How Could a Good God Allow Evil and Suffering?
The following is a presentation given by Randy Alcorn on April 9, 2001, at Mount Hood Community College, Gresham, OR, sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ.
Introduction: The Problem of Suffering
A year and a half ago I walked through the Killing Fields in Cambodia. I saw the skulls piled up, and stood by the mudpits where hundreds of bodies were thrown. I saw a human jawbone lying at my feet. I picked it up, held it in my hand, and wept. The darkness was overwhelming—the ground cried out at the tragedy in which two to three million Cambodians, nearly one third of the country’s population, were murdered by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
I was escorted by a gentle Cambodian couple, Vek and Samoeun Tang, who survived the Killing Fields. Samoeun’s parents both starved to death. One of her brothers was known dead, another brother was never seen or heard from. Presumably he was murdered and thrown into one of the thousands of unmarked graves, many of them containing hundreds of bodies each.
Vek’s brother and sister-in-law and six children all perished in this holocaust. We stood together at a tree where Khmer Rouge soldiers killed children by holding their feet and swinging them into the tree to smash their heads.
I’ve been at Yad Vashim, the holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, which to me is even more powerful than the Holocaust memorial in Washington, DC, though I recommend that one too. I recently finished a novel set in China, dealing with the horrible persecutions of China that took place under Mao.
In Africa, children are dying of AIDS and starvation. Last weekend, a mother of three died in car accident when she fell asleep at the wheel. One child had his jaw broken in three places. Worst of all, he lost his Mom.
Today at our church, my wife is at a memorial service. One of our church families has been living in Turkey. A week ago today their three year old child didn’t wake up from his nap. Little Eli died. Their lives came to a screeching halt. They’ll live each day with this terrible loss.
My Mom and Dad and my best friend from childhood all died of cancer. Why am I telling you all this sad news? Because I want to address what is perhaps the most common argument against religion in general and the Christian faith in particular—the problem of suffering and evil.
Evil and Suffering as an argument against God
This is the first of seven major objections to belief in God dealt with by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for Faith. I brought plenty of copies today—pick one up afterward if you’d like to read it.
The logic goes like this:
There may be no God at all.
There may be a God who is all good.
There may be a God who is all powerful.
But there cannot be a God who is all good and all powerful, because such a God could not allow such evil and suffering as we see in this world.
Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote the New York Times best-seller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People he concluded God is all good but not all powerful. Kushner said, “It’s too difficult even for God to keep cruelty and chaos from claiming their innocent victims.”
In other words, God wins some and he loses some. But he’s just not strong enough to stop evil. This is not the picture of God portrayed in the Bible.
Some Eastern religions teach there is no such thing as suffering and evil, it’s all an illusion. Evil and good are really the same. God is nature and nature is God. Whatever is is, and either everything is good or there are no moral qualities by which to judge anything as good or bad.
Another position is dualism, which you see in religions such as Zoroastrianism. It’s the Star Wars theme, a cosmic battle between two equal opposites, good and evil, or God and Satan. This too is never taught in the Bible. God and Satan are not equal opposites. Satan is a created being, the equal opposite not of God, but Michael the archangel.
I believe that neither atheism nor polytheism nor pantheism nor dualism adequately explains the universe. Though I was not raised to believe the Christian faith, I came to believe it while in high school. One of the most difficult questions for me was the issue of suffering. It seemed so unfair not only that there is suffering, but that some suffer far more than others.
There are no easy answers to this sobering question. But here are some perspectives to consider as you wrestle with this issue.
Responses to the Question, “How Can A Good God Allow Evil and Suffering?”
1. The Bible itself raises this question. It never backs away from it. The problem of suffering and evil is in Habakkuk, Jeremiah, Job, and many of the Psalms.
God does not condemn people for asking such questions. For instance, Jeremiah 12:1 says, “You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper?”
Many of the Psalms ask, “Why, O Lord do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? Why are the heavens silent when I ask for help? Why do the good suffer? Why do the evil prosper?”
Anyone who tries to gloss over or minimize the problem of evil doesn’t get it. I’ve walked through the streets of Garbage Village in Cairo, and other places of great poverty. I’ve been with many suffering people. Just as the Bible doesn’t, we shouldn’t underestimate the seriousness of this problem.
