Tag Archives: Suffering

As I mentioned in the last post, teaching high school Bible studies can be tricky. Here is another in depth high school Bible study for you to use. Evil and suffering are difficult topics for everyone, and are another topic that Christian college students are often asked about. Why does God allow war? How can there be a God if children are starving in Africa? How can you believe in a God that allows things like the Holocaust to occur? Many of the students sitting in your youth group are probably wondering about these questions. Use the Bible study below as a starting place for your own and give students answers to these difficult questions.

High School Bible Study on Evil and Suffering

  1. Evil and suffering: How can a good, all powerful God allow suffering?
    1. Either God is not all good (he can help, but he doesn’t care to), or he’s not all powerful (he’d like to help but he can’t).
    2. When you say that if God hasn’t gotten rid of evil he doesn’t exist, what you’re really saying, “he can’t have a reason I haven’t thought of”
      1. If God was good, he’d stop it, what they mean is I don’t think there’s a good reason for evil, no greater good.
    3. Theodicy (defense of God) – reasons for evil
      1. Punishment – If we did it to ourselves, does God have an obligation to help us?
        1. Like a kid will ruin your car if you give him the keys, we ruined the earth
        2. If someone says, “I just can’t believe in a God that would allow evil”, reply “What do you think the human race deserves from God?” They’re assuming that God owes us a better life than we have. Maybe the problem with evil is why God allows so much happiness.
        3. The problem with this, of course, is that good people suffer and evil people don’t. It’s not that there’s suffering, it’s that it seems to be unfairly distributed.
      2. Free Will – If God wanted us to be truly free in our choice, we’re not robots, so we have to have the possibility of evil. So the greater good that God is allowing is Free Will, and evil and suffering is just the way we get there.
        1. The problem again is that there’s not a fair distribution of evil.
        2. Another problem is that free will isn’t a greater good than salvation; (not just because I’m a Calvinist)
          1. What if your son crosses the street, even when you told him not to, what do you do? Let him exercise his free will in rebelling against you and die, or run into the street and rescue him?
      3. Natural Law – have to have some orderliness to nature… you reap what you sow or we just can’t live life
        1. Same problems as above
      4. So a lot of the evil that we blame on God can actually be traced to us.
        1. Even hurricanes and landslides etc are attributable to sin: the people who die in those places are the poor, those who can’t afford to live in a safe place. How many rich people die in disasters like that? Earthquakes in Turkey vs earthquakes here, for instance.
          1. Or hurricanes; people choose to live on the coast knowing full well that hurricanes are a certainty, not a possibility.
      5. Ultimately these solutions are not good enough.
        1. Don’t tell someone who’s suffering these things
        2. Watch telling yourself these things, because sometimes it’s going to fail you (eg, is there possibly ever a big enough reason for a child to die? If they grew up to be Hitler… not much comfort.)
    4. It’s a mistake to use theodicy. Instead, say you don’t know the reason for suffering. It’s a mistake to assume that because you can’t think of a reason for suffering that there isn’t one.
      1. I look inside my tent and don’t see a Great Dane; so it’s very likely there’s not one in my tent. I look again and don’t see any fleas. Does that mean it’s likely that there aren’t any fleas in there?
      2. If it is likely that if God has a reason, would we be the first to know about it? Would we be able to think on the level of God? If there is a reason for allowing suffering and evil to continue, the one who would know is God.
      3. If there might be a reason for suffering that we don’t know, then it’s quite possible that an all powerful and all good God exists.
    5. Most philosophers you’re going to run into in Phil 101 are making this mistake, assuming that because they can’t think of a good reason for evil, one can’t exist.
      1. Alvin Plantinga shows this.
      2. There’s no longer a firm consensus that evil and suffering disprove the Christian God
    6. On the other hand, evil and suffering also prove God’s existence.
      1. If we just evolved, what is evil? It just doesn’t exist. Evil only exists if there is a moral law, and there can only be a moral law if there is a moral law-giver. Evolution can say advantageous vs disadvantageous, but the strong naturally eat the weak. If you know that’s just wrong for societies or people though, then where does that come from?
      2. Appalling wickedness actually creates a bigger problem for those who don’t believe in God than for those who do, for the one who doesn’t believe in God doesn’t even have a basis for being appalled.
    7. Summary: If you have a God great enough to be mad at for evil and suffering, you also have to have a God who is smart enough to have reasons for allowing it that you can’t guess.
      1. Careful doing this sort of stuff with a friend who doubts. It’s ok to ask Qs that get them thinking, but not ok to cram your thinking down their throats (just because I don’t think it works)
    8. Christianity’s explanation of suffering is still better than anyone else’s. We are the only religion with a suffering God. This is the personal response to a friend.
      1. Secular: why should suffering bother you? The strong should eat the weak, and there’s literally nothing but a gaping hole to hang your dislike for suffering on; moral relativism isn’t much of a basis for action (or coping). How can you address suffering or injustice if the oppressor’s point of view is equally valid?
      2. Eastern: Hinduism and Buddhism both apply Karma (I think), which blames the victim for their suffering, and encourages turning a blind eye (not forcefully but accidentally…). Also God is impersonal and doesn’t suffer, and suffering is an illusion, not something real.
      3. Judaism and Islam: God is above it all, though concerned with suffering;
      4. Only in Christianity does God actually suffer with us. What better response to suffering could there be, other than eradicating it, than suffering with someone? Christ suffering shows that God is willing to suffer with us, and that suffering is a huge problem that he can’t just snap his fingers and make it go away (without making us go away at the same time).
        1. Oh, and by the way, the plan all along was to eventually eradicate suffering!

