In Church, we’ve recently begun a series of sermons talking about dealing with human suffering. There have been several national tragedies in recent weeks and months so I wanted to post the sermons here for all to keep up with. There are a few weeks left to the series and I will post the remaining sermons after they have been delivered on Sunday morning.
I hope these messages will offer some help in understanding the age old question of “Why does God allow suffering in the world.” There are answers to questions like these but, as a pastor, I have often found that the worst time to offer these answers is in the midst of great suffering. The best time to consider questions like these is when all is calm, not when the storms of life are causing wave after wave to crash over us.
I know that this issue is at the heart of many who have a difficult time believing in and accepting God. If you are one of those persons, these messages are especially for you. I’ve been through a few storms in my life and I can’t imagine going through them without God by my side and, sometimes, carrying me all the way through.
I believe there are seven sermons in this series in all so hang in there for more answers.
I love weather. I admit it. My name is Dan, and I love weather. And I’ve experienced my fair share of weather, growing up in Nebraska as I did. I even lived in Oklahoma for four years. Tornados galore. Even in Mississippi I had the opportunity to experience part of a hurricane. I’m just fascinated by the awesome displays of a nature that are so much more powerful than I am. It reminds me of my God who is far more powerful than anything nature can offer. I’m not a fan of destruction and pain, of course, but I don’t mind coming out of the other side of bad weather and being able to say I experienced something intense. You may remember the storms that greeted Stacy and I as we arrived in Red Cloud last year. That was just God’s way of welcoming me back home to Nebraska. Anyone else enjoy the storms?
Speaking of storms, there’s a great story in Luke 8 about a storm. “22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”
What a story! I can just imagine being on that boat with these guys. In my mind, I’m with the disciples one hundred percent. The wind is crazy, the waves swamping the boat – you ever been in a boat on a lake when a storm is coming up the waves start churning? Depending on the size of your boat, you may have experienced some of what the disciples were experiencing. And then the rain comes. Lightening, thunder, buckets of water. The disciples are going nuts with fear and Jesus is sleeping like a baby.
You know, the only time I don’t like storms is when they come in the middle of the night. Not because they wake me up and scare me, but because they don’t wake me up. I sleep right through them. I have to hear about them after I wake up.
So Jesus is sleeping through the storm. He’s just not worried about it. The disciples have to wake him up. They were frightened and they thought He needed to . . . well, what did they think he needed to do? Wake up and be as frightened as they were? Or did they have some inkling that he could do something about it? Remember, they’re still trying to figure this guy out. And that day they figured something out.
Jesus wakes up and rebukes the storm. Have you ever tried to do that? How’d it work for you? I can tell you how it worked for Jesus – the storm stopped. The skies cleared, the waves calmed, the wind slowed. Safety returned. Yeah, it works for Jesus and, just like the disciples, I’d have needed a hydraulic jack and three medical specialists to get my gaping mouth to close back to normal.
You want to know another reason I love storms? Because life is filled with all kinds of crazy storms and, every time a freak-of-nature storm passes through, it reminds me that all of life’s storms have an end. They don’t last forever. They pass and, usually, I’m still standing.
The storms in life happen all the time. Some of you are going through some real storms right now. Hard stuff. The hail is coming down and it’s big. The lightening is flashing and the thunder is immediate and loud. It’s scary and you probably feel a little like those disciples in the boat with a sleeping Jesus. And you probably have questions right now.
Why do these storms happen? Why do they happen to me? Did I do something to cause this? Why does God allow these things to happen in the first place? What can I do to weather this storm? Will I make it through the storm? Is this you right now? If it isn’t, I bet it has been you at one time or another.
I’ve said it before, life is hard and, in the end, nobody gets out alive. Storms happen. They happen often and I’ve watched a lot of storms blow through not just my life but also the lives of those around me. So let’s talk about the storms and the questions that come with them.
I want to spend a few weeks dealing with those times when our world seems to be raging all around us. I want to offer some answers that are often hard to hear and accept in the midst of the pain so that we can consider them during a time of rest and understanding. More than that, I want to offer the hope and promise that God provides in the Bible to help us through the stormy times in our lives.
