How to Understand why People Suffer -a few hints about facing the problem of evil (or why bad things happen) There   could   hardly   be   a   more   challenging   and   vast   subject   than   thinking   about   the   problem   of   evil   and suffering.   It   is   such   a   painful   topic   that   we   might   even   consider   it   best   avoided.   For   the   sheer   amount   and variety of forms of evil is so considerable and the list seems endless:    For    instance    there’s    pain,    disease    and    death.    There    are    many    kinds    of    natural    disasters    such    as devastating   hurricanes,   tsunamis   floods   and   volcanic   eruptions.     There   is   personal   temptation   to   do wrong,   violent   attacks   and   cruelty   to   humans   and   animals   alike.   Then   there   is   the   human   misuse   of   the earth’s   resources   and   selfish   damage   to   the   environment   and   even   space.   So   it   goes   on   and   on,   sadly   and tragically. Among   all   the   why-questions   we   especially   ask   is   why   do   the   innocent   suffer?   or   why   do   bad   things happen to good people? And there are occasions when we cry out for answers. Furthermore,   the   occurrence   of   evil   in   the   world   presents   a   particularly   serious   dilemma   for   those   who believe   in   the   Christian   God.   Why   does   a   God   of   love,   wisdom   and   power   permit   His   creatures   and   their environment to suffer in such a way? Does He not know or care or is He in fact powerless to help? While   there   are   no   simple   answers   to   such   insistent   questions,   a   careful   look   at     what   the   Bible   says   at least   offers   some   hints-   as   the   following   four   suggestions   suggest-   which   allow   us   to   begin   to   negotiate our way through a tangled web as complicated as this. The   first   suggestion   concerns   the   responsibility   for   evil   which,   as   it   turns   out,   cannot   be   rightly   laid   at God’s   door.   Although   the   Bible   may   sometimes   appear   to   say   otherwise,   God   does   not   cause   evil   or bring   it   about.   While   it   is   true   (as   Scripture   emphasises)   that   nothing   happens   without   God’s   knowledge or   overall   control,   He   cannot   be   held   responsible   for   the   bad   things   which   happen.   There   is   another, darker origin lying elsewhere which may be described as a personal evil power. Yet   for   good   reason   which   is   often   hidden   from   us   it   seems   that   God   allows   evil   to   occur.   His   permissive will   gives   room   for   occurrences   of   evil   and   suffering   for   reasons   best   known   to   Him   which   may   become apparent   to   us   in   due   course.   Scriptural   stress   on   God’s   sovereignty   does   not   exclude   the   possibility,   or indeed   the   likelihood,   that   in   His   ultimate   purposes   for   us   He   may   permit   us   to   be   tried   and   tested   by various   forms   of   evil   however   they   appear.     If   this   realisation   shifts   the   responsibility   for   evil   from   God’s shoulder, we must ask, where then does it lie? This   brings   us   next   to   what   may   seem   to   be   an   unpalatable   truth. As   the   heroine   in   Jane Austen’s   novella, ‘Lady   Susan’   says,   ‘Facts   are   horrid’.   But   however   inconvenient   they   may   be,   some   facts   have   to   be faced.   So   we   have   to   reckon   with   the   truth   that   human   choices   are   often   to   blame   where   instances   of   evil and suffering are concerned. One   of   the   transcendent   features   of   being   human   is   that   we   have   the   freedom   and   power   to   choose whether   to   do   good   or   ill.   Take   that   freedom   away   and   we   are   less   human   and   less   than   what   God   has created   us   to   be.   But   our   choices   leave   consequences   in   their   wake. That’s   how   life   works.   We   have   only to   think   what   tragic   circumstances   could   arise   as   an   unlicensed,   uninsured   drunk   driver   decides   to   take his   or   her   car   on   the   road.   Our   good   or   wise   choices   can   be   a   blessing   to   ourselves   and   to   others   but   our bad   choices   are   liable   to   affect   others   and   ourselves   adversely,   even   tragically.   Sometimes,   perhaps   often, the responsibility for evil coming about depends upon us human beings and no one else. A   third   biblical   truth   to   take   into   account   may   not   be   any   more   acceptable   at   least   at   first   sight.   It   is   that in   certain   situations   ‘affliction’   (a   Bible   word)   is   actually   good   for   us   and   benefits   us   in   the   long   run!   In recent   versions   of   Psalm   119,   the   old   word   is   replaced   by   ‘humbled’   which   after   all   is   the   effect   of   the experience of being afflicted in some or other respect. So   the   Psalm-writer   admits   to   the   Lord,   ‘Before   I   was   humbled   I   went   astray,   but   now   I   keep   your word...It   is   good   for   me   that   I   was   humbled,   so   that   I   may   learn   your   statutes...I   know,   O   Lord,   that   your judgements are right, and that in faithfulness you have humbled me’ (vv.67, 71 and 75). Other   places   in   the   Scriptures   refer   to   the   Lord’s   ‘discipline’   which   we   are   informed   He   extends   to   His people   out   of   love   for   them.     