2. The Bible attributes the origin of human evil to people exercising their free will; when they choose to disobey God’s standards, it brings suffering.
God said “You can eat the fruit of every other tree, but if you eat from this one, you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). The Bible says “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We are free to choose, but there will be severe consequences if we choose to disobey. The first man and woman chose that path, and when they did evil, death and suffering kicked in.
The Bible teaches that the whole earth was under man’s dominion and care, and that not only man, but animals and all creation suffered the effects of human sin. Romans 8 says “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration...in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
Thus, one of human sin’s consequences is a disordered creation, including natural disasters. But the greatest tragedies of history, which have caused the most suffering, are not natural disasters, but wars and persecutions and murders conducted by sinful human beings.
People are quick to lay the blame for this at God’s feet. They point to portions of the Bible that speak of terrible things. But there is much the Bible records that it does not endorse. And when God orders military aggression against a particular people group, we should take a closer look at the group and their cancerous influence on surrounding nations. We may still not understand, but at least we’ll have a more accurate picture of what was at stake.
God condemns the human choices that have brought the great majority of suffering. Men blame God. But God blames men. Jesus looked at the suffering of Jerusalem, and wept over it. He longs for people to live by his standards. If we did there would not be evil and suffering. As we’ll see, God did not stay at a distance, but did something startling to deal with the problem of evil and suffering.
3. To argue that God should not permit evil or suffering is to argue against human beings having free choice.
Is moral freedom good? Is it right that people have the ability to choose for themselves? Or would it be better if human beings were choiceless, mechanistic robots who walked around and did good because we had no other choice?
If God had made us without the ability to choose, wouldn’t we resent him for that too? Actually, we wouldn’t, but only because we wouldn’t have the capacity to criticize Him.
According to the Bible, when we question God we’re exercising the same freedom of choice as when we choose good or evil. We’re having this discussion only because God has created us with a freedom to make choices.
What does freedom mean? Doesn’t it necessarily involve the capacity to choose evil? Of course. You cannot have true freedom of choice if you can only choose good but not evil.
And what if evil was stripped of all its consequences, so you could choose evil but it wouldn’t bring any suffering? Well, then it wouldn’t be evil any more, because evil and suffering are inseparable, just as good is inseparable from the desirable consequences it produces. Strip evil of its consequences, and we wouldn’t be exercising real choices. It would only be a facade.
The freedom to choose is sacred in this society. Isn’t it ironic to blame God for giving us the very freedom we so highly prize?
Ask yourself this question: If you were God, how would you have created people differently? Would you have withheld from people the capacity to make wrong choices as well as right ones? If you would have, then human beings—as we know ourselves to be—would not exist.
4. The things we consider the greatest virtues would not be known in a world without evil and suffering.
Here’s a short list of desirable qualities: compassion, mercy, heroism, courage, justice, sacrifice.
Think about it. Could there be...
Compassion without suffering? Mercy without need? Heroism without a desperate plight? Courage without danger? Justice without injustice? Sacrifice without compelling cause for it?
Which great virtues could be seen in a world without suffering or evil? Don’t most if not all of the greatest virtues come into play in response to evil and suffering?
Think of your favorite books and movies. Take Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List or Amistad. Or take fiction like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. The virtues and camaraderie that inspire us in these stories could not exist without evil or suffering.
If you could snap your fingers and remove all evil and suffering that has ever happened, would you?
If you did, there could be no Helen Keller, Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Corrie ten Boom or William Wilberforce (who abolished England’s slave trade).
We must not minimize suffering. But we must also admit that we praise the virtues that have emerged from suffering—and in so doing we make an unspoken recognition, that good can come out of suffering.
Isn’t it logically inconsistent to say the virtues that emerge out of contexts of suffering are good, then turn around and say there’s no way a good God couldn’t allow evil and suffering? You can’t have it both ways. Is it possible that the good coming out of permitting human freedom to choose outweighs the evil that results?
If you think that’s not even possible, what qualifies you to know this? You can say, “In my limited understanding of all things, I don’t think the good outweighs the bad.” Fine, that’s your opinion. But to say “I know for sure the good cannot outweigh the bad” would require that you be all-knowing. (And if you think you are all-knowing then you do believe in God after all—you believe that you are God!)
