Questions For Ask A Pastor Column
Suffering, healing and favorite Scripture are interesting subjects recently explored in the Ask A Pastor column. With the Editor’s permission and the Pastors’ indulgence, I respectfully submit what I believe to be reasonable alternatives to the pastors’ viewpoints.
Scholars and philosophers have unsuccessfully tried to make sense of human suffering for millennia. Our pastors, however, have done so to their satisfaction in just a few weeks. One pastor twice cited Scotland’s David Hume (1711-1776) who was actually paraphrasing the Greek philosopher, Epicurus (341-270 BCE).
Epicurus asked four legitimate, rational, thought-provoking questions pertinent to God’s role in human suffering:
(1) Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent.
(2) Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent.
(3) Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
(4) Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?
All four questions assume that evil exists, which few would deny. The Bible tells us that God is omnipotent (Mt 19:26 and Mk 10:27). If so, question (2) applies. That is, God is malevolent because He chooses not to prevent evil even though He very well can.
To evade this compelling logic the pastors choose to answer the second part of question (3) by invoking the doctrine of “free will” to exonerate God and place all blame on all mankind for all evil of all time because, according to Genesis, mankind chose to sin.
And what was the “original sin” that doomed mankind to suffer, possibly for eternity? Eve, then Adam chose to satisfy their God-created curiosity by yielding to the irresistible temptation of the fruits and joys of knowledge that God placed so easily within their reach. Was it love that motivated God to command people to remain forever ignorant after creating them with such hunger for knowledge and the ready means to obtain it?
Was God’s perfect creation dependent upon mankind’s remaining ignorant? Is Heaven open only to those who embrace ignorance?
God said, “I . . . create disaster . . .” (Isaiah 45:7), the suffering from which the pastors state develops character and promotes spiritual growth and maturity. Maybe, but perhaps the pastors will explain how the infliction by God, or at His command, of the astounding amount of shockingly cruel Old Testament-documented evil suffering on innumerable persons and entire human and animal populations developed His victims’ character and matured their spirituality when most were killed and many were entirely innocent, including children, infants and fetuses in-utero?
Current suffering of innocents across the globe is no less. The disastrous Syrian civil war has so far killed 220,000 civilians and displaced more than 11 million. Other recent disasters, to mention just a few, include the earthquake in Nepal, the floods in Oklahoma, Texas and Ghana, the droughts in Ethiopia and California, and the life-threatening religiously, economically and politically driven African, Asian, Central American and Middle Eastern human migrations.
It’s reasonable to assume that disaster victims do not freely choose this form of character building and spiritual growth.
Healing of human disease is overwhelmingly due to modern medical intervention combined with normal physiologic processes. However, anecdotal reports of spontaneous remission of otherwise unresponsive serious illness are well-known. These cannot always be explained scientifically, although genetics and immunology are current promising areas of intense investigation.
Supernatural cause is often postulated for the remission in some of these cases, but numerous studies over many years of the effect of intercessory prayer are generally inconclusive. In some studies prayed-for patients did better than patients for whom no prayers were offered, while other studies showed no difference in patient outcomes. Surprising to some is that some studies showed recipients of intercessory prayer to actually do worse.
Even though there is no denying the positive effect of meditative states, of which prayer can be one, unwarranted faith in the effectiveness of prayer can be harmful, especially if it leads to refusal, delay or modification of indicated unquestionably effective modern medical therapy.
Several years ago the marquee in the front yard of The Healing Place asked, “How do you plan to spend eternity, smoking or nonsmoking? Clever but also poignant, because avoiding the “smoking” eternity is the Christian’s primary concern. So how can one be “saved” from Hell? Since Christians by definition are followers of Jesus Christ, perhaps it would make sense to consult Him.
In chapter 25, verses 31-46, Matthew quotes Jesus very clearly and unequivocally stating exactly what is necessary to avoid going to Hell. Those who take care, really take care, of the less fortunate will go to Heaven, and those who do not will go to Hell. This seems pretty straight forward, but, apparently to emphasize the importance of what He was saying, Jesus equates Himself to all the less fortunate of the world. So perhaps, instead of asking the familiar, “What would Jesus do,” the Christian should ask, “What am I doing to Jesus?”
This seems a great way to play Pascal’s wager. There is one catch, however; bragging is not permitted (Matthew 6:1-4). Considering their importance in determining the ultimate fate of the Christian, these two passages in Matthew might be expected to be at the top of every Christian’s favorite Scripture list.