I received an email from a friend today. One of those "forward" messages with lyrical words and photos. The topic answered the question of how can there be a God in such a world of pain? It was a simple and sentimental message, yet one that would be shrugged off by non-Christians as being too superficial, too foolish, too "without evidence", so to speak.
But as believers we do have evidence. We have the written words of men who walked with Jesus over a period of three years. Men who were careful to write down what they saw and heard ... the teachings, the miracles of healing, the raising of the dead. Men who, after Jesus was crucified on the cross, went into locked hiding out of confusion and fear. Men who then saw the resurrected Christ over a period of 40 days before He ascended into heaven before their very eyes. There were over 500 witnesses to the resurrected Christ. (Acts 1:3, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
And we have the words of Paul, who virulently worked to destroy the followers of Christ until he himself was confronted by the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and who became a follower of Christ himself.
These men, the early leaders of the Christian church, were not rewarded for their efforts with fancy cars, opulent homes, nor fame, nor even good health and carefree lives. No, indeed! They were instead confronted with hardship, jail, beatings, stonings. Most were martyred and died horrible deaths! They were persecuted for teaching that Jesus was God from before the beginning of time (John 1:1-5; John 1:14), that His death paid for our sins, that those who believed in Him would have eternal life.
Down through the centuries you will see the same thing ... faithful believers suffering. It is not enough that we might be confused by the question of pain and suffering in this world! There is war everywhere! There is child abuse everywhere! Mankind killing mankind in one way or another. Continuously! Continuously! And it is accurate to say that believers themselves are not immune to the illness, pain and death that this world brings.
How can there be a God in the midst of all of this death and destruction?
My answer is not deeply theological. It would take far more than this simple post to tell you all. But I can say this. Pain and death are part of this fallen world, thanks to Adam's first sin. We're all born into Adam's sin and his death. (Genesis 3:1-19) We live in a world broken by Adam's sin. Death entered into the world and the author of death, the devil, still prowls. (1 Peter 5:8). And he still attacks and devours.
The promise of God is this ... that God himself provided the payment for our sin in the death of Christ. And He promises that those who believe have eternal life. Right now. It begins right now when you first believe! (John 5:24)
I've mentioned the word "imputation" before. When Adam sinned and the world fell into destruction and decay, we fell with him. His sin was imputed to us. We are born as sinful creatures. We are sinners; therefore we sin.
Imputation continues at the cross. At the cross, our sin and death were imputed or put on Him. And His life and righteousness were imputed or put on us, on those of us who believe and are His. When we stand before the judgment seat, we will stand as clothed in His imputed righteousness. Not our own impossibly flawed righteousness, but the perfect righteousness of Christ. Our own flimsy "good works" will never be sufficient to undo our sin. Instead, Christ gives us His perfect righteousness. God sees us "as clean" because we are covered by the righteousness of Christ! Through faith. And it is God who gives us the faith for we cannot produce it of ourselves (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Therefore, even in the midst of sickness, illness, tragedy, death, we live in Hope! And our hope is expressed in these verses in I Corinthians 15:51-58 that speak of the resurrection when Christ returns ...
51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
55"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?" 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
And again in Revelation chapter 21 wherein the ascended Christ speaks these words to the disciple John ...
1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
5He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
6He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."
The promise is there. No more death. No more dying. No more pain. All things will be made new and Sin will be no more. Nor will the devil rule in the hearts of men. 1 John 3:8 says that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. And while we do not presently see the devil and his works done away with, the promise is that there will be a time when the devil no longer holds power over men. Sin will be no more!
I take great comfort in that. When one is young, life is busy and good (hopefully) and there are things to do, enjoy, love, live. (And God expects us to rejoice in Life!) Young people don't always see the full extent of the death and destruction of this world. But when you get older, it all becomes so real and almost overwhelming. So much death. Everywhere. Such hopelessness. Our souls groan with it. Except that God promises us life with Him and it will be eternal/forever life in a world free from sin and its destruction.
Thanks be to God!