- Sermon Notes
Why There is Suffering
October 24-25, 2020
“In this world you will have many troubles, but take courage; I have overcome the world,” Jesus said. Surely, we see a world filled with troubles, and by all indications, these are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
But why are there such troubles? Why is there suffering? Why is there so much struggle and difficulty in this life? Why are there tragedies, and sickness and pain?
I am well acquainted with grief; with tragedy and suffering and pain. When our daughter was murdered it was the most difficult time we have ever endured. I grew up with a father who was an alcoholic, abusive to our mother and surrounded by poverty. I have seen many hardships, but I have also seen the favor of God and I know both intimately well.
We can more easily understand the favor of God, but why is there suffering?
In John 9, Jesus was coming out of the temple. He had been declaring that He is the light of the world. But the Pharisees challenged Him and what followed was one of the most amazing confrontations in the Bible. You must read it; it’s in John 8.
At one point in the confrontation Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” They responded, “You are not yet 50 years old and you have seen Abraham?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born… I am.” That’s when they picked up rocks to stone Him.
Jesus left the temple and was walking through Jerusalem. He came upon a man who was blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be born blind?”
They saw this man suffering in his blindness and were convinced they knew the reason for its cause; the man was suffering in his blindness because of sin. They just didn’t know whose sin it was — his parents or his own.
In many ways they were asking a much larger question; why does God allow suffering? This is one of the most common questions people have about God. For many, it’s also one of the most difficult questions to answer.
There are imponderable questions it seems no one can answer, but we spend little time considering them because they are of such little consequence. Like, for example, where do socks go when you wash them? Why does a round pizza come in a square box? Why do hot dogs come in packages of eight and buns in packages of 10? Can an atheist get insurance coverage for “Acts of God?”
But there are other more serious questions we should ponder because they have a significant bearing on faith. Certainly “why does God allow suffering” must be near the top of the list.
People ask such questions for different reasons. Some ask because they genuinely have a desire to know and understand. Others ask difficult questions with very different motives; they want to throw up a smokescreen. They don’t want to believe; they want to argue. Others want to cast doubt upon God because they want to justify their own rebellion.
But for those who have ears to hear and a heart to understand, God’s word stands ready to answer.
I. God Answers in His Word
- Jesus corrects their wrong assumptions and gives insight into the purpose of God in this man’s life.
- God reveals Himself through His word and through His Son, Jesus Christ. We must know His heart after us because so many have made wrong conclusions and have shipwrecked their faith.
- Let’s look at the question the disciples ask Jesus, let’s also look at other questions related to it, but let’s look from the perspective of God’s Word. Because God answers in His word.
A. Not all suffering comes from sin
- Someone who is reading carefully might observe, “Wait, how could this man have sinned if he was blind from birth? How could he have sinned before he was born?”
- Some Jewish leaders believed people existed in a previous life. This would be a doctrine similar to reincarnation.
- Several religions teach that the souls of people preexisted before their bodies. For example, Mormon doctrine says that God has sexual relations with his many wives in heaven creating spirit babies awaiting a human body.
- Islam teaches that all souls were created in adult form at the same time God created Adam and that he decrees at which point every human would be born.
- In contrast, Eastern religions teach that people have many lives, one life after the other, and that if a person lives a good life, they will have good karma and will advance. If they live a bad life, they will have bad karma and will go backward.
- However, the Bible does not teach that people preexisted before their bodies, nor does it teach any such thing as reincarnation.
Zechariah 12:1, Thus declares the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him…
Hebrews 9:27, Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…
Psalm 139:13, You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…
- But the question here in John 9 is, “who sinned?” To put it another way, why is this man suffering? Why are people born with disabilities? Why is there tragedy? These are important questions.
- S. Lewis wrote, “The problem of pain is atheism’s most potent weapon against the Christian faith.”
- In fact, some who suffer tragedy use it to justify their rebellion against God. They cannot reconcile that a loving God would allow suffering.
- For many people, this is personal.
- Maybe something tragic has happened to you. Maybe your parents were divorced when you were young or someone close to you has died or maybe you or someone close to you has a disability and you are struggling to understand how God could allow such a thing. People will often ask why, why, why.
- The difficulty is often put into this statement; either God is all loving, but not all-powerful and He can’t stop suffering or He is all-powerful, but is not all loving, therefore he won’t stop suffering.
