We’re starting this morning with perhaps not only a big question, but perhaps the biggest question - for many people, the only question that matters. Where is God in the face of evil and human suffering. Or as our upcoming Dig and Delve apologetics conference theme puts it this year: Life Hurts. God?
The problem is set in both emotional terms and philosophical terms. Emotional terms are what people faced this weekend. When you lose house or health or loved ones, you are not thinking in philosophical terms, you just want to know God, What’s up? Where are you? Why are you dong this? Just leave me alone! I hate you! That’s the emotional terms. To be honest, there is no good answer to the emotional terms. Time and healing are a start.
Then these are the philosophical terms: In the face of human suffering God cannot be present, good, and loving and all-powerful. If he is all-powerful, he cannot be loving or good, for he is not intervening to stop the hurt. If he loves us, then he must not be powerful enough to stop the hurt, or is not truly good. If he is good and powerful, than either he does not care enough to stop the hurt, or he is simply not there. To be honest, most modern Evangelical Christian answers do not address this question adequately, and we often give an answer that limits God’s power. Now we would never say that God is not all-powerful, for that would be explicitly against the faith that we have received. But we might say things like, God’s greatest desire is to love and be loved by his creatures, and so he submits or limits the working of his power and his divine will to preserve the freedom of our wills. This means that he will not, in fact cannot, override all the evil that occurs in the world. In other words, God is let off the hook in regards to the evil and suffering in the world because he desires human freedom over all things. This is the most common answer given in the Western church today - perhaps this is not surprising as our Western culture exalts radical individualism and human freedom over all things. Yet I do not believe that answer is particularly Biblical or helpful. I do not believe it to be Biblical, which I intend to demonstrate through this story of Joseph today. And I do not believe it to be particularly helpful. Imagine if that i the answer you have to cling to when your world falls apart and a tornado runs through your neighbourhood, or you are sexually assaulted, or you are accused of a crime you did not do. Does it help you to be told that since God desires to be loved by humans freely he lets us suffer as he does? God respects your autonomy enough to let your life be destroyed and the tears flow from your bed?
I believe that there is another answer to the problem of pain, and the answer is not that God is helpless in the face of human suffering, but that God actually providentially transforms our suffering to bring about our ultimate deliverance, to his own Glory and the magnification of his goodness, power, love and presence.