WP 115: The Problem of Evil and Suffering

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“If there is really a God, then why does he let all of these bad things happen in the world?”

Why didn’t God stop the holocaust?

Evil and suffering. Christianity teaches the existence of an all-powerful, all-good and loving God. But how can that belief be reconciled with the horrors that occur daily? If there is a God, he must be either all-powerful but not good enough to want an end to evil and suffering, or he’s all-good but not powerful enough to bring an end to evil and suffering. Either way, the God of the Bible couldn’t exist. For many people, this is not only an intellectual conundrum but also an intensely personal problem. Their own lives are marred by tragedy, abuse and injustice.

Much has been written on this over the centuries…

We all face it. What is our response in the moment when we’re with someone who is suffering? As pastors we have dealt with tragedies in people’s lives big and small.

Ministry of Presence.

Don't trivialize it by offering pat answers.

Why is there evil in the first place?

God created mankind in order to love them.

Love is the highest good in the universe.

Love must be freely chosen for it to be love.

For mankind to experience true love it must have free will.

Free will must allow for the possibility of good and evil choices or it is not free will.

For love to be chosen there has to be the opposite possibility of “not love.”

  1. If you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad because he hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have to (at the same moment) have a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t know (you can’t have it both ways).

Common fallacy: If I can’t think of a reason God allows evil and suffering, then there can’t be one.

  1. Though we don’t know the reasons why he allows it to continue, he can’t be indifferent or un-caring, because the Christian God (unlike the gods of all the other religions) takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he is willing to get involved with it himself. On the cross, Jesus suffered with us.

What about natural evil? Earthquakes, tsunamis, famine, etc.

Why should we expect that nature should go our way? If there is no god, and nature is red in tooth and claw, the strong eat the weak every day. There's nothing more natural than that. And yet when we experience these things in our we lives think there's more to it than that. We think that it is more than just evolutionarily beneficial. We think these things are more than inconvenient, uncomfortable, or non-preferable. We actually think they are wrong and unjust. But where would we get the idea that they are unjust and not just the natural consequences of natural forces in an unguided universe?

C.S. Lewis writes: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?…

Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too – for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense…. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.”

Jesus provides resources for suffering that are unique to Christianity.

God himself suffers. He becomes fully human and enters into the brokenness of humanity. He submits himself to his own creation and suffers alongside. God is truly Emmanuel, God with us, even in our worst sufferings.

Purpose. God doesn't cause our suffering, but he can redeem it. Christianity provides an identity and meaning to life that suffering can't take away. It is a transcendent and eternal as its source.

Resurrection Hope. The Biblical view of things is resurrection—not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater.

  1. S. Lewis wrote: “They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”

Why didn’t God stop the holocaust? I don't know what all the reasons are. But I know what they are not. It's not because he’s in different. It's not because he was unwilling to enter into our pain and humble himself to his own creation. It's not because he doesn't love us. And because he suffered absolute injustice and evil proving himself victorious over them by an empty tomb, we know that evil does not have the last word. It didn't have the last word over him. And evil doesn't have the last word over us who are “in Christ.”

Recommended Books:

  • A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser
  • The Problem of Pain, and A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
  • Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller

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