The "Problem" of Evil and Suffering - Part 2
Last time, we looked at how evil and suffering are actually a significant problem for the atheist. You can read that post here. Today, I want to argue that in Biblical Christianity we are given:
1. A Framework to Understand Evil and Suffering
2. The Power to Endure Evil and Suffering
3. The Hope to See Past Our Suffering
Not only does atheism fail to give anyone an adequate explanation for the evil and suffering we experience it also fails to help us get through it. Biblical Christianity does both!
1. A Framework to Understand Evil and Suffering
Christianity gives us a framework to understand why there is evil and suffering in the world. When we look at Genesis 1, we see that God created all things and they were all "good." But, not long after creation, comes the next major event in creation history, the Fall. The Fall brought into the world pain and suffering, evil and imbalance.
The reason we feel like things are not as they should be is because this was not as it was supposed to be. This is why death, disease, and suffering do not feel natural. Many say “death is just a part of life." Well, it certainly doesn't feel that way! You would think, if we are just products of random chance and evolution over millions of years, we would have gotten used to this reality by now.
A Biblical worldview gives us a Sovereign Creator who even in the midst of man's sinfulness is working all things together for His glory and the good of those who respond to Him in faith. You see, evil and suffering are only a part of the good story God is writing. We know this can be true intuitively, that some of the evil and suffering we see can lead to ultimate good.
You see, evil and suffering are only a part of the good story God is writing
Some would say that God cannot exist because pointless evil and suffering exist (something from which nothing good can come). But this is actually arrogant to say. Just because I cannot see a purpose for some suffering does not mean that there cannot be an unseen purpose for it. It would be a logical fallacy to say so.
Think of all of your favorite movies. Most likely each one has a low point, where the sky gets dark and it looks hopeless. But this point allows for the greatest victory and celebration. If it were not for Thanos' victory at the end of Avengers Infinity War the conclusion in Avengers End Game would not be as meaningful.
Many ask, "if God is all-powerful and all-loving how could he allow all this evil and suffering?" Well, God is certainly these things but He is far more. We need to take into account the other attributes of God. God is also eternal and all-knowing. Sacrificing a queen in a chess game seems foolish, but it may be the best strategy to win the game. Just because we cannot see, in our finite and temporal minds, a purpose in all that we experience does not mean that a purpose cannot exist.
Here God's Word is helpful. The Bible teaches us that everything we see is part of a larger plan...
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory 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. Romans 8:18-22)
So, creation itself groans for all things to be made new and all the suffering we see is just a preamble to the glory that God is going to bring in the future! Just a few verses later we read that often quoted verse in Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." We might not be able to say HOW God will work all things together for good, but just because we cannot see it does not mean it is not possible. Tim Keller hits the nail on the head,
Biblical Christianity gives us a framework to understand and define evil and suffering but it also uniquely gives us...
2. The Power to Endure Evil & Suffering
Many reject God because of evil and suffering they have personally experienced. They ask, "how could God have let that happen?" I would propose that Christianity uniquely gives us a God who comes down, takes on human form, and suffers right alongside us! No other religion offers us this.
Christ is the answer to evil and suffering
The incarnation of the Son of God says, “I am going to come down into your mess and fix it!” Jesus suffered with us. Jesus suffered for us. (See Isaiah 53 where the Messiah is prophesied to be the "Suffering Servant").
Jesus wept, hurt, experienced loss, faced rejection, and died on a cross at the hands of mankind. The reality that we have a God who has suffered with us should be a comfort in our lowest of valleys.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. -Hebrews 4:15
In 1 Peter 3-4, Peter writes to a church experiencing suffering and persecution and he points them to this same reality, that Christ also suffered and this should give us the courage and strength to suffer well. Christianity uniquely gives us the power and presence to endure our suffering through Jesus.
To paraphrase another statement by Tim Keller,
We may not know all the reasons why God allows evil and suffering but when we look at the cross we know the reason it cannot be - it cannot be because God does not love us.
I think it will. But I am getting ahead of myself...
What we see in Jesus Christ on the cross is that God willingly gives us the power and His very presence to help us endure suffering if we are willing to come to Him.
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
God desires to walk with you through your pain and suffering. The Suffering Servant wants to help you through your pain. He wants to take our lowest moments and transform them into our greatest victories!
So, Biblical Christianity uniquely provides a framework through which we can understand evil and suffering and it also, through the cross, gives us the power and presence to endure suffering. Lastly, in the Christian faith we can find...
3. The Hope to See Past Our Suffering
Remember that God is eternal. God’s Word teaches we are as well! C.S. Lewis once said "You have never met a mere mortal!" And this is true. Every person you have ever met is an eternal being.
Evil and suffering are not purposeless because this life is not all there is and for God a thousand years is like a day (2 Peter 3:8). An "eternal weight of glory" has the power to make today's difficulties seem much smaller. Paul writes,
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:18
Furthermore, God's Word teaches that all will be made new! Look at Revelation 21,
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” ... “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell 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.”
Sarah, my wife, once had a dream of one of our boys dying. She woke up shaken and sad. Realizing it was a dream brought hope and when she held him in her arms in a hug that morning it was an amazing feeling of peace and comfort. What if heaven is like this? What if it will be like waking up from a dream and realizing that so much of the sorrow and disappointment in our lives has been undone?!
Heaven is not just a consolation for a life lost. It is the actualization, recreation, and resurrection of our lives for all eternity! This is our hope. No matter how dark it gets this is only the beginning. "It ain't over yet."
Biblical Christianity gives us hope to see past the evil and suffering of this life.
I wish you could have known my friend, Bob Rickel.
Bob passed away in 2019, the first line of Bob Rickel’s Obituary was:
Bob Rickel didn’t consider the sufferings of the present time worth comparing with the glory that would be revealed to him (Romans 8).
I sat with Bob just a few weeks before he passed and his faith never wavered. Bob’s faith gave him a framework from which to understand his suffering. In the midst of pain and barely being able to keep his eyes open, he said, “I was given more life than I deserved.” He understood the nature of sin and realized that every day was a gift from God. Bob demonstrated the power and presence of Christ as he endured suffering. To the end, he held tightly to the hope that all would be made new, that cancer would not have the final say, that death was only the beginning. And Bob is more alive now than he ever was.
So for you who doubt that God could exist because of the evil and suffering in the world, by what standard do you judge him? How can you explain the existence of absolute evil in the world? Why does human suffering cause such discontent?
An absolute moral law points to a Lawmaker. And if the Lawmaker exists then you are responsible to Him. Our lives should be devoted to Him. And a life lived for God is one that helps us to endure the hardships and difficulty now and gives us a lasting hope for the future.
For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Romans 10:11)
Near the close of The Return of the King, the final part of the Lord of the Rings saga, Samwise Gamgee awakes to find many of his friends around him including Gandalf who he thought was dead. He exclaims,
Jesus said it better than I ever could, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33)
Read more articles by Phil on Apologetics HERE.