Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Problem of Pain

In our weekly Wednesday evening prayer this week, we'll remember St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Elizabeth was born in 1207 and spent much of her life caring for the sick and the poor. Even now, a number of hospitals have been named after St. Elizabeth. Here's a link to our online prayer.

For my work, I’ve spent nearly the entire Fall doing software training in a number of hospitals -- spending a lot of time in ERs and Intensive Care Units, helping doctors look at radiology images of people suffering from congestive heart failure, brain injuries, breast cancer and a whole host of other problems.

Remembering St. Elizabeth and my work, I've had a chance to think a lot recently about sickness, difficulty, and death.

Not unique to myself, these topics have also been significant issues in the life of the Church. And many, including myself, have asked the question: “If God is good, how can there be suffering in the world?” C.S. Lewis called this “The Problem of Pain”.

As I've sought to have a better understanding to this question, I've come to a few conclusions...

First, it's clear to me that Scripture indicates that the cause of our difficulty is due to our sinful condition (something theologians call "Original Sin"). It’s not that a sick person is more sinful than a healthy person, but rather we learn in Scripture that sin entered into the world with the sin of Adam and Eve, our “First Parents” (as the theologians would call them), resulting in a separation from God which ushered in pain, toil and difficulty into the world.

In understanding this issue of sin and sickness, I've found much insight from writers and teachers in the Reformed Tradition who have looked at this issue of sin from a very different perspective than many moderns. Instead of asking (as moderns might), “How can there be a good God with pain and suffering in the world?” They have said instead, “Isn’t it amazing how good God is -- even though we have sinned. We deserve so much worse. We have been disobedient, we have broken God’s law, we are under God’s wrath. We deserve death. Isn’t it amazing that God the Father sent His Son to mend our relationship with Him and make us His children. Isn't it amazing that God has extended grace to us."

These scholars have also emphasized the sovereignty of God. What this means in a nutshell is that God is God and I am not. I can’t manipulate God to get Him to do what I want. I can't pray a special prayer for healing that He will always answer. If He desires to heal someone who is sick, He will. If He chooses not to heal, He won't. There are no magic formulas that we should rely on…it’s up to Him. I can pray to God for healing, as we see Jesus and the disciples doing in the Bible and I can leave the results to Him, trusting that whatever the outcome, "in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28).

Another source that I've found helpful is the teaching of George Eldon Ladd. Through the writing of Dr. Ladd, I've been able to see sickness and healing in the context of the Kingdom of God. In his book called "The Presence of the Future" Dr. Ladd explains that "God is the Lord of history; but there are hostile elements, opposing forces that seek to frustrate God's rule." He notes that "Evil is so radical that it can be overcome only by the mighty intervention of God."

Dr. Ladd adds, "History will witness a continuing conflict between God's Kingdom and the realm of evil; and in this conflict, men in general and the disciples of the Kingdom in particular will be called upon to suffer. In fact, they may expect opposition and suffering to be their normal experience."

There are no easy answers when people face difficulty, illness and pain. I'm encouraged though that in Scripture we can see Christ's heart for the hurting. He showed mercy to those who came to him in need. Here's a few examples:

-"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed the sick." (Matthew 14:14)

-"Jesus called his disciples to him and said, 'I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way." (Matthew 15:32)

-"Jesus had compassion on them and touched them their eyes. Immediately they recieved their sight and followed him." (Matthew 20:34)

-"When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said 'Do not weep.'" (Luke 7:13)

May we be reminded this week of Christ's us and to the world.

Grace & Peace,

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