinite value has entered created experience. It has, as it were, shined. God’s glory is the radiance of his holiness. It is the out-streaming of his infinite value. And when it streams out, it is seen as beautiful and great. It has both infinite quality and infinite magnitude. So we may define the glory of God as the beauty and greatness of God’s manifold perfections.”
So in all He does, his aim is to bring himself the most of this. so now, where does this show up in scripture? Isaiah 43:6-7 “6 I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.
Now, quoting again John Piper- ”The glory of God is the goal of all things. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). All things were created for God’s glory (Isaiah 43:6–7).
The great mission of the church is to declare God’s glory among the nations. “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (Psalms 96:1–3; Ezekiel 39:21; Isaiah 66:18–19).
What Is Our Hope? Seeing the Glory of God
Seeing the glory of God is our ultimate hope. “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). God will “present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24). He will “make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:23). “He calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). “Our blessed hope [is] the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
Jesus, in all his person and work, is the incarnation and ultimate revelation of the glory of God. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). “Father, I desire that they . . . may be with me where I am, to see my glory” (John 17:24).
What Is Our Hope? Sharing in the Glory of God
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1). “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). “We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7).“This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). “Those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30).
As an aside, you also need to realize that God’s glory is displayed in his judgment of sin as much as it is in his mercy shown to sinners, both reveal the greatness of His character.
4. Through the redemption of all things: God has determined by the council of his will that the process that will bring Him the most glory is one that involves a broken world being restored by a savior. For this, I will merely restate what we read together earlier. Ephesians 1: 3-10
5. Sometimes that means the death of a young person. Now, here is the most difficult aspect of this. here is where I want to be the most compassionate and comforting. Jesus gave an amazing example of this when he went to raise Lazarus from the dead. On the way to raise him, Jesus stopped and wept. He mourned with his friends for his friend and then he went and raised him from the dead. There are things that belong to God, and we must trust them to Him. He is the God who can turn a death into His glory, He can redeem pain and make it joy, he can use your brokenness and bring a blessing. I have not suffered the pain of this type of loss like several of you here at Emmaus have. I don’t know what it is like, so it may sound pompous for me to stand here and give you platitudes about God’s Glory and our good. Let me though if I may read an excerpt from Anne Judson the wife of the famous missionary to Burma. After losing her second child, she wrote, “Our hearts were bound up with this child; we felt he was our earthly all, our only source of innocent recreation in this heathen land. But God saw it was necessary to remind us of our error, and to strip us of our only little all. O, may it not be vain that he has done it. May we so improve it that he will stay his hand and say ‘It is enough.’”8 This is a writing of a woman who understood God’s plan for suffering to bring himself the most glory and clung to the truth of it. I am not sure I could say that.
Now, if you are cynical by nature like me, you might be thinking, “ who are you God to do something like that to a parent to cause that much pain and kill and innocent child”? But, be careful who you point a finger at, because if anyone knows the pain of losing a child, it is God the Father, if anyone knows the heartache of seeing a truly innocent child dies at the hands of evil men, it is God. Because his greatest act of God’s using pain and suffering in this world according to His will to bring himself the most glory through the redemption of all things, and onetime that meant that His own Son had to die. Isaiah 53:1-12

Now, I am not sure if I have answered your question as well as you would like, but I pray that we all can go from here not with an answer in our pocket, but worship in our hearts.

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