Our Sympathizing Savior

Bible Book: Hebrews  4 : 12-16
Subject: Suffering; Persecution; Love of God; God's Will
Introduction

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The problem of evil and suffering is undoubtedly the greatest theological challenge we face. In fact, this is the single biggest obstacle for spiritual seekers.

George Barna, the public-opinion pollster, conducted a national survey in which he asked a scientifically selected cross-section of adults: “If you could ask God only one question and you knew He would give you an answer, what would you ask?” The top response offered by 17% of those who said they had a question was: “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?”

Christians Believe In Five Things:

1. God Exists

Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

2. God Is All Good

Psalms 31:19

“Oh, how great is Your goodness,

Which You have laid up for those who fear You,

Which You have prepared for those who trust in You

In the presence of the sons of men!”

3. God Is All Powerful-Omnipotent

Jeremiah 32:17: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.”

Jeremiah 32:27: "Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?”

4. God Is All Knowing, All Wise-Omniscience

Isaiah 48:3

“’I have declared the former things from the beginning;

They went forth from My mouth, and I caused them to hear it.

Suddenly I did them, and they came to pass.’”

Isaiah 48:5

“Even from the beginning I have declared it to you;

Before it came to pass I proclaimed it to you,

Lest you should say, 'My idol has done them,

And my carved image and my molded image

Have commanded them.'”

1 John 3:20b “God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.”

5. Evil Exists

QUESTION: Why does the problem of evil and suffering cause such difficulty in believing in God?

Charles Templeton, in his retreat from faith said, “A loving God could not possibly be the author of the horrors we have been describing, horrors that continue every day, have continued since time began, and will continue as long as life exists.

It is an inconceivable tale of suffering and death, and because the tale is fact, is, in truth, the history of the world, it is obvious that there cannot be a loving God.”

His thoughts are that the presence of suffering necessarily mean the absence of God.

Questions Some Are Asking:

1. If God is love, where was His compassion on September 11th?

2. If God is all-powerful, why didn’t He do something on September 11th to keep the terrorists from pulling off these acts of violence?

3. If God is all knowing, why did He not let us in on the plot against America?

QUESTION: Who or What is really on trial here? Is it Osama bin Laden or Almighty God? With all of this in mind, can the Christian church offer any hope in these days of crisis?

I. GOD IS ALL POWERFUL.

Just because God is all-powerful doesn’t mean He will exercise that power in every circumstance. Furthermore, because He is all-powerful, there are some things He can’t do. He can’t make mistakes. He can’t sin. And He can’t make logical contradictions.

As it pertains to our presented discussion, God cannot create a world of morally free human beings (created in His image, Genesis 1:2b) and at the same time have a world with no possibility of moral evil.

So, we may be precise in saying that God did not create evil, He merely created the possibility of evil. (People actualized that potentiality). Having a world with free choices and no possibility of evil would be a clear-cut contradiction.

The source of evil is not God’s power but mankind’s freedom. Even an all-powerful God could not have created a world in which people had genuine freedom and yet there was no potentiality for sin, because our freedom includes the possibility of sin within its own meaning.

Genesis 1:26; “Then God said, "’Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’"

“Our image” – this defined man’s unique relation to God. Man is a living being capable of embodying God’s communicable attributes. In his rational life, he was like God in that he could reason and had intellect, will, and emotions. In the moral sense, he was like God because he was good and sinless. However, man chose to sin against God and, as a result, we experienced the Fall.

It’s a self-contradiction, a meaningless nothing, to have a world where there’s real choice while at the same time no possibility of choosing evil. To ask why God didn’t create such a world is like asking why God didn’t create colorless color or round squares.

GREAT QUESTION: Then why didn’t God create a world without human freedom?

ANSWER: Because that would have been a world without humans.

Would it have been a place without hate? Yes. A place without suffering? Yes. But it also would have been a world without love, which is the highest value in the universe. Real love, our love for God and our love of each other, must involve a choice.

But with the granting of that choice comes, the possibility that people would choose instead to hate.

In a world without freedom of choice, sure there would be no pain, no crime, no evil. But, again, it would also be a world devoid of worship, devoid of love, and devoid of friendship.

The famous Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book entitled, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. His conclusion was that God would like to help, but cannot. He says, “God isn’t all- powerful after all, He just isn’t capable of solving all the problems in the world.” He said, “Even God has a hard time keeping chaos in check.”

Scholar Peter Kreeft responded by saying, “That God is hardly worth believing in. Practically speaking, that’s the same as atheism. Rely on yourself first, and then maybe God, maybe not.”

