Life is difficult and unfair and then you die, said Pastor Paul Vandenbrink at Wednesday’s Spiritual Emphasis Week Chapel. So is it any surprise that people are mad at God?
Continuing his series of messages on Ecclesiastes, Vandenbrink said today’s topic may be the most difficult of all: the problem of injustice and suffering.
Christians are not immune to these questions or free from anger at God, he said. Often when people find it hard to pray, or don’t have time to read the Bible, or don’t get anything out of church it can be because they are angry or because they believe they can justify themselves.
They think, “I can make it on my own, I can work towards my goal and achieve it. I can make it,” he said. “Then when tragedy inevitably hits” the questions come: Who is this? Who is God? Does he care? Why would he let this happen to me?
The teacher of Ecclesiastes asked the same questions, he said, reading from Ecclesiastes 8:14 –9:16.
The teacher saw the same kind of things we see today: terrorists in concert halls, innocent bystanders cut down in gang violence or children killed in tragic accidents. Good people get cancer and nice people drop dead from strokes. Athletes’ careers are ended by injury, a family’s savings can be wiped out in a stock market correction.
Yet the teacher’s written description of the injustice and suffering he sees is the true Word of God, Vandenbrink said, evidence of God’s own frustration with the presence of sin in the world. “All kinds of bad stuff happens that is not supposed to happen; you cannot avoid injustice. Most of the time we live under the illusion that we are in control, but there is random evil and injustice happening all around us.
And there isn’t even comfort in knowing that good people have better lives, because “there are lots of wicked people who are sleeping very well at night and Christians who are anxious and not sleeping.”
The final injustice is that the same destiny awaits us all, he said.
“So what is the point of being good? Does it matter if you are good? Does it make a difference if you die a sinner or a saint?”
Vandenbrink said the teacher’s lament offers a clue in 8:17: ‘No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.’
“You and I are too small to understand the ways of God but there is someone above the sun. Our inability to understand doesn’t mean there is no meaning, it just means we don’t understand it.”
Just because Paul Vandenbrink did not understand Grade 10 Math when he was a student at Smithville Christian in the early 1990s (he took the course three times and only got the credit because he negotiated with then-principal Marc Stroobosscher) doesn’t mean the math didn’t make sense. Just as a wild animal trapped in a snare does not understand the efforts of a park ranger to free it so we may not understand God’s efforts on our behalf, he said.
“Here’s the point: God, in some mysterious way, is going to use the suffering and injustice for some greater good. We cannot fully comprehend it, but we can trust that it is true because that is exactly what happened at the cross of Jesus Christ.”
“Perfection itself suffering the ultimate injustice. It makes no sense, and yet it was the greatest moment of goodness and redemption in all of history,” Vandenbrink said. “He could have avoided it, but it would have wiped us out? Why? Because we are the unjust ones. We are the reason for the injustice.”
In 2 Cor 4: 17 the apostle Paul says ‘our light and momentary afflictions are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.’
“I don’t know what your story might be,” Vandenbrink told the students. Your family may be coming apart. You may be experiencing depression, addiction or loneliness so deep you are sure nobody understands.
“But when you look at the cross it means you have a God who knows suffering from the inside. There is not a pain or sorrow or suffering you can experience that he does not know. And it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you have a God who had the guts to have suffering touch him too.”
When you look at the cross, you see the only perfect person who ever lived facing injustice for you. “Your suffering cannot, cannot, cannot mean God does not love you.”
A student praise team led in worship with "Chosen Generation," "Heart of Worship" and "Thrive."
We are grateful for the parents, youth pastors and other guests who join us for chapel. Everyone is welcome. The final chapels of Spiritual Emphasis Week will be on Thursday at 9 and Friday at 9:30. All are welcome.