Sunday, March 20, 2011

A reflection on the problem of pain: sovereignty of God vs. free will

There is a lot suffering going on right now: in Japan, in Libya, all around the world.  It's not just out there, it is also within our lives and in our own communities.  I preached on this subject today.

The problem of pain is the argument that God can't be both good and all powerful at the same time because if he was good, he couldn't be all powerful because he has not stopped all of the sufferings; and if God is all powerful, he couldn't be good because he has not stopped all of the sufferings.  He can't be both good and all powerful.

It is interesting that there are two camps among Christians on how to explain the problem of pain, and those two camps are the same two camps on the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism.  Predestination vs. Free Will.  Sovereignty of God vs. Human free will.  Piper vs. Boyd.

Here's how Greg Boyd, who emphasizes human free will, explains suffering: Suffering is caused by human free will, which led to a fallen state of the universe.  God is powerful, but this power does not mean he controls everything.  God does not exercise power by brute force but by loving influence.  Through Jesus, he demonstrated that he is not a God of the power-over, the power of brute force, but a God of love, the power of power-under.  Because he seeks to change people by the power of love, God allows suffering.

Here's how Reformed Christians, those who emphasize God's sovereignty, explain suffering.  God is in control of everything, even suffering.  God allows suffering because he has a purpose for it.  Just like a surgeon has a purpose in causing the pain of surgery, God has a purpose for our pain.  Just because we don't know the reason does not mean there isn't a good reason.

I preached from the story of Joseph which culminates in Genesis 50 where he says: "you meant it for evil but God meant it for good."

My argument is a middle argument between the free will people and sovereignty of God people.  As Joseph said, "you meant it for evil."  Our suffering is caused by human free will which led to sin and the fallen state of the universe.  But, God is in control.  "God meant it for good."  God is so powerful that he can actually turn even the evil actions into something good.  "In all things, God works for the good of those who love him."  So, I believe that suffering is caused by sin, but God is in control of everything.

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