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Why Does God Allow Pain, Suffering, and COVID-19?

David Shin
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David Shin

Pastor, Hillside O'Malley Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Anchorage, AK

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  • April 25, 2020
    12:15 PM
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Why Does God Allow Pain, Suffering, and COVID-19?

David Shin


Good morning everyone! Happy Sabbath! I invite you to bow your heads with me as we pray. FATHER in heaven, thank you for the Sabbath and this opportunity that we have to seek YOUR face, to study YOUR word. And we pray that as we open the pages of Scripture this morning that YOU would speak to us we pray. Send us the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts. For we ask these things in the precious name of JESUS CHRIST. Amen. 


I'd like to turn our attention to Habakkuk 1:13 because I believe that it frame very nicely for us the topic of our discussion today. Habakkuk says, “YOU are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness; why do YOU look on those who deal treacherously, and hold YOUR tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?” Habakkuk is basically asking the question, ‘GOD, YOU hate evil, YOU hate suffering. YOU are a pure GOD, a loving GOD and an all-powerful GOD. Then why don't you intervene especially when the righteous suffer even in the midst of this COVID 19 pandemic? There's a lot of suffering that's taking place, people are dying, people are in hospitals, people are losing their jobs. Does GOD have the ability to stop this pandemic? Does HE care? And if HE does, why doesn't HE intervene? 


Now, a number of years ago, I had the privilege of going to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C, and if you're ever in the D.C. area, I highly encourage you to visit the museum. You start out in an elevator and I’ll never forget when I got out of the elevator. It was an eerie silence that was in the hallways because no one was speaking. In many museums I've been to before, there's a lot of chatter. There's noise in the background. But in this particular museum, in my experience, there was nothing but this silence as people were horrified by these scenes that were put before us. I'll never forget walking into a room that was full of shoes and the room smelled like leather and there was a shoe about this size. It was that of a toddler. And it just broke my heart - the realization of the human suffering and the human toll that took place when 6 million Jews were killed in cold blooded genocide. They had a picture of the hair that they would shave from the Jews to line the boots of the Nazi soldiers. There were pictures of children that were undergoing the most cruel and inhumane experiments by the hand of Dr. Mengele. He would place them in scalding hot boiling water, see how long they would live, and then he would place another child in cold water, and see how long they would live; and the lingering question in my mind was why, why especially the children.  


Dostoevsky say, “If all must suffer to pay for eternal harmony, what have the children to do with it? Tell me please. What about the children? What am I to do about them?” Dostoevsky is asking the question, what is the point and the purpose of children suffering? Shouldn't GOD at least intervene and stop innocent children from suffering? What purpose does it play? And why doesn't GOD intervene? When I got to the end of the Holocaust Museum, there was a testimonial video, real, that was running and one testimony of a Holocaust survivor I never forget. She talked about how she was in the concentration camps, and she was peering through the barbed wire and suddenly a truck went by and out of the back of the truck a child fell out. The truck stopped, the soldier got out of the truck, and threw that child like a rag doll back into the truck, and drove off. And she said, in that moment she stopped believing in GOD. 


This is a quotation from the former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Hum Com:  “I would say in his name that the Holocaust is final conclusive proof that there can be no God. If there were a God, he would not be a just and merciful God, but a cruel and unjust God, a God of iniquity, not a God who does not slumber and sleep, who watches over his people or overall to tribute to God cruelty, injustice, inequity. We, if I may say so, should do him the favor of denying his existence.”


William Lane Craig puts it this way, “Undoubtedly, the greatest intellectual obstacle to belief in God is the so-called problem of evil, that is to say, it seems unbelievable that if an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God exists, he would permit so much pain and suffering in our world.”


So we have these 2 attributes that seem to be at odds - the omnipotence of GOD and the omnibenevolence of GOD. In other words, GOD is all-powerful and all-loving. GOD can stop all evil with the world and furthermore add to that GOD's character - GOD wants to stop evil and the question is why doesn't GOD do it? Why doesn't HE intervene? And Dostoevsky is saying, “Look, what about the children? What am I to do about them? What is the meaning and the purpose for why GOD doesn't intervene and stop the suffering of at least children?”


