When Katrina devastated this part of the world, two-thirds of the preachers in this land climbed into the pulpits the following Sunday to address the question on everyone’s mind: “Why suffering?”
It’s variously stated as “Why does God allow suffering?” and “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why doesn’t He end suffering?”
With the earthquake that wrought unbelievable death and suffering in Haiti, all those old questions have resurfaced.
What amazes Bible students and pastors is that the theology of Job’s friends, which the Word goes to such lengths to discredit, is still alive and well and being spread by many who claim to be Christians.
It’s what’s called in the logic classroom a “syllogism” and it looks like this:
The righteous do not suffer.
You are suffering.
Therefore, you are not righteous.
I did not hear Pat Robertson’s inflammatory comment last week in which he is said to have suggested (or actually made, I’m not sure) that Haiti’s constant poverty and suffering and now this earthquake which has taken the lives of 100,000 people is the result of an old voodoo pact the Haitians made with the devil.
If he said it and believes it, he believes in voodoo more than he should.
Anyone who believes that God is judging that sad little nation in this way ought to be ashamed of themselves. The poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and God picks on them! What kind of tyrant do people think we worship?!
The Apostle Peter was writing to some people who were puzzled about their own suffering. Scholars are confident, to my knowledge, that the epistle was penned in the decade of the 60’s A.D. This would put it smack-dab in the middle of Nero’s time, that despot who burned Rome and blamed it on Christians.
We actually have a date for that event: July 19, A.D. 64. The fire burned for 3 days and 3 nights, was stopped, and then it broke out again. We’re told that Nero had a passion for building and needed to clear off space for his next projects. Since the buildings of much of Rome were wooden and the streets were narrow, a fire could take out much of the city, as it did.
Historians do not have a smoking gun, so to speak, identifying Nero as the culprit, but even at the time, everyone knew the name of the arsonist. We’re told that people trying to put out the fires were hindered. The historian Tacitus, who was 9 when all this happened, names names and fingers Nero.
The citizens were in an uproar. Nero quickly saw he was going to need a scapegoat, someone to pin the blame on.
He chose the Christians.
Tacitus wrote: “He falsely diverted the charge on to a set of people to whom the vulgar gave the name of Chrestians, and who were detested for the abominations they perpetrated.”
Abominations? Outsiders thought they were cannibalistic from their rituals of “eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus.”
Antisemitism was already rampant in those days, and since Christians were associated with Judaism, this made them doubly apt as targets.
So, a period of intense harassment, persecution, and torture was begun. We’re told a large number of Christians were rolled in pitch (that would be tar), hoisted onto posts, and set afire to light the city. Untold numbers of disciples of the Lord Jesus were martyred in this manner.
Peter writes to people for whom suffering is no abstraction. They encounter hostility and rejection, brutality and persecution, everywhere they go.