If I Were God, I’d End All The Pain
Bible Text: Revelation 21:1 – 14 & 22:1 – 5, Genesis 3:1 – 24, Mark 15:33 – 34 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: If I Were God … | If I Were God I’d End all the Pain
Revelation 21:1 – 4 & 22:1 – 5
Genesis 3:1 – 24
Mark 15:33 – 34
Suffering is a real issue demanding real answers.
Let’s get calm, we tried to find a new beginning, but it’s too late.
I’ve tried my best to give you a good life. But in spite of all of my trying a handful of, people have made our lives impossible. Stop this nonsense, hurry my children, quickly, quickly.
No more pain, go to sleep. No more pain.
Have trust in me.
I listened to these words in a recording this week,
One man’s offer to free people from pain and suffering,
No more pain, go to sleep
It is all around us, isn’t it?
Read the news headlines, what do you see?
Ask your friends how they’re going,
Spend time with people you love,
Look at your own life, perhaps.
We see pain, and we want a way out.
And those words I read, they sound like a reasonable sort of solution, they sound compassionate,
Perhaps this guy has found a way through suffering
In fact, that bloke, some time earlier had begun to question his belief in God, partly because, he couldn’t reconcile his concept of a loving God with the reality of pain and suffering that he saw around him.
So when faced with the dilemma where he thought only one of these things can be true, he decided pain is clearly real, therefore a loving God can’t be, and he abandoned his belief in God.
His name was Jim Jones, and in 1978, literally as he was speaking those words, he led 913 people to their deaths in a massive murder-suicide.
Friends, that is no solution to the problem of pain.
While some of those words might resonate with us, the fact that while he was speaking, close to a thousand people took their own lives, under his spell, and many others were murdered, speaks volumes of the fact that despite his assurances, he had nothing to offer in their time of distress and suffering.
You don’t need me to tell you, that plenty of people are offering answers, to the problem of suffering;,
Think this way,
Ignore those bits over there, and your pain will go away.
But scratch the surface, and you’ll find most of these offers fall a long way short of actually making sense of our experience.
Which perhaps is the reason that I think lots of us, at some point or another in our lives, have thought that we could do a better job of running the world than God.
If I were God, dot dot dot
Pain and suffering is a problem,
Few people we meet seem to have any decent solutions,
Presumably, God, if he’s there, can do something about it,
“So if I was sitting in his chair, I would, ”
Just about everyone I’ve ever spoken to about the significant issues of life has expressed that thought in one way or another.
“If I Were God I’d End All The Pain”
So that statement is our launching off point for this morning, as we look at the reality of pain and suffering.
And it seems to me there are two types of conversation we can have about suffering.
One is a, detached, rigorous, conversation about the causes of pain and suffering,
About what we learn from suffering,
About what it means to live in a world where suffering is a reality.
The other kind of conversation is one where you sit down with someone, and they tell you that they’re hurting,
That their life has just been turned upside down by circumstances, perhaps of their own making, but perhaps beyond their control.
Of course, that conversation is much more gentle, much more, nuanced by the particular context,
It can only happen when you know the details of the person’s situation.
This morning, by virtue of the fact that there’s a hundred and something people in the room, and I’m the only one with the microphone, this is going to be much more like that first kind of conversation.
We’re going to pull apart the issue,
Look at it somewhat clinically,
And look for the broad principles, not the situation specific actions, but the general ideas that each one of us, can then apply in the situations when we encounter pain and suffering in our own lives, or in the lives of others.
Let me say though, that if you want someone to hear your story, and to sit with you while you try and work out how to translate from big picture to specifics, there’s people here who will be very keen to help you in that.
There’ll be an opportunity later for you to respond on that Communication Card, and if you’d like to talk to someone about issues that come to mind because of this topic, we’d love to talk.
And I say that at the outset because, suffering is a real issue,
And it requires real answers, not just words that promise much but deliver little.
And the answers that the Bible gives, need to work out in the nitty gritty of our lives, if they’re true, and if they’re to be any use to us.
And on both counts, I’m convinced that they are.
Suffering is a result of sin
So, let’s start at the beginning, and think about the cause of suffering and pain.
