God’s Redemptive Purposes for Evil and Suffering
The stronger our concept of God and Heaven, the more we understand how Heaven resolves the problem of evil and suffering. The weaker our concept of God and Heaven, the stronger our doubt that Heaven will more than compensate for our present sufferings.
If Heaven did not exist, we could never solve the problem of evil and suffering, for we would never receive any lasting compensation for it.
Nanci read me letters written in 1920 by her grandmother, Ana Swanson, to her family in Sweden. Because Ana suffered severe health problems, she moved to Montana to be cared for by relatives. Her husband, Edwin, remained in Oregon, day and night working and caring for their seven children. Ana’s letters tell how Edwin wore himself out, became sick, and died. Ana lacked the strength to raise her younger children, so they, including Nanci’s mother, Adele, were placed for adoption. Ana’s letters reflect her broken heart, her nagging guilt…and her faith in God.
Nanci and I wept as we read those letters. What inconsolable disappointment and pain! Ana and Edwin loved Jesus. Perhaps they asked a good God why he would allow such tragedy. That day, Nanci and I considered what God might give this broken family on the New Earth. Certainly they will be healthy—Ana won’t live with illness, fatigue, grief, anxiety, and guilt. Edwin won’t work himself to death, pining away for his dearest companion. Based on what I know of God, and the promises of Jesus about our earthly fortunes being reversed in Heaven, I believe that in the resurrection God may give this family wonderful times together that the old Earth denied them. Perhaps they’ll travel together and God will grant them indescribably rich times with one another, parents and children.
How like God that would be!
God originally planned that human beings live unswervingly happy, fulfilled, righteous, and God-centered lives on Earth. If our current lives present the only opportunities for that, then God’s plan has failed. But if we know the God revealed in Scripture, we realize his plans do not fail. His promises to resurrect both us and the earth itself guarantee his plan will forever succeed.
We want every chapter of our lives to feel good. It doesn’t work that way. The current chapter may be terribly hard, but the story hasn’t ended. God promises a final chapter in which he ties together all the story’s loose ends and launches us into an eternal sequel of incredibly grand proportions.
Make no mistake—the promise of God is that all his children, including Ana and Edwin Swanson and each of us who know Jesus, will live happily ever after.
In order to share Christ’s glory forever on the New Earth, we must share his sufferings temporarily on the fallen Earth.
When the New Testament discusses suffering, it repeatedly puts Heaven before the eyes of believers. Sadly, many churches fail to follow this example. When we say nothing, or put our hope in a health and wealth gospel, or hope only in medical advances, we rob God’s people of an eternal perspective.
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17). Paul says we will become Christ’s heirs and share in his glory if we share in his sufferings. No suffering, no glory.
F. F. Bruce writes, “It is not merely that the glory is a compensation for the suffering; it actually grows out of the suffering. There is an organic relation between the two for the believer as surely as there was for his Lord.”
As Romans 8:18 emphasizes, our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the future glory that God and we and others will see in us.
Paul offers a one-word answer to the question, “Why suffering?” He replies, “Glory.” Glory is a state of high honor, involving a brilliant, radiant beauty. Our glory is secondary, not primary. We are not its source, God is. He is the sun who shines upon us, bestowing an eternal glory rooted in himself, purchased for us by his suffering on the cross. God will be glorified by imparting his honor to us and sharing it with us.
God’s promise of glory doesn’t minimize our suffering, of course; Paul affirms we will experience great sufferings (see Romans 8). Only an immeasurably greater glory can eclipse our present suffering—and that is exactly what will happen. Romans 8:18 says God will not create that glory, but will reveal it. It’s already there—just not yet manifested.
The treasures we’ll enjoy won’t lie only outside us, but, Paul says, “in us.” God uses suffering to achieve the glorious transformation of our characters to prepare us for service and joy in the next life (see 2 Corinthians 4:17–18).
God will not simply wait for our deaths, then snap his fingers to make us what he wants us to be. He begins that process here and now, using our suffering to help us grow in Christlikeness. Phillips renders Romans 8:19, “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own.” As a master artist’s magnum opus awaits unveiling at an exhibit, so our Christlikeness, forged in suffering, awaits revealing at the Master’s perfect time.
Note from EPM: Randy's book If God Is Good is available for purchase online, in local bookstores, and from the Eternal Perspective Ministries website. (Check out the If God Is Good Chapter Summaries for a preview of the book's content.)