“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Suffering seems to be synonymous with being human. It’s just something that we cannot escape. It’s all around us and it is happening all the time, it’s hard to not notice it. Every day people deal with loss, pestilence, heartbreak, death, violence, murder, rape, natural disasters, terrorism, genocide, and all kinds of evil. The questions that lay on the minds of many are “Why do bad things happen to good people?” “Why me Lord?” and “Where is God in all of this?” When the sound of agony and suffering becomes loud, it seems that the beautiful songs about a good and loving God are drowned out. I assure you that though it becomes hard to have faith in God in the midst of suffering, God is still there and (though it may be hard to see how) He has his purposes for it.
Some might ask, “If God is in the midst of suffering, then how come he hasn’t done anything about it? Is he heartless? Is he unwilling? Is he not powerful enough?” This sounds very similar to the often used quote by the Greek philosopher Epicurus, in which he says:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
To your everyday run of the mill skeptic this seems as if it were a philosophical/theological checkmate… A sort of question that a Christian would be powerless to answer. The truth is that this question makes a lot of assumptions and doesn’t consider certain possibilities or extra factors (it’s a logical fallacy called a “false dilemma”). For instance, a question that could dismantle this so-called “checkmate” would be, “How do you know that God cannot use suffering for good in a way that doesn’t undermine His morality?,” or better yet, “How do you know that God has no good purpose for suffering?”
In her book Victims and Sinners: Spiritual Roots of Addiction and Recovery, Linda A. Mercadante writes:
In Christianity, God is in the process of healing the world. Sin and evil are effectually, promisorily, defeated. This is not a completely realized eschatology, but a future apocalyptic hope. We expect wrings to be righted and justice to reign through God’s actions. Christ’s work has been both a preview and a beginning of this, but we still await the consummation.
Throughout the Bible, it is clearly evident that God uses evil for His own good and just purposes. He does so, even though He is not responsible for the existence of evil. Consider the story of Joseph in Genesis. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery out of jealous anger and then faked his death. Did not Joseph end up becoming governor of Egypt and saving the Hebrews and the Egyptians from famine? Joseph said in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Consider the story of Job. Did not God put Satan to shame and supply Job with twice as much as he lost? Consider the story of Israel itself. Did God not use their sufferings and struggles to bless all of the nations? Consider the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Did God not use the sufferings of Christ to give life to humanity? “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6)
Throughout the Bible can be found a plethora of other instances where evil is used towards God’s good and just will. This is a recurring theme of the Bible. By using evil, God can bring more glory to Himself. This also brings into question God’s own morality. Isn’t it evil for God to use evil towards His own personal gain, especially His own recognition? The answer to this question is no, it doesn’t. God bringing glory to Himself isn’t a necessarily a bad thing. Glory is defined as “high renown or honor won by notable achievements” or “magnificence; great beauty.” To put the definition simply, the glory of God is the impressive, goodness of God. The more God expands His glory, the better it is for the whole of humanity, as more of humanity can come to have a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ and be given eternal life. Now taking this new discovery into account, another question is brought into the mix. “Why can’t God bring glory to himself without using evil?” The answer is that He can and He has before (for instance the burning bush in Exodus). God’s goodness and graciousness alone is sufficient enough to bring Him glory. God does not need evil to be good, nor does He need evil to prove that He is good to the world.
While God does use evil, it must be stressed and noted that God does not create evil, neither is He the cause and/or original creator of evil. Jesus says in Luke 6:43 that “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.” If God is good (the ultimate Good), then Jesus would be a liar if God made evil. How could God make evil if He is good? It makes no sense. Atheists often use the King James Version of Isaiah 45:7 to argue this. The verse says “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” The Hebrew word for “evil” used is actually better related to the word “calamity.” The English Standard Version of the Bible translates the verse as “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” God (in His goodness) causes calamity (in the form of justice) to come upon those who do evil. In Michael L. Peterson’s book The Problem of Evil: Selected Readings, he uses some of St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings from his Summa Theologica to add to his point. One of Aquina’ quotes says:
Further, a deficient effect can proceed only from a deficient cause. But evil is a deficient effect. Therefore its cause, if it has one, is deficient. But everything deficient is evil. Therefore the cause of evil can only be evil.