As Christians we believe that the Bible is God’s Word, that it explains our life and our experiences. If you’re new with us this morning I don’t expect you to agree with that statement necessarily, but that’s where I’m coming from.
And the Bible is clear, all suffering comes from the fact that our world is out of step with God.
The Bible says God created the world.
And if you’re familiar with the creation account in the very first chapter of Genesis, we’re told, repeatedly, “God saw that it was good.”
No pain, no suffering, no tears.
Let me read to you from the end of Genesis chapter 1, So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
The pinnacle of God’s creative work,
And the image of God speaks of capacity for relationship,
Relationship with God, especially.
And 28 God blessed mankind and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky etc etc
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good
Humanity is where they belong, living the kind of life that God intended for them to be living;,
Enjoying this good creation,
Ruling over it as, if you like, God’s deputy rulers, or vice-regents, while they submit to God’s rule over them.
This is God’s pattern for life, and it was good
But then something changed.
And to help us understand what changed, we’re going to do a little experiment.
Some helpers are going to give you all a pipe-cleaner, and when you get it, I want you, as quickly as you can, to make something, like in the next 30 seconds.
It doesn’t matter what you make, could be an animal, a scale model of the person sitting next to you, I don’t care!
Let me say, there are sharp bits, watch them, perhaps don’t give them to your kids.
When I was speaking here in whole school chapel the other week I used glow sticks as an illustration, and one girl managed to get the glow stick liquid in her eye in the first 5 seconds.
So let’s avoid those kinds of incidents!
How are you going?
We’re not looking for the next Michelangelo’s David or anything.
OK, What I want you to do now, is to enforce your will on your creation.
That is, do what you want with it.
Put it in your other hand,
Put it on the floor,
Throw it up in the air, whatever.
So, now let me ask you, did your creature disobey you, just then.
When you went to put it in your other hand, did it say, “No, I refuse”?
Did it defy you, rather than go on the floor?
Did it decide for itself, a pattern for life that seemed better for it?
Your creation didn’t do that, did it?
Your creation can’t do that.
It sits where you put it, it moves when you move it.
Some of you here will have seen the movie The Truman Show, which is probably not a bad comparison to the kind of “life” your little creature leads.
In the movie, what one man, Truman Burbank, thinks is his life, is actually a 24 hour reality television show, with every minute detail, predetermined and controlled by the producer;
Who he meets,
What conversations he has,
Who he marries,
Is all dictated by the one in control
But as the movie progresses and Truman begins to figure out that he doesn’t have a real life, we as the audience, want him to escape, to be free, to be able to make real decisions.
Because deep down we all know that’s how it’s supposed to work, don’t we?
A life where every detail is predetermined and controlled is no life at all.
See the difference between us and our little creature, is that we were created to have real choices. A world where everything is orchestrated and there’s no choice, is a sham!
If we were all little pipe cleaner stick people, being pushed around by the hand of God, there would be no suffering, no pain.
But then instead of spending this morning asking, “why does God allow suffering?”, we’d be asking, “why doesn’t God allow us to make our own decisions?”,
“Why are we just pipe cleaner stick figures?!
Except we wouldn’t ask that would we?
Because to ask that, would be to make one of the very decisions that we wouldn’t be able to make!
Take a look at your little creature again,
You know more about your creature than anyone else in the world,
You are its creator, and yet, would you say you have a relationship with it?
No! You can’t have a relationship, can you?
There’s no relationship without the creature choosing to have a relationshipyou.
And because your creature has no choice, you just dominate it, you force your will on it.
See, that’s the alternative framework, the other way that God could have established the world.
Either, we’re powerless stick figures, pushed around by God,
Free from suffering, but in a dismal existence with no expression, and no choice, and worst of all, no capacity for relationship.
Or, and this is what the Bible teaches us, we’re created to enjoy a relationship with God, made in God’s image.
But we have the ability to choose,
To choose relationship with God or not,
To choose to follow his pattern for life or to reject it,
And if we reject God and his rule,
If we throw off his pattern for life, then our decisions and choices hurt others, and hurt ourselves.
Pain and suffering enters the world.
A closer look at sin; rejecting God and his rule.
This is what the Bible calls sin;, Choosing to reject God and his rule.