When you say that if God hasn’t gotten rid of evil he doesn’t exist, what you’re really saying, “he can’t have a reason I haven’t thought of”

      1. If God was good, he’d stop it, what they mean is I don’t think there’s a good reason for evil, no greater good.
    1. Theodicy (defense of God) – reasons for evil
      1. Punishment – If we did it to ourselves, does God have an obligation to help us?
        1. Like a kid will ruin your car if you give him the keys, we ruined the earth
        2. If someone says, “I just can’t believe in a God that would allow evil”, reply “What do you think the human race deserves from God?” They’re assuming that God owes us a better life than we have. Maybe the problem with evil is why God allows so much happiness.
        3. The problem with this, of course, is that good people suffer and evil people don’t. It’s not that there’s suffering, it’s that it seems to be unfairly distributed.
      2. Free Will – If God wanted us to be truly free in our choice, we’re not robots, so we have to have the possibility of evil. So the greater good that God is allowing is Free Will, and evil and suffering is just the way we get there.
        1. The problem again is that there’s not a fair distribution of evil.
        2. Another problem is that free will isn’t a greater good than salvation; (not just because I’m a Calvinist)
          1. What if your son crosses the street, even when you told him not to, what do you do? Let him exercise his free will in rebelling against you and die, or run into the street and rescue him?
      3. Natural Law – have to have some orderliness to nature… you reap what you sow or we just can’t live life
        1. Same problems as above
      4. So a lot of the evil that we blame on God can actually be traced to us.
        1. Even hurricanes and landslides etc are attributable to sin: the people who die in those places are the poor, those who can’t afford to live in a safe place. How many rich people die in disasters like that? Earthquakes in Turkey vs earthquakes here, for instance.
          1. Or hurricanes; people choose to live on the coast knowing full well that hurricanes are a certainty, not a possibility.
      5. Ultimately these solutions are not good enough.
        1. Don’t tell someone who’s suffering these things
        2. Watch telling yourself these things, because sometimes it’s going to fail you (eg, is there possibly ever a big enough reason for a child to die? If they grew up to be Hitler… not much comfort.)
    2. It’s a mistake to use theodicy. Instead, say you don’t know the reason for suffering. It’s a mistake to assume that because you can’t think of a reason for suffering that there isn’t one.
      1. I look inside my tent and don’t see a Great Dane; so it’s very likely there’s not one in my tent. I look again and don’t see any fleas. Does that mean it’s likely that there aren’t any fleas in there?
      2. If it is likely that if God has a reason, would we be the first to know about it? Would we be able to think on the level of God? If there is a reason for allowing suffering and evil to continue, the one who would know is God.
      3. If there might be a reason for suffering that we don’t know, then it’s quite possible that an all powerful and all good God exists.
    3. Most philosophers you’re going to run into in Phil 101 are making this mistake, assuming that because they can’t think of a good reason for evil, one can’t exist.
      1. Alvin Plantinga shows this.
      2. There’s no longer a firm consensus that evil and suffering disprove the Christian God
    4. On the other hand, evil and suffering also prove God’s existence.