5. Short-term evil and suffering sometimes accomplishes long-term good.
The Bible shows God using evil deeds for his good purposes, deeds done through the willing actions of moral creatures.
For instance, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. It was a terrible evil, and God held them accountable. But many years later Joseph has risen to power in Egypt, and under his guidance they have stored up huge amounts of grain to survive a great famine. Citizens of Israel and other nations came to Egypt to get grain. Joseph said to his brothers who sold him into slavery, “You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good—to save many lives.” (Genesis 50:20).
God can and does use human acts of evil—and the suffering that comes out of it—for other people’s good. The book of Romans says “we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
After all his years in the gulag, Solzhenitsyn wrote: “It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good...Bless you, prison, for having been in my life.” Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl didn’t glorify suffering, but he did speak of definite good that came out of it.
One effect of suffering is to draw people to God. 2 Cor. 1:8-9 says we endure suffering “in order that we should not trust in ourselves but in God, who raises the dead.”
The British preacher Charles Spurgeon suffered from a very painful disease. He said, “If I did not believe my disease came from the hand of God, I would be in despair.” This is very different than Rabbi Kushner who tries to console himself and his readers by believing God lacks the power to prevent our suffering. In fact, there is little comfort in a God who lacks the power to control things! There is much more comfort in a God who permits suffering and can use it for our good, to fulfill a sovereign purpose.
6. Our moral objection to evil and suffering is itself an argument for a good God.
Only by appealing to a standard of goodness that’s bigger than ourselves can we determine that evil is evil and there is something fundamentally wrong with suffering.
How could moral evil evolve out of lifeless matter? Chemicals mixing and molecules banging against each other cannot account for good and evil. Nor can they account for the profound human awareness of good and evil.
An atheist may say evil proves there is no God. But follow this to its logical conclusion. Without God there is no reference point for good and evil. Who can condemn nature for evil? Nature is what nature is. And we should have no capacity to break outside the system and evaluate it if we are really the product of blind evolution rather than intelligent design. (By the way, I hope you’ve read the New York Times bestseller Darwin’s Black Box, by biochemistry professor Michael Behe, one of many scientists who argues that the complex machinery which exists on the cellular level can only be explained by intelligent design.)
On what basis can we call one thing good and another evil? If there is no God, then “good” and “evil” are nothing more than subjective feelings reflecting what our culture has taught us to approve or disapprove. Evil is nothing more than whatever I happen to oppose or dislike. Suppose you object to murder, but I think it’s fine. You think rape is evil and someone else thinks it’s okay. Apart from some external objective moral standard we’re just exchanging opinions. Why is your opinion or mine more valid that Adolf Hitler’s or Jeffrey Dahmer’s?
People who claim to be moral relativists say there’s no such thing as a moral absolute—but they can’t live within in their own system. Ask them, “if I were to beat you over the head with a baseball bat, rape your sister, kidnap your child, or burn down your house, do you think that would be absolutely wrong?” Of course—if we admit it, we do believe in moral absolutes. But who or what is behind those standards? Who besides human beings has set them up so we can appeal to them?
Our belief that there is good and evil is itself an argument for the existence of some outside standard of good and evil. If we’re merely the blind product of time, chance and natural forces, we’re part of a system with no transcendent ability to step outside it. We’re stuck in the system.
A gazelle runs from the cheetah, but gazelles don’t sit around the campfire and discuss how unfair it is that cheetahs kill gazelles. There’s something in us that cries out “something’s wrong,” something needs fixing. That thing that cries out is what the Bible calls the conscience, God’s law written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). We are made in the image of God. We are more than just animals. We have a conscience, a moral code built into us. That’s what allows us to step outside of what we see around us and call it good or evil.
If there is no God, there is no such thing as objective evil. What we would call evil is merely projecting our subjective feelings onto events. But that doesn’t satisfy our instinctive outrage over evil and suffering. Morality is more than an evolutionary trick played on our minds.
The very fact that we recognize evil and object to it, is evidence that a God of goodness has planted in us the notion of goodness. We are using God’s own standards of good, which he has written on our hearts, as an argument against him.
My question to some of my atheist friends is, “If there is no God, why are you so angry at Him?”