I’m sure there are a whole lot of ideas that come to mind when we hear the word “sin;” quite possibly a list of things that we think we ought not do;, stealing, murder, lying.
But I want us to take a bit of a closer look at what sin really is.
I read an article a couple of weeks ago, about a young family who have recently moved into the home inhabited by their grandparents, and great grandparents and so on.
Which, I guess happens from time to time, except in this case, the family home isn’t a brick veneer place in the suburbs, but a 52 bedroom castle in the hills of Eastern Austria, that dates from before the 12th century.
And if you’ve travelled through Europe at all, you’ll know the sort of place it is, because there’s castles like this all over the place.
You can go and visit them, walk around, take photos, imagine what it’s like to have to clean 24 bathrooms,
But in lots of them, members of the royal family still live there, and so to keep commoners from Australia out of the parts of the castle where the royals live, they have those little velvet ropes, just kind of looped across doorways
And when I was in a castle once, a long time ago, I can remember standing in the doorway to throne room, looking at the king’s throne, and thinking, this, little velvet rope is not really enough to keep me out!
I competed in high jump in school. This, this is nothing!
So you find yourself thinking, wouldn’t it be neat to sit on that throne?
And for most of us, that’s where the scenario ends.
But what if I did step over the rope, walk across the throne room, and plonk myself down on the thrown, where the king belongs.
I could sit there, giving orders, and make life all exactly how I want it.
I make the laws,
I decide the rules.
Life becomes about me getting what I want.
Here’s the thing.
The reason there’s pain in our world, is because we’ve all done exactly that. Not just thought about, we’ve done it.
Every single one of us puts ourselves in Gods’ place as ruler.
We say, “I’m in control here,
I’m going to do things my way,
I’m going to set the pattern for life.
I’m going to decide what’s right and wrong.
We sit there on the throne, pretending to be little kings, pretending that we can actually run things rightly.
But, well, our experience of the world shows us how badly things turn out when we try and push God off his throne.
And the Bible says, because every human being chooses to reject God and his rule, the world no longer looks like the good place God created.
Remember that repeated refrain in Genesis 1? it was good. Well by the time we get to Genesis 3, after humanity decides to live separately from God, we get this:
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and so on.
Not that the whole of creation suffers because of the choice to reject God.
It’s been said that the doctrine of human sinfulness, is the least popular teaching in all of Christianity, no one likes to hear it, but the easiest doctrine to prove!
Just take a quick glance at the world around you.
We reject God,
So, we hurt ourselves,
We hurt others,
And our world is lurching along, something’s not right, this is not how things were meant to be.
So, can we blame God?
If you want to know what God says is the reason for pain and suffering, there’s your answer
We reject God and his pattern for our life, and our world feels the pain.
So, who’s to blame? Is it God?
If he made the world, shouldn’t he bear some of the responsibility?
I was mixing some concrete at home recently, doing it with a spade in the wheelbarrow, and I thought, this would be much easier if I had a cement mixer.
Which I don’t.
But we do have a washing machine!
And it’s more or less the same concept isn’t? Put stuff in, it spins around.
It occurred to me that the washing machine would make an ideal cement mixer.
But just play that forward for a minute, after a few loads of concrete, when I then ring the washing machine company’s helpline, and say, “this washing machine that you made, no longer works”, what are they going to say?
“Sure, we’ll accept responsibility! It’s obviously our fault! We’re sorry things didn’t turn out like you hoped.”
Not on your life!
And yet sometimes we think that God’s the one to blame for the problem of pain, even though God’s pattern for life had no pain, and we’ve all chosen this other path that leads to pain.
We’ve taken his washing machine, and mixed concrete in it.
We’ve ignored his intentions, because we think it’s better some other way.
The reason for pain, is human sinfulness.
It’s not God’s fault.
Suffering is not usually a direct result of our behaviour.
But to say that suffering is a result of sin is most definitely not to say that suffering is necessarily a, direct, result of our behaviour.
I was talking recently to a friend who has a serious illness.
Someone had convinced her, that her illness was a direct result of something wrong she’d done in her life. Some so-called friends had persuaded her, that her illness is a punishment from God, that God was obviously angry with her.
With friends like that, who needs, well, you know!!
But that’s also based on a flawed understanding of sin, isn’t it?
