Friday, 13 May 2016

Suffering: Don't Ask That Cruel Question Why

In the summer of 2009 ten year old Peter was in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil on holiday with relatives. He had a great time. On the day of his departure he got an email from his parents asking him if he wanted to join the school choir when he got back for the autumn term. Pete wasn't so keen, so he entitled his email – Why? Then he wrote a few lines about how he didn't fancy having to sing each week. He wanted to play more football. And he said thanks for the great holiday. The he pushed the send button. Later that day his uncle took him to the airport and he boarded the plane, Air France flight 447 to Paris.

That plane crashed into the Atlantic. 216 passengers and 12 crew lost their lives.

The news of the crash was soon on all the news programmes. Peter's parents were distraught. In the midst of their tears they went to open their emails. There they saw the last message their young son had sent them...

It was entitled, 'Why'.

That was a question burning in their hearts.


At some stage in most people's lives it's a question that will come into our hearts.

It came for our elderly neighbours, Pam and Brian. Many years ago their then nineteen year old daughter went out with some friends; the next morning when Pam opened the door there were two police officers. There had been a car accident. Their daughter was no more.

It has come into my wife's family. An uncle, an aunt, and two cousins, have all died before their time in traffic accidents. One of the accidents was coming back from the north to Tehran. I am sure many of you have been on that road. One moment the feeling of holiday; then crumpled cars, blood, and coffins. And the question why comes tearing in.

The question why always comes with natural disasters. We went to Bam in 2004, about seven months after the earthquake swept 30,000 lives away in 30 seconds. I remember going to the cemetery and seeing a young boy at a grave shaking with grief. All his family were in that grave. He was asking, ‘Why?’

And sickness. Seemingly so random. My dear friend Kevin O’Callaghan. A man who worked faithfully as a gardener where some of us work in Surrey at Elam. No longer with us. Cancer. My cousin – a mother, two young children, and cancer came and took her. One of my best friends, an old school friend, a man I sorely miss, developed leukaemia. We kept in close touch. Sometimes he would phone and I would be walking across a park to play tennis. There I was, healthy, enjoying the sun, about to enjoy some sport; there he was, cooped up in a hospital bed, hardly able to move. In his last week on earth we visited him in hospital in a small stuffy room. He was a brave man, but he said that what he was going through was torture. A few days later he died.

I am sure you can all think of someone – not a big sinner, just an ordinary someone – who has been suddenly snatched away from us, or is seriously suffering. An accident, a natural disaster, cancer or some other grim disease.

Or maybe just something that in their world is hard to bear. The colour of suffering is not so important, what matters is that acute, painful suffering comes into our lives and we feel we have a right to know why, to make sense of it.

I have a friend whose mother has not spoken to him for about thirty years. It was his sixtieth birthday. He invited his mother. She didn't come.

Maybe you are suffering this morning.

And that question comes – why?

And with that question comes something sharper and very dangerous, and it can slowly work its way into our wounded hearts.

It is a seemingly logical accusation against God. Either He is not sovereign; or He is not loving. He cannot be both sovereign and loving.

For God to allow this suffering to happen – whether it be man's evil against man, or a natural disaster, or a sickness, it makes no difference – for God to allow this level of suffering either means He is not loving; or He cannot stop it happening, which means He is not sovereign, He is not all powerful.

The question why can drain away our faith in God.

You've been down that road. I've been down that road. Maybe there's someone here who is on that road right now.

Is there anything we can say about this road?

I think there is.

This morning I want us to briefly reflect just a few verses that tell us about Jesus’ final meal. I believe there is something there that can help us. Let me stress, I don’t think the Bible teaches there is a simple answer to this question. I don’t think there is a paracetemol pill to take and the head ache will go away.

But I think we can glimpse something from Jesus about how to approach suffering– let’s read Luke 22: 14-23 when Jesus has his last meal with his disciples.


I would like to sum up what we learn about Jesus and the kingdom of God and suffering in this passage in this sentence

Jesus does not question his suffering because he is certain about God’s sovereignty and the coming Kingdom.

How do we see this truth in this passage?

In at least three ways

1. We see there will be suffering, but we notice Jesus asks no questions.
2. We see Jesus is certain about God’s plan
3. We see Jesus is certain about the coming Kingdom of God.

