Ask a Pastor Ep. 33 - Trusting the Bible, Evil/Suffering, Christianity
Welcome to Ask a Pastor, a podcast from Orchard Hill Church! Have you ever had a question about the Bible, Faith, or Christianity as a whole? Submit your question and one of our pastors will answer on the program. New episodes every Wednesday.
This episode our Senior Pastor, Dr. Kurt Bjorklund, talks with Co-director of Women's Ministry and Life Stage Leader, JoAnn Adams about how we can trust the bible, why a good God would allow evil and suffering in the world, and what makes Christianity different from other religions.
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Kurt Bjorklund: Hi, welcome to Ask a Pastor today I'm joined by JoAnn Adams who works with our women's Ministry at our Wexford campus as well as our life stage ministry. JoAnn welcome. We're going to jump into a few topics but just before we do, I just want to remind you of a couple of things. If you are interested in having a question that you have being discussed as part of this time, if you'd just send it to firstname.lastname@example.org we'll be happy to address it in the coming episodes. Also, if you listen via iTunes or our app orchardhillchurch.com there's a church app or I guess you have to go to the App Stores to get it. But if you can go to iTunes and just like this content or subscribe to it, that would be really helpful. Because what that does is it allows other people to then find the content as well.
Kurt Bjorklund: So, if you aren't listening on the radio but you're listening online and one of those mediums where you can subscribe, like, follow any of those things that's most helpful for other people to be able to find the content. So, with that JoAnn one of the questions that somebody sent in is how do I know I can trust the Bible, especially with that phrase the Bible says so? Like when people use that, if they don't trust the Bible already, that's kind of a circular thing because the Bible says so. So, how would you respond to that?
JoAnn Adams: It's interesting because people will ask things like that about the Bible but then some news cast will say something and they'll like, "Oh yeah, that must be true." But when they say that, I hear it because I think God has given us a mind to ask some of these questions. So, when they ask it, I tried not to use the Bible as the reference. So, it really is based on one, it's historically accurate. Scholars, people that are much smarter than I, have taking a look at the manuscript over the years and it's like 1500 years. So, they've taken a look at manuscripts, the archaeologists have taken a look at it. So, what we know for sure is what's in the Bible. It's not one book, it's multiple books written by lots of different people that it is historically accurate.
JoAnn Adams: And we also know that because Matthew, Mark, Luke and John lived during the time of Jesus that they really wrote about his life. And I know people will say, "Well, okay, they've asked these questions. Well then it's contradictory." But it isn't. Scholars have said, "It's not contradictory." They have looked at that. The biggest thing that I think people have a problem with is that it is inspired by God.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. So, in other words, a lot of times people will say, "I don't struggle necessarily with the historicity or even the accuracy of some of the things that are there." Although sometimes you'll hear people say, "Well, it's full of contradiction." And they'll point to one or two. But what you're saying is for most of those things, there's a pretty good explanation. It may not be definitive but it at least isn't definitive in the other direction either. As you [inaudible 00:03:20] look at it, you'll be like, "Wow, it says this and then it says this and you can reconcile on this way if you want to." But then most people would argue with the inspiration or the idea that this is really God's word.
Kurt Bjorklund: So, one of the ways I've thought about that always is the historicity I would agree, it's hard to argue that if you just do a very rudimentary study of any kind of historicity of works of antiquity. You'd very quickly say, "If you accept Plato as Plato and Aristotle as Aristotle," then to accept that Jesus lived that this book was written by who are claimed to be at the times that we have established is almost without dispute not by wide margins anyway.
Kurt Bjorklund: The issue is does it speak truth and how do you know that? So, somebody were to say to you, "You know what, okay, I believe that it's historically accurate. I believe that it speaks to ... that the things it reports are somewhat accurate, close enough. But I just don't know if it speaks to a god I can trust or is true in that sense." What would you say to that person?
JoAnn Adams: I think you really have to look at the Bible again and say that Jesus lived. And that he came to save us. But I think someone has to have something within. And it's the Holy Spirit speaking to them that allows them to accept that. I think it's tough when you are having conversations with people that or just they don't want to hear it. But if someone is really asking the question then to me that means they are seriously searching.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. One of the things I found helpful is if you start with some of the more ... I don't want to use the word random things in the Bible. But more off the beaten path stuff and say, "Hey, start believing this." Sometimes that's hard but if you start with the central message of Jesus Christ then that's a much easier place to start. And then you can kind of work your way toward believing or not believing some of the things that seem harder to believe. So, what I mean by that is some people would be like, "Sure, Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, lived for three days, spit up on dry land. Who could believe that?" Well, if you believe that there's a God who created the universe, that he inhabited a human body ... not inhabited, that's not the right word but became a human being. Was God in the flesh? Then to believe that God could do a miracle, like having a person swallowed and spit up on dry land.
