Summary: Why do bad things happen to good people? Suffering gets our attention and reminds us that we cannot make it without God.
Then he relayed this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care for the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found nay. Cut it down! Whey should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
The Holy Spirit of Jesus is present with us today, but if He was here in the flesh, we could sit down in front of Him and ask, “Jesus, what about those 254 passengers who were killed on those hijacked airliners? And what about those 3,000 people killed when the World Trade Center was attacked? And while we’re on the subject, what about those 22 people killed in Natanya this week as they were preparing for the Passover meal?” He would look at you with those eyes that you would never forget and say, “Do you suppose those 254 people were worse sinners than anybody else who has ever gotten on an airliner? Or those 3,000 in New York City or those 22 in Natanya–were they worse people than anybody else? NO–but unless you repent, you will perish, too.” You may not like His answer, or His non-answer. You come with a deep, troubling philosophical question, “Why do good people suffer?” and He basically refuses to answer it; instead He turns the question into a statement about your own spiritual condition. A conversation with Jesus is never boring!
It’s okay to ask the question about suffering. Christianity and the Bible can easily endure the light of honest intellectual scrutiny; it has for 200 centuries. So, you don’t have to check your brain at the door when you come to church. This idea of suffering has puzzled us for centuries. There is an entire theological or philosophical study called theodicy. It asks the simple question: If God is entirely good, and entirely powerful–why is there suffering? Some people look at what the Bible says about God and then look around in the world and say, “The character of God and the reality of suffering contradict each other!” What’s the answer?
In addition to all my other reading, I try to re-read some of the great literary classics. This past year I read Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. It is a deeply spiritual book because Defoe was a committed Christian who wrote hymns and Christian poetry. When Defoe’s character, Robinson Crusoe, is shipwrecked on an island, he discovers a native and names him Friday. He teaches him to speak English and He teaches Him about God and about the importance of trusting Jesus Christ for salvation. In one of their theological discussions, the following dialogue occurs: Friday to Robinson Crusoe: “But if God much strong, much more than devil, why God no kill the devil so make him no more do evil?” Crusoe’s reply: “You may as well ask, why God no kill you and me when we do wicked things”
That short conversation provides both the question and a good response to the problem of theodicy, the question of, “How can a loving, powerful God allow evil? In light of 9/11 and in light of the resurrection of Jesus, let’s learn four important things about suffering.