This is raised by just about everyone: Priests and ministers, college students and housewives, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.
It’s one of the hardest questions anybody ever asks.
Just a few days ago, a close friend of mine, Laurin, passed away after a fierce 18 month battle with cancer. What a horrible experience this was for him and his wife Diana.
I’ve visited the slums of Sao Paulo Brazil, where 500,000 homeless street kids sniff glue and steal for a living. Sometimes the police hunt them down and kill them, just to reduce the crime rate.
Last year my wife spent a week in Mozambique where she saw an infant in her mother’s arms, dying of pneumonia in a hospital waiting room. She met hundreds of other kids with malaria and malnutrition. We’ve given some money for a medical clinic, and every bit helps. But the problems are so huge, what little you try to do still seems like a teardrop in the ocean.
If you took all the parties, the humor, the success and happiness in the world, and put it side by side with the suffering and pain, the comparison would be almost absurd.
There’s a lot of sickness and sadness in this world.
How can God let it go on?
Well, I can’t give you an answer. I can only tell you a true story.
A certain man threatened the Religious Gestapo, who in turn convinced the Roman government that He was a threat to them, too.
His followers were disappointed that He didn’t overthrow the Romans and declare himself King, like the Messiah was supposed to do. So they abandoned Him.
The ancient Romans pioneered what was possibly the most cruel form of torture ever devised by man: Crucifixion. They would drive spikes into their victim’s ankles and wrists, smashing his nerves. He would hang there in blinding sheets of pain, slowly suffocating and dehydrating for days, until he finally expired.
Jesus was whipped and beaten, literally beyond recognition, then nailed to a cross between two common criminals.
One of these criminals was cursing and shouting at Him in a fit of rage: ‘HEY! If you’re the KING, why don’t you get yourself down from there! And US, TOO!!!’
The other guy went along with this… for a little while.
But he saw that Jesus wasn’t hurling insults at his torturers. Instead He was asking God to forgive them (?!).
He sobered up. He said to the other criminal, ‘Hey dude, you and I are here because we deserve it. But this man Jesus has done nothing wrong.’
Then he said to Jesus, ‘Remember me when you take charge of your Kingdom.’
Jesus simply replied, ‘Today you’ll be with me in Paradise.’
Stop the camera.
What you have here, in this brief conversation, is a snapshot of the entire world.
You have two criminals who have gotten themselves into a horrendous, awful mess. And you have the Son of God, who has not only chosen to live with us in our world of pain and suffering, but has personally taken all of it upon his own shoulders.
Even though he is completely innocent.
One thief refuses to accept any responsibility for his actions. He’s unwilling to admit that he created the very mess that he’s in.
He lives in denial until the bitter end. He grits his teeth and dies in his sin.
The other thief comes clean. He recognizes that Jesus possesses divine authority. He admits his guilt. He is required to do nothing, other than to let go of his pride.
He asks for forgiveness.
Jesus’ pardon doesn’t make the cross or the agony go away. But finally the struggle ceases and this man crosses the Great Divide. The intense pain dissolves and he steps into a New World, designed by God Himself — with renewed body and soul.
That’s a picture of the entire world, right there. You and I are in this mess together, and we’ve all contributed to it.
We’ve all rejected God in some way or another, we’ve all committed some kind of crime, and we all experience suffering.
The situation is what it is.
So we have a simple choice: Accept that fact that God has suffered with us — or mock him and be furious because the suffering exists in the first place.
Which way do you want it???
The decision is yours. You and I will never get a true ‘answer’ about the pain and suffering we experience in this life. But in the midst of our pain, we have a companion. You and I can have the same conversation with Jesus that this criminal had, and we can experience the same forgiveness. All we have to do is ask, just like the thief on the cross did on that sad day.
This is the last of the Seven Great Lies of Organized Religion. I pray that I’ve helped to strip away all the baggage that the Religious Gestapo adds to the story and reduce it to the bare essentials. I hope this has stirred your mind and your heart.
Are you trying to strip away the baggage and get to a deeper truth? We’d like to hear from you. Simply submit a comment below.
We often run behind, but will do our best to respond.
- Read the whole conversation between the two thieves and Jesus
- Hear my extended presentation of the 7 Great Lies
- The prophet Ezra asks God why his people suffer so much. God sends an angel with an answer. Story continues here.