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The problem of suffering, evil, satan, the devil and demons



  1. Suffering for Christian Believers

As believers, we cannot immediately attach meaning to event. We don’t pass through life with the smug impression that everything makes perfect sense. But we do have the strong impression that we are on a journey, and that our life experience is not a sequence of random events. Our baptism into Jesus was like Israel passing through the waters of the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1,2). Our life afterwards is like their wilderness journey towards the promised land of God’s Kingdom on earth. We have a destination. Every step of the path is towards a definite, clearly defined point of destination. The New Testament speaks of how the Lord is working with us towards our perfection, a point of final maturity. The human lifespan is not even a millimetre long, compared to the life eternal which awaits us. God, as it were, has to pack a lot in to a short space to prepare us. As cotton wool clouds pass lazily across the sky, we can easily lose this sense of the urgency and intensity of His work in our lives. But all things are in fact moving at breakneck speed towards the achievement of God’s final, saving purpose with this earth. There is a climax to human history, which will be in the return of the Lord Jesus.

My point is simply that life for the believer is not random event. Nothing is chance. All has an intention, even if we miss the point or waste the potential. But inexorably, through it all, God is seeking to move us forward on the path towards our final salvation. Take Joseph as an example. As a teenager, he had dreams from God, that one day his brothers would bow to him. They unreasonably hated him, and at 17 years old faked his death and sold him into slavery in Egypt. There, again, he was falsely accused and imprisoned. Whilst there, he offered to interpret the dreams of two men, confident that God’s dreams came true. And they did. As a result of that, Pharaoh called for him to interpret his dreams, and again, Joseph believed that dreams given by God come true. As a result, he was promoted from prison to be prince of Egypt. And about 10 years later, his brothers came bowing to him, begging for food during the famine. His dreams were fulfilled. But for decades of hard experience up until then, Joseph lived in a situation where it seemed those dreams could never come true for him. He saw the dreams of others coming true; but his never did. But still he held on to his basic faith that they would. And that faith was rewarded.

He summed up the situation in Gen. 50:20: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good… to save many people alive”. Through the long drawn out process of unfair suffering, God worked. Ultimately, to save people. Looking at his life at any one point during those earlier years, all the questions of why the innocent suffer, the wicked prosper… would have remained apparently unanswered. But the lesson is that God’s saving purpose will eventually come true for us- if we remain within that purpose in faith / trust. And it is through the decades of unanswered questions that it all works out in the wonderful way it does. In Joseph’s case, he must have wondered about one stubborn detail in his first dream which didn’t, apparently, come true. It was that his mother along with his father and brothers would bow down to him. He was taught through his sufferings in prison and in the trauma of the famine that God’s dreams do come true. And his brothers did bow to him as predicted. But… his mother? She was dead when God gave him that first prophetic dream as a teenager. And so she never bowed to him when his brothers did. And yet he believed that God’s dreams come true; he had been taught to believe this by experience. So he would have been driven to the same hope and resolution that we are- that at the last day, God’s people (including his mother) will be resurrected and all that has been promised us shall come gloriously true. In God’s own time and in ways which we may not understand.

Through all his sufferings and unanswered questions and struggles about suffering and God’s rightness in allowing it all… Job was driven to a firm hope in the resurrection of the dead and final, ultimate justice being done when he would see God face to face. This would be when “at the last day he will stand upon the earth”, in the second coming of Christ (Job 19:25-27). This is the final key which shall turn the stiff lock created by all our struggles about suffering. Then we shall understand and see things perfectly; “for now we see in a glass, darkly; but then, face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). After all, we are only human. No more, but no less.

Our insistence that we must right now, this moment, understand completely… shall then be seen for the petulance of a child, who doesn’t have the apparatus to understand the answers even if they are given. Now that of course is humbling; for we wish to see ourselves as mature and capable of understanding. ‘No! Tell me, I know I can ‘get it’, I’m old enough to now, and I will understand if you tell me’. This is effectively what many of our struggles amount to. But a child’s struggles and frustrations at not being able to understand are real enough, and we would never seek to mock them nor say that they are not legitimate. They are legitimate and real enough… and painful enough. So in saying that the full mystery has not yet been revealed (for we see through a glass, darkly), I am in no way brushing off the legitimacy of our pain and struggles over these matters. But “through a glass, darkly” we do see an outline form of understanding. Even if it emerges from the glaze of years of our own tears and head shaking.

There must be a cross before that eternal crown; God’s Son is the parade example. Paul reflected that “Our slight momentary affliction accomplishes for us an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison; whilst meantime we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17,18). Heb. 12:7-12 and so many other Bible passages speak of suffering as being for the eternal good of the sufferer: “Endure your sufferings as a father’s chastening; it shows how God deals with you as with sons. For what son is there whom his father does not chastise? But if you are without chastening, of which all have been made partakers, then aren't you illegitimate children and not real sons? Furthermore, we had the fathers of our flesh to chasten us, and we gave them respect; shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed good to them; but He for our profit, so that we may be partakers of His holiness. All chastening seems for the present to be not joyous but grievous; yet afterward it yields peaceable fruit to those that have been exercised thereby- the fruit of righteousness. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down and the feeble knees”.

Part of that suffering is that we must live in an imperfect world, full of suffering and imperfection. Suffering has meaning for believers in that it trains us for eternity. Short of creating us as robots, this environment is necessary. We learn by the experience of opposites. A child learns ‘up’ and ‘down’ at the same time; not ‘up’ one week and then ‘down’ a month later. Thus both light and darkness, good and evil [in the sense of calamity] ultimately come from God (Is. 45:5-7).




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