Tag Archives: pain

God just needed another little angel so he took her

Have you ever been in a small group where someone has uttered something like the couple in the video above? Papering over a deep tragedy with answers that were not only paper-thin but actually damaging if closely scrutinized?

I have.

And like the grieving mother, I’ve also felt like an ass when I couldn’t stomach it anymore and decided to call everyone to examine the implications of what was actually being said.

I often wonder whether regular church goers actually realize how shallow and trite they make following Christ sound when they offer answers like the one above. I wonder if they know how much damage they do.

Like the couple above demonstrates, most often these answers, this shallowness is only allowed to grow and flourish in the absence of cross examination or close scrutiny.

The question of pain and suffering is immense. It is perhaps the largest question Christians face. It certainly is the root of why many cannot (note the inability here, not merely the unwillingness) place their faith in Christ. Accordingly, it requires us to spend many hours studying it.

We need to have both an immediate answer to those freshly grieving as well as a more nuanced answer for those able and willing to explore the deep questions surrounding death and suffering in the world God has made.

Here are three resources I highly recommend on this subject:

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Does God give people cancer?

A section out of this story caught my eye recently:

A Baptist of Calvinist leanings, Chandler believes everything is in God’s hands and foreordained in a way people can’t fully understand. As he’s tried to stay well, he’s continued to preach to his youthful audience that they should get ready for suffering, and trust God will walk them through.

Trusting God to bring us through difficult circumstances is one thing, praising God for giving us a life-threatening disease is quite another.

We trust God to sustain us through difficult hardships, and we might even praise Him for bringing about good in spire of those hardships. However when we praise God for giving us those hardships we begin to raise some potentially faith-destroying questions about evil and suffering and how God fits in with it all.

Many are reluctant to address this subject because of the deep emotions that it often illicit, especially from those who are suffering through these circumstances. And while I recognize there is a time and a place to discuss this issue in a more objective sense, I believe that sloppy theology around the questions of natural evil like this cause many to run, not walk, away from the faith every year.

Natural evil

First lets examine what natural evil is.

Evil and suffering exists within a fallen and broken world. This includes not only man-made evil like rape, murder, and infidelity. It also includes the state of affairs we should expect to find in a less than perfect world. Things such as tornadoes, earthquakes, forest fires, etc.

Also diseases.

The one thing that all of these have in common is death. And we know from Scripture that God not only did not create death but came and volunteered to taste death so we wouldn’t have to, thereby defeating it.

Now it would be wrong to say that God never causes the death of others. He does many times in Scripture. He uses disease, war, and famine to chastise nations. However these occasions were 1. proclaimed ahead of time 2. only done as a result of punishment and 3. they had as their aim correction for the purpose of reconciliation, that is, they were not vague in the least.

So the logical conclusion here is that if God is sovereign in the sense that Matt claims He is, that is “everything is in God’s hands and foreordained in a way people can’t fully understand”, then God must have given Matt the brain tumor and is therefore must be punishing Matt.1

Denying the logical conclusion

Some might object,

Chandler’s videos have often addressed the difficult questions of suffering, including whether it’s God’s will.

During a break at his most recent visit to Baylor hospital, Chandler said, “At the end of the day, I don’t believe God gave me this cancer, but I do believe he could have stopped it and didn’t. … God is not punishing me, but somehow, for my joy and his glory, he’s let me endure this and walked me through.”

Chandler is the first to acknowledge that he’s balancing Christian resignation with a flat-out effort to stay alive.

Why would their be a need to balance “Christian resignation with flat-out effort to stay alive” if the “Christian resignation” is not based on the belief that God ultimately gave him cancer?

Matt Chandler is a wonderful guy and it pains me to watch him struggle not only with a physical disease, but also with a theological disease.

As I pointed out above, Chandler’s view of God’s role in nature is causal (“everything is in God’s hands and foreordained in a way people can’t fully understand”). That is, God causally determines all things to come to pass according to His will (this is a belief shared among many Calvinists like Piper, Sproul, Voddie Baucham Jr., etc.). So if you combine this causal view of God’s role in nature with his last statement which follows a traditional compatabalist position, you end up with the logical conclusion that God gave him cancer. What is sort-of amusing (if it weren’t for the fact that it has the potential to completely destroy a person’s faith) is that he recognizes this conclusion as the logical outcome, and like a man jumping in front of a train in a valiant (but utterly futile) attempt to stop it, he issues the statement cited above. However, like a train, the logical force behind the earlier view of God’s sovereignty (interpreted to mean causal determinism) steamrolls right over this attempt to prevent the logical conclusion from following. The simple fact remains that no amount of convoluted reasoning can help him avoid the ugly logical conclusion his theological system forces him to.

