I’m Finally Responding: Part I

Recently, I began responding to your questions from the 2013 Blog Survey. I’ve responded to several of them already in the following posts:

The Rapture Question

The Message Most Needed, But the One Few Want to Hear

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.

Click here to read Part 2

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Comments

  1. Nancy Burke says

    Frank, I so appreciate your insight and inspiration to so many of us that have had so many experiences in the fundamental church community. Unfortunately leaving bad memories causing our children to be scattered everywhere but in a good local church! Bless you brother! Keep the blogs coming! I am in hopes of finding an organic church! Not gonna give up! Have a blessed. Week! :-).

    • says

      Thx. Chances are very slim that you will find such a church. Better to start your own group. Many so-called “organic churches” today are more fundamentalist than what you see in the denominations. See my answer to the question, “how do I find an organic church” at http://frankviola.org/faq

      It’s really the wrong question.

  2. Jason Guinasso says

    The Problem with Pain was very well-written and comforting (although it raise a lot of questions for me). A Grief Observed was definitely unsettling when I first read it. I think it was because I was looking for CS Lewis to provide some meaning to the grief I was feeling at the time or to answer why we have to experience grief as he has so eloquently done with other difficult topics. However, he does not provide meaning or answers. He just identifies the thoughts and feelings he was having while grieving. When I read this book a third time and understood that Lewis was just sharing his experience with grief and not trying to answer any questions, I found the book encouraging because I was able to identify with the feelings and thoughts of a person I consider to be a great man. Lewis became a real person beyond his brilliant writing. Someone I could identify with and relate to on a personal level.

  3. Jason Guinasso says

    Also, when I think of tragedies, I can not think of a greater tragedy than the crucifixion of Christ. The God of the universe allowed his enemies to kill His son in this most brutal way known to man. Yet, allowing this tragedy has resulted in salvation and new life for us all. Somehow, I suspect, all tragedies we experience during this time of redemptive history will work to our good and God’s glory.

  4. says

    Frank,
    Thank you, so many times I find the things I have been talking about and saying showing up on your blogs and podcast.
    With the illustration above about living between pages 300-400 you have put in a much needed condensed version of many conversation I have been involved in.
    Thank you my brother.

  5. says

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post. It makes sense, and in some circles Christians are taught that God doesn’t make sense (at least to the world), so we seem to take up that idea and apply it to ourselves. I loved your answer “I DON’T KNOW! How unique and honest. Thank you Frank for being REAL!

  6. Aaron Saufley says

    Excellent thoughts as usual, Frank.

    I have found the book of Habakkuk especially relevant to this topic of evil and suffering. God is always at work, even when we don’t understand the how or the why. He calls us to live by faith (2:4), and he is our salvation and strength when life comes crashing down (3:17-19)

    Philip Yancey’s “The Question that Never Goes Away” is another valuable resource on the question of evil and suffering.

  7. Scott says

    So Good. Great articulation of the defeat of the cross being the ultimate victory. There will be a day when the questions of why that surround our suffering, though not fully answered, will become inconsequential compared to being in the presence of the crucified and risen One.

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