That makes sin a list of particular actions that you need to avoid if you want your life to go smoothly.
But we’ve seen that sin is the attitude of the heart that pushes God to the edge and chooses to live separately from God.
But there is some suffering that we face, because of the choices that we make, choices that flow out of our rejection of God.
Think of the pain we cause ourselves or others when we’re greedy. The pain in the world caused by unfair distribution and accumulation of resources in rich countries like ours.
Think of the suffering that results from lust, or anger.
That kind of suffering is a direct result of our own behaviour. But most suffering isn’t.
2000 years ago, Jesus was walking down a street when he saw a man who had been blind all his life. And people asked, “Teacher, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”
And Jesus says, “You’re asking the wrong question”
The question is not whether the blind man had sinned or his parents had sinned, or whether my friend had sinned. They’ve all sinned, that’s what we just saw, we’ve all put ourselves on the throne,
Rather, Jesus says when we see suffering, we shouldn’t ask what someone did wrong to deserve suffering, but ask, “What is God doing about suffering?
Dealing with suffering means dealing with the cause
What, if anything, is God doing to bring an end to suffering?
Well, it’s probably pretty obvious, that any solution to the problem of pain in our world, is going to have to deal with the cause of pain.
The biggest question we need to find an answer to, is “what has God done, and what is God going to do, about the cause of suffering?”
To end all the pain, you’ve got to put an end to the cause of pain;, human sinfulness.
In woodwork class in year 10, a friend of mine ran a circular saw across his knuckles.
I gathered from his reaction that it was quite painful.
What do you do in that situation?
Do you give him a couple of Panadol for the pain, and tell him to get back to class? Ask him not to drip too much blood on the desk?
No, you rush him to hospital in an ambulance, so that the surgeons can deal with the gaping wound in his hand, and eventually the pain that comes from that, also goes away.
Here’s the thing;, any response to human suffering that doesn’t first deal with the cause of suffering is going to fail,
That why Jim Jones’ words were so cruel. He spoke as if he could provide a way out from pain, but he was powerless against the root causes of pain, because he was still embracing the cause of pain, setting yourself up as separate from God.
And he proved that entirely that dreadful day in 1978, when he ordered that anyone who didn’t follow his instructions be shot dead!
The title for today comes from a book written by a Sydney guy called John Dickson.
In the book he looks at the explanations for pain and suffering offered by other religions and philosophies.
But what you notice as you read through that, is that in none of those alternative worldviews, is there a solution to the problem of human sinfulness, and so there’s no real answer to the problem of suffering.
You can take your pick from Hinduism’s explanation that suffering is a balancing act, it’s deserved.
Or Buddhism’s conclusion that suffering is an illusion, you simply need to reach enlightenment, to be able to see through this “illusion of suffering”, and then you’ll realise that you’re only suffering because you like things. And if you liked things less, you wouldn’t suffer when bad stuff happens to those things.
Replace “things” in that sentence with “family”, and you quickly realise how appalling an explanation for suffering Buddhism offers. If I loved my family less, then I wouldn’t feel pain when my family are hurt,
No thank you!
You can turn to any philosophy you want, religious or atheistic, to find a solution to the problem of pain, but unless that philosophy offers a solution to the problem of sin, it’s just like Panadol on my friends dismembered hand.
God’s solution to the problem of suffering (Mark 15:33 – 34)
So how does God deal with sin, and so also deal with the problem of pain?
Well, come with me back 2000 years, to the outskirts of the city of Jerusalem, at the very first Easter.
Listen to the eye-witness account. This is from Mark chapter 15, 33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
Mark 15: 33 – 34
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Lots of people have cried that over the years.
Maybe even you.
But the agony of this separation recorded here in Mark, is not just the agony we feel when our relationships break down,
When we’re torn apart from someone we love,
Or even when it feels like God’s nowhere to be found.
What I didn’t say before when I was talking about sin, is that sin has a price, a penalty, a due consequence.
God says, if you reject me and my rule, if you separate yourself from me, I’ll will give you exactly what you want, and I’ll also reject you, and separate myself from you.
Sounds fair enough doesn’t it?
Nothing surprising or unjust there!
The punishment for sin, is eternal separation from God and from all his blessings.