- The main idea behind that statement, however, is that it’s all God’s fault. But is it?
- Who sinned that this man should be born blind? Was it this man? No. Was it sin in general? Yes. In fact, all sickness, disabilities, all the difficulties we face in this human body, leading to death, are the result of sin.
- All of this can be traced back to the sin of the first parents, Adam and Eve. God said, “On the day you eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil you will die,” and the consequences of that sin has fallen to everyone who came after them.
- Somebody might ask, well then why didn’t God make man so that he cannot sin? The answer is that God has given man a free will so that he may freely choose Him.
Illus – Otherwise people would be like a child’s doll that says, “I love you” whenever a button is pushed.
- Bad things will happen in this life; there is sickness and disability, sometimes people die young. But all of it comes because we live in a world that is under the corruption of sin. But the good news is that when you die, you will go to heaven and be in the presence of the Lord for eternity.
Luke 13:1-5, Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those 18 on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
B. God can use tragedies in your life
- In the case of this man who was born blind, Jesus said that it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.
- But God can use tragedies and difficulties for many purposes in your life.
- As corrective: God may allow things in your life that correct the course of your life.
Illus – One of the best biblical illustrations of this is the prodigal son. He received his inheritance early and used it to live a worldly life; parties, women, everything you can imagine. But then one tragedy upon another fell upon him until he came to his senses and realized that he needed to be with his father.
- If God is correcting the course of your life it is because He disciplines those who He loves.
Hebrews 12:6-7, Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines… God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
- I don’t discipline other people’s children (though at times I would like to), but I certainly disciplined my own children and today they thank me for it.
- As constructive: God may also use tragedy and troubles to strengthen character or maturity or training for greater future purpose. In other words, it may be constructive.
2 Corinthians 4:16-17, For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,
James 1:2-4, Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
- Paul wrote that God allowed a “thorn in the flesh” which tormented him. But he also wrote that it was for a purpose, to keep him from exalting himself because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations God gave him.
2 Corinthians 12:9, He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
Illus – Nick Vujicic is an amazing example. Born without arms or legs, he speaks to millions of people all over the world. “Do you know why I love God?” Nick once asked a young girl also born without arms or legs, “because heaven is real. And one day when we get to heaven, we’re going to have arms and legs. And we’re going to run and play and we’re going to race.”
II. Spiritual Blindness is the Greatest Tragedy
- Jesus spat onto the ground, made mud, and rubbed it in the man’s eyes and told him to wash in the pool of Siloam.
- A controversy then arose because Jesus healed this man on the Sabbath. Instead of celebrating, they used it as an opportunity to accuse Jesus.
- In verse 40 the Pharisees said to Jesus, “We are not blind too, are we?” He answered, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
A. You’re accountable for the light you receive
- The Pharisees had the word of God, and the Messiah, the Son of the living God had just healed a man blind from birth, yet they refused to see it.
- Helen Keller once said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.” In other words, those who refuse to see are more blind than those who cannot
- This helps answer another difficult question many have asked, “What about the person who’s never heard the gospel?”
- The answer is that God will judge people according to the light they have received.
- God desires all men to come to the knowledge of the truth and gives light to all so that none will have an excuse.
Illus – At the same time, we need to understand that God made man in the image of God and that we have a soul that only God can fill. We’re wired to long for God, you might say.
Ecclesiastes 3:11, He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart…
Romans 1:19-20, That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen…so that they are without excuse.
1 Timothy 2:4, God… desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
2 Peter 3:9, The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
- God will always reveal himself to the one who is seeking.
B. Spiritual blindness is a choice
- Jesus said in John 3, “The Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the Light.”
- There was another blind man who was sitting by the road when Jesus and a crowd walked by and he called out, “Son of David! Have mercy on me.” Jesus called for him and then asked, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
- What about you? Has God been trying to get your attention? He’s trying to open your eyes.
Ephesians 1:18, I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,
Ephesians 3:18-19, [I pray] you may be able to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God
John 9:1-41 NASB
1 As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” 6 When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went away and washed, and came back seeing. 8 Therefore the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, “Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?” 9 Others were saying, “This is he,” still others were saying, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the one.” 10 So they were saying to him, “How then were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went away and washed, and I received sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is He?” He said, “I do not know.”
24 So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 So they said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” 28 They reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.” 30 The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. 32 Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out.