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"Where Is God When Life Falls Apart?"

adapted and posted with permission of Outreach.com from God's Not Dead Movie Event Package

Nov.2, 2014 Psalm 14:1-3; Isaiah 55:6-13


Can you think of a time in your life when your world seemed to fall apart? It was a shock October 21 when we found out a member of our youth group had been in a car accident. For the N____ family, life must have flipped upside down along with B__'s car. For a while it was uncertain whether he would survive. Thankfully he has shown signs of improvement, but life will be very different both for him and his family for some time to come. Still, his parents' trust in God has been a steadying force throughout what for others could have seemed an unbearable tragedy.

Life has many other sources of trauma. Jobs end; relationships fracture; medical reports come back with ominous interpretations. The movie God's Not Dead has some powerful moments and lessons, and asks some tough questions that may seem troublesome for Christians. Today we begin a 4-part series based on God's Not Dead and look at some of these questions that all of us should be able to answer. This morning we'll tackle the first one…Where is God when life falls apart?


Perhaps at times have we heard someone say, "A God who allows horrible tragedies to happen to innocent people is not a god I want to worship.How can a loving God allow innocent people to be hurt so badly?" It's a very fair question that can leave even the strongest believer scratching their head. Regarding such pain, in the film Josh Wheaton quotes CS Lewis, "Evil is atheism's most potent weapon against the Christian faith."

How do we explain evil happenings that cause tragedies like tsunamis and typhoons in Asia, lava flows burning up a village in Hawaii, ebola and famines in Africa, multitudes killed in senseless wars, terrorist bombings that cripple and maim, miscarriages that are so discouraging, loved ones suddenly being diagnosed with cancer or worse?

On Wednesday, C__ P___ and I were listening to Caleb Redekop describe Canadian Foodgrains Bank's food distribution to refugees in Lebanon and Syria. He was explaining the multiple layers of refugees that are there. In 1948 refugees from Palestine fled to Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the neighbouring countries. Now with the latest fighting in Syria, not only are there Syrian refugees fleeing to Lebanon, you also have these Palestinian refugees - the ones who were already in Lebanon since 1948, and the new Palestinian refugees from Syria. And the Lebanese government won't grant them citizenship or allow them to become doctors or lawyers; they're stuck. Life must seem very unfair to them.

Shouldn't everything be nice and easy if a loving God is really in control? The answer is - No…Jesus made it clear that in this life we would have tribulation. And then He said we should take courage because "I have overcome the world." John 16:33: "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."

Jesus was a straight shooter. He made it clear that this blip on the timeline we call 'life' would have sorrows and tribulations. God has permitted a broken world to affect us, but it is only through Him that we can have peace in the midst of troubles. Evil is obviously real, so why does He allow it?

For a start, let's take a look at one pivotal scene from God's Not Dead. [Film clip 1:20:46 to 1:24:36, Josh's Last Lecture; 5 min 55 sec]

Back to our question about evil: why does God allow it? If we are honest, the only truthful answer we finite, limited mortals can give is…ignorance. It's okay to say to someone's challenge on why something horrible happened, "I don't know.I don't know the mind of God." It may not satisfy, but like Jesus' answer, it is honest. We simply do not know everything. And that's okay. 1Corinthians 13:12, "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely."

The wisdom of the infinite-eternal God is beyond us, inscrutable to His creatures. Isaiah 55:8-9 "'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,' declares the Lord.'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.'" Yet (amazingly!) God has graciously revealed to us some things that are certain, truths to steer us toward a better understanding of Him and His ways. These overarching truths are headlights on the dark road of life that the Scriptures reveal about Him and our broken world, to help us trust Him when tribulation arrives. These truths help us move forward in faith, but answers to "why" questions must remain "puzzling reflections" until we can ask Him in person.

Nevertheless, the Bible does give us 7 Pillars, foundational truths that help us with 6 Hunches or working hypotheses regarding our question, Where is God when life falls apart? Let's look at these 7 Pillars first.


1) God's character is loving, good, and righteous.

Abraham contended, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25) Psalm 100(5) declares, "For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations." That's a dominant theme in the Bible where we see God repeatedly saving His people. As we hear reiterated in the movie, "God is good…all the time."

2) He has given us freedom to choose to love Him, or reject Him.

God did not create us as puppets, automatically jumping when He pulled a string, pre-programmed machines devoid of choice and responsibility. For love to be real requires the possibility of moving away from as well as toward the initiator, the wooer. To move away from an infinitely good and holy God necessitates an alternative option - that is, evil. Deuteronomy 30:19 "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.Now choose life, so that you and your children may live." True love must be a choice, or it is robotic and NOT genuine love.

3) This freedom resulted in a fallen world with evil, sin, and real dangers.

Satan (previously-fallen pride-infected Lucifer) suggested disobedience, and we bit the bait, dragging the cosmos with us into brokenness and groaning, trashing the Creator's beautiful setup. Romans 5:12 "Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned..." Everything is broken and the world is not how it was intended to be originally.

