Aug 11, 2019 - 17 minute read


Andrew Csillag

Sea Cliff Gospel Chapel, NY

August 11, 2019


Note: FWIW, I’d listen to the sermon MP3. While it’s not my best in terms of delivery, I did go further on some things than the manuscript below.

MP3 Download

It’s the question asked when bad things happen. A flat tire on the way to work, a cracked tooth, bad news from the doctor, death of a loved one. We often ask “Why?”. This presupposes there’s a reason for it. Is there?

If you didn’t know, I work with computer programs as part of my job. And some times gnarly problems have simple and elegant solutions. Other times, seemingly simple problems have surprisingly complex answers. The spoiler alert here is, the question of why is the complex answer one.

We can take a quick survey through the scriptures to see if there’s common themes we can use for our instruction. There’s Adam & Eve being ejected from the garden because of sin. There’s Noah’s flood. There’s the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are the Exodus Plagues, the back and forth of good and bad Judges as people turned towards and away from God, there are the good and bad Kings and their judgments, the condemnations from the Prophets.

In the new testament, there’s the judgment of Annanias and Sapphira, and notably the book of revelation. All judgment for sin.

Huh, looking at it this way, it’s understandable that many people think of the bible, the old testament in particular, as proclaiming God is a god of judgment and wrath. And that when bad things happen to you, it’s because you’ve been bad. Unfortunately, some people actually take this view as doctrine and cause even more grief, blaming the victim. While in some cases, yes, the person has brought this upon themselves, due to sin, or error, or foolishness, rarely is it clear enough for someone else to say so – even if we think it’s obvious, rarely do we know all the facts. Given this, we should be extremely hesitant to say so. I have seen the aftermath of people so blamed, when it was sin that was a cause for a person’s disaster, but not their own. It heaps anguish upon anguish. So be slow to condemn others. You’ll appreciate it when you have your own disaster.

Those things I spoke about definitely did happen in the scriptures. God did judge them. But if you haven’t read the scriptures, that’s a very superficial conclusion to reach. While yes, sometimes God uses bad things as judgment on both the believer and unbeliever, that’s hardly the whole story if you actually read the bible, and think a little.

People died in war. There’s the son in 2 Kings 4 where something went wrong with his head and he died. There are the all Levitical laws surrounding what to do about various sicknesses. There are murderers, thieves, and other criminals. Notably, there’s Job who very specifically didn’t actually do anything wrong to deserve what happened to him. But overall, it’s clear from a plain reading of the Old Testament, that our disasters happen for reasons that don’t stem from our own sin.

So what are the biblical reasons for suffering? Obviously judgment is one, and that one needs little explanation.

Sometimes it can be for chastisement. Where judgment is an outpouring of divine wrath, chastisement is because while you’re in some kind of sin or error, God wants to correct you to get you turned back to where you should be, rather than where you’re heading. God is using the suffering to direct you to repent. As Hebrews 12:5-11 says:

5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,     nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,     and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Sometimes I think of this as God hitting me with a “clue by four.” Sometimes this manifests itself as what will look in retrospect as foolishness, incompetence, or stupidity. We get neck deep into something we should have never even gotten close to. We get overconfident (pride), we think we know all we need to know (hubris), and we get burned. Maybe we got greedy (coveteous), and lost. Maybe we were even trying to do something good, but…. sin got in the way and it all went south. Instead of asking God and others for wisdom (humility) we plowed ahead. Oops.

Sometimes God “prunes” us, by taking things away from us. As it says in John 15:1-2 where Jesus is talking about the true vine and vinedresser: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

So here, you’re not doing anything specifically wrong. You’re not in sin. You’re not in error. But God removes something from your life. Now as the plant has a wound from the pruning cut, it’s for the good of the plant, so that the energy can go into producing fruit, rather than nourishing the leaves. It’s not the things God removes are even necessarily bad – as branches and leaves on a bush aren’t bad in and of themselves, but that God has better things in mind for us that the things He takes away for us are preventing.