There are no atheists in foxholes. They are either shaking their fist at God in anger or crying out to God for mercy. But in either case, they are recognizing the existence of the God they have denied. Suggestion: don’t wait until your deathbed to come to grips with the question of God. No question is more important. Don’t procrastinate finding answers to this question.
7. If you argue that evil is evidence there is no God you must also admit that good is evidence there is a God.
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t argue for the negation of a thing, a good God, by the existence of evil unless you also argue for the thing itself, a good God, by the existence of good. If not for a good God, where would goodness come from?
Is there anything in the blind evolutionary process of survival of the fittest that would cultivate kindness and putting other people first? How much good should we expect to see in a self-generated world? None. We should only see ruthlessness and the will to survive at everyone else’s expense. We do see plenty of that, of course, but we also see kindness, compassion, sacrifice and love. I’m convinced that without a good God, who created in us an appreciation of virtue—and empowers people to do good—we would see none of those.
8. Our understanding is limited. If there is an all-knowing God, it shouldn’t surprise us that He might have purposes in suffering which we cannot comprehend.
Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Protagarus said, “Man is the measure of all things.” Well, that’s one world view. But it’s not the Bible’s. God is the measure of all things. We see the universe as anthropocentric, man-centered, while the Bible claims it is theocentric, God-centered. We think we’re the main characters in the drama. The Bible says God is.
How much do you know? Let’s say you’re the smartest person who’s ever lived, and that you know .1% of all there is to know in the universe. Is it possible that in the 99.9% of all that you don’t know, there is enough good in the universe to outweigh the evil? Is it possible that in the 99.9% you don’t know, there exists a good God, and even a rational explanation—if you were smart enough to understand it—of why a good God would permit suffering? Is it possible that the evil, bad as it is, has been used to accomplish good purposes?
Ever been to a football game at half time when the band forms words or pictures in the middle of the field? They look great from up in the stands. But have you ever been on the sidelines when the band forms its symbols? You can’t see them. What the band’s doing appears pointless, confusing, apparently meaningless. We see life from the sidelines. God sees it from above, in the grandstands. The Bible invites us to walk up in the stands and get a better perspective.
In my novel Edge of Eternity, after seeing many events of this life that are terrible, something happens to the main character, Nick Seagrave, toward the end:
A vast fabric stretched across the sky. Bending back my head, I saw on the fabric countless unsightly lumps and knots, like thick, rough yarn with frayed strings.
Suddenly, Marcus beside me, I was yanked up into the sky and pulled through a hole in the center of the fabric. Now I was on the other side, the topside. I looked down and saw a beautiful work of art, like needlepoint or cross-stitching, a magnificent tapestry. The yarn and threads had been perfectly knitted together in elaborate design by the hands of a master craftsman. I saw in the center of the tapestry the Woodsman on a tree. I saw how a senseless murder, history’s worst act of betrayal, was the centerpiece of a glorious design. Surrounding it I saw other tragedies, absurd and incomprehensible events that now had clear meaning and purpose.
“It’s stunning,” I said to Marcus. “Before I saw only the underside, the ugly knots and frays. I never saw the design, the beauty.”
“No wonder,” Marcus said. “Until now, you have always lived on the wrong side of the tapestry.”
A few years ago a woman named Mary came to my wife and me, because she was dying of cancer. One day she seemed perfectly healthy, the next she was going in for chemotherapy. She wondered why, if there was a loving God, he had let her life fall apart like this.
My wife Nanci used an analogy. She said imagine a three year old boy has swallowed poison. The father calls poison control and they say “You have to get him to the hospital, and whatever you do, don’t let him fall asleep. If he falls asleep, he’ll die.”
It’s a cold winter night and the boy’s in his pajamas. His father rushes him to the car. He’s sitting beside him in the front seat. Dad rolls all the windows down. The boy’s head starts to drop. His father reaches his right arm over and slaps him in the face. The boy cries. His head starts to nod again. The father slaps him again and again, all the way to the hospital.
Can the child understand why his father is slapping his face? Of course not. He’s only three years old. His father, through tears, says “I love you, son.” But if this is love, the boy doesn’t want any more of it.
