Suffering and Seven Theodicies
Theodicy: the vindication of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil.
Why do we suffer? What does your theology (the knowledge of God) tell you? When anyone suffers for any reason questions arise because, we want answers. The most common question is “Why?” Remember your childhood when you would ask your parents, “But, why do I have to do …? Or Why do I have to go to bed? Why can’t I do …?” Why, why, why? It is a basic need for understanding and closure to the unknown reasons in life’s circumstances. When we are suffering, we want to know why.
Unlike a normal mathematical problem, where reason dictates a logical path for a solution, suffering is a deep-felt emotion that does not line up with a reasonable answer. Of course, its starts with “Why?” the answer or outlook of “why” differs. First, the perfect plan of theodicy, where the individual finds God’s plan for suffering. Romans 8:28 says that all things (good and bad) work together for the good… So, I need to ask, what am I supposed to learn from this event, circumstance, or situation? Even if I do not know at first or at all; I believe it will be for God’s glory.
I just heard a sermon from Adrian Rogers. He was talking about the suffering of Job in Chapter one, and his statement in chapter 13:15, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him”. The interesting statement from Pastor Rogers was this, ours is not to ask why, but how. Why is God’s. How is ours; how am I going to go through this?
Second the “free will defense”. We all have free will to choose, if we choose to disobey God’s commandments, desires or will, we will have to deal with the consequences of sin. “Suffering is outside God’s will and it conflicts with God’s objectives.” Or does it? Christ suffered. Through suffering God advanced His kingdom. Suffering may not be God’s perfect will for us but, in a fallen world suffering gets us to look up to God. Look into self (check our motives), and to look out to others, (see 2 Corinthians 1:10).
Third, suffering is the harsh and helpful teacher. I might say the school of hard knocks or life’s lessons learned through experience. When we learn through experience, we develop character. Hopefully, godly character. Romans 5:1-5 tells us of the outcome of tribulation and experience brings hope.
Fourth, the “cosmic conflict” or spiritual warfare between good and evil, where mankind is victim and needs to take a side to stand on. Here the battle between the devil and God; and Satan is manipulating mankind to disobey God. Mankind appears to be caught in the middle of the battle and must therefore choose to take a side. Romans 6:16 says, “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? “(KJV) Whichever side you choose to serve is the side you end up on. If you do not decide you have still made a choice.
Fifth, the “openness theodicy”. God is omniscience and knows the beginning and the end. He knows what we will choose to do and will use our choices to work out His will. The story of Joseph tells us that his brothers wanted to get rid of him. They ended up selling him into slavery. BUT GOD, used the circumstances for His glory as proclaimed by Joseph in Genesis 50:20, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” (KJV) We can veer from God’s perfect will, but God knows and can use our short comings for His glory and our final destiny.
Sixth, “finite God theodicy” where suffering strikes and the individual looks to survive it, because although God wants to help us He cannot completely control what happens. This to me in contradictory to God’s character. God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and now you want to say He is finite. God knows our beginning and our end, therefore, our end might not be when or what we expect it to be. God’s perfect will is sinless, to be Christ-like. We live in a fallen world where God allows suffering, but through suffering I/we may turn to Him and find our way back to God or our character may become more like Christ. Therefore, suffering helps us to be more like Christ. (see Romans 5:1-5).
Seventh, “protest theodicies” shows anger against God, Who would allow us to suffer. The equation then becomes, if suffering occurs there cannot be a God, or at least a God who cares. This is an emotional thought process. “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” (1 Peter 5:7 KJV). If God cares, then our notions are incorrect.
From these seven, I find myself in the perfect plan of a caring, and loving God Who is Sovereign over His creation. This also points to an “openness theodicy”, as even though we can make bad decisions, God can turn it into good. Therefore, I must look for the suffering to be a source of learning to be more Christ-like, or a perfecting of my character, even if I never know why in this life time. Through experience, I can learn with my focus on Christ, I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me. Then I can look out to others and say, if God can do it for me He can do it for you. God is Love. He is a caring Father Who can bring hope in all life’s twists and turns. God is good all the time and all the time God is good. I am the finite creature of an infinite God. “The ability to choose our attitude remains, the capacity to choose how we respond to what life brings us.” Psalms 90:12 helps us remember and put life’s finite span into perspective. It says that each day is a precious gift, when we learn to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom (see Psalms 90:12).
What is your theodicy?