On Palm Sunday we had the opportunity to enjoy wonderful services at our church – Woodbine Church in Pace, FL. We had people of all ages as a part of the service. We had our preschool group Sing and Shout about Jesus. Our elementary age group shared in two songs using sign language and motions to tell the story of the songs. Our middle school group did a remarkable shadow drama of the song Redeemed that touched everyone who saw it. Our Worship Team and Palm Sunday Choir were the lead worshippers through music as they sang songs that told the story of the sacrifice of Jesus for everyone.
Following the service I had the opportunity to go out to eat with some of my family. I am sure the rest of the people who attended the services did pretty much the same thing – came to church, enjoyed the service, ate some lunch and then enjoyed the rest of the beautiful day here in the Florida Panhandle doing whatever they wanted to do. Some people enjoyed the day without a worry in the world. Others were dealing with work or stress or family issues or finances or all the other things people deal with in life. Whether they were carefree or burdened I think it is safe to say that all those who were in church with us on Sunday were not afraid that something would happen to them on Palm Sunday – either at church or somewhere else. I am sure that almost all, if not all, the people felt pretty confident that they would go home at some point during the day and eventually go to bed and get up and start a brand new week of work or school or whatever on Monday. However, that would not be true for some Christ Followers who attended Palm Sunday services.
As we were worshipping in Pace, FL, on Palm Sunday, there were other Christ Followers who were being killed. It happened in Egypt, just outside of Cairo. While we sang songs and listened to children they heard bombs and people screaming and crying. Forty-three people will never experience another Palm Sunday. And that number can go up because there are others who were injured in this horrific and senseless attack.
People want to know why. Why did this happen? Why would someone do something like this to people whose only “crime” was worshipping a different God than the murdering terrorist thought they should be worshipping? What had those men, women and children done to those who sought to kill and maim them? NOTHING! They had done nothing!
I could give you another answer to these questions. I will tell you before you read it that my answers are not popular but they are the truth. I know because people have disagreed with me before when I have tried to explain these senseless acts of violence. But what I will share with you is not opinion but truth. And real truth is not swayed by opinion. A wise person once said, “You are welcome to your own opinion but you are not welcome to your own facts.” While opinions can be swayed by facts facts can never be swayed by opinions. Facts are truth and real truth doesn’t change.
Here are the facts. The ones who did the killing were being obedient to their religion. ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombings of the Christ Followers in their churches during worship on Palm Sunday. The reason they did that is because their religion teaches them to kill those who do not follow their religion. Their religion specifically tells them to kill the Christ Followers and the Jews and anyone else who rejects their religion. That is not hearsay or opinion but facts. Their holy book is very explicit in telling them to kill nonbelievers of their religion. Their holy book even gives some instructions on how to kill unbelievers.
Granted not all followers of the religion associated with ISIS are murderers and terrorists and I am very thankful for that. There are people who follow the same religion as ISIS who are peaceful and who are good people. The facts about these peaceful people are that they are not devoutly following the true teachings of their religion. I have read their holy book and I have studied their religion and the facts bear out that the peaceful people are the anomaly and not ISIS. Some people don’t like that statement. I have been told I am wrong and ISIS and the people like them are the anomaly. However, the facts don’t bear that out.
Some have even said that the God that Christ Followers follow and the god that ISIS follows is the same god. If that is so then I wish someone would explain to me why the god of ISIS tells them to kill people and the God of Christ Followers tells them to love people. Nowhere in their holy book is the god ISIS follows ever described as loving or expressing love in any way. The God of Christ Followers is defined in the Bible as Love. No reasoning, logical person could every really believe they are the same god. Two things that both claim to be true about the same thing but that are totally opposite cannot both be true. The God of Christ Followers and the god of ISIS both claim to be the only god but they are totally opposite. Only one can be true.
Another part of this tragedy is that the god followed by ISIS will not get blamed for the attacks nor will their religion get blamed for commanding them to kill people. The terrorists will be blamed but their god will get a pass. People are too worried about being called some kind of “phobic” or “racist” if they merely tell the truth. So they will buy into the lie being repeated about the religion followed by ISIS and their religion and their god will escape most scrutiny.
Unfortunately, the God of Christ Followers will get the blame for what happened in Egypt and even for all the bad stuff that goes on in the world. Why didn’t He stop the bombs? Why did He allow those people to die?
Honestly, there is not a real simple way to answer those questions. I could never answer them to the satisfaction of everyone asking those questions. I do know that we live in a fallen world and that sometimes people are the victims of other peoples’ actions. Sometimes innocent people get hurt. It is not because God wants them to. It is because of sin in this world. Lets face it – some people are just mean and evil and they hurt other people. Just because we are Christ Followers does not make us exempt from pain and suffering.