1. No questioning

Jesus is a young man. He is about thirty three. He has a large family, many friends, everything to live for. He enjoyed life like any other man. And it’s his last night. He knows he is going to die a horrible death. He would have seen people on crosses. The Romans used to crucify people on the side of the road to warn would be criminals or political rebels. Some countries today hang people from cranes so everyone can see. You look and shudder.

And Jesus was not just facing physical suffering. Look at verses 21. As Jesus sits down there is Judas. All smiles, all polite; smooth and sweet as usual; and in his heart treachery and murder. Blackness. This is another level of suffering. In fact there is every reason to believe that this for Jesus was worse than the physical pain because when this final night was recorded by the early church, Paul did not write, on the night before Jesus’ execution – but ‘the night he was betrayed.’

So here we are on at Jesus last meal. He is facing terrible suffering which he acknowledges. He says – ‘before I suffer’. And he faces a terrible betrayal.

And he is innocent. He has gone around preaching and healing people. He has constantly shown love to Judas. You might expect him to ask why.

But he doesn’t ask why. That’s not because he is OK about suffering...look on a few verses and you find him asking God to take the cup of suffering away. But he does not question God.

It will help us to remember this. Suffering for most people is somewhere on the road. We don’t know when it will spring up in front of us. There is a natural instinct to immediately question, to ask ‘why’, but Jesus doesn’t do this.

And there is a reason for not questioning God...which bring us to the second way we see Jesus’ attitude

2. Jesus is absolutely certain about God’s sovereignty.

For the secular mind set, brought up on the idea that the whole universe exists because of chance, suffering is just random. It has no rhyme or reason. My friend John gets cancer and dies; I am still alive.


But that is not the Bible’s view; it’s not Jesus’ view; it’s not the church’s view.

God is sovereign.

He is all powerful and all knowing.

There is nothing happening in the universe at this moment that has not been approved of God. To put it another way – there is a plan. In every minute detail, there is a plan. God’s stamp of planning is on our earth and in our lives.

Jesus shows he believes in God’s sovereignty here.

Look at verse says, ‘When the hour came...’ There was an hour he was meant to be in that room with his disciples for that meal. There is an hour that comes to us. Not the year, not the month, not the day – the hour. God is in charge of the hours and the minutes and the seconds.

Jesus would have agreed with the Psalmist who said, ‘My times are in your hands’. 31:15

There is a plan.

Jesus believed that. If you read more about this meal you will see he planned it very carefully. He believed it was meant to happen – in a certain way, at a certain time, in a certain place.

And Jesus’ belief in God’s planning is completely clear at the end of our passage –

Verse 22, ‘For the Son of Man is going as it has been it has been planned....

Jesus does not ask why, because he sees his suffering as a part of God’s plan for him.

We need to pause here. Can we apply that to our own lives? And the lives of others?

Hesitatingly, with great respect for all here who are suffering, I say yes, I think we can.

You say, hang on – are you saying that that cancer, that accident, that evil atrocity, that was all a part of God’s plan? That He deliberately allowed evil things to happen. That an angel put a bit of paper in front of God with ‘John to get cancer and die’ and he put a tick by it?

I say, hesitatingly, yes...

Because consider the alternative.

If I say that God did not deliberately allow my friend to die of cancer, then effectively I am saying that God is not God. Either God is in charge, or He is not.

So if I say, no, I don’t believe God allowed John to die of cancer, I am actually creating worse problems. I am either saying that the devil is in charge, not God; or I am saying there is no God or devil or anything. I become an atheist and that leaves life with no meaning, right and wrong just words, humans a worthless accident.

And no hope. It is all blackness.

Not only does this argument leave us worse off; also it has no evidence. There is no proof.

Someone says, yes there is, the proof is that the suffering is so painful that no decent God would ever allow that.

But that’s not proof because – and here is crucial point in this argument –because we do not know the whole picture and we certainly do not know much about what happens after death.

At the moment we cannot make any sense of the suffering. To us it looks like a chaotic mess with no meaning. But just because we can’t make sense of it, does not mean it doesn’t make sense. We need to remember who we are.

