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Suffering and the Sovereignty of God

April 14, 2010

Tomorrow our college crew is studying 1 Peter on the theme of suffering. In preparation I was reminded of the jewel of a book, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor.

Here’s a crucial question [and a teaser for you to read the book], one of the sticky wickets of Christianity. You can read Pastor John Piper’s sobering and edifying answer on page 231 in an interview with Justin Taylor that has been reprinted in an appendix. Read it here for free: http://www.desiringgod.org/media/pdf/books_bssg/books_bssg.pdf

[Justin:] For this next question, I’ll tell you what the question is first
and then I’ll set it up. The question is: where is God? Everybody
asks, where is God? Tsunamis come, 9/11 comes, Hurricane
Katrina, etc. Personally—and perhaps it’s because those are
more abstract—I struggle less with the “where is God” question
in some big natural catastrophe than I do with the issues
like abuse, especially sexual abuse of children. And so I want
to ask the “where is God” question, but I want to frame it by
reading a quote from The Brothers Karamazov, which one person
at least has said contains the greatest argument against
God’s existence and the problem of evil. So if you’ll allow me
here, I just want to read this quote and then ask you: where is
God in this situation? This is from chapter 4, where Ivan is talking
to Alyosha about Russian children. He says:

There was a little girl of five who was hated by her
mother and father. . . .
This poor child of five was subjected to every possible
torture by those cultivated parents. They beat her,
thrashed her, kicked her for no reason till her body was
one bruise. Then, they went to greater refinements of cruelty—
shut her up all night in the cold and frost in a privy
[outhouse], and because she didn’t ask to be taken up at
night (as though a child of five sleeping its angelic, sound
sleep could be trained to wake and ask), they smeared her
face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her
mother, her mother did this. And that mother could sleep,
hearing the poor child’s groans!
Can you understand why a little creature, who can’t
even understand what’s done to her, should beat her little
aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark in the cold and
weep her meek, unresentful tears to dear, kind God to
protect her? Do you understand that, friend and brother,
you pious and humble novice? Do you understand why
this infamy must be and is permitted? Without it, I am
told, man could not have existed on earth, for he could
not have known good and evil. Why should he know that
diabolic good and evil when it costs so much? Why the
whole world of knowledge is not worth that child’s prayer
to dear, kind God!

So where is God in a situation of that kind of terrible torture of
children and rape of children? Can one maintain idea that God
is absolutely sovereign over all things with that kind of evil?

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