Psalm 139:13-18; Job 16:7-14; 42:2-6
Last Spring, we began the journey of shopping for a home so that we could officially make our home in Cheyenne. Many of you are familiar with the experience of shopping for a new home: it begins with great excitement and often evolves into fatigue. On April 8th, last year, we finally learned of a home that checked off all the boxes of what we were looking for in a new home. The house had just gone on the market, and knowing that it would not last long, we scheduled a showing for the very next day.
Once we set foot in the home, we fell in love with the house. Everything looked perfect. The fact that it was a corner lot with a large park next to it and Saddle Ridge Elementary School right across from the house was a huge plus. That evening we made an offer on the home that the sellers agreed with. Within 24 hours, we were under contract to purchase what we believed to be the nicest home we would ever own. With a Property Disclosure form that listed no known defects, everything seemed to go our way; the inspection did not reveal anything alarming, so we closed on May 16th and set a move-in date for June 6th.
The plan was to paint the inside of our home and have the hardwood floor refinished before we moved in. The week after we closed on the house, the big hail storm devastated our neighborhood, including our home resulting in about $22,000.00 in damages. The week after the storm, while painting the basement in our home, we discovered the first of what would be four areas of mold that was the result of a failed shower pan in the upstairs master bedroom bathroom. We discovered that to remove the mold and repair the affected areas in the home would cost just under $28,000.00. What we believed to be a home ready for us to move in, turned out to be a home that was less then whole. We felt like we were lied to, taken advantage of, and helpless.
When it comes to life, we never expect disease or suffering to enter our own experience. From the moment of our birth, we expect that God’s Property Disclosure form to say: “No defects.” When suffering becomes our experience, we can feel less than whole and robbed of the good health we believed we were entitled to. When we suffer, we can feel Job who lost just about everything he valued including his good health:
Surely, God, you have worn me out; you have devastated my entire household. You have shriveled me up—and it has become a witness; my gauntness rises up and testifies against me. God assails me and tears me in his anger and gnashes his teeth at me; my opponent fastens on me his piercing eyes…. God has turned me over to the ungodly and thrown me into the clutches of the wicked. All was well with me, but he shattered me; he seized me by the neck and crushed me. He has made me his target; his archers surround me. Without pity, he pierces my kidneys and spills my gall on the ground. Again and again he bursts upon me; he rushes at me like a warrior. (Job 16:7–14, NIV)
If God is all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful, why does he allow suffering and evil in the world and in our lives? Let me begin by turning your attention back to Psalm 139 to focus on who we are before I answer why we suffer.
The Plan for the Suffering
We are told in Psalm 139:13-18 that at the core of our being we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” in the image of God. The word for fearful is the Hebrew word yare’ which can also be translated “reverent.” The Hebrew word for wonderful is nip̱lêṯî, which can be translated extraordinary or different. Literally, verse 14 can be translated: “I am reverently and extraordinarily set apart.
I believe verse 13 is saying two things. First, and foremost, the Psalmist is reminding us that all human begins are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. Secondly, the psalmist is reflecting upon what it means to belong to the all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful Creator as his child. In other words, all human beings bear the image of the living God. However, those who worship him like the Psalmist not only reflect the image of God, but are uniquely and wonderfully set apart as his people. The reason I believe this is because of what he requests of God in verses 19-24,
Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain. Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:19–24, ESV)
Can you see the two different people the David lists in this Psalm? It is so easy to miss, but if you look a little more closely in the passage, you will find diamonds. Look carefully at verse 20, “They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain.” Then notice what the he asks concerning himself in verses 23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
As a child, I was taught that using God’s name in vain had to do with the language that came out of my mouth. We learn from the Bible that there are at least three ways we can misuse the name of God:
- We can use God’s name in vain when we love anything more than him (see Matt. 15:7-9).
- We can use the name of God in vain anytime we talk about him in a way that misrepresents the truth (see 2 Pet. 2:1-3).
- We can use the name of God in vain anytime we misrepresent God with our actions (Titus 1:16).