Even though the child isn’t able to understand, the father is acting in his best interests. What the father is doing is good. It appears to be out of line with what the child knows about his loving father. But what the child thinks of as cruelty is actually kindness. His father is doing what is best for him.
Is it possible that God is showing his love in the midst of human suffering, and that like three year old children, we sometimes don’t understand? (By the way, during her illness, our friend Mary came to faith in Christ, and a short time later died. I believe with all my heart I’ll see her again in heaven.)
Because we lack omniscience, holiness, justice and love, we are unqualified to pronounce judgment on God. After Job has questioned God about why he has allowed him to undergo suffering, we’re told in Job 38, “Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!”
God asks Job question after question that Job is too young and puny to begin to understand. Then he says, “Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this. Then he adds a humorous bit of sarcasm. He says, “Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!”
We know so little. We have lived so short a time. Read the last five chapters of Job. Then ask yourself if you know enough to put God before your judgment seat rather than stand before his.
9. God has stated and demonstrated great compassion on people who suffer.
In Exodus 3, when Israel was suffering, we’re told,
The LORD said, “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. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. The cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
When Paul, who was then called Saul, was killing and imprisoning Christians, Jesus appears to him on the road to Damascus. He asked him an amazing question: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” We might have expected him to say, “Why are you persecuting my people?” What he said shows that God takes it personally when his people suffer. And, in ways we do not understand, God himself suffers along with them.
Sometimes God intervenes by taking away the suffering. Often he intervenes by meeting people and comforting them in their suffering. Sometimes He holds their hands in death to bring them home to a perfect world He’s made for them.
I have been with many suffering people, in China, Cambodia, Egypt, Kenya, Hungary, Russia, the Ukraine, Moldavia, and here in the Gresham area. I’ve heard their stories. I saw my Mom die of cancer. I was with my best friend from childhood when he died of cancer. I was with my Dad when he died, along with my wife and my daughters and brother. I can tell you from experience that if you turn to Christ and accept his comfort, He will be there for you in the time of suffering. He will hold your hand and the day you die, he’ll take you into the new world, and wipe away your tears.
According to Revelation Christ is so attentive to the suffering of his people that his return to establish the new world will be prompted by the death of the last martyr:
[Those who’d died] called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. (Rev. 6:10-11)
God doesn’t always do what we ask him to, nor does He do it immediately, when we want him to. But countless millions of people who are suffering—including persecuted Christians in China, Sudan, Indonesia and many middle eastern countries—have attested to God’s care and comfort. We may not understand why, but it’s a fact that people facing ongoing evil and suffering have turned to the Christian faith in great numbers.
10. Jesus Christ’s incarnation and redemption demonstrate that God has never dished out any suffering He hasn’t taken on himself.
In the incarnation, God became a man. John 1:14 says “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In the redemption, the only sinless man who ever lived—Jesus Christ, the God-man—took upon himself all the sins and evil and sufferings of the world (2 Corinthians 5:21). He underwent an eternity of suffering in a time span of six hours on the cross. He wasn’t forced to do this. He chose to, as the ultimate act of love for mankind.
Because of our sins we were headed toward an eternity in hell, where God is not. Because of his redemption, He offers us an eternity in heaven, where God is.
In Philippians 2, the Bible tells us Jesus was God, but “made himself nothing.” He came down to live in our world, to suffer our weaknesses, to face our temptations and sufferings. God became a servant to us. He came to seek and to save the lost, even to the point of death. Why did he do this for us? Because he loves us. He saw our suffering and had compassion on us. He wanted to deliver us from the evil that enslaved us.
John 3:16-19 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
The Bible says when Christ was in the garden before he went to the cross, “being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). The stress upon him even before he was crucified was so great that it was breaking his blood vessels.
He didn’t have to die on the cross. He chose to. Jesus said at any moment he could have called twelve legions of angels to deliver him from his captors (Matthew 26:53). That’s 72,000 angels. But he didn’t choose to be delivered. He chose to die for our sins instead.
The existence of evil and the reality of suffering were the crucible in which God showed his ultimate love to mankind. It took no love to create us. It took unfathomable love to die for us. It is one thing to suffer terribly—it is another thing to do so by one’s own choice. At any moment Christ could have unmade the ones crucifying him, or stepped down off the cross. Had he done so, all of us would have perished forever in hell.