      1. If we just evolved, what is evil? It just doesn’t exist. Evil only exists if there is a moral law, and there can only be a moral law if there is a moral law-giver. Evolution can say advantageous vs disadvantageous, but the strong naturally eat the weak. If you know that’s just wrong for societies or people though, then where does that come from?
      2. Appalling wickedness actually creates a bigger problem for those who don’t believe in God than for those who do, for the one who doesn’t believe in God doesn’t even have a basis for being appalled.
    5. Summary: If you have a God great enough to be mad at for evil and suffering, you also have to have a God who is smart enough to have reasons for allowing it that you can’t guess.
      1. Careful doing this sort of stuff with a friend who doubts. It’s ok to ask Qs that get them thinking, but not ok to cram your thinking down their throats (just because I don’t think it works)
    6. Christianity’s explanation of suffering is still better than anyone else’s. We are the only religion with a suffering God. This is the personal response to a friend.
      1. Secular: why should suffering bother you? The strong should eat the weak, and there’s literally nothing but a gaping hole to hang your dislike for suffering on; moral relativism isn’t much of a basis for action (or coping). How can you address suffering or injustice if the oppressor’s point of view is equally valid?
      2. Eastern: Hinduism and Buddhism both apply Karma (I think), which blames the victim for their suffering, and encourages turning a blind eye (not forcefully but accidentally…). Also God is impersonal and doesn’t suffer, and suffering is an illusion, not something real.
      3. Judaism and Islam: God is above it all, though concerned with suffering;
      4. Only in Christianity does God actually suffer with us. What better response to suffering could there be, other than eradicating it, than suffering with someone? Christ suffering shows that God is willing to suffer with us, and that suffering is a huge problem that he can’t just snap his fingers and make it go away (without making us go away at the same time).
        1. Oh, and by the way, the plan all along was to eventually eradicate suffering!

sufferingSome Bible studies are pretty easy to come up with. A study on Christmas, for example, isn’t too hard. It’s a happy subject, it’s a happy time of year, and its something that most people are at least somewhat familiar with the content. However, some studies are much more challenging. Developing a study on suffering is a particularly tricky one. Despite its difficultly, it’s a topic that many people have questions about and want to learn more about. Hopefully the study below will help you lead your own study on suffering.

A Valley Means I Made a Wrong Turn: Why Not All Trouble is Your Fault.

Are tough times my fault? What does the story of the man blind from birth (Jn. 9: 1) tell us about this?

Why doesn’t skill / ability /wisdom guarantee a good outcome? What does Jesus’ life show us about difficulties and closeness to God? What does God want us to learn in the valleys? (psalm 23)

God is punishing me. Why is this concept false? Heb 4ish. Explain why guilt is false (Heb 10:22?)

Just because you don’t have to feel guilty for it doesn’t mean that you can ignore it. What trouble is your fault and what isn’t? Prov, Deut, etc about not doing what you should and suffering??? I can point out that this is refining (but so is suffering that isn’t your fault… still, with Israel, I think it was more often due to a need that they suffered). The point here is to get us to the next point, which is “what about suffering you don’t cause, but you’re still going under?”

