Why does God allow evil and suffering?
Before we get to this question I want to mention John Piper's blog post about President Obama's speech to school children. I think Piper's review of the speech, which includes his selection of excerpts, is a fair and positive assessment. You can read it here.
(Click here if you're unable to view the video.)
In my life, I’d already seen enough evil and suffering to feel deeply troubled by it. What I needed was to find perspective on what troubled me. In this process of writing If God Is Good, I’ve taken most pleasure in focusing closely on God, exploring his attributes of goodness, love, holiness, justice, patience, grace and mercy. While my journey has offered no easy answers, I’ve felt bowled over by how much insight Scripture gives us.
I’ve looked at a God who says, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering” (Exodus 3:7). I found great comfort in hearing God speak of a time when he could bear his people’s misery no longer (Judges 1:16). I revel in God’s emphatic promise that he will make a New Earth where he will come to live with us, and on which “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).
Often God has wiped away my own tears as I’ve contemplated potentially faith-jarring matters that have left me, not in despair, but with great hope that defies description and a peace that transcends understanding (Philippians 4:7). In short, I’ve seen Jesus.
This journey has stretched my trust in God and his purposes, yet I have emerged stronger and more refined because of it. I feel more at peace and, I hope, more prepared for my own suffering and for helping others in theirs. Also, I believe I have much more to offer believers who may be questioning their faith, as well as to unbelievers who consider the problem of evil and suffering their single greatest obstacle to faith.
Ultimately, the answer to the problem of evil and suffering is not a philosophy, but a Person; not words, but the Word.
A grieving father asked, “Where was God when my son died?”
A friend answered, “The same place he was when his Son died.”
Despite the statement’s power, it’s not entirely accurate. For God turned away from his Son when he died. Why? So he would not have to turn away when the grieving man’s son died. The man and his son can enjoy eternity together in a world without suffering and death because God’s Son died for them.
I agree with John Stott:
I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross.… In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of his.