The following excerpt is from Walter Isaacson’s latest book, Steve Jobs.

Even though they were not fervent about their faith, Job’s parents wanted him to have a religious upbringing, so they took him to the Lutheran church most Sundays.  that came to an end when he was thirteen.  In July 1968, Life magazine published a shocking cover showing a pair of starving children in Biafra, Jobs took it to Sunday school and confronted the church’s pastor, “If I raise my finger, will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I do it?”

The pastor answered, “Yes, God knows everything.”

Jobs then pulled out the Life cover and asked, “Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?”

“Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.”

Jobs announced that he didn’t want to have anything to do with worshipping such a God, and he never went back to church…

“The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it.” he [said].

(Pages 14-15)

How does a Christian assert the love of God in the face of suffering? Should we, like the pastor, brush it off as something too deep for the asker to understand? Or is it a legitimate question each Christian should have an answer to?

When children asks questions of meaning, they are bringing up a legitimate issue.  I’ve ran into those who would ask me questions like “who made God?” and they deserve an answer as much as atheists and skeptics do.

Is the Christian God, who claims to be holy, a serial liar? Or is there something beyond the smokescreen that many fail to see?

Every time one challenges the idea that God is holy, there is always a smuggled assumption that a certain entity of moral worth is violated in the process.  When one questions God’s holiness on the basis of famine, war, and torture, there is an assumption that man should be treated well… thereby imputing an objective moral worth to man.

Now the next question seems obvious.  How then, can man have an objective moral worth? Is it okay to say that an American has more moral worth than an Asian? Or does an elderly have a greater moral worth than a teenager? Should a customer be treated with a lopsided favor at the expense of the waiter? Who gives these standards? Why think that man is of essential worth?

The Bible does give us a clue.  ”Man is created in the image of God,” it says… and when a man is violated, so is He whom man received his image from (Genesis 1:26-27).  Only in the Judeo-Christian worldview does man receive a coherent moral worth above any subjective preference or inclinations.

Having said that, if God is the means by which moral worth is measured, then it evidently follows that there HAS to be a God for man to raise the issue of His Holiness.  This means that as an atheist, one has to assume the existence of God in order to argue against it.  The funny thing is that it is self-refuting!  Notice that every time one raises the issue of God’s holiness, he cannot stray away from the fact that it is only a legitimate question if the Judeo-Christian God is assumed.  So the question really is not “does God exist in the presence of suffering” but rather “why does a holy God allow suffering?”

In this the Bible offers an answer.  Romans 8:20-21 put it this way, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” The Bible teachers that these things happen because the world is imperfect.  That, by definition, entails things that are not in line with what ought to be.  Nobody who lived long enough to observe the world would think that this is heaven.  Rather, in the presence of these imperfections, one finds a longing in his heart for something perfect.

Now the question of whether God is a sadist, or does God know that people are suffering is trivial.  Of course He knows (Hebrews 4:13).  Yet it is also interesting to know what God’s ultimate purpose for us is in this world.  Looking back to Romans 8:20-21, it is evident that He doesn’t want us to be happy with it.  He wants us to long for something greater.  He wants us to see the imperfections in this world, not so that we can use it as a means to disbelieve (I have already shown the absurdity of it) but rather that we may long for perfection… Perfection only available through Jesus.

In this, again, the Bible concurs.  It says, “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) If God’s ultimate purpose is for us to spend eternity lamenting the craziness of this world, then a legitimate crack in Christianity could be raised.  Yet if God uses this as a stepping stone towards eternity with Him, then it begs an entirely different lens through which we should see these things.

Certainly, it is heartbreaking to see people suffer and die.  Yet in Christianity, life doesn’t end in the grave.  For the grave is merely a bridge that brings the temporal to the eternal… and that’s where we all want to be… and that’s a place we can have access to.

So a hypothetical answer and conversation with Steve Jobs as that time could go like this

“It seems that you are assuming that this world should be without problems.”

“Yes.”

“But did God created the world to be without problems?”

Now see how the conversation went.  The ball is passed back to the questioner.  If he says yes, then he has to prove it.  If he says no, then the famine in Biafra is just another “problem”  in the mosaic that is.

Often, when backed to this corner, people will not have an immediate answer (the answer is no by the way.  God did NOT create this world to be without problems). This is where the Christian can begin to explain why God created this world imperfectly (Romans 8:20-21), God’s ultimate purpose for us in this world (1 Tim 2:4), and how, in looking at both, one can see that suffering is merely a piece of the puzzle in a purpose seen at the other end of the smokescreen.

God is good.  And by the way, did I mention that He uses suffering 100% of the time to bring people to His Kingdom? That’s how it is in the Bible… and that’s how it’ll always be.

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