Kurt Bjorklund: But whether or not you believe the story of Jonah or not, it does not have to impact whether or not you believe the central message of Jesus Christ. And once you believe that then it's easier to come to a point of believing some of those other issues. Whether or not they're in the same vein.
JoAnn Adams: And I think that is the thing that is difficult for people. The story like Jonah [inaudible 00:06:31] did that really happen? I don't believe that. But you're absolutely ... I mean, I believe that but you got I believe start with Jesus.
Kurt Bjorklund: Right. And so, yeah, what I would say is don't get hung up with Noah, Jonah, Daniel in the lion's den. Start with Jesus and then work your way to some of the other questions. So, here's a question, why is there evil and suffering if God is so good? Why do bad things happen to good people, to Christians, people who've committed their lives to Christ? And why does God let Satan exist and give him freedom to do what he does? So, there's a lot of questions there. Actually not just one but it's kind of the general age old question of the problem of evil. If God is good and God is all powerful, why then is there so much pain and suffering in the world?
JoAnn Adams: And one thing I would say is I really don't know. I think that I just sometimes I don't understand it myself. Although I know in the beginning it wasn't like that. In the beginning there was a garden and then Adam and Eve. They made a wrong decision and then there evil came into the world. God didn't create that just by our own disobedience that happened. You look around today, it's almost every conversation that I have with someone they are going through a trial or they know someone or they've lost a loved one. And their question is, well, why would God allow this to happen? Why would he allow this to happen? Well, he didn't allow it.
JoAnn Adams: Sometimes things just happen. But the one thing about it that's really important is that it depends on how you look at it. If you know that Jesus came to save us from our sins, then you know that ultimately there is going to be something good that comes out of all of this. So, it's a question though that I think that a lot of people wrestle with. In the scripture says that after this, if we believe in him, not that everybody is going to but if we believe in him, there will be no more suffering and we will be in a place of great joy.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. It's definitely an interesting question because certainly again, as it's posed an age old philosophy how does a good God, all powerful God and suffering, how do all these things exist? And the typical Christian answer is that's not how God created it. You alluded to that. But through the fall, through human sin, sin entered the world. And now we live in fallen broken world. And because we live in a broken world there will be pain and suffering. And I think it's probably healthier to be surprised if we don't experience some suffering for a season than to always be surprised.
Kurt Bjorklund: And what happens is a lot of times we get into the mindset and this is Christian, non Christian, person of faith, not person of faith who just says, "Well, if I'm basically good then I should have all good things that happened to me." And we don't wrestle with the reality that we live in fallen world where random bad things seem to happen all the time. And so, why would I escape that? And why is that on God?
JoAnn Adams: Well, and that is what baffles me so much is that people think that we live in this state of perfection all of the time. That nothing bad is ever going to happen. But throughout history, bad things are happening all the time. And it is the thing that is most important is how do you deal with that suffering or that trial that happen.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. And one of the things I've found helpful is to say that whatever you can say about suffering, you can't say that God didn't have the courage to put himself in that place. By Jesus becoming a human, going to death on the cross, by his crucifixion. God in the person of Jesus took human suffering and took it onto himself. He understood rejection. He understood those things. And so, the one thing that we can't say is, well, if I suffer it must mean that God doesn't love me. Because the love of God is seen in the death of Jesus and God loved Jesus. Obviously it's God himself part of the trinity ultimate love and yet Jesus suffered. So, suffering does not mean that I'm not loved. And that's often where we go and that is we say, "Well, if God really exist and really is good then how could I suffer?"
JoAnn Adams: And I think an important thing that you just said that sometimes I often forget is that we know that Christ suffered on the cross but we forget that he suffered during his lifetime. I mean, there were deaths. Lazarus died and he wept. He was tempted by the devil and you could think about all of that suffering. And so, it's not just that one time when he was during that period of time but throughout his lifetime, there were periods of time when he suffered just like us.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. So, the second part of this question was why does God let Satan exists and give him freedom to do what he does? So, just speak to your understanding of Satan's involvement in suffering. And if somebody says, "Well, why would ... I can understand that I live in a fallen world. I might get sick or something but I don't like the idea that sometimes maybe there's evil force behind some of the horrendous things that happen." So, speak to that.
