Saturday, March 29, 2014

Discussing Suffering...

Below is a conversation I had with a former Music Professor of mine on Facebook. I was telling someone about it today, and decided I'd like to preserve it somehow. I've edited it to remove everyone's name but my own, and replaced theirs with initials.

I think it was a healthy discussion that helped me grow my skills in Apologetics.

I would love for any additional thoughts on this to be added to the comments!

Jayson Rowe:
March 3 at 10:52pm

One of the main reasons we are hurt by suffering is to make us stronger.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. (James 1:2-3 NASB)

Faith is like a muscle. You have to push it harder for it to get stronger, just like you have to lift more weight for your muscles to get stronger. That's what James meant here. When your faith is tested, and pushed further than you think it can be pushed, that's when you develop a stronger faith.
God is going to constantly push your faith to the limits to keep it strong. He wants us to be able to say just like the psalmist here:

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26 NASB)

---------- Comments ----------

C.A.: I disagree with your first statement, Jayson. The truth is, suffering doesn’t always make people stronger. Sometimes it leaves people and their lives in ruins. Or dead. The notion that a loving god would deliberately torture people “for their own good” is incomprehensible to me. Bart Ehrman’s “God’s Problem” discusses the issue effectively.
March 4 at 12:11am

Jayson Rowe: That's a good point, and I didn't mean to say that suffering always makes people stronger -- I said one of the main reasons we are hurt by suffering is to make us stronger. If Earth was a place with no suffering, no trials, no tests, just lollipops and rainbows, we'd have nothing to look for in Heaven...right? What I am saying (and really what James is saying, I'm just passing it along) is that if we never experience any trials, any tests, any suffering our faith would go away -- we wouldn't need it -- just like if you never got out of bed, you wouldn't need your muscles to support your frame -- you'd waste away. I definitely do not think that God would ever single anyone out and torture them for sport, but since the fall, Earth has been a sinful place...a place where often we will run into trials and tribulations. It is how we deal with these situations, and persevere in our faith that makes us stronger.
March 4 at 6:33am

Jayson Rowe: Also, thanks for the book recommendation -- I'll check it out. If you are interested, a couple I recommend for similar subject matter are "The Holiness of God" by R.C. Sproul and "Future Grace" by John Piper
March 4 at 6:35am

C.A.: This boils down to a simple dilemma: How do you explain suffering in a world run by a loving, all-powerful god? Ehrman, Harold Kushner, Luther, and others really just resign themselves to “you can’t.” Those who start form the position that the Bible and Christianity have answers for everything come up with an explanation. Since you plan to pursue this professionally, at least recognize that those explanations won’t be convincing and might appear contrived to some. Prepare your answers – we’re out here and we push back
March 4 at 9:06am

Jayson Rowe: "C.A." I put some thought into how I would answer you. First, I do not believe that God specifically causes our suffering. I do think that God uses trials, tribulation and suffering to make us stronger. You asked how I could explain why there was suffering in the world, well God isn't the only force at work in the world. The world is a sinful place, and we are sinful beings, even those who have salvation. The only sinless person to walk the earth was Jesus Christ, and he was not only man but fully God as well. I know that we come from different Christian backgrounds, and I would love an open dialogue so that I could learn more about Lutheranism that I may not understand. Let me just start by saying that "C.A.", I love Jesus Christ. I also believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. God is the ultimate author and source, although he used human authors to write it down. Calvin, for example claimed a bias and prejudice built into man's heart that only the influence of God and the Holy Spirit can overcome. He further distinguished between what he called undicia (objective evidence that scripture was trustworthy) and the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit which causes us to surrender to the evidence and acknowledge that the Bible IS in fact the Word of God. Again, that is one view, and I'm admittedly far more familiar with Calvin and his teachings than Luther. I do think that it is critical and that the Christian faith depends on the the inerrancy of the Bible, that it is the true Word of God and that it comes from Him. Yes, the Bible is a collection of historical documents. It is the best preserved collection of historical documents in the entire world. I mean, there are over 5,500 Greek NT manuscripts in existence today add to that another 10,000 Latin Vulgates, and 9,300 other early versions, giving us more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today! 2 Timothy 3:16 says "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness". One thing I DO know about Luther is that Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) was one of his main theological differences w/ the RCC. A quote I found from Luther said: "a simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it". So, you ask me how I explain it? I don't. I don't have to. All of that being said, you are someone I respect, and I do appreciate you pushing me on this. This was a little devotional thought I had while reading a passage from James -- I never thought it would spark such discussion. You really made me think and meditate on this and I'm glad -- I feel it served me well. I would genuinely love to hear more about what you believe, and you are free to move this private if you'd like. I hope things are well in SD with you LA and the boys.
March 4 at 11:58pm