I was talking to my brother in Omaha a couple of years ago about the stormy weather we had been experiencing lately. I recalled to him how, earlier in the week, I saw the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore giving an update from Council Bluffs (right across the river) with Omaha in the background. There had been a lot of rain and some severe thunderstorms on that day and there was still lightening flashing in the background while he reported the day’s events. I guess the mix of weather and the current College World Series going on there made it a good location to report from. But Cantore had been doing those spots across the country where the storms have been. My brother told me that folks had been getting worried whenever they saw Cantore show up in their home town because, where ever he goes, the storms seem to hit. If only the storms in life were always so easy to predict.
Sometimes they are, most of the time they are not. If only we had a storm-prediction center like that on the Weather Channel! Maybe you’ve asked the question before, “Why do these storms have to happen in the first place?” Wouldn’t life be so much easier without painful experiences and times where our worlds seem to fall apart?
Well, yeah, it would. The core of this question is the fact that it’s hard to find someone who actually likes pain. Nobody likes pain. We’re all seeking some sort of Utopia in this life. What do you suppose we would have to complain about if we didn’t have pain in our lives? I suppose we would just redefine suffering to include all those times we don’t get our way on things. Suffering will always be with us in this life. It’s a result of Humanity’s sin begun by Adam and Eve.
Early on in Genesis we see the effect of sin on the earth itself. No more Garden of Eden. No more life going on forever here. Death was set in motion and it is death, and the decay that leads to it, that causes the storms that occur in our weather as well as the natural disasters. It is also the force at work that causes storms in life. We are sinful and we live in a sinful and broken world. Suffering, therefore, is now a natural part of living in this world. No one avoids it.
Sin is also what separates us from God. We have to understand that much of our suffering is caused by our lack of a perfect relationship with God. I have to state it like that because anything less than perfection will never match up with God. And sin has so messed that up that it is impossible for us to meet that perfection. Our relationship with God suffers to the point that so many deny Him altogether and so many do not have the kind of relationship with their Maker that they should. Sin separates us from God. And being separated from God will cause suffering to occur.
Can anything good come from suffering? That’s a good question to ask. Author Paul Patterson III writes, “Pain is not a problem in and of itself. But rather, it is a symptom, a sign of something gone wrong. When one places their hand on a stove, the problem is not the pain but it’s the fact they are doing something that shouldn’t be done. The pain in this world is simply a sign that something is wrong; something is seriously messed-up. Without pain, we may never realize that something is wrong.’”
C. S. Lewis wrote an entire book on the Problem of Pain. He writes, “We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities, and everyone who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Is it just possible that God can use pain (as opposed to causing it) to draw us to Him? Pain wakes us up to the reality that something is wrong with our world and it acts as a megaphone that speaks loud enough for us to actually hear God speak. And when we hear God speak, we can begin a relationship with Him like no other.
American pastor and author James H. Brookes told of visiting a friend’s house and hearing the music of a bird singing. It was not the ordinary sound of chirping; instead it resembled the strains of a lovely melody. At first Brookes didn’t know where it was coming from; but when he glanced around the room, he saw a beautiful bullfinch in a birdcage. The lady of the house explained that it had been taught to sing that way at night. The teacher would repeat the notes time and again until the bird was able to mimic them. But this was possible only because it was dark and the bird’s attention would not be diverted.
How often we learn our sweetest songs when the blackness of trial closes in around us.
Pain and suffering can be used by God to bring us closer to Him. It can be worth it in the end. The experiences in our lives are what shape us. They make us who we are. What we become can be embittered by our sufferings, or we can draw closer to God and allow Him to use our suffering to transform us into the people He wants us to be. People who please God and use our sufferings to reach out to others who are experiencing the same things.
We began the message today talking about Jesus calming the storm. Not a single disciple in that boat was calm and sailing along without a care in the world. So often storms bring out the fear in us. We can look at the disciples and berate them for their lack of faith but that was a day where their fear caused them to reach out to God. They may not have fully realized it at the time. In fact, I’m sure they didn’t. But they did provide for us an example in stormy times. They cried out to Jesus.
Will Jesus always calm the storms in our lives? No. But He will always be a shelter, a calm place where we can go, while the storms rage on.