Though God’s goodness can be glorified alone, it is especially glorified when it triumphs over evil. What also has to be taken into account is what God has to work with. This is a fallen and broken world where evil is everywhere and every single, morally conscious, human being is corrupted in some sort of way. The world is also full of disease and death. What glorifies God more? Using what is good to glorify Himself, or showing the world that He can do good and revolutionary things through evil?
It can be argued that evil and suffering actually proves the existence of God considering that in a naturalistic worldview in which neither God nor any standards exist, evil and suffering don’t actually have proper places in the world. The reason why is because both evil and suffering assume the existence of good. Evil automatically assumes a standard because evil is just the deviation of good. Suffering, (in this context) being a cohort/repercussion of evil (though not necessarily evil alone), is dependent upon the existence both evil and good. Since neither of them existence in a naturalistic worldview (as morality is relative), neither does suffering. Relative, naturalistic, morality does not give any place for good or evil. The reason why is because suffering, in this context, is viewed as a negative.
In other words, a world where negative and positive are relative to each individual, there is no place for an overarching negative such as suffering. If someone views rape as good, then who’s to tell that individual it is bad? To assume that moral violations such as rape, murder, genocide, and human trafficking are bad, one must assume that everyone prescribes to his or her moral standards. Friedrich Nietzsche sums up relative morality perfectly with this quote: “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” In order for an atheist to even argue against evil, he or she would have to borrow from the Christian worldview since it is the only one which gives a proper place for good and evil.
Now take look at this quote evolutionary biologist, and devout atheist, Richard Dawkins from his book River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life:
In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.
If all there is in the universe is “pitiless indifference,” then why does Dawkins continue to fight against religion, claiming that it is “evil and repressive?” And that God is a “moral monster?” Why does he even concern himself with abstract concepts such as evil and good? He is wrong in his last sentence where he says “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” While overlooking the arguments for God’s existence such as the Cosmological argument and the fine tuning of the universe, Dawkins also falls into the same folly that Epicurus did. He is assuming that there is no possible purpose for the evil in the universe. Dawkins (if he were here) would probably ask the question, “Well what kind of a good God would allow for such pain and suffering to exist? What kind of morality is that?” The answer is the kind of God who can effectively use what He has to work with.
Dawkins’ quote also leaves a bit of moral ambiguity. If there is no purpose, design, justice, good, or even evil, then why do people feel guilt when they do certain things? When people are wronged, why do they have the inclination to seek justice? If purpose, design, justice, good, and evil don’t exist, then why do people so desperately seek them? Most importantly, why does Dawkins argue for his set of beliefs and ideals, when ultimately nothing truly matters? It seems redundant doesn’t it? The man who says that there is no purpose has a purpose; that purpose being to let others know that there is no purpose.
In his book Problems of Evil and the Power of God, James Keller further shows how Dawkins cannot escape God:
Unless it is an expression of bewilderment with life and not a genuine question, in it’s various forms it presupposes some sort of theistic context, even when it is raised by atheists. For it is a request for a reason why things happen, a purpose they serve, not for their scientific or commonsense causes. If a hurricane kills many people and someone asks, “Why did this happen?” That person is not asking for meteorological or geographical information– information about the causes; rather that person is asking what purpose this evil event served. And that purpose must be the purpose of some agent great enough to envisage and control the event. Only a divine being could have purposes and abilities large enough to make the question a sensible one. If there is no divine being, then there is no reason why bad things happen; they just do. We can seek their causes, we can be bewildered by them, but it is pointless to seek any purpose in them.
To add to this, in his book Suffering and the Search for Meaning, Richard Rice argues, Suffering is universal, the urge to makes sense of suffering is also universal, and that no response to suffering is entirely adequate, which causes the need for multiple theodicies. Dawkins falls into this because his reasoning for evil and suffering, is just that… Reasoning that leaves nothing but more ambiguity!
Now back to the question, “Why does God allow evil?” Another reason that God could permit evil to continue is the fact that God is merciful. Though humans are a mix of good and bad (due to the state of our nature), humans are still morally corrupted and more prone to do bad things. When it comes to human nature, the Bible says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) In this fallen world, evil does not stop at genocide and rape. Evil goes even further with things that are often considered minimal such as lying, stealing, using God’s name in vain, looking with lust (equivalent of adultery- Matt. 5:28), hate (equivalent of murder- 1 John 3:15), disrespecting of parents, laziness, racism, prejudice, fornication, and more. Some have even blamed God for the evils caused by man. Look at this quote from Anthony B. Pinn’s book Why, Lord?:
The concept of divine persuasion and the functional ultimacy of man leads to a theory of human history in which the interplay of human power centers and alignment is decisive. In this context, racism is traced, casually to human forces. Divine responsibility for the crimes of human history is thus eliminated.