God offered his love to us in a package stained with his blood. We can take it or leave it. But we cannot say God hangs out in some far corner of the universe, and doesn’t care enough about human evil and suffering to do something about it. Both the incarnation and redemption of Christ silence the argument of a deistic God who keeps his distance from suffering.
The God of the Bible faced both evil and suffering head on. He took it all on himself in an astounding act of redemption.
Think about this: if God can bring the single greatest good in human history, the redemption of mankind, out of the single most horrible event in human history, the crucifixion of Christ, then He’s a master at turning evil on its head, and bringing about good. If He can use the evil and horrors of his own crucifixion for good, can he use other suffering for good?
11. God promises He will make a brand new world, and new heavens and new earth, where there will be no more suffering.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.” (Revelation 21:1-4)
God promises final relief from suffering for all who will accept his suffering on the cross on their behalf. The promise of an eternity without suffering brings a whole new dimension to suffering. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
This is the perspective of Paul in Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
12. Those who embrace the Christian faith most deeply and passionately are not those who live in comfort and ease, but those who live in suffering.
Today, the strongest Christian churches in the world are not in America, but in places like Sudan, China, Egypt and India. In Sudan Christians are severely persecuted, raped, tortured and sold into slavery. Yet they have a vibrant faith in Christ. People who live in Garbage Village, in Cairo, are part of the largest Christian church in Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of the poor in India are turning to Christ. Why? Because the caste system and the fatalism of Hinduism has given them no answers. They are turning to a personal God who loves them and understands suffering, because He has suffered more than anyone.
You may think the words of the Bible ring hollow to the persecuted and suffering, but in fact those are the very words that ring true to those suffering the most. Those are the words they cling to. Christians in these countries look to God for comfort, and sense His presence in the midst of their suffering.
A man who wrestled with the problem of evil and suffering said in Habakkuk 3, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.”
13. Those who are most critical of God for allowing suffering usually do very little to help alleviate it.
We ask God, “Why aren’t you doing more to help the needy?” God might respond, “Look at all the resources I’ve put into your hands, so no one needs to go hungry. What are you doing with the solutions to world suffering that I have put into your hands? Why aren’t you doing more to help the needy?”
We could spend less on houses, drive less expensive cars, spend less money on clothes and toys, and give the money to keep whole villages alive. For the cost of what some of us spend on Starbuck’s coffee, we could feed whole families. Before you cast stones at God for not doing what you think he should about human suffering, ask yourself what you could be doing.
Why is it fair for us to judge God for allowing suffering, when we’re doing so little to alleviate it? We ask, “If God can help the poor why doesn’t he?” Maybe we should ask “If God has given us so much to help the poor, why don’t we?”
The answer may come down to something very unpleasant and unpopular: that the problem of evil and suffering doesn’t point the finger at God, but at us.
The Bible says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). God will not stand before our judgment seat. We will stand before His.
Corrie ten Boom, from the depths of a concentration camp, wrote: “No matter how deep our darkness, He is deeper still.”
Suffering is many things, but in the end it is God’s invitation to us to trust Him, and to look forward to a place where all suffering will forever be replaced by Joy—Heaven. In light of that, we need to understand exactly how we can get to heaven.
The Bible says it’s our responsibility to admit that we’re at fault for our share of the evil and suffering in this world. It says “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). It says, “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Rom. 10:9-10)
We’re told there’s no work we can do to contribute to salvation. “For by grace you have been saved by faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not by works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
How many ways are there to get to the Father in heaven? Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) That’s an exclusive statement, and therefore not a popular one. It’s not politically correct these days. But Jesus said it. And I believe Him. Do you?
People spend their lives moving from person to person, relationship to relationship in search of the right person, the person who can meet all their deepest needs. But many never find the person they’re longing for. They move from house to house, from city to city, looking for that perfect mountain chalet, that ideal beach house, that beautiful house in the country. But they never find the place they’re longing for.
We were all made for a person and a place. Jesus is that person. Heaven is that place. No one else and no place else will satisfy. The suffering and evil that plague us here and now, in that short period while we live under the unnatural conditions of sin’s curse, will have no place then and there, in heaven.
Note from EPM: Randy’s book If God Is Good is now 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.)