We are creatures of dust with very limited knowledge about everything. In the huge scale of things our own knowledge is minute; it is so limited.

And even those things we should know about in our own very small world, we don’t. I can’t even remember my own mobile number. There are husbands here who don’t know how to cook rice. There are wives here who don’t know whether Arsenal is in London or Manchester. Most of us haven’t got the foggiest idea how our bodies work.

We know so little, so how can we know for certain that there is no meaning to suffering? How can we make any conclusion about God on the basis of what we human beings know?

There is no proof that God is bad simply because bad things happen in his world. We don’t know. We haven’t seen the final scene. He has.

Surely it is better to be like Jesus and believe that God has a plan and that suffering has meaning.

Don’t ask the cruel question why. It leads only to a desert of thorns. Instead believe that despite all the chaos and confusion around us, God is in control; He is on his throne. That He knows what he is doing...that yes...

A good God can deliberately cause an innocent man to suffer.

Because that is exactly what the Christian story is all about. And it takes us to the heart of the kingdom.

For Jesus’ suffering happened for a reason.

3. Jesus understood that his suffering was a part of God’s plan to bring in the kingdom of God

Jesus is certain his kingdom is coming. Look at verses 16 and 18. And he is certain his followers will be there, in other words the kingdom of God is a place of fellowship.

And finally – and most importantly for the question we are dealing with, and the main emphasis of the passage – Jesus is certain that his suffering is connected to the coming of the Kingdom of God.

In verse 15 Jesus says he will suffer and it is very clear he will suffer as the Passover Lamb. Then he says that the meal, which is a celebration of being freed, will be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. After his suffering. Jesus’s suffering has meaning. It brings in the kingdom of God.

It is the same in verse 17. The Passover cup is passed around. Then Jesus says, I won’t drink this again – and the implication is till after I have suffered – until the kingdom of God comes.

Jesus is being very clear. He is going to suffer and then, mysteriously because of the suffering, there will be the coming of the kingdom of God. By the way that has not happened yet. First there is the general resurrection, then the judgement – then the kingdom of God everywhere.

And who is going to be with Jesus in that kingdom of fellowship and love...again the answer is here.

Those who share in Jesus’ suffering. Those who also proclaim this mystery, as we will do in a few moments by sharing in these sacraments, the broken body, the shed blood – these seal our place in the kingdom of God. We drink and eat these now because we know that because of Jesus’ suffering, we will be in that kingdom.

Some of us just share in the bread and the wine. But there are many who also literally share in the mystery of suffering.

A few months ago Bita the young Iranian lady suffering from cancer had this experience. She was in a church where they were celebrating Holy Communion. Her mouth was full of ulcers from her disease. Eating was very painful for her. So she was arguing with herself about whether she should take the bread. She sensed the Holy Spirit speak, inviting her to share – really share – the suffering of Christ. So she ate. It was painful. She shared the suffering...and the next day when she woke up, the ulcers were no more.

The kingdom of God is coming. The day is coming when there will be no more earthquakes or plane crashes or car accidents or cancers or divorce or even death. Every tear will be wiped away. Suffering will cease. That day is coming.

That day is coming and for reasons only God knows, that day is coming because there was suffering.

Jesus does not question his suffering because he is certain about God’s sovereignty and the coming Kingdom.


Let’s go back to Peter’s parents as they read their last email from their son. Why? What can we say to them as they grieve. I would say for perhaps weeks it is best not to say much, just to cry with them.

But eventually they will want to see what Christianity says about this random suffering; they will want to know in all the church’s talk about the kingdom of God about how this relates to their pain.

I suggest we point them to Jesus.

He didn’t ask the cruel question why. That would lead to a desert of thorns. He didn’t ask because he believed that – despite the horror of the cross and the poison of Judas’ betrayal – God had a plan.
We need to point to the sovereignty of God.

And he didn’t ask the cruel question why because he believed the kingdom of God was coming and not only that, but his suffering was crucial to the arrival of that kingdom. He believed that a great God could use his suffering for a great purpose.

That same God is sovereign today, and He too can use our suffering for a great purpose.

I hope this might help Pete’s parents. I don’t know because I have never – thankfully – been in that horrible situation. But I know a dear brother who has and he is with us today...


No comments:

Post a Comment