JoAnn Adams: Well, Satan is here. The dark forces are around us and there is ... the way I'm answering is that he is here but ultimately he will not be. That Jesus will reign and this is what is, we have to live with the evil that is in the world.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. We probably don't understand God's purposes obviously entirely in something. But somehow there's a greater worship, a greater good that comes from even the allowance of evil for the time period. One of the classic ways that that's been answered. And some people have reformed faith may struggle with this answer but the classic way that people have said is that God allows human choice. And in allowing human choice that he valued that enough to allow evil. And same thing with the [inaudible 00:13:18] beings that became Satan and his demons. Isaiah 14 speaks of that transition and somehow the freedom to choose worship or choose not to worship. To choose allegiance or not choose allegiance to God is somehow greater to God than the presence of evil. And probably even greater to us as human beings. Because if I'm not given the choice then in what sense is there genuine worship? And that's I think the real question.
Kurt Bjorklund: So, another question JoAnn, is what makes Christianity so different from other religions? So, when somebody says, "Well, what's up with the Christian thing? Why do I need to be a Christian versus any other faith?" What would be your advice or counsel to that person?
JoAnn Adams: What makes it different is Jesus.
Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. How so?
JoAnn Adams: And that is because Jesus was here in the beginning when God created. And then he sent his son as a baby and he became human like us. I mean, we talked about it just a few minutes ago. He became human. He experienced the everything that we experience but yet he was also God. There's no other religion that says that. There's also, I think one of the key things is most religions you have to do something to have salvation. And with Christianity we don't have to ... it's not that we don't have to do anything but Jesus died for us. And he bore the sins, bore our sin.
JoAnn Adams: So, it's not like we're struggling every day saying like, "Oh, okay, then I got to do this right in order to make it into heaven." Well, once you accept him as your savior then you have done it. And then you'll want to live according to his will. And I think that's the biggest difference there. And when I think the other thing ... well I think I said it but that he died and he rose again. And that there is no other religion that can say that. And it is established historically that that happened.
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. That and probably the impact of that is that other religions, the mantra is do perform, live up to the standard and there is a standard in those religions. Christianity also has a standard. The difference is instead of Christianity saying, "If you get above the standard then you're good." Which the other religions basically teach. But Christianity says, "You'll never live up to the standard because the standard is perfection." That's why Jesus came. And so, to your point that's Jesus is what's unique. But even more probably isn't just that he came to earth and died and rose. I mean that's clearly central. But the impact of that is the difference between true religion which says, "You just work so that you prove your worth." And this idea that says that Jesus has done for people what they can not do for themselves. Which is live the perfect life before God and therefore have eternal life and a standing and status that's unchanged based on what we do.
Kurt Bjorklund: And that is radical in its implication. Because there are even people who will name Jesus and name the death and resurrection of Jesus. Who will still say the way that you actually get there though is you perform, you behave. And sometimes it's subtle. Sometimes it's not even in the official doctrine but it's implied. If you're really a good Christian person, you will do this or you won't do this. And only true Christians do this or don't do this. Rather than understanding that no, it's all about what Jesus has done. And it's a gift. It's not a performance.
JoAnn Adams: And that's it, so many Christians now still think that if they do something and they think it's against the commandment, it's like, "Oh gosh, am I still going to heaven?" They still have to do something and sometimes it's a matter of how you were raised, what you've heard, without really going to the scripture. And it's difficult people to think that they don't have to do anything. Because we're in a society where people think that we have to work to get what we [crosstalk 00:17:48].
Kurt Bjorklund: Well, we do after work and every other arena of life, you get what you earn. And except maybe from your parents but even that, who knows? But everywhere else you perform, you work to get something. And so, when we come to God it's radically different. And it messes with us in a sense because we're not used to grace. We're used to law, we're used to performance. And so, it's a little unsettling in its own way but it's really good when you get the sense of it.
Kurt Bjorklund: So, JoAnn thank you again for being here today. Just great to hear your perspective and if you want to have your questions submitted and have us discuss that in future episode, send them to email@example.com. Thank you for jumping in today.