It would be so wonderful if God would simply promise to us that we would never go through difficult times. But we do go through great and terrible difficulties all of the time, and God constantly warns us of these dangers and difficulties in His Bible. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 4:12 – “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.”
Its not like we didn’t know these times were coming. We were warned. But why? I am not God and chances are that I cannot give you an answer that will completely satisfy your curiosity. However, I would like to share with you that we can understand some things.
In my research, I have read some material written by Lee Strobel. I wanted to share with you some of what I found in his material that has helped me with the “Why” question and hopefully it will help you too.
5 Points For Understanding Suffering:
- God is not the creator of evil and suffering.
Genesis 1:31 teaches us that everything God made was good. Then where did evil come from? God created us with free will so we could love Him. Real love entails the ability to love and not to love.
Lee writes, “We abuse our freedom by rejecting God’s love and walking away from Him. And that resulted in the introduction of evil into our lives and into the world.”
- Though suffering is not good, God can use it to accomplish good.
Romans 8:28 says – And we know that in all things (not some things) God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Lee writes: “Notice that it doesn’t say that God causes the evil and suffering, just that He will cause some kind of good to emerge. And it doesn’t say we will see immediately or even in this life how God has brought good out of the bad circumstances – just that it will happen for those of us who love Him.”
- The day is coming when suffering will cease and God will judge evil.
Some would ask then if God has the power to vanquish evil then why doesn’t He do it Lee writes: “Just because He hasn’t done it yet doesn’t mean He won’t do it. The Bible says the day will come when sickness and pain will be eradicated and people will be held accountable for the evil they’ve committed. Justice will be served.”
2 Peter 3:9 says – The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
In other words, God hasn’t vanquished evil yet because He’s waiting to first reach some of us!
- Our suffering will pale in comparison to what God has in store for His followers.
Romans 8:18 says, – I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
That is not to deny the pain in our lives. But after 5,782,347,291 days of pure bliss in Heaven we will look back and realize that these difficult and hard days aren’t worth comparing to an eternity of blessings and joy with God in Heaven.
- We decide whether to turn bitter or turn to God for peace and courage.
I believe in free will. I believe that people choose whether or not they want to be nice and good or mean and evil. God has given them a way to escape their evil and sinfulness. That way is through Jesus Christ. God has made a way through Jesus for all people to be in a relationship with a God who truly loves them. Also, people are free to deny Him and reject Him. It would not be true love if God did not give them the choice to love Him or not. If a person does not have a choice to love then it is not real love.
For example, I am glad that my wife chose to love me and chose to marry me. If she did not have a choice then I would never know if she married me because she loves me or because she had no other alternative. I believe that she chose to love me and that she believes that I was the best alternative for a husband and that she truly wanted a relationship with me. Just me. Any other explanation would not be love. Marrying me because she had no choice in the matter would make our marriage very shallow and definitely unfulfilling for both of us.
We do have a choice in Who we believe in. I choose to believe in the One who teaches us to love on another. He is the One who makes the most sense. I choose to believe in the One who promises to never leave or forsake us. I choose to believe in the One who has told me multiple times in His Word and by His actions that He loves me. I choose to believe in the One who wants me, yes even me, to spend eternity with Him. I choose to believe in the One who loved me first. Yes, love is a choice. God chose to love me and He gives me the opportunity to choose to love Him back.
We all make the choice of whether to run away from God or run to Him in our time of suffering. Don’t miss this. It was through the suffering of Christ on the cross that Jesus conquered the world for us.
Lee writes: “God’s ultimate answer to our suffering isn’t an explanation; it’s His incarnation. He isn’t some distant, detached, disinterested deity; He entered our world and personally experienced our pain. Jesus is there in the lowest places of our lives.”
Philosopher Peter Kreft said: “Are we broken? He was broken, like bread for us. Are we despised? He was despised and rejected of men. Do we cry out that we can’t take anymore? He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Did someone betray us? He was sold out. Are our most tender relationships broken? He too loved and was rejected.”
Jesus is so much closer than your best friend. Because if you’ve put your trust in Him, then He is in you. Because of that, your sufferings are His sufferings; your sorrow is His sorrow. When tragedy strikes and when suffering comes, when you are wrestling with pain and when you make the choice to run into His arms, here’s what you are going to find: PEACE to deal with the present, COURAGE to deal with your future, and the INCREDIBLE PROMISE of eternal life in Heaven.
Jesus said in John 16:33 – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
To paraphrase – Jesus has done all the hard work and we get to share in the victory! He did that because He loves us! He loves me! Now that is a Savior I can truly believe in!