If God runs the rain, why do families die from famine? or flood?
If Jesus loves the little children, why do they suffer with disease?
If God loves justice, why does sex slavery exist?
Why does suffering exist?
These questions and more plague the minds of men and women around the world. Many atheists cite suffering in the foundation of their argument against God. Every Chrstian should answer the problem of suffering for themselves.
The logical problem
Ok here’s the problem laid out logically:
God is all good.
God is all powerful.
Let’s tackle the elements of this problem separately.
God is all powerful
God created the world with humans in it. Fundamentally humanity means the ability to chose. If we couldn’t choose we wouldn’t be human.
“So God created mankind in His on image, in the image of God he created them…” -Genesis 1:27 (NIV)
Would it make sense for God to create a world where you had free will but you could not sin? What would be the point?
Gods first words to humanity reminded them they had a choice:
“…You can eat from any tree in the garden but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…” -Genesis 2:16-17 (NIV)
From that command on the choices exercised by humanity have worked devestation throughout history. God created the possiblity of sin in creating humans who could freely choose. Free humans choose to sin or not.
God is all knowing
How could an all knowing God let 9/11 happen? If God sees all (including the future) why does so much evil happen?
The death of the innocent Son of God must rank as the greatest evil act in history. Yet, Jesus’ crucifixion brought the greatest good of any act in history.
If God could bring the greatest good out of the greatest evil act, couldn’t he bring lesser good out of lesser evil acts? Couldn’t he use your suffering for good?
If we believe God is all powerful and all knowing we must accept He sees more than we can. The bigger picture of Jesus’ death brought forgiveness. Who knows what God accomplishes through our suffering?
When you read the Bible sometimes God gives an answer for suffering; sometimes not. God repeatedly warned the nation of Israel what they would suffer for idolatry and they did. On the other hand righteous Job demanded an answer and God gave a question.
Sometimes God tells us why we suffer. Sometimes He just asks us to trust him.
I love how a professor of mine put it:
“I don’t always have the answer for why God allows bad things and where babies going when they die. I don’t know the answers to the toughest, unsearchable questions in life. But I know Jesus, God’s son, and you can trust him.” – Dr. John Hannah
God is all good
Let’s admit it, defining “good” invites debate. Christians say “God is good” and then allow him to define himself. Others bring their definition of good to God and try to line up “good” and God.
Let me sidestep nailing down “good” and offer an illustration:
My daughter Christy attends preschool. I want her to grow into a good young woman. So, if she disobeys a school rule I appreciate the consequences her teacher enforces. At home we use timeouts and other consequences to motivate her to learn kindness, obedience, and respect. We use the tool of suffering to produce the fruit of a girl who will succeed in life.
You know, even Jesus learned from what he suffered:
“Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered.” – Hebrews 5:8 (NIV)
Our children grow good through suffering. God’s Son “learned obedience” through suffering. What might God do in our lives through suffering?
If God chose another tactic…if God chose to force us to become good… what then?
“Every time you use force to prevent evil, you take away freedom. To prevent all evil, you must remove all freedom and reduce people to puppets, which means they would then lack the ability to freely choose love.” – Peter Kreeft (The Case for Faith, p58)
I admit, many times in my life I wished God would simply make me good. Yet, every time I think that through I thank God for his merciful freedom.
Is there a point, a quantity, where the sum of evil in the world disapproves God?
When water reaches a certain temperature it transforms into gas. At what point does the accumulation of evil equal the nonexistence of God? We don’t know.
We do know, however, God does use suffering for good; for repentance.
CS Lewis wrote:
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (The Case for Faith, p60)
In order for the Christian to grapple with the reality of suffering she must also hold to the tangibility of heaven.
Heaven is eternal.
Life on earth is not eternal.
To rightly see suffering in this world, one must counterbalance it with heaven in the next. In light of heaven suffering can shrink. Pain can diminish.
Meditation on the reality of heaven prepares one to experience the pain of suffering.
It is a joke to think one can condense suffering to three eight hundered word blogs. The construction of a framework for understanding suffering remains my goal. Each of us should have a framework to grasp suffering which we fill in with the unique details of our lives.
To conclude my conclusion I echo the words of John Stott:
When I see the Buddha staring blandly into another world, I find no hope. When I read of the conquering Mohammed and the sovereign Allah, I find no hope. When I hear the atheistic arguments for nothingness, my life reflects hopelessness.
Yet, when I see the battered, tortured, sacrificed Jesus I find hope. I find a God who gets my suffering. I find a God who understands my pain. I find a God who allows suffering to make sense. I find hope.
I must express a debt of gratitude to Lee Strobel for his fascinating book “The Case for Christ”. I devoured his book and reflected much of his argument on suffering in these three blogs.