A Brief Note on the “Problem of Suffering” in Tabletalk

The most recent edition of Ligonier’s Tabletalk focuses on the theme of apologetics under the title, “Giving an Answer.” I had the privilege of contributing a small piece on the very challenging topic of, “Why Do Bad Thing Happen to Good People?”

2017_tbt_august-cover_245x308Arguably everyone in some way confronts this question in their lifetime, perhaps multiple times (or all the time!). How on earth could I possibly answer such a deeply difficult question in only a few hundred words? I gave it my best shot, in what will no doubt be one of my shorter writings—but perhaps something people will actually read!

In the mini-article, I try to tease out both the head-related aspect of the question (how to respond to the apologetic side of the issue) and the heart-related aspect of the question (how simply to weep with those who are feeling deep suffering). I wish I could have done more with the latter, but alas the word-count restriction was inversely proportional to the importance of the topic!

Many thanks to Tabletalk for the opportunity. A scan of the article can be downloaded here.

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2 thoughts on “A Brief Note on the “Problem of Suffering” in Tabletalk”

  1. Excellent article…the best and most concise coverage of this difficult issue I have read.

    An interesting idea in your article outside of the main theme but insightful maybe? Like Hitler and ISIS…does Satan not think that he is evil? This might partially answer a 40+ years question in the back of my mind…what is Satan’s motivation. We see it in Absalom’s rebellion against his father David…we see no self-appraising doubt in Absalom’s mind about the evil of his power-grabbing move…at least none recorded in scripture.

    This might be a partial and deeper answer to why God has to compose the end-times script to expose the “man of perdition” of 2 Thes. 2:3…if evil people do not even recognize the evil of their intentions and actions…then the unraveling of just what does define good and evil is subtle beyond our reasoning skills.

    It must then be demonstrated out in the open…and like the cross at Calvary…only God has the foresight and the skill to do that.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking article.

    1. Barton,

      Thanks for the feedback.

      Interesting question(s) you pose.

      I wonder if we might have to treat Satan and humans differently in this regard. Satan, as a supernatural being who is described as the “father of lies” and a “liar from the beginning” would, presumably, *know* that he is lying — that’s built into the definition of lying, right? So I think he would know he is evil, that he is destroying truth, that he is raging against a holy God and a good creation, and so on. I’m not really sure how best to articulate this for a being like Satan, but presumably he *knows* he is evil but, due to the inherent nature of his evil, he likes it that way.

      For humans (whether Hitler or Absalom or me or you), it seems that an implication of (say) Paul’s teaching in Romans 1:18ff and 2 Cor 3–4 is this: one of the effects of sin is that it makes us blind to our own sinfulness. Yes, sometimes our consciences (for everyone) or Spirit (for Christians) bear witness to our sinfulness. But often, especially for the unregenerate, there is such spiritual deadness/dullness/blindness that they do not even know their own predicament and rotten hearts. “Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers” and all that. That’s why, it seems, Paul starts Romans the way he does. Mark Seifrid has a great little article (“Unrighteous by Faith”) that goes into how part of the grace of the Gospel is making us aware, at long last, that we have evil hearts whereas we weren’t fully aware of that previously. That is actually part of the good news; coming to faith not only results in (imputed) righteousness but also a recognition (and repentance from) unrighteousness.

      In other words, true Christians are supremely grateful not only for mercy and grace, but also for the fact that they are no longer blind to the very darkness in their own hearts that brings both wrath from God and destruction of human relationships. Think of the horrifying prospect of being an evil person justly deserving of God’s wrath and NEVER even knowing it.

      Or, more to the point, I think you’re onto something with your point about the inability of the unregenerate mind to even reason clearly about the nature of good and evil and so forth. And you’re right that the cross puts that in full view.

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