Beliefs like this one are toxic.

It is the #1 reason people walk away from or are discouraged from pursuing Christ is that pastors like Matt call into question God’s character with their sloppy theological systems.

Matt has cancer because he lives in a fallen world. Period.

If any lesson is to be gleaned from his tragic situation it is that this world is broken and fallen and is in desperate need of a savior.

  1. If this sounds familiar, it should. This line of reasoning is exactly what many of Job’s friends followed. []
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How not to answer the question of evil

Here is Voddie Baucham Jr.‘s treatment of the question of evil:

A couple of things need to be observed here:

  1. Voddie completely dodges the question.
  2. Voddie turns the question around to be about the questioner.
  3. Voddie derides the questioner by assaulting their intelligence (his preamble regarding first year philosophy students is not only uncalled for but a clear appeal to authority, namely his own)

Man does not put God under a standard by asking the question. The problem with Voddie’s approach, which seems typical for most Calvinists, is that it attempts to avoid the real and serious question by attempting to turn it around to be all about the questioner. This attempt at trivializing a weighty subject is the paramount of both arrogance and ignorance in my estimation.

The issue is this: If God causally directs all events “for His glory” as men like John Piper have often claimed in the past, then

  1. How can we say that evil really exists (since all things are causally directed by God)
  2. How can we hold any other creature accountable for something they have no causal control over (beating a dead horse is the phrase that comes to mind here) and
  3. How are we to make sense of God claiming to be at war with something he secretly causes to bring about his ends.

You see, none of the above issues..

  1. ..depend on a standard of holiness that is independent of God (though I’m sure you’ll take the time honored tradition of redefining words in a desperate attempt to further weasel out of this problem) or
  2. ..have anything to do with the questioner, these issues would still exist even if all men (and angels) were wiped out in the next instant.

As one person pointed out in an earlier conversation regarding this issue. This does not have to be an issue that does great damage to Calvinism. Afterall, many Calvinists like Alvin Plantinga have long since accepted the fact that only by upholding the limited freedom of other causal agents such as men and angels, as the Bible clearly teaches, can we avoid the horrible implications raised in a causally closed universe. However this is a very damaging challenge against a particular brand of hyper-Calvinism which depends on a causally deterministic view of God in relation to His creation.

For any answer to the problem of evil to be considered even remotely good it needs to satisfy the following criteria:

  1. It needs to recognize the pain and suffering in the universe.
  2. It needs to acknowledge the reality and seriousness of the question. Flippant appeals to sovereignty, mankind’s depravity, or anything else simply will not do here.
  3. It needs to actually show how it is logically possible for evil to exist in a world created and sustained by an thrice holy God. This means showing both
    1. How evil can even exist and
    2. How God is truly separated from that evil

For a good example of how to answer the question of evil I recommend this material from Dr Little, this debate between Michael Brown and Bart Ehrman, and this lecture by Dr William Lane Craig.

Now because I don’t want you to form the opinion that all of Voddie’s material is worthless. Here is an excellent clips of him dealing with the issue of marriage and how men ought to love their wives:

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Does the Bible Provide an Adequate Answer to the Problem of Suffering?

[HT Apologetics315]

Dr. Michael Brown and Dr. Bart Ehrman debate the topic: Does the Bible Provide an Adequate Answer to the Problem of Suffering? at Ohio State University on April 15, 2010. More information about this debate can be found at the debate website.

Full Debate MP3 Audio here. (2 hr 10 min)

This was a fascinating debate between, as the moderator put it, “two men who are deeply convicted in their hearts of their respective positions”.

It has often been said that of all the objections to theism in general and Christianity in particular, the question of evil is far and away the hardest one to answer. However this debate shows how Christianity not only offers an adequate answer, but also offers something that no other system, particularly atheism/agnosticism, can.

Hope.

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