Harold Kushner wrote a book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, and this book came out of a personal experience of Harold Kushner. He had a son that had a rare genetic disease called Progeria. Progeria hyper-accelerates the aging process. You never grow beyond 3 feet tall. You don't have any hair on your head or body and you die in early adolescence. All of which happened to Harold Kushner. And as Harold Kushner was burying his son, his whole theology and his picture of GOD came crashing down around him. And these were the 2 attributes that Harold Kushner could not reconcile: the all-loving GOD and the all-powerful GOD. Harold Kushner’s reasoning went something like this: if GOD was really all-loving and all-powerful, HE would have kept my son from getting Progeria in the first place, much less dying of Progeria; therefore GOD can be all loving or all powerful, but not both. And in Harold Kushner's mind, he chose to believe in a GOD of love, but not in a GOD of all-power. In other words, the GOD of Harold Kushner was a GOD that cares and is loving; but is not able to intervene in certain situations such as Progeria. So from Harold Kushner’s experience, he came to the conclusion that GOD was all loving but not all powerful. 


David Hume put it this way: “Is he willing to prevent evil but not able? Then, he is impotent. Is God able, but not willing; then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence, then is evil?” Another author summarizes it this way: “If God is perfectly benevolent and also omnipotent or almighty, why is there any evil in the world? Why does he permit it?” 


Now, I like to spend a little bit of time reflecting on the notion of omnipotence and love. First, let’s look at omnipotence. The Bible is very clear in Luke 1:37 – “For with GOD, nothing will be impossible.” Jeremiah 32:27 says, “Nothing is too hard for GOD.” And then you have the Genesis account where GOD speaks creation into existence. And then, on the other hand, you have the attribute of love in 1 John 4:8. The Bible says that God is love.


Now, when you reflect more on the attribute of omnipotence, even being all-powerful has certain inherent limitations. In Hebrews 6:18, the Bible says that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie. And so when you look at the nature of omnipotence, you can see that even with an all-powerful GOD, there are things that HE cannot or will not do -that is lie or be deceived. Now, this is not a limitation but it does show you that omnipotence in order to be all powerful must have certain boundaries. 


Now, these are a couple questions that philosophers have asked. First of all, can GOD make a triangle with 4 sides? That's a fascinating question because once you make a triangle with 4 sides it's no longer a triangle. Can GOD make a circle with a square edge? When you make a circle with a square edge, it's no longer a circle. 


Now, I don't really care about these questions very much; but here's a question: Can GOD make a love that is forced? When we look at the nature of love, love assumes or presupposes the notion of free will and choice. Once you force someone to love you, it's no longer love.


Now, here's a quote from the book Desire of Ages page 22, “The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of GOD's government. HE desires only the service of love. And love cannot be commanded. It cannot be won by force or authority. So you can see that the existence of love and omnipotence presupposes free will and choice. And the potential and the chance for someone to not reciprocate and that's exactly what happened.


Dr. Ravi Zacarias was speaking at a public university and he opens the floor up for questions. And a young man stood up and asked him, how can I believe in GOD when there is so much suffering in this world? And Dr. Zacarias said, “You've asked me, how can I believe in GOD when there's so much evil in this world? If there's evil, there must be a good, am I right?” And the young man said, “Yes, you're right.” “If there is good and evil, there must be a law that determines what is good and evil, am I right?” And the man said, “Yes, you're right.” “If there's good and evil and there's a moral law that determines what is that good and evil, there must be a Law Giver which is GOD, am I right?” And the man stood there stunned and said, “What then am I asking?” 


So any time we say that there is evil in this world, it assumes the existence of GOD. Now, some atheists have gone so far as to say that they don't believe in evil. But really when we look out in our world today, and we see senseless suffering taking place all around us, that in our very being, in our very nature, that cry out and say this is wrong, this is evil and our moral sense of right and wrong points towards the reality of the existence of GOD. So here we can see that the existence of evil and suffering is not incompatible with the existence of a loving and omnipotent GOD. 