As a child of God, David wanted and longed to live his life in a way that honored God. Because of this, he understood that regardless of his circumstances, he was reverently and extraordinarily set apart for God’s purposes. What we learn from the life of David and the story of God’s people is that God’s purposes may include suffering. After losing his children, his wealth, and his health, Job complained: “God has worn me out…. He has torn me in his wrath and hated me; he has gnashed his teeth at me…” (16:7, 9). Job felt empty and less than whole because of what he suffered. God answered Job’s lament with a theology lesson that reminded him of two things: Who God is and who he was in light of the person and character of his creator. God began his lesson with a question: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge” (38:1)? Job’s answer is telling:
I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2–6, NIV)
In other words, Job’s response was that God was up to something bigger than his little mind could comprehend, and he was okay with not knowing all the details or being able to understand God’s plan for his life in light of all that he suffered. Someone said, “If God were small enough to be understood, he wouldn’t be big enough to be worshiped.”
The Promise for the Suffering
Here is what we tend to do when we experience suffering. We tend to judge the knowledge and goodness of an infinite God who is all-knowing, all-present, and all-powerful as not being enough. We have drafted our own Property Disclosure form on behalf of the owner who knows us better than we know ourselves and accuse him of taking advantage of us, not being fair, nor not being good.
I know that Job’s answer to God’s theology lesson does not satisfy some of your questions regarding evil and suffering in your experience and the world around you. Let me share with you three reasons why evil and suffering exist in the world:
Satan is alive and well on planet earth.
Lucifer was not created evil, he chose to be evil; God knew that what Lucifer would become, yet He created him anyway. Jesus said that Lucifer, “was guilty of sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:8). We are warned in 1 Peter 5:8 that he, “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” You need to understand two things about Satan:
- He can do nothing without God’s approval or permission. Satan is on a leash, albeit a long leash, but it is God who holds that leash (read the story of Job).
- He can only be one place at a time. He is powerful, but not all-powerful. He is knowledgeable, but not all-knowing. He has been around for a long time, but his destiny is the lake of fire that burns forever (Rev. 20:7-10).
Jesus said of the Devil that he, “was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). The motive of the devil was his hatred of God and his hatred for the only creature in all of creation that bears the Creator’s image. However, it wasn’t the devil’s choice that made Adam and Eve sin, it was Adam and Eve’s choice to sin against God, and their choice cost them the life for which God created them.
We are a rebellious and cursed race.
We learn from Genesis 3 why we are the way we are today. God told Adam that he could eat from all threes in Eden except one. Tragically, Adam chose to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We learn from the Bible that Adam’s rebellion resulted in a nature being passed down from his generation down through all related to him, and that nature is sin. This Bible gives this reason for why the world is the way that it is today.
In Romans 5, we learn that it was through Adam’s sin that we inherited our sin nature. Every single one of us was born into the world with sin, with a natural disposition to rebel with the same type of rebellion Adam was guilty of. The curse of sin was spread from Adam’s sperm cell to Eve’s fertile egg transmitting sin from one generation to the next. We run from God like vampires run from the sun light. This is our nature and that is why the Bible states very plainly: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10).
We live in a world that is cursed.
Things are not the way that they should be. Sin and the curse has vandalized the peace our world once knew before Adam and Eve’s rebellion. Things are definitely not the way they ought to be or should be. Catastrophes happen. Death happens. Famines happen. Disease and violence plague our world. Cancer centers and every children’s hospital in our nation exist because our world is cursed. It is appropriate to weep and understandable to cry out with the people of God whose laments have been canonized in Holy Scripture: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:1–2).
I gave you three reasons for why evil and suffering exist. Let me share with you briefly the promise God gives to all his people who suffer. The promise to all who suffer is written in Revelation 21:4-5 and its whisper can be heard throughout the pages of Scripture: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”
You have two options in the way you can respond to evil and suffering. You can treat your pain as something that is random or outside of God’s ability to use it for good, or you can understand that there is a purpose and design in your pain that God will one day transform into something beautiful. Frank Peretti reflected in his book, The Wounded Spirit: “God does not waste an ounce of our pain or a drop of our tears; suffering doesn’t come our way for no reason, and He seems efficient at using what we endure to mold character. If we are malleable, He takes our bumps and bruises and shapes them into something beautiful.”
If you are a Christian, what David said of himself is also true of you: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” in the image of God, and as his child, “I am reverently and extraordinarily set apart” by the Creator for his glory, my good, and the good of others. What this means is that God will not waist your tears, your pain, or your disease. What this means is that like Job, there is design and purpose behind your suffering and that you can trust the goodness of an infinite God who is for you and not against you.
We will continue next week to explore how God does not waist our tears and our pain, but for now, I want to leave you with Romans 8:28-32,
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:28–32, ESV) The Bible states, “for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20). God has written the Property Disclosure form for our lives, and it is for our good and his glory.
 Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (New York, NY: Dutton; 2013), p. 255.