Death

Why Does a Good God Allow Human Suffering?

“Good and upright is the Lord.” – Psalm 25:8

Why does a loving God allow human suffering and evil? If God is all-powerful, doesn’t he have the ability to prevent it? If the Creator truly cares, wouldn’t he bring peace upon this earth? What is the purpose of suffering, if any at all? These are all common questions that people ask, especially when they are experiencing tragedy.

When my wife was a child, she had a younger sister named Natalia. At the age of 1, it was evident something physically was wrong. Her parents went from doctor to doctor to get a diagnosis. Finally, the worst news possible: Natalia had terminal cancer.

Her parents were determined to save Natalia’s life. They tried chemotherapy, surgery, traveled to clinics around the country, but there was no remedy for this cancer. It started in the tailbone and spread to her lungs.

When Natalia began to walk, she would complain about her leg pain. She just wanted relief. My wife vividly remembers a time when Natalia said to her Mom, “I just want an injection. Can you give me an injection to relieve this pain?” Most children loathe shots, but Natalia needed it because her pain was unbearable. That same year Natalia passed away and began the journey to her heavenly home.

Stories like these are hard to hear. My wife and her family were devastated. Heartbroken. Questioning the goodness of God was a natural conversation considering their circumstances. Despite the pain, this tragedy had started a positive direction for their family.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

After the funeral, my Father-in-Law, who was an agnostic, started attending church. He had nowhere else to go. In his brokenness, the only relief was to be part of a community of believers who would pray and comfort him and his family during this ravenous storm.

My wife started going to church with her grandpa. My Mother-in-Law also began attending church. Although Natalie had passed into eternity, her influence was prevalent. This tragedy brought the entire family into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Today, my wife loves the Lord. She has helped missionaries translate the gospel from English to Ukrainian. She has counseled several women in the church. Everyday,  she teaches my two boys the importance of God’s love. For instance, our eldest son Evan is already sharing Jesus with kids he meets at the park. She has been a tremendous helper for me and a vital asset to the strength of our family.

My Father-in-Law owns a successful business. He gives employees the option of staying after work to do in-depth Bible studies with him. And yes, they get paid for being present. He has contributed greatly to their city, revamping dilapidated buildings, creating programs for youth, and teaching Bible studies at his house. He knows the Bible better than any seminary trained professor I have ever met.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4

All of us will experience tragedy at some point. It’s inevitable. When these tragedies do arise, what will your attitude be? If you become bitter and angry towards God, I can promise you, life will become a dark tunnel filled with disappointment. Bitterness always leads to the grave.

My wife’s sister Natalia was a heartbroken event. Both her laughter and tears will never be forgotten. And yes, grieving is the right attitude, but it’s not the final outcome. Natalia had a positive impact on my wife and her entire family. Her death brought brokenness, but that brokenness led the Livinyuk family to seek refuge in Christ. Praise be to God.

What will your obituary say about you?

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One morning in 1888, Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, woke up to read his own obituary. The obituary was printed as a result of a simple journalistic error. You see, it was Alfred’s brother that had died and the journalist accidentally reported the death of the wrong brother. Any man would be disturbed under the circumstances, but to Alfred the shock was overwhelming because he saw himself as the world saw him. The “Dynamite King”, the great Industrialist, who made an immense fortune from explosives. The obituary went on to say: Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.

This, as far as the general public was concerned, was the entire purpose of Alfred’s life. He was not recognized as a good father, a caring friend, or even an encouragement to others. He was simply known as a merchant of death. And for that alone he would be remembered.

As he read the obituary in dismay, Alfred decided to make clear to the world the true meaning and purpose of his life. He had enough time to determine where he would give the remainder of his wealth. Shortly before his death, he signed 94% of his total assets, equivalent to 472 million dollars in today’s currency, to discoveries and inventions in the physical sciences. The most valuable prize was given to the ones who had done the most for world peace. It is called today, the Nobel Peace Prize. Alfred indeed changed the way the world would see him, not as a man devoted to destruction or chaos, but a man dedicated to peace and harmony.

I want you to pause for a moment and reflect upon your own life. What will people say about you when you breathe your last breath? What words will be chosen to craft your obituary? Who will conduct your eulogy? Will you be remembered by your smile, hospitality, jokes, kindness, or optimistic outlook? Or maybe you are like Alfred at one point, known by others as unkind, cynical, rude, or angry? Whatever the case may be, I want you to know right now, today, there is hope for you. Change is always possible.

I want to introduce to you a friend who is the perfect example of what we should strive to become. He is remembered by many as the greatest peacemaker, teacher, miracle worker, and kind-hearted figure the world has ever known. His name was Jesus. History reveals that he performed miracles that could not be explained in human terms. He would heal people, turn water into wine, walk on water, and bring people back from the dead. What was incredible about Jesus was his humble attitude. Even though He had limitless power, Jesus did not try to gain political or social influence. He wanted to truly help the poor and the outcasts. Even some  of his closest friends wanted to turn Jesus into a king, but he would say to them: I did not come to be served, but to serve others, and give my life to rescue many people.