Here's what one person said, “In physics, there is no such thing as cold. Cold is the absence of heat. There is no such thing as darkness. Darkness is the absence of light. And in a moral sense, evil is the absence of good which is the absence of GOD.” 


Now, I'd like to turn our attention to the book of Job. Job chapter 1 begins with this fascinating conversation that takes place in heaven between GOD and Satan. And the topic of discussion is Job's faithfulness. And Satan makes the claim that the only reason why Job is serving GOD is because GOD has blessed him. And GOD gives Satan permission to go after Job's blessings. In a very short period of time, Job loses everything. His wife is spared, which doesn't turn out to be the greatest blessing, because she says to Job, “Curse GOD and die.” And for the next 35 chapters is the question why. Why has Job lost everything? And his 3 friends have this theory that the reason why Job has lost everything is because of his sin. And then in Job chapter 38, GOD speaks. And it's a series of 64 questions. Here's a sample of some of the questions. Verse 14, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” Verse 17, “Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Verse 31, “Can you bind the cluster of Pleiades or loose the belt of Orion?” 


The stunning thing about the book of Job in reference to the question of why suffering is GOD never answers the question. HE answers Job's questions with more questions. And here is Job's response in Job 42:3 and 5, “…Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand. Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know; …but now my eyes see YOU.”


Notice that Job says that ‘now my eyes see YOU.’ In other words, the ground of Job's experience in the end was knowledge of who GOD was. And it seems to be that the message of the book of Job is to trust GOD with the things that we simply do not understand. The facts are: on this side of heaven, we may never get the answers to our questions about suffering. The question is do we choose to trust GOD even when we don't have the answers? 


This is from the Ministry of Healing page 474, “In the future life, the mysteries that here have annoyed and disappointed us will be made plain.” When we get to heaven and we look back on this life, GOD will pull back the curtain and give the answers to every question that we've had. And the message of the book of Job is do we choose to trust GOD even though we don't have the answers to our questions right now.


In his book entitled Night, Ellie Wiesel, who is a Jew tells a story of how he was in the concentration camps of Western Europe. And there was a young boy that was condemned to be hanged on the gallows and everyone was forced to watch this child's execution. And Ellie describes this boy's face as a countenance like that of an angel and as the trap door is released and this boy is hanging on the gallows, his weight is insufficient to bring instant death. So this boy is suffering on the gallows and all of the inmates in the concentration camp are watching with horror this child suffering. And behind Ellie, there is another prisoner that is stammering under his breath, Where is GOD? Where is God? Where is HE? And Ellie Wiesel said a voice within him said, “Right there on the gallows where else would HE be?” 


Hebrews 4:15 tells us, “For we do not have a High Priest who was unable to empathize with our weaknesses.” In other words, GOD suffers with us. HE's not detached. HE understands us. HE really does feel our pain. 


Annie Johnston Flynn suffered for most of her life. She was battling cancer. She was blind and in the midst of her suffering, she wrote the words to this song, “HE giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater, HE sendeth more strength when the labors increase; To added affliction, HE added HIS mercy, To multiplied trials HE’s multiplied peace. When we have exhausted our store of endurance, when our strength has failed ere the day is half gone; When we reach the end of our hoarded resources, our FATHER’s full giving is only begun. Fear not that they need shall they exceed HIS provision, Our GOD ever yearns HIS resources to share; Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing; The FATHER both thee and thy load will upbear. HIS love has no limits, HIS grace has no measure, HIS power has no boundary known unto men; For out of HIS infinite riches in JESUS HE giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.” 


Not only does JESUS empathize and understand our suffering, the Bible also indicates that GOD gives us grace to sustain us through the suffering as well. I like to close with the words from the book Desire of Ages, GOD never leads HIS children otherwise than they would choose to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as co-workers with HIM. 


Dear friends, in the midst of those times that we simply don't have the answers, let us choose to trust the GOD that has revealed HIMSELF to us and to have faith that when we get to heaven, HE will provide all of the answers.

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