The   idea   is   of   course   based   on   the   thought   of   a   loving   parent   exercising discipline   on   their   child   with   their   best   interests   at   heart. Thus   it   is   for   our   welfare   and   our   good   that   God allows   trouble   to   come   our   way   and   we   are   wise   to   recognise   and   accept   that   as   a   temporally   hard   but ultimately wholesome fact. So   in   the   very   last   book   of   the   Bible   God   addresses   believers   in   an   early   Christian   church   by   saying:   ‘I reprove and discipline those whom I love’ (Revelation 3, v.19). A   very   wise   thought   about   God’s   permissive   will   in   connection   with   human   suffering   is   found   in   a   book written   during   World   War   2   by   the   well-known   Christian   writer,   C.S.   Lewis,   where   he   suggests:   ‘God whispers   to   us   in   our   pleasures,   speaks   in   our   conscience,   but   shouts   in   our   pains’.   The   last   part   is   worth carefully considering as long as we realise that God’s motivation is love. All   this   fits   the   emphasis   which   the   writers   of   the   New   Testament   Letters   place   on   trouble   as   the   means, in   God’s   gracious   hands,   to   build   mature   Christian   character   enabling   us   live   lives   pleasing   Him   both now and in the future life. There   is   of   course   very   much   more   to   think   about   as   we   ask   questions   about   the   problem   of   evil   and suffering   than   can   be   mentioned   here.   In   any   case,   the   issue   is   at   heart   an   elusive   one   and   for   finite human   minds   it   ends   in   mystery.   One   or   other   of   the   hints   suggested   so   far   may   or   not   be   conducive   to our   way   of   thinking.   After   all,   it   is   not   pleasant   to   be   told   that   we   may   be   accountable   for   some   of   the suffering in the world. But a final point for now is much more encouraging. It   is   that   there   will   be   an   end   to   it   all!     Simply   and   wonderfully   we   can   say   that   there   is   reason   to   believe that   evil   and   suffering   will   not   continue   for   ever   but   that   one   day   a   final   stop   will   be   put   to   all   the   tragic aspects which blight our existence. Sadly   it   will   not   be   yet.   If   only   that   were   true!   However   another   promise   in   the   Book   of   Revelation assures   us   that   ‘God   will   wipe   every   tear   from   their   eyes.   Death   will   be   no   more;   mourning   and   crying and   pain   will   be   no   more   for   the   first   things   have   passed   away’   (21,   v.4).   And   that   must   be   the   case   or else heaven would not be heaven. Michael L. Diamond
How to Pray ‘Aright’ -one or two practical suggestions There   are   too   many   kinds   of   prayer   and   ways   of   praying   to   be   able   to   do   justice   to   such   an   important subject   in   a   short   space. Yet   perhaps   one   or   two   suggestions   could   be   made   in   order   to   stimulate   thinking about praying and especially to encourage its practice. On   one   occasion   recorded   in   St   Luke’s   Gospel,   Jesus’   disciples   came   to   him   with   a   particular   request   in mind.   ‘Lord,   teach   us   to   pray’   they   said,   expecting   their   great   Teacher   to   give   them   some   practical instructions.   In   reply,   Jesus   taught   them   what   we   now   know   as   the   Lord’s   Prayer.   This   we   still   use   today for   it   is   both   a   form   of   prayer   which   can   be   used   as   given   or,   on   the   other   hand,   a   sort   of   ‘menu’ providing   a   list   of   topics   for   prayer,   such   as   the   coming   of   God’s   kingdom   or   the   provision   of   our   daily needs and of Divine help in the matter of sin and temptation (Luke 11, vv.1-4). Perhaps   the   first   thing   to   remember   about   praying,   however   we   set   about   it,   is   that   it   should   be   a   natural function   of   the   Christian   believer.   It   may   not   always   be   easy   to   pray   as   sometimes   there   are   hindrances   to getting   down   to   it,   such   as   when   we   are   tired,   distracted   by   all   that’s   going   on,   discouraged   by   problems or when we just seem to lack the faith to do so. However,   prayer   is   not   a   foreign   activity   to   someone   who   has   a   personal   relationship   with   the   living God.   It   really   should   be   as   easy   as   breathing.   But   when   we   get   out   of   breath,   as   it   were,   it   helps enormously   to   realise   that   God   is   listening.   He   wants   us   to   share   our   concerns   with   Him   and   He   hears when   His   people   cry   out   to   Him.   Jesus   Himself   taught   that   we   should   ‘pray   always   and   not   lose   heart’ (Luke 18, v.1).    Secondly,    it    may    be    worth    giving    thought    to    an    often-used    illustration    about    prayer    taken    from something   familiar   in   everyday   life.   