Preparing for Suffering
About the Guest
Are you prepared for suffering? Randy Alcorn reminds us not to be surprised by suffering, but to prepare for it by clinging to God's Word. Randy reflects on difficult times his family faced and how God worked it out for good.
Are you prepared for suffering?
Preparing for Suffering
Randy: One of the most common things that we have going right now is people trying to solve the problem of evil and suffering by limiting an attribute of God. So some people limit His power. That’s what Rabbi Kushner did when he wrote his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Of course, if you look at what scripture says, you immediately realize that in your attempt to solve a problem, you have created a problem of immense proportion.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, June 16th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey and I’m Bob Lepine. Today, Randy Alcorn joins us to help us see that the goodness of God, the power of God, and the reality of evil are not mutually exclusive. We’ll talk about that today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. You know, it occurs to me that those people who have made a lot of money in recent years by writing books to explain why God is a delusion and why God is not good, why religion is bad for us…
Dennis: Why bad things happen to good people.
Bob: Yes, they all seem to want to come back to the issue of evil and suffering as at least one of their definitive proofs for a lack of the existence of God. Theologians call this “the Theodicy,” the issue of if God is good, why is there evil and suffering in the world?
Bob: I guess, throughout human history, this has been the issue that people have grapple with and it’s a watershed issue for a lot of people in terms of their understanding of who God is and whether they can respond in faith to who He is.
Dennis: Well, let’s ask our guest who wrote the book If God Is Good, Randy Alcorn. He joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back Randy.
Dennis: What do you think of what Bob’s saying? Has this been an evergreen issue for generations and multiple cultures around the world?
Randy: It has been, but we now have, as Bob has been alluding to, the new atheists. It’s really what you call evangelistic atheists, who are really recruiting people over to their worldview. One of the things that strikes me about the atheists is that they’re always appealing, whether this is Dawkins or Hitchens or Sam Harris, whoever it is.
They’re always appealing to this problem of evil. But, they never deal with the problem of goodness! And goodness is something which cannot be explained by their worldview, which is naturalism. How do you explain the existence of goodness? In other words, if evil argues against the idea of God, shouldn’t goodness be an argument in favor of God?
Bob: So did you write this book at this moment in time because of Hitchens and Dawkins and Sam Harris? Because there have been books on the problem of suffering and evil, you know, Disappointment With God, Where Is God When It Hurts, there have been books like this before. Why this book now?
Randy: I think part of it was simply in my own journey related to the subject of Heaven and wanting to address some follow up things in a similar way. I sensed a real demand for it.
Also, just because of how many people I’m surrounded by who are really hurting because of pain that we have gone through and the church has gone through a lot of pain and suffering in the last few years.
But certainly these atheist authors who are at the top of the New York Times best-sellers list-see this is not the old atheism of Madeline Murray O’Hare where everybody was looking at her and they said “Is there something kind of wrong with that?”
Randy: Marginalized, this was not a powerful atheist movement. Now, it’s these respected, intellectual scientists who really know better than you average people out there. And the fact is that they are sucking in a lot of people, especially younger people, college students. People who are impressed by their academic credentials and by their free-thinking, and even Christians who are saying to themselves, “Well, okay I’m not an atheist, but I do see the point that they’re making.”
There are a lot of people whose faith is being shaken, and that should really be a red flag for us as evangelical Christians for our homes and for our churches. Are we raising young people who are being trained in and are studying the Word of God to develop a distinctively Christian worldview that is going to stand up to the attacks they’re going to get on secular college campuses, and sometimes even Christian college campuses, and are going to stand up to the attacks of professors and books such as this?
Because if our worldview doesn’t stand up to those attacks, then whose responsibility is that? I mean, aren’t we supposed to take that on and make sure that our young people grow up with that?
Dennis: Yes. That really was the question that I wanted to ask you here at the beginning of the broadcast. A mom and dad who are raising a son or a daughter in this age need to prepare them for suffering, not necessarily to prepare them to debate the atheist on the college campus. I’m just talking about to experience life because they’re going to go through life and bad things are going to happen to them.
What would you say to a mom and dad that they must imbed in the soul, mind, and hearts of their children so that not if they go through the valley of the shadow of death, when they go through it, they’ll be equipped?
Randy: I think I’d begin with the person of God, the attributes of God, and the basic doctrine of not only who God is, what’s called Theology Proper in theological circles, but also the person and work of Jesus Christ. Those are so fundamental, those are so basic. And they, too, are inseparable from the doctrine of the authority of the Word of God. The inspiration and inerrancy of God’s Word because you can’t separate them from them because that’s the source that tells us these things about God.
Dennis: Okay. So when your son or daughter is taught this, and they grow up and go into Junior High and maybe even lose a classmate to suicide, to drugs, to a car accident, and they come home, and they’re questioning their faith. It’s the wise parent at that point don’t you think, Randy? That doesn’t panic?
