Recently, I began responding to your questions from the 2013 Blog Survey. I’ve responded to several of them already in the following posts:
And there’s also Answers to Hot-Boiling Questions
There were so many other questions from the survey that I had to break my response into 5 parts. Here is part 1.
What do you think God’s role is in the mega disasters we are seeing around us and tragedies like school shootings of innocents?
Those questions are above my pay-grade. So the short answer is, I don’t know.
However, I believe that God weeps with those who weep. And He isn’t the author of these horrific tragedies. How that exactly comports with an all-powerful, all-knowing God, here are some thoughts I have about that. In God’s Favorite Place on Earth, I address imponderables like the ones you mention saying,
If I can use an illustration, we mortals are living on pages 300 to 400 of a 2,000-page book. Only God can see the whole book—the entire story. And He has given us the ability to see only pages 300 to 400.
We have no capacity to understand what’s on pages 1 to 299 or pages 401 to 2,000. We can only speculate and assume what’s in them. Hence we create all sorts of intricate theological systems to explain mysteries we don’t understand.
The Lord doesn’t show us all His plot twists. So life comes down to trusting in the Lord rather than trying to figure out His ways through our finite, limited understanding. Yet with one another, we can better discover and understand what’s in pages 300 to 400 and thereby learn to live more effectively within them.
Mary of Bethany didn’t understand why Jesus didn’t come to heal Lazarus. But she trusted Him nonetheless. Let us learn how to trust a God we don’t fully understand.
The big point there is that God is infinite and we mortals are not. This was understood pretty well in the world until the mid 18th century, when God’s existence was rendered impossible because of the existence of evil (the earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 is usually the point of reference for historians for this new kind of thinking).
Secularism developed around that time and humans exalted themselves as having both the wisdom and answers to solve all of their problems. The Enlightenment rendered God to be a myth that reflected primitive thinking.
But if God is beyond our comprehension, as my 2,000 page book analogy illustrates, then tragedy, evil, and suffering are inexplicable to us, but not to God.
We are like pawns who are able to move by ourselves, but the chessboard is so big we can’t even see the edges.
So we have a choice to either trust in His wisdom or trust in our limited, pathetic understanding. Christians have contended from the beginning that human reason is limited (see 1 Cor. 1-2), and I certainly believe it is.
How do you explain the needless suffering in the world and can you give me any good books on the subject?
I can’t. But I’ll present a few ideas that are built on my answer above.
That said, I believe the cross of Jesus Christ gives us a peek into how God looks at human suffering. When Jesus died, everyone who followed Him — along with His enemies — regarded it as a defeat. But in the ineffable counsels of the Godhead, it was a victory. If God can turn great good out of the slaying and suffering of the innocent Son of God, then He can do the same in our suffering.
Sometimes we come to understand the “great good” in this life. Other times it is hidden from us.
As for books on the topic, here are the ones I recommend.
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis – this does a good job with the free-will defense of evil. Though that defense is limited.
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis – more unsettling and written out of personal experience, but helpful.
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller – a contemporary look at the subject that’s well crafted and carefully thought out.
Again, I deal with it also in God’s Favorite Place on Earth.
Do you mentor younger guys who want to learn from your experience?
I have before and I’m considering doing a mentoring stint in the future that’s completely focused on productivity and creativity. It will delve deep into my creative process and my productivity “hacks,” including my process of writing 16 books, over 700 blog posts, and releasing 90 podcast episodes. If you are interested in this, email PTMIN@aol.com and include your age, where you live, and your Facebook url.