The   so-called   ‘   traffic   lights’   of   prayer   may   not   cover   everything which   could   be   said   about   praying   but   at   least   this   parallel   points   the   way   forward   to   those   who   may have questions about the efficacy of prayer. If   we   take   the   three   colours   of   the   traffic   signals:   red,   amber   and   green,   and   what   they   signify   to   drivers, we   could   begin   with   red   (meaning   stop).     Sometimes   then   we   must   accept   that   not   all   our   requests, whether they are for ourselves or for others, are answered in the way we should like. Are   there   prayers   which   God   cannot   or   will   not   grant?   Probably   the   answer   is   in   the   affirmative- although   the   reasons   for   this   conclusion   need   to   be   discussed   separately.   But   since   He   calls   us   to   pray about   everything   which   matters   to   us,   we   can   be   sure   that   our   prayers   are   always   listened   to   and   heard even   if   the   outcome   is   not   as   we   might   wish.   God’s   perfect   will   and   good   purposes   may   decide   the   way they are answered. For surely we believe that He will do, and indeed allow, what is best for us. If   the   ‘red’   of   prayer   traffic   lights   is   not   always   comfortable   to   accept,   nor   is   the   ‘amber’.   This   is   of course   because   it   simply   means   we   have   to   wait.   God’s   amber-   indicating   not   ’no’   but   ‘not   yet-’   may   try our   patience   but   we   can   learn   to   trust   His   timing.   Unlike   us,   He   sees   ahead   and   knows   what   is   to   come.   It is   best   as   Scripture   often   says   to   wait   patiently   for   God   to   act     how   and   when   in   His   infinite   wisdom   He sees fit! A third suggestion may be put as follows: don’t do all the talking! There   are   two   parties   in   the   conversation   and   in   any   good   relationship   there   must   be   listening   as   well   as speaking. And   while   we   are   invited   in   Scripture   to   pray   about   anything   and   everything   which   matters   to us,   our   praying   should   not   simply   consist   of   a   ‘shopping   list’   of   requests.   There   is   a   place   to   be   still   and know   that   He   is   God   and   to   listen   out   to   what   might   be   communicated   to   us   as   we   quietly   wait.   For   in the stillness we may hear a Divine voice saying ‘this is the way to go’. Just   as   we   can   send   up   ‘arrow   prayers’   when   emergencies   arise,   so   in   calmer   moments   we   can   wait   upon God to seek His guidance and to listen out for His direction. The   signal   we   naturally   hope   for   is   green   for   ‘go   ahead’.   This   is   when   we   experience   what   it   often described   as   ‘the   power   of   prayer’   and   realise   what   praying   can   achieve. A   most   encouraging   promise   in this   respect   is   found   in   the   New   Testament   Letter   of   James:   ‘The   prayer   of   the   righteous   (person)   is powerful   and   effective’   (5,   v.16). And   one   practical   piece   of   advice   is   to   look   back   at   the   end   of   the   day and   see   how   our   prayers   have   been   answered.   When   the   result   is   like   the   green   signal   we   are   amazed   at God’s goodness whether to ourselves to us or to those whom we have held up in intercessory prayer.   So   to   summarise,   when   the   sign   we   get   as   we   pray   is   ‘amber   (and   we   have   to   wait)   then   we   must   trust God’s   gracious   understanding. When   it   is   ‘red’   we   must   trust   His   infinite   wisdom.     But   when   it   is   ’green’ we can thankfully ‘count our blessings’! Among   the   hymns   which   inspire   within   us   a   spirit   of   prayer   is   one   which   begins:   ‘Lord,   teach   us   how   to pray   aright’.   Its   second   verse   continues:   ‘We   perish   if   we   cease   from   prayer;   O   grant   us   power   to   pray! And when to meet Thee we prepare, Lord, meet us by the way’. However   the   best   known   hymn   on   the   subject   must   be:   ‘What   a   Friend   we   have   in   Jesus/All   our   sins   and griefs   to   bear/What   a   privilege   to   carry/   Everything   to   God   in   prayer/O   what   peace   we   often   forfeit/   O what needless pain we bear/ All because we do not carry/Everything to God in prayer’. A   final   practical   suggestion   might   be   this:   when   praying   and   we   find   ourselves   lost   for   words,   the   Holy Spirit   (given   expressly   to   help   us   pray)   might   lead   us   to   the   Book   of   Psalms   where   in   many   places   we will find the language needed to express our thoughts and desires to God. For example: ‘O   Lord,   God   of   my   salvation...   I   cry   out   in   your   presence,   let   my   prayer   come   before   you;   incline   your ear to my cry’ (Psalm 88, vv.1-2). Michael L. Diamond
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How to Understand why People Suffer & How to Pray ‘Aright’ by Rev Michael Diamond Please click below to download both articles
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