Dennis: But gives their children the freedom to question God—and what I’m going to say is going to sound like heresy—to even doubt God?
Randy: Right. And I actually think we don’t even have to speculate on that because of what we see contained in scripture. You look at Jeremiah, look at Ezekiel, look at Habakkuk, look at David in the Psalms, “Why are the heavens silent, Lord? Why aren’t you answering my prayer?” God thought highly enough of those agonizing cries of the human heart that He put them in His inspiring Word. Now that is a remarkable thing! The book of Ecclesiastes is largely the demonstration of a non-Christian worldview, a non-theistic worldview.
God cared enough about it to put in His inspired Word so that we could have that touch point and we could have that connection with it. Now, if we just took those passages and isolated them and didn’t take them into relationship to the larger flow of scripture, obviously that wouldn’t be good.
But they’re part of the inspired Word of God, so we can say to our kids when they’re struggling you’re struggling with something that prophets and King David struggled with. And when you’re talking about suffering, well look at Jesus and the Garden and look at Him sweating drops of blood. Look at Him weeping at the death of His friend, Lazarus and probably in particular at the suffering of Mary and Martha because they have lost their brother, and ask yourself the question, “Was Jesus weeping because He lost perspective?”
No. He’s the Son of God. He doesn’t lose perspective. I actually think that sometimes we don’t weep because we have lost perspective.
Bob: Randy, I don’t want to minimize anybody’s real pain. That real suffering and real evil, because there’s real pain, there’s real suffering, there’s real evil, and yet I often will jump ahead to 2 Corinthians 10 or 11 where Paul goes through this long list of what he endured. You know what I’m talking about? “I was shipwrecked,” I was this I was that, “I was beaten, I was left for dead, I was stoned…” It’s a pretty remarkable list of some pretty horrible stuff.
And then I’ll flip back a few pages in my Bible to this place where Paul says, “These light and momentary afflictions…” Here’s the same light and momentary afflictions and here’s the list of them and I go, “That does not sound light and it doesn’t sound momentary!” He says they’re producing it in me an eternal weight of glory. He’s gotten a little bit of the divine perspective here. He may not understand exactly what’s going on, but he knows big picture God’s up to something, doesn’t He?
Randy: Absolutely! And we see this in 2 Corinthians 12 as well where he alludes that he’s been taken into paradise. So this Paul knows how to compare short-term sufferings to what awaits us, even though he doesn’t talk much about that experience. This is what motivates him to call his afflictions light and momentary.
But his perspective on that suffering is not simply that the reward to come in eternity where the experience of Heaven is going to be far greater than the present suffering, it is, but he actually connects the two of them as our present suffering achieving that eternal glory. And that’s something we often miss.
Because we’ll say “Okay, light and momentary affliction. It’s bad. But at least it will be taken away and God will wipe the tears from every eye.” But what we’re not seeing is that God is using that to bring about this eternal glory and reward! It’s not just that God has prepared a place for us. It’s that God is preparing us for that place, and He is using suffering to do it.
Bob: You know, as we’re talking about this, I keep flashing back, Dennis, to…I wrote a note to MaryAnn recently about a friend who was in a tough situation and I just was sharing my heart and was reminding her and me of what’s true, and she sent back something she heard you say. I don’t know that Randy’s ever heard you mention this, but she sent back the inscription that you and Barbara read on the tombstone in England when you were over there a number of years ago. Share that story with Randy.
Dennis: Well, Barbara and I got away during what was for us a real time of crisis. Not in our marriage, but we had some challenges in our lives, and we were there for 17 days. A friend had given us a place to stay and we just went roaming about. We went down on the Cornwall, which is a windswept area there on the coast of England, and we found a small little church in a town called St Buryan. All it was was a pub and a church at a crossroads. I mean there was just like a dirt road only room for one car. I mean it was small, it was remote.
But in the church yard was, as there are in many of the churches in England, there were gravestones. People who have been buried there.
And we found a family that had all been buried in one grave, and it was the…the mother was listed. She died at the age of 24. Twelve months later, her son John who she had given birth to, died at the age of 12 months. And then a couple of weeks after he died, the father was also buried. He was age 25. Inscribed on the limestone were these words: “We cannot Lord thy purpose see, but all is well that’s done by Thee.”
Dennis: And we had no way of knowing when we copied those words now that we would share those words with our daughter, who buried her 7 day old daughter, Molly. And today, on Molly’s gravestone, are inscribed those words because there was no way to humanly explain what took place in the 15th Century when a little family perished within probably 13 months of one another, nor was there a way in Boulder, Colorado, to explain the death of a little girl who broke her mother’s heart, her dad’s, and all of us as grandparents and siblings.