C.A.: WHEW!!! I appreciate the research and effort that went into your response! I enjoy these kinds of discussions even though written dialogue is cumbersome. I do want to continue the conversation; we come from different backgrounds, you’re reasonable, and you do your homework – so it should be fun. I suggest we keep responses to a 200 word limit to keep us on track. It will take me some time to formulate a response, but I’d like to start by looking at why suffering exists in a world run by a loving God. I also think we should recognize there is a difference between suffering and garden variety tribulation.
March 5 at 12:03am

Jayson Rowe: Do you remember the Holsinger piece "On a Hymnsong of Phillip Bliss" I'm not sure you'd know the original hymn, "It is Well With My Soul" (it's in the Baptist Hymnal -- not sure of others) but sometimes a hymnal is a great devotional book. Anyway this conversation made me think of the lyrics of that hymn.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.


It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.


My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!


For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.


But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessèd hope, blessèd rest of my soul!


And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
March 5 at 2:39pm

C.A.: God/suffering has 3 possible answers: 1. Suffering exists; we don’t know why and can’t always fix it. We deal with it as best we can which may include leaning on religious systems for support. 2. Suffering exists; God is unable to fix it – sometimes evil wins. Reasons include man’s fall or God designed the universe to be a hands-off operation. 3. Suffering exists; God can, but won’t do anything about it (Job). We need to learn a lesson (David), God is above human accountability (Job again), it builds character, or Heaven looks good by comparison.

Attempts to answer #2 and #3 typically include a plate full of quotes carefully chosen from the Bible Buffet or links to web articles by “experts” who have all been trained at academically isolated Bible colleges and run ministries specializing in the sale of books and DVDs. The answers are always long and quickly divert to a different, possibly related topic, to make it seem like the question is being addressed when it isn’t. You already know that my choice is #1. Have at it
March 5 at 2:54pm

Jayson Rowe: Here is how I look at it. No carefully selected Bible verses or links to articles, I promise.

Sometimes it seems like no matter how careful we are -- no matter how hard we work to live a good life, how hard we work to have a good career; how hard we strive to be "healthy, wealthy and wise" -- have good relationships with friends and family, it seems like something will always come along to mess SOMETHING up.

From a secular viewpoint, suffering is isn't really seen as a meaningful part of life, it's just an interruption. Here is what it means to ME be a Christian, who like everyone, has to deal with suffering sometimes.

First, you don't really know that Jesus is all that you need, until Jesus is all that you have. It is amazing how a relationship with Jesus Christ can change your life. There is a definite "B.C." and "A.D." portion to my life and I'm amazed...awestruck...I can NOT put into words how much BETTER the "A.D." portion is.

In some worldviews, we sit in the middle of the joys of life looking toward coming sorrows...because we know it's gonna happen. In Christianity, we are empowered to look at the world's sorrows, life through personal sorrows but we know that there is coming joy. I mean, suffering is unbearable if you aren't certain that God is there for you. In Christianity, you know that no matter what beautiful things you've seen, what wonderful joys you have had, nothing will compare with the glorious beauty we will see and flood of joy that we will experience when we finally see God face-to-face. And, according to the Bible, all of that beauty and joy has been enhanced by Christ's redemption of us from death.