This can be difficult to swallow sometimes, because when we introspect as we should, we don’t find anything wrong (out of the ordinary sins we battle, anyway). But here is where we consider and remember to trust God and his plan. God plays the long game: he has the whole timeline of history in view, and we sometimes just don’t have the ability to see the whole picture. Sometimes, we do get the privilege of seeing why He did what He did, and for me personally, that has made it much easier to trust Him when I don’t.

Sometimes, we suffer due to the sin of others. This is often where it can be most confusing. Why does a loving God who is all-powerful, knows all things that have and will ever happen, allow evil? I’ve encountered more than one atheist, and unfortunately a friend who became apostate, that stumble at this question. So what do we do with this conundrum?

If you haven’t read through the scriptures, it can be easy to miss that God doesn’t override man’s will. He may change a person’s attitude. He does this clearly when we are saved as we now have the Holy Spirit residing in us. There’s also the case of Pharaoh before the Exodus where God hardens his heart – which is really just a specific case of what Paul writes about in Romans 1: they had a certain sinful attitude, and God just gives them over to it. But all that said, He doesn’t make people do anything.

What can we conclude then, at least as to the question as to why God allows evil to be committed by people? That God values the free will of people. People must have the ability to freely make their own decisions. But wait, doesn’t that cancel out God’s omniscience, as some ask? Not at all. The fact that human behavior is predictable doesn’t take away our free will.

I’ll give you an example: there are many situations where my wife knows exactly what I’ll do. I’ll give an example: when we were in college, my dorm room was a hangout spot for a number of friends, and she was there, and I came into the room and stopped, not saying a word. She then pointed at my desk and said “your keys are right there.” She knew a) that I was looking for something, b) what it was I was looking for and c) where they were. There are other situations where she knows exactly what I’m going to do. Does her foreknowledge of what I’m going to do negate my free choice? Not at all. I still am doing the choosing. I’m just predictable. Now take God who knows us way better than we even know ourselves, and it’s pretty clear that God can perfectly predict exactly what we will do.

Why does God allow us to have free will then, knowing we will choose evil? This indeed becomes the bigger question. If we don’t have free will, then it would hardly be fair for Him to judge us, that much is clear. So that God judges us is a clear sign that we do have free will, if we believe, as the scriptures tell us, that God is a just God. But that’s coming at it from an odd angle and yields a conclusion, that while technically correct, but incorrectly framed conclusion: God gives us free will so he can condemn some to an eternity in Hell. That’s like saying “there are more than 400 stars” when astronomers tell us there are billions. It’s not wrong, but it might as well be because of the way it’s framed.

Could God have forced us all to love Him? Make it so we couldn’t not choose Him? Yes, he could have, but it wouldn’t fit His nature as described in the scriptures. Think of it this way, if God forced us to love Him, it wouldn’t have been all that different than rape really. Rape is forced “love,” so forcing us to love Him would be along the same lines. Thus, any love we expressed towards Him would be not be true, and basically worthless.

Alternatively, He could have made us more like robots, but robots can’t really love. They just do what they’re told.

Another reason I think, and I’m speculating here, is that there are attributes of God, and Love, that cannot be fully expressed without sin existing. For example, at least these three: forgiveness and mercy, at least, don’t exist where there has been no offense. Therefore fullness of one’s love toward another are impossible to express fully without these.

All told, He created people with the capacity (with some help) to love Him back, because He tells us that we are going to spend eternity with Him. So in order to have the full richness of love expressed there, I think the only conclusion you can reach is that He must allow people to choose sin.

Does that mean that the sin of others will thwart God’s plan? Absolutely not. The scriptures make it clear that Christ suffered according to the will of God, and that it was foreordained. God used the Babylonians to punish the Jews. God’s will is done, in spite of the evil committed by people, and accomplishes His will anyway. We already established that God knows everything, so it’s not like you can surprise him. In fact for God to be omnipotent, He has to be omniscient, or else He could be thwarted by surprise. Without Him being omnipotent, we couldn’t necessarily trust His promises, as He might be unable to deliver. But He is omnipotent, and so we can trust His promises, because we can be assured He can deliver on them.