Some Christians (and I think all Muslims) would contend that a truly obedient and righteous person doesn’t suffer or get sick or want for anything, but I think this group knows better; not because we think ourselves perfect, but because we know that suffering isn’t always connected to something stupid we did. It’s as often from something stupid someone else did, and we were just in the way at the time. Why is that first thought false? (Christ lived a perfect life but was a “man of sorrows”)¬

What is the true function of difficulties that come for no reason? Refining, holiness, obedience. Part of it is simply the fact that we live in a fallen world. Is it fair to blame ourselves for these (there is a bit of an American thought; you’re the master of your destiny, poor people could have avoided being poor if they’d made better choices, etc)? Bible verse. Is it fair to blame God?

How come some Christians get through life without many troubles, but not me? What are some of the reasons that folks undergo severe testing? Just about every prophet, righteous person and teacher in the Bible went through some mighty difficult stuff to get where God wanted them. If you want to be used mightily, get ready to be tested, tried and refined.

Proverbs 11:17 17 A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself.

James 2:13 judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.

Proverbs 17:20 20 A man of perverse heart does not prosper; he whose tongue is deceitful falls into trouble.

Q: What does this mean? If you tell a lie, what is going to happen? You’re going to get into trouble, and the way out is to admit it.

Proverbs 28:14 14 Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.

Proverbs 12:21 21 No harm befalls the righteous, but the wicked have their fill of trouble.

1st Point: There’s no such thing as punishment from God for a Christian.

Your sin has been PAID.

1 John 4:17-18 7 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

Q: What does this say about punishment? Should a Christian fear punishment?

NRS John 5:24 Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

Q: What does this say about Christians? Is this in the future tense? When does this happen? Then are Christians ever under God’s judgment (that is to say, punished)?

1 Peter 2:24 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

Q: Why aren’t Christians under judgment? What’s made this possible?

2nd Point: Then why does bad stuff happen to me?

So if you think that you’re being punished by God for something you did wrong, stop it. That’s not accurate or helpful. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some kind of suffering that is your fault. Some types of trouble are your fault.

Galatians 6:7-8 7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Q: What does this passage mean? If you tell a lie, what will happen to you? If you cheat on your taxes? If you continually think angry or lustful thoughts? (If you’re not being punished, what is happening? It’s just the way the universe is set up… You plant an apple seed, you don’t get oranges; you drink poison you die.)

Some Christians would hold that all trouble is your fault, that no truly faith-filled person would ever suffer sickness or poverty. Here are a few of the verses they use to show that:

Psalm 103:2-3 2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– 3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,

Q: Some would say that if he forgives all your sins, then he would also heal all of your diseases, so long as you have faith, aren’t sinning, etc. What do you think about this?

Proverbs 19:23 23 The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.

Q: Some would say that this is absolutely true. If you really are righteous, if you really do fear God, then you are able (and it’s God’s will for you) to live a life untouched by trouble. What’s your reaction to this?

3rd Point: Many types of suffering aren’t your fault.

Does God ever send suffering to people who don’t deserve it? Could a just God really do such a thing? What would be the point?

Hebrews 12:5-11 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Q: What were the folks in Rome going through? Was it their fault? What does the author say about their suffering? Why did God allow it? What do you think God sometimes allows suffering in your life that you didn’t deserve?

4th Point: We undergo suffering to make us more like Christ.

How come some Christians get through life without many troubles, but not me? What are some of the reasons that folks undergo severe testing?

Zechariah 13:8-9 8 In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. 9 This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.'”

Q: What does refining entail? Is it pleasant? Yet what are the results?

James 1:2-4 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Q: What does this say about the purpose of suffering? Should we really take joy in it? (Freud thought we are Masochists) Can we be complete as Christians without it?

Hebrews 5:8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered

Q: Who is this talking about? What did he get from suffering?

We could go into many examples of people who suffered in spite of being extremely faith filled (indeed, because of that fact), starting with Jesus and Paul, but instead I’ll just say that to get you where God wants you, there will almost certainly be some suffering. How you respond to it is the single greatest determining factor to how long you spend there. Learn what you need to learn fast, then pray to get out of it.