Travel Diary 10: Evil and Suffering

Dear ITEM Partners,

After a long day of riding in a van from Ishaka (west Uganda) to Entebbe, where we were last weekend, Banana Village. The time in Ishaka was filled “wall to wall” mostly leaving little time to reflect and report. Today I would like to finish what I wanted to share yesterday, reflect on the apologetics road ahead while offering an answer to the most asked question about God and Christianity, and look to my next stop, Nigeria. 

WEDNESDAY AT THE GIRLS SCHOOL

One of the things I most looked forward to on this trip was having a chance to practice what I’ve been preparing for; answering questions people pose about Christianity. The big chance was Tuesday night at Ishaka Community Church but I was too sick to participate. The other was last night at a girls school. The big disappointment was that the three that came from the US shared the stage with others. As it turned out I had a chance to answer only two and one had to be done in two minutes.

One was answering the question, “What is the purpose of life?” The second played right into what God had already place on my heart. Here was a room of maybe 250 young ladies from 13 up to 21 years of age. I had been hearing that the secular entertainment coming out of the west was making it’s way into the entertainment offered to them here in Uganda. And it is not presenting a biblical worldview or a godly message. And my fear is that what is happening to the youth in the US (suicides, anxiety, and depression are on the rise) will be the result of western entertainment coming to Uganda ( Africa in general). 

So, I wanted to talk to them about that. Several of the questions had to do with listening to secular music. One young lady wrote, “How can I stop listening to it, I am addicted to it?” So, I wanted to speak to them as a grandfather to his granddaughters. I have six of them so I am experienced. But when I got the microphone I was told I had two minutes. I was hugely disappointed. I did my best with the time warning them to listen carefully to the words and themes being pumped into their minds by secular music from the west.

ITEM APOLOGETICS MOVING FORWARD

.When we were finished I told Ben and Kristin, founders of Adventurous Apologetics, the group behind this trip, that while they were focusing primarily on establishing apologetics degree courses in the world, my heart was standing in front of groups like this and talking to them as a grandfather and training others to be able to share the same message and answer the same questions from a biblical perspective.

EVIL AND SUFFERING

The most often asked question about the Christian faith is “If God is all-powerful and all-loving, why does he allow all the suffering that is happening all over the world? Why doesn’t he just stop it?” There are two levels of questioning here. One is the intellectual level when it refers to someone else and the emotional level when it is happening to you or someone close to you.

Emotional response

The counselor must be sympathetic and display compassion and sorrow. I might even say, “I don’t have a great answer. God is certainly loving and good, and cares even though what is happening doesn’t seem to suggest that. 

Victims of the fall

Theologically, this is the result of Adam’s sin in Genesis 3. When sin entered paradise, sickness, pain and suffering came with it. Unfortunately, some very good, loving, generous, humble people become victims. There is nothing we can do for them but try to feel what they are feeling, and maybe explain what I just wrote.

INTELLECTUAL RESPONSE

But there are others, skeptics, atheists who want to throw this argument into our faces and challenge us about our faith, and a Genesis 3 approach might not get too far with them. 

I had a friend who was like this and after listening to him bring this up over a cup of coffee several times, I finally said, “(Friend-I called him by name), listening to you bring up every unfortunate situation of unexpected tragedy leaving families grieving and suffering, I think the only time when you will be completely satisfied is if God removes ALL pain and suffering in the world and bring in utopia.” He paused and said, “You are probably right.” 

It’s either Eden or the status quo

I started thinking about this as Ben was presenting his answer yesterday as a part of the apologetics training he/we were offering and here is where I ended up. Think about it.

Put all suffering on a scale of 1-100 just to quantify suffering. Or even 1-1000, doesn’t matter. If you were a good God, how much would you have to do away with to prove you were good? 10%? But the 90% still are suffering and asking, “Why are they relieved and not me? That isn’t fair. God isn’t being good to me!” OK, how about removing 20 or 30%? That sill leaves at least 70% saying, “….. God isn’t being good to me!”

You see where I am going with this. We get to the last 1% and they still suffer though 99% aren’t suffering any longer. My point? Until God were to remove 100% of pain and suffering, there would still be reasons to say, “He’s all-loving and all-powerful to everyone but the 1%. If you remove the last 1% you are back to Eden and you have had to remove or ignore the sin of Genesis 3. 

So, logically, intellectually, there are only two options when it comes to the problem of pain and suffering. They are Eden or the status quo.

The good news

The good news is that God, through the crucifixion and resurrection of His son, Jesus, put a beautiful, eternal bow on this problem of pain and suffering. That bow is forgiveness and eternal life. 1 Cor 4:16-18 reads: “Therefore we do not give up; even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So, we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

NOW NIGERIA

It is almost like it should be time to head home but I have one more stop, Nigeria. Tomorrow, Friday, I fly back to Kenya for one night. Saturday morning I will be on a 5am flight (not looking forward to that one bit) to Abuja, Nigeria. I’ve not been to Abuja to meet with our team there since July 2019. 

Sunday

On Sunday, I will be preaching at the church where our coordinator is the pastor. A quick word about that. Our guys are supposed to be practicing expositional (verse by verse, chapter by chapter) preaching. But their denomination gives them a yearly theme they are supposed to stick to. This year? Something like, “He is coming on the clouds…” or something like that. So, I am preaching from 1 Thess 5 where Paul is instructing them about the rapture and the return of Christ. So, my goal is to model exposition while using the theme given.

Monday-Tuesday

On Monday I am going a one-day preaching seminar and, of course, it will focus on Bible exposition. On Tuesday I get the covid test I need to get back to the US and then meet with our team to talk about where the ministry is and where we need to take it in Nigeria.

Wednesday, I leave for home on the red-eye out of Abuja!

This has been a little long. I hope it was instructive and let you see a little bit of what my new focus involves. Chris has been in Malawi and Zambia doing pastor’s seminars.

Continue to pray, please. Pray for the sermon, that it will be instructive and even answer questions the members have about the rapture. Pray for the preaching seminar, that more pastors will get the message about Bible exposition. And pray for the time, Tuesday, with the team, that after three years they will be encouraged and that together, we can refocus the ministry of ITEM in their very strategic country.

By His grace,
Steve

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