Another difference in Christianity is that it doesn't just offer comfort, or consolation when dealing with life's suffering, but it offers restoration. It's not just a restoration of the life we had, but a life we always wanted...that we couldn't even imagine. The final defeat of all the forces of evil will allow us to live in glory with God forever. So, becoming a Christian has changed my life. It HAS to change your life. That is why I have chosen to pursue Seminary. I'm not sure what my calling in the ministry will be -- it could still be helping churches by creating software for them, but with a greater knowledge of the Bible and theology, but I don't know right now. I do know that I finally understand what it means to be a Christian, to be Born Again and to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and knowing that he suffered for me...he died on that cross for me. Knowing that one day I will be has all given me a new perspective on things, and one that I am happy...scratch that...excited to share with people.
March 7 at 7:04am

Jayson Rowe: ...and yes, I know that was more than 200 words...I can't help it. It's what happens when you turn an introvert loose with a keyboard
March 7 at 7:04am

R.W.: How about taking the perspective that suffering is relative to the person that is experiencing said suffering. Take into consideration the flooding we are experiencing here in Helena right now. Is this "suffering" truly or could you say it is an opportunity to help a neighbor. Damage is done to things that can be rebuilt. Damage is done to a bank account. Damage is done to a level of lifestyle for a moment. Is this suffering? Is a headache suffering? Is your child not getting into their first pick of colleges or not making the baseball team suffering or are they opportunities to learn and grow? To clearly discuss the above points, we first must define the heart of it, "Suffering" in todays standards versus when it was contextualized in Biblical times.
March 7 at 9:04am

C.A.: I do appreciate that you didn’t include verses or links, but the 200 word limit is one of the parameters we need to follow for me to stay in the discussion. This is one of those lengthy, divergent responses that I referenced. I don’t see that you’ve addressed the issue.

I understand that you are passionate about Christianity, think it has helped you through your difficult times, have hope because of your beliefs, and want to study in seminary. That’s all important to you and since you’re a friend I respect and support all of it. But the question we agreed to discuss is, “Why does a world created by a loving, all-powerful god include suffering?”
March 7 at 5:58pm

Jayson Rowe: I've thought and prayed, and "C.A." I'm not sure how to continue this discussion. I'm not sure you are going to like any of my answers at this point. Christianity doesn't answer the question of why God allows suffering. While God doesn't provide an answer to the intellectual discussion, he does provide a resolution; Christians look to Jesus on the Cross. You see, Jesus was God in human form. He understands our suffering because Jesus Christ suffered. We know that God is not absent from our suffering and pain -- just like we know we can experience forgiveness and peace with God...all because of the Cross. As we see pain and suffering in the world, we cry out to God, our Father and He doesn't give us an explanation -- He just gives us Himself. The Cross is God's answer. "C.A.", I hope you find your answers one day...I've found mine.
March 10 at 6:42am

C.A.: Jayson, you just pegged my respect meter. I’ve never heard “Christianity doesn’t answer the question…” from someone of your background – Christianity has an answer for EVERYTHING. I completely respect that you’ve found personal resolution through your faith. I respect more that you don’t force that on anyone/everyone else. We probably have taken this topic as far as we’re going to, but I’d enjoy the opportunity to have similar discussions with you in the future. Go Luther!
March 10 at 9:17am · Unlike · 1

Jayson Rowe: I'm very interested in Apologetics, and being able to intelligently discuss my faith with others. I'm also very interested in other viewpoints besides my own. Even within evangelicals we have quite a few different theological perspectives (different views on Soteriology or Eschatology). I'm also interested in other religions outside of Christianity even. I don't feel anyone can effectively spread the Gospel with a closed mind. I also don't feel that Christianity is a mindless religion that requires you to check your brain at the door. Those are things that really interest me.
March 10 at 10:09am · Like · 1

A.B.: Wow Mr. A, never would have pegged you for a person who questions faith. Hope you are well. I did find my Jazz Express shirt last weekend, lol.
March 11 at 12:36pm · Like · 1

C.A.: Not questioning anyone's faith, AB. An interpretation/application disagreement that we settled civilly. I think. Good to hear from you!
March 11 at 11:36pm · Like


  1. That was a very good example of "gentleness and respect". You did well, I think.