4) God intensely desires restored fellowship with us.

The Creator designed us for relationship with Him, to love Him heart soul mind and strength, and walk with Him. Isaiah 1:18"'Come now, and let us reason together,' says the LORD, 'though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.'" Rev 3:20 "Behold, I stand at the door and knock..." God longs to be gracious to us, and to be reunited in fellowship.

5) God's love is so great that He gave up His only Son to restore that relationship.

Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." When there's a mess, somebody's got to clean it up. When there's a fault, somebody's got to bear the blame! For sin against an infinite holy God, only ONE perfectly innocent sacrifice was available - Jesus. God the Father didn't just say He loved us; He showed it by giving up His very best.

6) But sin remains in our fleshly body, the spiritual realm including the devil, and the physical world temporarily.

Galatians 5:17 "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please."

Jesus at the cross won the crucial victory over Satan, driving out the "prince of this world" (Jn 12:31), but the mopping-up operation remains. The effects of the curse are still with us in the world, but it has now lost its power and permanence.

7) We can trust His finished work because He defeated death/sin by His sinless death & resurrection.

Hebrews 2:14 tells us that by His death, Jesus destroyed him (the devil) who has the power of death. Later on, Hebrews 10:10 notes, "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." The empty tomb proves His triumph over death and its sting - sin (1Cor 15:56) - and our own gaping graves.

Now with this foundation, think about Josh's answer about free will like this. If you women/girls had a boyfriend who was forced to love you, who had to be with you, had to do whatever you wanted - a dominating / controlling robot relationship - would that satisfy? Would forcing him to love you and care about you be true love? Absolutely not. We see this in Josh's relationship with his domineering girlfriend: her attitude was, "It's MY way or the highway!"

God knew this so He allowed us to choose to love Him...or not to love Him. That potential rejection meant as a consequence our world could fall and we would suffer as a result...temporarily. But God's ultimate goal would be to solve this problem by eliminating sin at the cross positionally (that is, when washed with Christ's blood and clothed with Him, our spiritual status would change to 'righteous' in God's eyes). 2Corinthians 5:21"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

One day, this world of brokenness, and our broken bodies wracked with sin, will be done away with for actual new bodies and a new world. (See 1Cor 15) Rev 2:14 "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain."

Also, we reinforce the truth of our brokenness, our rebellious and warped understanding of God's higher ways when we audaciously and defiantly pose the question to a perfect, benevolent Dictator. Romans 9:20 "...who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it?"

Sometimes an analogy, although never perfect, helps gain some perspective on truth. Imagine this: the baby that you and your spouse spawned has diaper rash, and not only a rash, but a horrible, painful rash that is so bad that it's cracked, swollen, and red beyond even being able to touch it without a scream from your beloved baby. Do you treat it (which involves pain) or leave it alone (less painful)? Do you ignore it, wrap on a new diaper, and call it good? Not if you love your baby! You go to the doctor, who causes more pain with an examination, prescribing baths and ointments that require more touching with towels and lotions. Now suppose you have an exceedingly smart and eloquent baby (not hard for you to imagine, I know!). In the midst of this painful ordeal to heal the rash, your baby turns to you and says, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME? HOW CAN YOU SAY YOU LOVE ME WHEN YOU ALLOW ALL THIS TORTUROUS RUBBING?! YOUR ACTIONS MAKE NO SENSE! STOP HURTING ME! I'M GOING TO REPORT YOU!"

Does a six-month old baby really comprehend your true motives and helpful intentions? Does it understand bacteria, the chemicals in the ointment to heal, and the need to painfully apply it? Of course not, it only knows the pain of the here and now, not the importance of the future life to come in good health.

So those are 7 PILLARS of God's revealed truth about the situation. Let's now look at 6 HUNCHES, working hypotheses or suppositions, arguments to believe something is true although you do not have proof.


Hunch 1: Evil is real and people are blinded by their sin

This shouldn't require much corroboration if you've driven very much and seen "road rage" in action. People are selfish, mean, and spiritually dead. Doubt it? Then why do we all have locks on our cars and homes? Policemen carry guns, airports and schools have metal detectors, and thefts and murders dominate the news. Evil is real, sin is real, and mankind is infected with a self-centered nature. Ephesians 2:1 observes frankly, "you were dead in your trespasses and sins..."

Hunch 2: God has a benevolent plan, even when it's not obvious

He has a purpose and a plan as Jeremiah 29:11 says, "'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.'" And Romans 8:28 "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." This life is not just all random collisions of molecules. There is meaning and purpose at stake here in our choices and God's final evaluation.

Hunch 3: There is no innocence; we are all guilty

Did you hear any candidates in the recent municipal election claiming to be perfect, flawless, without blemish on their record? They would have gotten shot down pretty quick! Psalm 14:3 "All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one." Romans 3:23 "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The old adage "Nobody's perfect" sums up our fallen condition nicely.

