The Theology of Suffering (Bad Things Happening to Good People)

This is the Sunday School Lesson for Dec 2, 2018, changed because of events in the life of our congregation.  The only difference from this and the lesson used is this one lacks the graphics.


The Theology of Glory versus the Theology of the Cross

Before we look into suffering, we need to look into two different approaches, or lenses, through which we understand events in our lives: “The theology of glory” and “the theology of the cross.”

The theology of glory: This is the theology of fallen Adam and our sinful nature.  Such a worldview understands God based on one’s reason and senses.  The person moves from the seen to the unseen, judging God by what he experiences.

The first example of this was Eve.  She sensed the forbidden fruit being good for food, pleasing to the eye.  So, she reasoned this fruit to be helpful in gaining wisdom.  In other words, let her senses override the Word of God, which Adam gave to here from God.

The theology of the cross: This is the theology of Jesus Christ.  Such a worldview understands “man does not live on bread alone but on every word coming from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

When related to our events in life, we believe God at work for our eternal well-being—including the evil of life.  We learn this in the cross of Christ (which explains the term, “the theology of the cross”).

The theology of the cross perceives life through the lens of the cross.  On a cursed piece of wood, God achieved His greatest deed for us through the cross of Jesus Christ.  When we understand this, we realize God is also at work within the suffering in our lives.  “All things [even suffering] work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).


Why Does Evil Happen to the Virtuous?

This is the legendary question of humanity since the fall into sin.  What are we to make of suffering in this world and conclude about God from this?  The eyes of unbelief, the theology of glory, conclude:

1) no God,

2) a weak God, or

3) a God who is unloving.

This again is drawing conclusions from the seen (suffering) to the unseen (what does this say about God?).  The theology of glory concludes—if God does exist—He’s messed up.  The creature puts the Creator on trial.


The Book of Job

  • If you remember the events in his life, did something bad happen to someone good?


Read Luke 16:19-31

  • Did something good happen to someone bad, someone sinful?


John 9:1-3a:

As Jesus was passing by, he saw a man who was blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, why was this man born blind?  Did he or his parents sin?”  Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned [causing this blindness].”

  • At first glance, what can we conclude about what happens in this world?


John 9:3b:

[Jesus still speaking:] “Instead, he was born blind so God the works of God might be displayed in him.”

  • Jesus healed the blind man. Still, how are the works of God displayed in healing?


  • How did, and does, God ultimately heal us?


This then brings us again to the theology of the cross.  The theology of glory cannot make sense of the victim of oppression or injustice.

Cause and effect does help explain some of what happens in this world.  So, we need to include this as part of our worldview.

Galatians 6:7:

Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked.  A person reaps what he sows.

Such a worldview helps us make sense of events when an alcoholic develops cirrhosis of the liver.  He is simply reaping what he earlier sowed.  However, a person reaping what he sows does not help us explain, on an individual level, a baby being born with fetal-alcohol syndrome.

In Jesus’ day, Pilate slaughtered some worshipers from Galilee and mixed their blood with the blood their sacrifices.  Such barbarity, which is hard to make sense of—except we happen live in a fallen, sinful world and are held hostage by such sinful events (“stuff” happens).

Consider how Jesus responded to a question about Pilate’s horrific slaughtering of innocents:

“Do you think these Galileans were more sinful than other people from Galilee?  No!  But unless you repent, you will all perish as well!” (Luke 13:2-3).

  • How are we to understand bad events in the world?


  • How are we to respond when we become aware of such events?


  • What, then, do events in our fallen world show and what we need?


God Working through Death and Resurrection

Death and resurrection are how God works to restore what sin brought to ruin.  Repentance in the face of suffering demands us to drop dead to our preconceived notions about how God should deal with us (theology of glory).   Instead, we are to make the salvation Jesus won for us as our point of reference (theology of the cross).  In the cross, we distinguish how God dealt decisively with sin, suffering, and death in the suffering and death of His Son, Jesus.

In the theology of the cross, we can identify how a cursed cross became the tree of life for us.  The cross is the death of God and the life of man, the punishment for our sin and sin’s atonement.

But death is not God’s last word—the resurrection of the body is.  Like Jesus’ death on the cross is not the end of our salvation, so also is our death.  When we die, we enter God’s salvation for us.

Psalm 116:15:

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.

Revelation 14:13:

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord (Revelation 14:13).

  • Discuss: How can “the dead” die? (Romans 6:3)


  • Why are they blessed? (Romans 6:4-5)


Our salvation will take place in its fullness when our bodies rise from the dead, just as Jesus’ body did.  Then we will reign with God in eternity (Revelation 23:5), after Jesus transforms our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body (Philippians 3:21).


God and the Problem of Evil in this World

Read Matthew 13:24-30

  • What do the weed seeds sown among the right seeds represent?


  • Why doesn’t the farmer tear out the weeds?


  • When will the weeds and wheat be separated?


  • When will this harvest time take place for us and the world?


Why do bad things happen to good people?  Look to Jesus on the cross and find your answer.  Behold the Lamb!  He is God’s answer to the problem of suffering and evil.  Where is God?  In the thick of all our sin and suffering.  Why does God let this happen?  For you and for your salvation.  Only the theology of the cross allows us to realize this.


Lutheran Hymns and the Theology of the Cross

Many of our Lutheran hymns help teach us a “theology of suffering,” the “theology of the cross.”  Of course, they aren’t easy-to-sing, upbeat melodies.  For these reasons, many hymns with the theology of the cross in them are not sung—to our spiritual detriment.

What God Ordains Is Always Good

What God ordains is always good:

He never will deceive me;

He leads me in His righteous way,

And never will he leave me.

I take content what he has sent;

His hand that sends me sadness

Will turn my tears to gladness. (LSB 760: 2)


All Depends on Our Possessing

Well He knows what best to grant me;

All the longing hopes that haunt me,

Joy and sorrow, have their day.

I shall doubt his wisdom never;

As God wills, so be it ever;

I commit to him my way. (LSB 732: 5)


If Thou but Trust in God to Guide Thee

Be patient and await His leisure

In cheerful hope, with heart content

To take whate’er thy Father’s pleasure

And His discerning love hath sent,

Nor doubt our inmost most wants are known

To Him who chose us for his own. (LSB 750: 3)