When Jesus was alive during the Roman Empire, the idea of justice was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If someone hurt you, you hurt them back. If someone betrayed you, you betrayed them back. Not with Jesus. When he comes on the scene, he shocks people with his philosophy of unconditional love. He once said: “I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus not only told his followers to love those who mock and ridicule  but also pray for their good and hope their hearts are transformed from hatred to love.

When the roman soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross, he was naked and in unimaginable pain from head to toe. His accusers laughed, mocked, ridiculed, and spat at Him. The Roman soldiers were throwing dice at the foot of the cross to see who would keep his clothes. It was in this horrible humiliation and searing pain that Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The other man on the cross next to him must have thought: No ordinary man can express such selfless love and concern for others. Perhaps that’s why the thief on the cross had a revelation—this is no mere human. This is the embodiment of love. This must be the divine. The dying man then cried out—Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom. Of course, Jesus forgave the man because when he was on the cross, He died for the sins of the entire world.

Every cuss word, every lie, every lustful thought, greedy heart, bitter attitude, selfish desire, and murderous action from humanity was put upon the Savior Jesus Christ in order to bring forgiveness and reconciliation to our Creator. Isaiah 53 makes it clear that Jesus bore our griefs. He carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, and by his sacrifice we are healed.

Remember when I told you earlier I had a friend who all of us should strive to become? Well, deep down inside, all of us know we can’t achieve this kind of love. He is too great, too loving, too perfect, too ideal. In fact, the irony of it is instead of rejoicing in this truth, we get upset about  it. Why? Because Jesus reminds us of who we really are. Broken, needy, selfish, sinful, lost, fractured.

When a person comes to this revelation, they react in two ways. Either they act unwise and say: I don’t want this holy, loving, perfect reminder in my life. He is like the kid at school who gets perfect grades in class, making all of us look bad. He is like the best athlete in school who makes our talents look weak. He is like the nice employee at work who never gossips like we do. He is like the patient parent who always smiles and never yells at his kid. So because of God’s radical love, people actually get offended. They don’t want to be reminded of their brokenness and inferiority.

Or when they come to this revelation, they become wise and get excited. They say this person is the smartest one in class. Let’s study with him so we can achieve better grades. They vocalize, did you hear about this new athlete? He is the best dribbler and shooter in the nation. Let’s learn from him. Maybe he can teach us some drills. The wise utter, “Did you meet the nice employee at work?” If we act kind like him, maybe our business will thrive instead of remain stagnant. The wise declare, “Did you meet that patient parent who always smiles and never yells at his kid? How in the world did he develop such patience? I am going to sit at his feet and get parenting classes from him!

Do you see the difference? When we realize our brokenness, God can help us. He can redeem us. The Scripture says that He is not willing that any should perish, but that all come to change their ways. When we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of all of our sins, and make us right, pure, and good. You see, having a relationship with God is not about trying to achieve perfection by being a better person. We fall incredibly short of his perfect standard. Instead, having a relationship with God is about being honest with yourself. Realizing that you do need forgiveness. Realizing that you do need to swallow your pride because you can’t save yourself. It’s only God who has the power to save. When you get to that point, then God can change you.

As you recall, Alfred Nobel tried to satisfy his desires with money, prestige, and fame, but it left him empty-handed. He wanted a legacy for himself. Even more, he wanted to be remembered as a man of peace, not of destruction. That is good. His reputation was preserved. But don’t you want something more than a legacy? Don’t you want something more than a positive obituary? Don’t you want to have a personal relationship with Jesus, the one who conquered death? He said to all who trust in Him: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” It is my sincere hope today that you live for God, not for a legacy.

The Hope of our Inheritance is Found in Christ

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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you (1 Pet. 1:3-4).”

It was tough to see my Grandpa die. He was diagnosed with bone cancer in the winter of 2008. I just graduated from college that summer and was staying home for a year before attending seminary. I remember watching my grandpa go through pain and agony. One day I moved him from the living room to his bed. It was a struggle for him to move his body and get off the wheelchair. He stayed on that same bed for a couple more weeks.

By this time, hospice visited the home. My grandpa could no longer speak to us, but began his descent towards death. I remember quoting Scripture out loud with my Mom, Dad, Grandma, and two older brothers. Toward the last couple of days, Grandpa struggled for breath. It was hard to hear and see him go through this, and I felt like the grip of death was even upon me. He passed away on Valentines Day, February 14th, 2009.

Grandpa loved to watch sports, go hunting, eat pie, and most importantly, hang out with his grandkids. Whenever I left the house, he would always say, “Be good now.” These memories of him are perched in my conscience and will forever remain with me.

I have hope that I will see my Grandpa again. I know he liked watching Billy Graham preach on television and hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. This fact alone gives me confidence and hope.

This is what the Lord is telling us in 1 Peter. You and I have hope. Jesus has washed away our sins and has given us an inheritance that can’t be destroyed, not even by our greatest foe, death! Jesus has conquered death and if you put your faith in him, you will be with him in heaven forever. This hope is real and I pray that it will become more real as I get closer to my death from this life.