Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Gordan Runyan
Religion columnist 

Suffering is not meaningless

 

November 22, 2017



In the wake of the recent church shooting in Texas, actor Wil Wheaton angered many with a tweet that read, in part, “The murdered victims were in a church. If prayers did anything, they'd still be alive.” He ended his mini-rant with an obscenity about a Congressman who had prayed for the victims. For those keeping score, then, in one tweet, atheist Wheaton, who no doubt believes in logical thinking, committed an embarrassing logical error and expressed a strong value judgment (which conflicts with his own worldview by assuming that moral judgments have any value at all.) Let me explain.

Though his wording was blunt and uncharitable, Wheaton expressed a sentiment that has run through many minds. That is, how could God allow people who gathered for worship to be mowed down in such a shocking manner? This is merely a restatement of the age-old enigma: Why does God allow good people to suffer?

I hear this sort of thing a lot. Recently, I was asked, “How can you believe that God is good in a world filled with so much suffering?”

My answer was, “When did God tell you it was his job to eliminate suffering?”

The Bible certainly makes no such claim, at least not for this present world. Christians believe a day is coming when God will wipe every tear from the eyes of his people; when their suffering will be ended; and, death shall be no more. (Revelation 21:4) But we don't imagine that's now.

Rather, the Bible is painfully honest about our present suffering. (Pun intended.) Without space to go into detail, let me recommend for starters the Bible book of Job and texts like John 16:33 and Romans 8:28-39, as well as about half of the Psalms. In summary, the Bible does not promise escape from suffering in this life, even for the most righteous people.

What it does promise is that all the suffering that God ordains in this world has a redemptive ultimate purpose, though it may be tough to see. Suffering will tend to strengthen, train, and build up believers. And, when his people suffer, they do so in the intimate presence of God, who works all things for their good, and walks with them through the valley of the shadow of death.

Wil Wheaton's logical face-plant was in assuming that his own caricature of prayer must necessarily be what Christians believe. Prayer can't possibly “work” unless it does what Wil Wheaton thinks it should.

The Christian view of prayer and suffering depends on a loving God who has an actual purpose behind everything that happens. The unbelieving alternative is to think that all things happen for no reason, to no purpose at all. Wil Wheaton has embraced that depressing alternative. On the other hand, he obviously reserves to himself the right to act like some actual evil has been done when something occurs that he finds personally distasteful.

The pastor of the Texas church in question has it right. In a recent interview, he said that these events have not made him question God, but they've given him more reason to lean on him in faith.

Gordan Runyan is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Tucumcari. Contact him at:

[email protected]

 
 

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