Bestselling author Randy Alcorn has teamed up with a popular evangelist to address what many nonbelievers and Christians alike struggle with – suffering.
"If God is good ... why all this evil and suffering?" Alcorn poses in his new book, If God Is Good.
Alcorn was recently invited to do a live interview and discussion with Pastor Greg Laurie on stage in front of thousands of people at Harvest Christian Fellowship in southern California.
Since Laurie lost his 33-year-old son in a tragic car accident two years ago, the Harvest pastor has placed greater focus on the topics of heaven and suffering from the pulpit. Last November he shared the Harvest stage with singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman, who suffered the loss of his 5-year-old adopted daughter in 2008, to discuss their pain, questions, and trust in the Lord through it all.
Why is there suffering? Laurie asked Alcorn during this past weekend's worship service.
"The Bible tells us that we're under a curse because of sin," the author and former pastor explained to Harvest attendees. "The curse that came upon them (Adam and Eve) ... we experience it today."
Through suffering, he said, "we're reminded ... I'm not in control."
"Any illusion of control is gone. Now I turn to the one, hopefully, who is in control – God – and who has run the universe without my help in the past and will run the universe without my help in the future," Alcorn said. "And what I need to do is to say I'm not in charge but I know the one who is in charge and that makes all the difference."
Alcorn acknowledges that the problem of evil and suffering is the single greatest obstacle to faith for a lot of unbelievers and also an obstacle for believers who may be questioning their faith.
He stressed on Sunday that Scripture gives permission to ask questions of God just like King David did in the Old Testament and Jesus did on the cross.
"There's going to be times where there's darkness in our lives," said the author who formerly experienced a bout of depression. "But in the midst of them we need to look to the God who shed His blood for us on a cross. And one day we'll look at those hands and He may look at us and say 'do these look like the hands of a God who does not care?'
"There is a lot of suffering going on in this world and we have a God who cares ... He cries, He weeps for His people, and it's a God who came down to become one of us. He loved us so much. His hands bear the mark of the greatest evil and suffering ... God brought great good out of the worst thing that ever happened."
Alcorn, who also authored Heaven, reminded Christians of the eternal good that is to come – a good that is beyond measure that even the sufferings of this life cannot be compared.
"We can look at our present sufferings not just as death, the end of all life but what is leading to an eternity of life – the promise of eternal life with God."
Answering some of the particulars pertaining to heaven and eternal life, Alcorn said when a believer dies, that person goes immediately to be with God and the people of God in heaven as was demonstrated in the New Testament account of the rich man and Lazarus. The unbeliever, however, immediately goes to the fires of hell, he said.
Regarding marital relationships in heaven, Alcorn put it this way: "Nancy (his wife) and I will be part of the same marriage in heaven because the Bible doesn't say there will be no marriage in heaven, it says there will be one marriage in heaven – Christ to his bride. We together will be part of the bride of Christ. So I will be part of a marriage perfect marriage with Nancy to our Lord Jesus Christ."
And what believers can look forward to is "a perfect marriage relationship with a bridegroom – Jesus Christ – who will never let us down."
Alcorn rejected the popular idea that people won't remember anything when they get to heaven.
"The key to heaven is not ignorance, it's perspective on life," he stressed. Rather than oblivious to activities on earth, those in heaven are actually looking down at the world and cheering the people of God on, he added.
While Christ followers who die leave the earth and go to heaven to live with God in His place, the location of heaven will change, Alcorn noted. Scripture states that there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth in which God will come down to a redeemed world and live with the people of God, who will have resurrected bodies (real, physical bodies).
"Jesus didn't just come in order to just snatch our spirits from this world to another. He came to redeem this whole creation," the author stated, adding that he is not referring to universalism and that not all will be saved.
The author summed up his talk by saying, "There was a beginning that was perfect. There is an end without end that will be perfect. We live in the difficult middle. Put it in perspective by the past and the future that is built on the finished work of Christ."
Laurie will be hosting another interview/discussion with Alcorn on the same topic on Thursday during his weekly Bible study session in Orange County.