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Why does God allow suffering?

Why is there suffering if God is God? And, how should we respond? Explored by looking at poverty, its causes and resolutions.

Rationale

Jesus said that there are two great commandments upon which all the rest depend. They are to love God with all your heart and to love others as you love yourself. Yet, when we look around the world, there is a great deal of suffering and pain. Where is God’s love in this? This problem could be looked at as a philosophical problem, but for most people it is actually a personal problem. That is, they have experienced pain themselves and want to know where God is in it. One way to approach this issue is to look at an issue of suffering in the world, and see how the Gospel relates to this. The issue we will focus on here is Poverty.
The concept of Social Justice is an application of these two great commands to larger issues than our personal circumstances. Throughout history Christians have been at the forefront of these issues, in areas like orphanages, education, the abolition of slavery, charitable organisations of many kinds, e.g. The Red Cross, World Vision, and the principles that underlie our democratic system of government and our legal system. Concerning involvement in such issues, the Bible says that if we see someone in need of food and we give them a blessing with our mouths but do nothing about their hunger, James 2:14-17, then what good is it? To be a Christian means to be involved. Poverty stands out as perhaps the social justice issue of our age and demands an response from Christians. In seeking this answer, we find the answer to where God is in our suffering. He is involved, dying n the cross so that all might be saved and all might be healed. Our response needs to be to get involved, not to question God as to his providence.

Key Concepts

  • The creation of the world as Good
  • The entrance of sin and how it has expressed itself in pain and suffering
  • The Two great commandments and their implications for how we should live our lives
  • Many examples of Christian involvement through the centuries
  • An examination of why there is poverty in the world?
  • The call to us to respond, what can and should we each do?

Scripture References

Genesis 1 - God created the world good

Gen 3-9 the entrance of sin and  the downward spiral to the flood
Gen 12 - the call of Abraham and God’s plan to to bless the world through one man
Luke 1:67-79 - God will transform the world through the Messiah. (See also Isaiah 9:2 and related passages)
Matthew 22:34-40 - the two great commandments

Romans 8: 18-25 - all creation is waiting to be set free from the effects of sin

John 20:19-23 - As the Father sent Jesus to die (= action) so we are sent to be Christ in the world

Micah 6:10 - what God has called us to do

Isaiah 58 - the true fast and sabbath God wants
Revelation 21 - the New Earth and the New Heaven

Resources

https://bible.org/seriespage/proper-perspective-poverty-and-prosperity-genesis-4713-31- perspectives on poverty related social issues from the Joseph story
How Christianity Changed the World - Kindle edition, great summary of how the Gospel has transformed the world

wingclips.com clips from movies on poverty

NGO’s websites e.g. World Vision
Youtube videos
 - very funny but has the serious question that salvation only came through the death of Jesus which was God’s plan
Veritas Talks on poverty- talks from top intellectuals on key topics of relevance
When Helping Hurts - approach to heaping poverty which is emphasizes more than handouts to solve poverty
 

Ideas/Strategies for Lessons

Open up the can of worms and to find out who is struggling with the question of why there is suffering and perhaps why. This may involve some very personal struggles, so be thoughtful. Move from there through God’s ways are beyond us, to the practical approach of looking at the concrete issue of poverty to see what we can learn.
What are the major causes of poverty in the world? Imperialism?Corruption? . Brainstorm, research and discussion. How prevalent is it? Where are the major areas? How does it relate to natural disasters? What about poverty close to home? Local suburbs and so on? Homelessness in your city? Research local programmes that are attempting to combat poverty
Have the students imagine they were the leaders of the world governments. Get them to create an action plan Compare it to what is being done,
Look at selected NGO’s and what they are doing both at home and abroad. How does this relate to the Gospel?
Look at Micah 6:10 and discuss how greed and corruption is a common characteristic among all nations. Not something that is only happening in current times.
Choose short section from a Veritas video, or perhaps a clip from Wingclips and discuss
Watch the Terminator/Jesus parody above, When Helping Hurts, and discuss
To explore what is real caring: explore the positive and potential negative implications of sometimes helping people in hypothetical situations

Exposure trips to serve others, e.g. lunch with a homeless person.

Slum Survivor simulation to experience what it would feel like to be poor/homeless
Consider different vocations. How does all this look like in different vocations?
Not just caring, but loving – even your enemies. Explore situations. Let students (in groups) come up with situations of where it would be very difficult to show care/love. They then set the challenge for a different team who has to show how they would respond.