There's a hidden problem, a mistaken assumption, when people protestingly ask why God allows "innocent" people to suffer. How many TRULY innocent people have suffered in the entire history of the world? Just ONE - Jesus! No one else qualifies. We are all guilty before a holy God. None of us are innocent. Everyone has broken God's law, and as James (2:10) says, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." This is not to say that God takes any delight in our suffering or is not sympathetic, but actually God the Creator - originator of the whole ball'o'wax - would be perfectly justified in doing whatever He deems right to do with His rebellious creation. We have broken His holy laws, ruined His paradise, thumbed our nose at Him, and when tragedy strikes - as if we were lily-white, we petulantly demand to know why He allowed it to happen!

He would have the right to turn the tables and asks us…"How could you let this happen when I have done so much for you? I gave you my Word to show you how to live and My only Son to redeem you." Anything we receive in this life is pure grace because, in the eternal absolute courtroom, we are criminals before a holy and righteous God who has every right to punish our sin.

Hunch (Working Hypothesis) 4: Suffering can lead to repentance

2Corinthians 7:10 "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death." Again, writing to the Romans (2:4), Paul asks, "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" Sometimes breaking our hearts, breaking our self-dependence, helps us to see our need for God. This is the wonderful redemptive surprise about evil, the miracle where bad is trumped by good: suffering can wake us up and result in salvation which was God's ultimate goal for us all along. Suffering alerts us to our need for help, a cure for our illness when the pain becomes so acute that it motivates us to go to the doctor. Pain drives us into His arms for solace, answers, and help. CS Lewis wrote: "Pain insists upon being attended to.God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains.It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

When we find ourselves flat on our back, our last resort can finally be looking up to Him. In the film, we see an apparent tragedy in time and space ([SPOILER ALERT!] the professor's fatal injury by a hit-and-run driver) becomes an occasion where God's mercy is received for eternity.

Hunch 5: Suffering can lead to a deeper dependence on God

When everything's going tickity-boo, how much do you need God? You may think you're managing very well on your own devices. 2Corinthians 1:4 God "comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." If you are a Christian, times of trouble can bring you closer to God. It can also be a training ground in character or faith to trust Him more (James 1:2), to become more holy by being pruned and transformed to be more Christ-like (John 15:1), or as a way to comfort others who are now going through a problem you faced already (2 Cor 1:4). God even uses our suffering for His glory and eventual good (Romans 8:28).

When visiting B__ and his relatives in hospital Tuesday, I shared a few verses from 1Thessalonians where Paul commends the church there for the way their sufferings (due to persecution) have become a platform from which God's working is being made known. 1Thess 1:6-8 "You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia-- your faith in God has become known everywhere." There have been over 1300 people "like" the Facebook page where G__ posts her updates that proclaim God's faithfulness whatever the outcome may be; thus suffering is becoming a platform to both discover and witness to the hope we have in Christ.

Hunch 6: Consider God's past dealings

You're not the first one to encounter the hardship you're facing. Before you stretches a long line of faithful folk who have similarly endured hardship, and from whom we can learn about the God-element in all this. Romans 15:4 "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."

In the Bible there are several tragedies in which the people of that time must have wondered this same question, "Where is God when life falls apart?" Think about Noah and the flood, the Egyptian enslavement of Israel, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC, Joseph being sold into slavery, the murder of babies by Herod, and even - perhaps most significantly! - the crucifixion of Jesus. These were horrendous events that God turned around and used for the ultimate good of mankind. When we consider past tragedies in the Bible, and how God used our bad choices, we get a glimpse of how His purposes can result in our good.


So, to wrap up: we cannot answer definitively the "why" question about suffering because God has not revealed all of His purposes. We can only see dimly now, like a foggy reflection, but we can see enough of His ways through the revelation of Scripture to trust Him that He knows what's best for us, despite the broken world we live in with broken lives…that we chose in rebellion to His will. And ultimately, what He wants more than anything else is for us to repent so that we might have a restored friendship with Him. As in the story of the Prodigal Son, the Father longs for us wayward ones to give up, and come home. But remember in the film the elderly mother of the successful businessman, a woman who suffered from dementia much of the time? As she astutely observed - sin can use pleasure and prosperity to keep us content in a jail cell: the door is wide open, but we choose to remain incarcerated, until it's suddenly too late and the door swings shut on us and our measly trinkets. Suffering can bring us to that point of acknowledging that this world's idols are frauds, a delusion; we need His salvation, we were fashioned in such a way that only knowing Him can truly satisfy. We are not good enough on our own to merit eternal life.

Jesus agonized on the cross to bring meaning and hope to our own suffering. All earthly suffering, though trying, is only temporary: we can take heart that He has overcome this world with its tribulations, and we can look forward to the world to come. Pain has purpose too in becoming a platform: your faith-reaction to suffering is a powerful witness that may even lead observant friends and family to Him as well. Let's pray.