Ultimately, what do we have but the scripture which tells us the truth about God. I want to go back to what you started with here at the beginning of the broadcast. If you had a son or daughter, and you want to equip them to handle suffering, you have to teach them the truth of who God is, because ultimately, at the end of the day, you’re going to have to decide who you’re going to trust. Are you going to trust God. Or are you going to trust these world experts, who may be number one on the New York Times best-seller list, but what is their faith in?
What kind of hope do they have to offer? And the answer is they don’t have hope because their worldview doesn’t have a god that’s worthy of your faith.
Randy: That is exactly right. We all trust in someone. Who are we going to trust in? Are we going to trust in ourselves? Are we going to trust in a particular man? A philosopher? A scientist? Are we going to trust this authority figure or that authority figure? Or are we going to trust God?
And God who has demonstrated His love, God who sent His Son. You know, this is not a deistic God that we’re talking about from a Christian worldview. It’s not a God who created the universe and then let it go just like He set the watch going and now it’s just running down on its own.
Dennis: And there are those within the Christian community who preach that kind of God. That He’s disengaged and that He’s really not involved, I’m sorry to tell you. Maybe He really doesn’t know the number of hairs on your head.
Randy: Right. And this is a God in the Christian worldview who, according to what scripture says, who intimately cares about what is happening in human history. A God, who we’re told in Acts 17 appoints the times and the seasons, the places, and the times that people live.
A God who is not about accidents. You see this in scripture when you even see language that sounds like luck and randomness. There’s a passage that talks about a random arrow that was fired by a soldier in a battle, and this random arrow falls exactly where God wants it to fall. It’s striking!
Because you say, “Well, why use the term ‘random’ in the first place,” and yet there are things that you look at and say, “Well if that car hadn’t been at that intersection at that moment, if he hadn’t been drunk that night, if we would’ve left the house two minutes earlier or two minutes later, now our child would be alive.”
And you know what? The God of scripture is not a God of chance and randomness, even though, at the same time, it doesn’t mean that He has orchestrated and laid out every terrible event that’s going to happen to you. But somehow, in His plan, He takes it all into account and His promise is going to be fulfilled.
And if, at the end of the day, you think, “Well, God is out there just doling out punishment on people,” just think in these terms: He has never dished out suffering to anyone else that begins to compare with the suffering He chose redemptively to take upon Himself for us.
Bob: So we have a sympathetic High Priest who is able to share in our afflictions, right?
Dennis: One last question I want to ask you that doesn’t really relate to our topic, I don’t think, but it might. If I had powers to erase all of the books you’ve written, and you could only keep one, which book would you keep, and why?
Randy: Wow, that’s tough.
Dennis: Bob hates me asking these questions…
because he knows you’re a sequential thinker, and now he’s going to review every page of every book he’s written and that’s unfair, but I’m going to ask it anyway.
Randy: Well, my favorite of my books is the little book The Grace and Truth Paradox. But if I was to measure kingdom impact, I would have to say the Heaven book is probably the one I would hold on to, and since I can throw in fiction, since it’s a different kind of book, I’ll throw in Safely Home.
Dennis: You just picked three!
Randy: I am working my way around this! But, no, in answer to your question, I think I’d have to say the Heaven book because I’ve received more letters from more people, and I mean it is daily where people say, “I have a loved one who died, my son.” They’ll send me pictures. I get DVDs of recorded memorial services where a teenage boy has died and they’ve read from my Heaven book and it goes on and on and I just have to say God has been so gracious in the way He has used that book.
Dennis: Well, I appreciate you having the integrity to put three books in on my question!
Randy: And I appreciate your integrity on asking such and impossible question.
Dennis: That is not as tough as the question I ask in the staff meeting which describe heaven in 90 seconds. That was the impossible question. I was telling Bob the other day. It really is evident that in the body of Christ, just period, God has made people who have exceptional abilities and gifts. He just said, “You know, I’m going to make a Lepine, Bob Lepine” you know? Bob’s a brilliant guy and he’s got his own set of gifts that are just…remarkable!
Randy: You know, I don’t care what people say about Bob. I think he’s the best.
Dennis: I think he’s the best, too! And I think you’re one of the best in studying the scripture and bringing it down to put the cookies on the shelf where we all feed. You’re just a great gift to the body of Christ, and I want to thank you for your work and your ministry and hope you’ll come back and join us again soon and we’ll celebrate with you.
Randy: Well thanks for those kind words. The feeling is mutual.
Bob: Well there are a lot of people who understand where we’re headed better because of the book that you wrote on heaven. I think there are a lot of people who are going to understand better the goodness of God in an evil age better as a result of this book called If God Is Good which we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. The book’s by Randy Alcorn. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to find out how you can get a copy.
Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800 F as in “family” L as in “life” and then the word TODAY, and when you contact us, we’ll let you know how you can get a copy of Randy’s book sent to you.
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I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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