But Jesus is the one person who never rejected God, who never chose separation from God.
Since before the creation of the world, God the Father and his Son Jesus, had existed in a perfect relationship. Then, on the cross, when Jesus took the punishment for sin that we deserved, in some way that perfect relationship was torn apart!
Jesus endures the separation that we earned.
It’s the ultimate suffering isn’t it? The ultimate pain.
Going from a perfect relationship, to forsaken.
But because Jesus had never rejected God, his death and resurrection which the historians record for us, defeat the power of sin, His death and resurrection actually overcome sin,
Sin, which causes pain and suffering, is no longer all-powerful.
And so we might ask, Jesus has died, the eyewitnesses say he came back to life, we celebrated that last Sunday, so if sin has been paid for, and if it’s powerless, how come we still suffer?
Well, come back, to me sitting on the throne, thinking I’m in charge. The doors at the far end of the throne room open, and in sweeps the king, with all his entourage.
How long have I got?
Until he gets to me, I’m still sitting on the throne, pretending to rule the world, but really just messing things up.
But as soon as he reaches me, order is restored, and the king is back in his rightful place on the throne.
That’s where we are now. That few seconds between when the king walks in, and when he sets everything right.
It, it’s more than a few seconds of course, But sin has been dealt with, now we just wait for the full effects of that victory to reach us.
God promises freedom from pain (Revelation 21 & 22)
But we know exactly what that’s going to be like, don’t we? We heard it in that part of the Bible that we read earlier:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ u or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Or that second section which comes from the very last chapter in the Bible, verse 2 for example, of Revelation 22, On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Having dealt with the cause of pain, God is able to take away pain, and we’re back to that original pattern for life that God established in the beginning, when everything was good, good, and very good.
And in fact if you have a blue church Bible open in front of you, you’ll see that the publishers have even titled this section “Eden Restored”, so that we understand, that once sin is dealt with at the cross, we’re back to God’s original intention for human life.
We can live the life God wants us to have.
What I’ve been saying this morning, is that the root of our problem is sin. You might not agree with that, and that’s fine! but that’s what Christians believe.
And we’ve seen that sin leads to suffering, and, sin leads to separation from God.
Yet what do you notice about God’s promised future in this passage?
Because of Jesus, because sin has been dealt with for those people who say, “Yes, I believe that Jesus took my punishment for rebelling against God”, For those people, with sin taken away, Revelation 21, there’s no more suffering and no more separation from God!
The picture is in fact, God himself walking around wiping away every tear.
This is God’s promise that he will end all the pain.
When sin has been dealt with, pain and suffering are gone
So, what do we do while we wait?
So, what do we do while we wait for that future day?
Well, firstly, don’t be unprepared for suffering.
Don’t expect to be pain-free in this life.
Our world is out of step with God, there will be pain and suffering.
When we encounter suffering, our first response shouldn’t be “Why is this happening to me?”, but “Of course this would happen to me, our world is lurching along out of step with its Creator.
Secondly, It’s not wrong for us to cry out to God in our pain, and to ask him to take it away.
It seems from the case of that man who was blind from birth, who Jesus healed, that God is more than willing for us to ask that pain and suffering be taken away.
We can ask God to deliver us from the pain, to free our friends and family from their pain,
And God in his kindness may do that.
Lots of us have seen that or experienced that.
And whether or not, he chooses, in that situation to take away the pain in the timeframe we want, we know that he can do something about our pain, because he has done something about our pain.
God has seen our suffering,
God has intervened in human history to end all the pain.
But as we’ve seen, God’s ultimate goal is not to free us from pain and suffering here in this life;, he’s got a much bigger plan.
The end of sin,
The end of suffering,
The existence we were created for.
Are you a part of that?
Or are you still rejecting God, sitting on the throne, and a world away from the end of pain.
The author C S Lewis, no stranger to the pain of life, once wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures,
speaks in our conscience,
but shouts in our pain:
it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
If you’re still sitting on the throne, keeping God at arm’s length, will you listen to what the pain in our world shouts to you, about sin and separation?
About the danger, and the hurt we cause when we reject God.
We’d love you to consider it,
We’d love to talk to you.
We’d love to help you work towards some answers.