Today we are looking at one of the hardest questions anyone has ever struggled with. It is Suffering.  It is the doctorate level intellectual challenge to faith in God that has kicked all of us in the teeth at one time or another…

My wife, Beth, and I were discussing the challenges of raising special needs children with some friends from church.  Jackie has helped many couples cope and thrive with a special needs child. I asked her, “What was the biggest challenge?”  She told me that, “Most of them are stuck in the question, what did we do wrong do deserve this?…which produces guilt…which leads to “Why did God punish my child for my mistakes?…” That then produces more guilt that you are thinking about your child as a punishment…

I was playing racquetball with my friend Stephen as he and his wife were struggling with a second year of infertility and an inability to have children. He too -as a follower of Christ- was frustrated, angry, and hurting with, “Why wouldn’t God allow them to have children?” He wanted to know why bad things happen to good people…

I visited a small group about a month ago. At the end of the group, we went around the room and asked for prayer requests, and what resulted was a cascade of stories of pain, heartache, and challenges. Family challenges, financial challenges, marriage issues, and business obstacles. Here were a group of “good” people at a Bible study, but facing pain and difficulty….  When most of us look at some aspect of our lives or the world, we sense THIS IS NOT WHAT WAS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN.

There are five reasons why the recipe was ruined, but only one recipe for restoration:

I.  As we look at the world, here are the five mutually exclusive explanations for why life doesn’t act
the way we think it should. Five different reasons why suffering occurs.

Suffering is the Result of a Broken Creation and Free Will
Suffering is the Result of God’s Punishment/Reward
Suffering is an Illusion
Suffering is the Normal and Natural part of the Evolutionary Process
Suffering is Your Fault (the universe is punishing you from acts done in this life or the last)

The Bible says that there was an original recipe for creation. A recipe for a world without pain agony or suffering And that recipe still resides in each human heart You can’t shake it because truly the world has been ruined.  Imagine a chocolate cake that is distorted and lopsided when pulled this out of the oven. This is not what was supposed to happen. What I envisioned as a masterpiece, is more of a cooking disaster.  The taste was horrific…someone had misread 2 teaspoons of salt and instead put in 2 CUPS of salt. This recipe had been ruined…since the topic of suffering can get very heart-wrenching, let’ s use this cooking disaster as a fun case study. You see every atheist, pastor, priest, Hindu guru needs to wrestle with the problem of suffering. I’d like to give you the five reasons the recipe for life is ruined today.

Suffering is Your Fault
There are several strands of this thinking. Religious church goers often think this way “Why is God punishing me with this issue?” Hindu religions teach it-through Karma… and even Buddhism if you really push their logic will end up here -As I’ll show you in a moment. Many of us are struggling with anger at God and guilt because we really only have this lens to see the problem of suffering.  Once when I walked into a SMOOTHIE KING and saw a sign that read, TIPPING IS GOOD KARMA…which sounds pithy and fun until you realize that Karma teaches that suffering is your fault. In 2008, Sharon Stone was shunned when she said that:  China quakes were “karma” for Tibetans. When
she stated this belief, out loud, she was attacked by the media…. A family therapist told me that he sees this “Karma” Suffering-is-your-fault belief plague many marriages and people in depression. He noted that Karma is the MOST SIN BASED SYSTEM in the world. Why? It’s all about punishing wrong doing. The Universe is paying you back for every little thing you do wrong. As a family therapist, he sees the relational problems of a “karma” belief system in Christian marriages, agnostic marriages, and everything in between. Regardless of what “label” a couple has when coming in. Believing in this way of thinking, means justice, being right, giving others their due trumps grace and mercy. So it results in a highly authoritative parenting style, Why? You must punish wrong doing. Wrong doing must be dealt with…. It also results in a blanket of guilt and condemnation in regards to God
including a constant sense of fear, demand, and pressure, But it finds its root in the core belief that we all deserve judgment for what we’ve done wrong… But it has no room for grace and mercy and undeserved forgiveness.. This thinking has permeated our culture and thus permeated the thinking of people from all backgrounds.  Even most people who call themselves Christians, think about suffering through the lens of karma… believing God is punishing them. Mad at them. Ticked off at them. They picture God as a giant cook in the sky who dips us in hot water when we do something wrong…

If the first reason is correct, suffering is your fault…then of course, God is dipping you in hot water to punish you. Of course, he is out to get you… But as you look at the collapsed cake, the world or your life, you have a second reason why the recipe is ruined.

Suffering is an Illusion
Buddhism teaches that suffering is an illusion. It’s unreal. It is caused by our cravings and appetites and the delusion that we are real. That we think we are Individuals. This answer for suffering says “it’s an illusion,” but actually has karma hiding in the corner because if you and I would stop wanting or craving or thinking this world is real. We wouldn’t suffer.  I was at Starbucks about a year ago with a friend who practices a religion known as Christian
Science. Christian Science was founded by Mary Bakker and from my study is a mix of Jesus and Buddha. I had lunch with a friend who told me he was a leader in the Christian Science Church.   We spoke about parenting and asking for his advice on parenting a child with special needs. After he gave me some heartfelt wisdom about how to look to the future. He asked me about the differences between what I believed and Christian Science. I responded, “Well tell me what Christian Science Teaches about the problem of Evil”… he said, Well, I’ll teach you what we
believe about everything. he pulled out a napkin and made two columns. One was labeled REAL and the other Unreal. In the real column, he wrote words like “Love, patience, compassion, healing” In the unreal category, he wrote, “Sickness, pain, guilt, condemnation, gossip.” He said, “Christian Science is about focusing on what is real, not what is Unreal.” Since he was an expert, And this sounded a lot like Buddha, I asked him a question about suffering. “So sickness and suffering are unreal?” “Yes, that is correct.” he replied. “Well, we had been talking for the
past hour about the special needs and difficulties both of our son’s have. So, I asked Is the handicap they face REAL or UNREAL….? he paused… Well… I guess they are real… But God could heal them… “Sure he could, but when he doesn’t, like apparently he is not right now, where does that leave us?” “ I’m not sure, “he said, “I guess, my son would be healed if I HAD MORE FAITH!” “So, it’s your fault that your son is handicap?” I said, “how do you live with the guilt of that?” what other option is there? he asked… I wrote out these 5 answers to the problem of
evil…. And explained why Jesus’s view on suffering makes sense of life without being delusional
or guilt-ridden. Where does that leave us? The recipe is ruined but not really, it’s your fault, result of broken creation or is it that

Suffering is Normal?
Look at my cake. Why is it ruined? Because in a blind meaningless process of DNA and evolution,
“someone’s gonna get hurt” according to Richard Dawkins. DNA neither knows nor cares. The survival
of the fittest… The strong eat the weak so get used to it… This is normal.  This is no recipe for
anything else.

Continued next time…

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