No the evidence is that God is all-powerful. The point to remember is that creating a world where there’s no freewill and no possibility of sin is a self-contradiction, and that opens the door to people choosing evil over God, with suffering being the result. The overwhelming majority of pain in the world is caused by our choices to kill, to slander, to be selfish, to stray sexually, to break our promises, to be reckless.

II. GOD IS ALL KNOWING (ALL WISE) - OMNISCIENCE

God knows not only the present but the future.

GREAT TRUTH: It means that even way off in the distance, when we cannot see anything good in our present suffering, God knows what will come of it.

GREATEST EVIDENCE: The Christian has the greatest evidence for this point, because the absolute worst thing that ever happened has resulted in the greatest thing that has ever happened. The death of God Himself on the cross. At that time, nobody saw how anything good could ever result from this tragedy. And yet God foresaw that the result would be the opening of heaven to human beings, and might I add, the shutting of hell to those that would believe.

So, the worst tragedy in history brought about the most glorious event in history. And if it happened there, if the ultimate evil can result in the ultimate good, it can happen elsewhere, even in our individual lives. Here, God lifts the curtain and lets us see it.

Peter Kreeft said, “Suppose you’re the devil. You’re the enemy of God and you want to kill him, but you can’t. However, he has the ridiculous weakness of creating and loving human beings, whom you can get at.

Aha! Now you’ve got hostages. So you simply come down into the world, corrupt humankind, and drag some of them to hell. When God sends prophets to enlighten them, you kill the prophets.

Then God does the most foolish thing of all, He sends His own Son and He plays by the rules of the world. All I have to do is inspire some of my agents, Herod, Pilate, Caiaphas, the Roman soldiers, and get Him crucified. And that’s what you do.

So, there He hangs on the cross, forsaken by man and seemingly by God, bleeding to death and crying, ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?’ What do you feel now as the devil? You feel triumph and vindication. But, of course, you couldn’t be more wrong. This is His supreme triumph and your supreme defeat.”

At the time of the crucifixion, the disciples couldn’t see how anything good could result.

III. GOD IS ALL GOOD

God is good and good to us all, and is wise enough to foresee that we need some pain for reasons, which we may not understand but which He foresees as being necessary to some eventual good. Therefore, He’s not being evil by allowing that pain to exist.

Certainly, there are times when God allows suffering and deprives us of the lesser good of pleasures in order to help us toward the greater good of moral and spiritual education.

We know that moral character gets formed through hardships, through overcoming obstacles, through enduring difficulties. Courage, for example, would be impossible in a world without pain.

Paul said suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. We learn from the mistakes we make and the suffering they bring. It is all part of learning, maturing, and growing through difficult, challenging, and painful experiences.

You don’t believe God is good? Pretend you are God and try to create a better world in your imagination. You have to think through the consequences of everything you try to improve. Every time you use force to prevent evil, you take away freedom. To prevent all evil, you must remove all freedom and reduce people to puppets, which means they would then lack the ability to freely choose love.

God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good!

IV. THOUGHTS FOR CONSIDERATION

C. S. Lewis, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pain. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Pain and suffering are frequently the means by which we become motivated to finally surrender to God and to seek the cure of Christ.

Augustine said, “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works unless his omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil…”

That means suffering and evil contain the potential for good, but not everyone actualizes that potential. Not all of us learn and benefit from suffering; that’s where free will comes in.

When your world is rocked, you don’t want philosophy or theology as much as you want the reality of Christ.

Where is God? God’s answer is the Incarnation. He, Himself, entered into all the agony. He, Himself, bore all of the pain of this world. God’s answer to the problem of suffering is that He came right down into it.

Many Christians try to get God off the hook for suffering; God put Himself on the hook, so to speak, on the cross.

Jewish prisoner Elie Wiesel relates in one of his essays about an experience he had while in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. He tells of a Jewish prisoner being executed before the eyes of the whole camp. The guards had forced them to watch the disgusting execution. As the prisoner hung on the gallows kicking, panting, and struggling in the throes of death, refusing to die-an onlooker was overheard by Wiesel saying, “Where is God? Where is He now?”

Wiesel said that from out of nowhere, a voice within him caused him to respond, “Right there on the gallows; where else?”

Wiesel understood that in suffering, we are not alone. God has already suffered with us.

The answer then to suffering is not an answer at all. It’s the Answerer! It’s Jesus Himself.

Corrie Ten Boom, “No matter how deep our darkness, He is deeper still.”

Humility requires that we affirm all that the Bible teaches and go no further.

Why did God allow the Twin Tower Tragedy? I don’t know.

As Charles Spurgeon explained, “When we cannot trace God’s hand, we must simply trust His heart.”

Prominent British pastor John R. W. Stott said, “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while, I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it, we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering. The cross of Christ…is God’s only self-justification in such a world as ours.”