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Saturday, January 25, 2014

How Could a Good God Allow So Much Suffering?

I'm drawn to this question because I've so often needed to answer it. I’ve looked into the eyes of parents who had lost two of their three sons in less than six months. I’ve stood over the tiny casket of a premature baby while her twin sister struggled for life back in the neonatal ICU. I’ve wept with parents who had just said good bye to their 16 year old daughter who had died of meningitis. I've listened helplessly as spouses have struggled with the outrageous pain of discovering their spouse's infidelity.

Because of the time we live in, we learn about some tragedies in real time like tsunamis, shootings, bombings, and accidents. The day of the Boston Marathon bombing, I came home and could not stop watching it. As sad as that was, I was still detached from it, because I didn’t know anyone directly affected. But we experience suffering very differently when it's personal.

When my friend and previous coworker Danny Reagan died in 2006 at the age of 38, my son Will, 18 at the time, had been working for Danny in his construction business. I saw the paramedics carry Danny out of his house. Kat and I were sitting in a room crowded with his wife, family, and friends as they told us the news that Danny was gone. When Will showed up later, I was standing in the parking lot of the hospital.  We stood and held each other and sobbed for five minutes. Later, when I saw Danny's three children being brought into the hospital to learn the news, I thought I would throw up. In such circumstances, the question "why" is an emotional stab rather than a hypothetical conversation.

Philip Yancey explains that asking how there could be a God when such awful things happen is a bit ironic. That’s because such a question would never occur to us without an awareness that there is a God who could have prevented it. Some shake their fist at heaven when tragedy strikes because we sense there’s someone there to whom we can complain.

Because this issue is one of the major objections to the faith, there are plenty of books that address the question directly. Biblical writers don’t seem to do that. Rather, they tell extended stories for us to immerse ourselves in that cause us to wrestle with the question. One of those is the story of Joseph, son of Jacob, recorded in the book of Genesis. Joseph's story gets less ink than either Abraham's or especially of his grandson Jacob's. Still, the last thirteen chapters of Genesis deal with the relationship between Jacob's sons, with his younger son Joseph as the focus. That story begins in chapter 38 and goes through to the end at chapter 50. I'll be walking through that story Sunday as the fourth message in the series, Know Why You (Can) Believe.

You can see the outline and discussion questions here:

In Christ,


P.S. The video/audio for this message is available here.


  1. I wish I could hear what you're going to say, Gene. I miss your sermons so much. You are truly a blessed man of God, with a Divine anointing. I would love it if you could post the transcript of the sermon because I feel excited about it even if I can't be there to hear it with my own ears. I miss you all and love you all with my whole heart, and I am glad that our paths crossed for a time. God bless you.

    1. This is Chrissy Herrell, by the way. I thought it would post my name. :-)

  2. Chrissy,
    Thank you for your kind words. God bless you. Our messages are usually recorded and you can watch/listen to them at this page on our church's website
    But if I can get my notes into discernable shape I will post them as well.