Sometimes we suffer because of the decay of this world. After Adam and Eve sinned, in Genesis 3 God curses the Earth. If they had not sinned, they would have lived for eternity, now they would die. And this sin and death is passed down to us. So death, rust, moths, mildew, termites, storms, earthquakes, and the rest of natural disasters are our collective inheritance as the Earth decays.

Sometimes suffering is away to get our attention, even or especially the unsaved. I don’t have a bible verse here, which I really should, but I know that a combination of personal and national disaster was what started my road to salvation:

My road started on 9/11, my Mom died of unrelated causes 3 days later on the 14th. It took about another year and a half before God saved me. But the impact of all that death made me get to a point where I realized: I could die at any time. And it scared me to death.

I had been a so-called Christian as a child. Did all the churchy things you’d expect, but “fell-away” in my teens. Later I realized I was never a Christian to begin with. Anyway, I had started to look for answers, and having been a so called Christian, I looked at the scriptures, but was very skeptical and started reading it at least to disprove it. You can guess how well disproving the scriptures worked out.

Anyway, I had been reading Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, and he talks at length about the natural law, and how we all basically agree as to what that is. This agreement is borne out when you’ve offended someone. You don’t confidently say: that’s stupid, there’s nothing wrong with it. Instead you try to justify yourself and make excuses. And my reading drew on I realized something I had been told and supposedly “believed” I know actually believed: I had broken God’s law. I had lied. I had stolen. I had coveted, and going through the other 10 commandments, had broken all of them in word or in spirirt, as Jesus says: “if you look on a woman to lust after them, you’ve committed adultery in your heart”, or as 1 John 3:15 states “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer”

At that moment, I realized I was in deeeeep trouble with God. I remember sitting in my bed at night, and I did something I almost never do with books: I turned down the page (page 192 in my copy, which I keep as a token). Some short excerpts:

We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. [I sin because] I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself… Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth?

I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach as I realized my situation. Then finally, all the stuff I was taught about God’s forgiveness to me through Christ clicked. Now it all made sense. Now it wasn’t just an academic: I’m a sinner, now I fully understood: I’m a sinner. And I repented, believed and trusted.

So suffering can be the wake up call that people need to seek God. Or as Luke 13:1-5 says:

There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

But we who are saved, how do we know which is the reason for our suffering? That’s a really good question. Sometimes, we do something wrong and the bad thing happens soon enough that it’s pretty obvious why it happened. Other times, not really that obvious at all. For me, I can say that in a number of cases, God did reveal to me why it was important that what happened happened. Having seen the wisdom in those, in the cases where I haven’t a clue why, even now, I have trust that He knows what He’s doing. Perhaps the time to show me is still yet in the future.

That said, one thing we can do, is pray a few simple things: for His comfort; if it’s chastisement, that we’re a quick student; if it’s pruning, that we get on with it.

But we are not without comfort in our troubles. We of course ask for His comfort, it may arrive directly, or through other people. As it says in 2 Cor 1:3-7

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.[a] 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. When people that have suffered in some manner, how much more is the comfort of someone who has, or is, going through the same thing or something similar! God may use the fruits of your suffering to be a blessing on someone else. He may combine multiple fruits He has given you, not just the ability to be empathetic, but perhaps He will combine that with a skill to be helpful, or any number of other things to be that much more comforting to others.

One thing that suffering, no matter the cause, for the believer is this: it’s a reminder that this Earth here, is only our earthly home. It’s not our home home. As 2Cor 5:1-5 says.

5 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on[a] we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

And John 14:1-3

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God;[a] believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?[b] 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

So let us take comfort in our trials, tribulation, and suffering, having God’s comfort and that from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Knowing that God’s will will not be thwarted, as He is all powerful. That we can trust in God, for He has prepared a place for us:

17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.