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"Soon the whole city was in an uproar, people running from everywhere to the Temple to get in on the action. They grabbed Paul, dragged him outside, and locked the Temple gates so he couldn't get back in and gain sanctuary. "As they were trying to kill him, word came to the captain of the guard, 'A riot! The whole city's boiling over.' He acted swiftly. His soldiers and centurions ran to the scene at once. As soon as the mob saw the captain and his soldiers, they quit beating Paul." Acts 21:30-32 (The Message).
'So where was God in all this?' This is the first question we are likely to ask.
If Paul was God's servant, carrying out all His instructions faithfully, why didn't He protect him from this kind of trouble? Why did He allow Paul to go through all this, just to get him to Rome? Couldn't he have just hopped on a ship and sailed there in peace?
Questions like these open up the age-old issue of suffering -- why does God allow suffering? We all experience our own version of this universal problem, and there are probably as many solutions as there are experiences, but do they really give answers that satisfy?
The problem for believers is that the Bible itself does not give us an answer. It may address some peripheral issues like, for example, that we live in a fallen world; that Satan is the god of this world; that his intention is to kill, steal and destroy; that God has given human beings the freedom to choose and that people do bad things to each other and God does not interfere because we are not puppets.
But these do still do not answer the central issue: why does God allow these things to happen? Paul experienced God's protection again and again during his travels in Europe and Asia Minor. When people rioted against him and tried to kill him, he escaped. God caused an earthquake to set him free from prison in Philippi. He raised him from the dead when he was stoned at Lystra. He survived hardships of many kinds, but now he was under arrest and in the hands of Roman soldiers. What next?
Apart from Jesus, Job probably suffered more than anyone whose story is recorded in Scripture. He went from being a fabulously wealthy man with a big family, a name and prestige in his community to a pathetic pauper sitting on an ash heap, ill and in pain, and not even a wife to comfort him because she had turned against him as well. It is quite natural that he would ask why.
His so-called friends didn't help him either. They insisted that God had done this to him because he had secretly sinned, an accusation which Job vehemently denied. In all his ranting and railing, God said nothing. He allowed Job to get it all off his chest until he had nothing more to say. When He did finally answer him, God was angry. He didn’t speak gently to him; He came at him out of a storm!
What He had to say had nothing to do with Job's demand to know why. He overwhelmed Job with the majesty of His power over nature. "'Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand.'" Job 38:4 (NIV). On and on He went until Job was struck dumb. What was the point of all this?
There is a sense in which God was telling Job that he was too puny to understand His ways. There is no answer to the question 'Why?' that we humans can grasp because God is painting His picture on a canvas as big as the universe itself. How can we possibly stand back far enough to see the whole scope of what He is doing?
The real issue is not 'why are you doing this?' but 'what must I do in this situation?' I can either become embittered, turn my back on God and never experience the grace He promised that sets me free from my emotional pain or I can trust Him because I know that He is a loving Father who is painting me into His big picture and will never do anything to harm or destroy me. It's really my choice!
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