God cannot be blamed for the sins of man, but is He to blame for not stopping all of the sins of man? The answer is yes. God judges sin by a moral Law. The basic judgments are known as the Ten Commandments. Judging by the Ten Commandments, everyone is guilty and deserves God’s wrath and justice. If God were to judge the whole of humanity and put a stop to all evil, then no morally conscious human being would be left alive on the earth. God is merciful in that He hasn’t destroyed the whole of humanity yet. God is also merciful and loving as He provided Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for sins of the world, offering man a way to have eternal life in a new world.
Now what of suffering that is not caused by moral agents? This includes factors such as sickness, and natural disasters. Who’s to say that God does not have a purpose for this too? Professor Paul Copan of Palm Beach Atlantic University argues that if we didn’t have evil and suffering such as this in the world, then we would not know the truth of our fallen nature and God would be a liar and a deceiver. When reading books such as Ecclesiastes, Job, the questions and emphasis on evil and suffering are impossible to escape. D.A. Carson argues that “One of the reasons that the books of Job and Ecclesiastes play so an important role in Scripture is that they frankly acknowledge the irrationality and disproportionality of evil in this world.”
Something else to be considered is that when things are going well, people often will ignore God. Often when things are shaken up in life people start to either blame God, or draw close to God. Though many blame God, what must be kept in mind is that God often permits people to suffer as a direct result of their own foolish decisions and misuse of their free will. For instance, what if a woman decides to wear high heels that don’t fit her (either to small or too large) to boost her external appeal. She walks down a flight of stairs, she then trips and falls down that same flight of stairs and breaks both of her legs. Is it God’s fault that she hurt herself? No, it was not God’s fault, but a direct result of her own carelessness. Even though she made this foolish decision, should God have intervened? The answer to this is no because this was not an act of God and again, God was not responsible for this.
Though the situation involving the woman and high heels was hypothetical, there are situations such as this that happen every day. Everyday people die from lung cancer because they decided to smoke cigarettes. Everyday people drive under the influence and die in car crashes. Everyday people overeat and die of heart attacks. Everyday people die of STDs such as AIDS and HIV, because they decided to have unprotected sexual intercourse outside of the bonds of marriage. What do these unfortunate, situational deaths all have in common? All of them are self-inflicted and all of them are a result of rebelling against God’s Law along with their conscience. When it comes to situations such as this, God can intervene if wants to, however, he does not have to. Though God is sovereign, humans have free will and moral responsibility.
To add to suffering as a result of man’s own free will and foolish decisions, this is also seen in the Bible. Take for example biblical figures such as David, and Samson. Both of these figures had instances where their suffering could have easily been avoided. Take for example the incident between David and Bathsheba, or Samson and Delilah. If these men would have not given into their lust, the repercussions such as Samson’s death at the hands of the Philistines, or the death of David and Bathsheba’s first son. What is confusing is that even though both of these men made horrible life decisions, they are both regarded as Biblical heroes. Why does God favor such broken people? Roland Earnst says :
In Samson we see a man who seemed to do most things wrong and in David we see a man who did most things right. However, they both suffered the consequences of their bad decisions and actions. We can expect the same thing when we make bad choices, and we should not blame God for the pain that results. But don’t forget, God still loves you anyway and he is always willing to forgive.
The moral of this is that God’s is willing (in His grace) to overlook the faults of man and offer redemption by reason. Though David committed adultery with Bathsheba, their child (Solomon) would be an ancestor of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Though Samson died because he trusted Delilah and she turned him into the Philistines, in his death he saved the nation of Israel. Even here God uses people’s mistakes and evil for good purposes.
What about the sufferings of those who are Christians? If God is good, he would surely take care of His own right? This is what one should expect. Especially when verses of Scripture such as “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) and “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) It seems like a contradiction when there are verses in the Bible such as “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4) Why would God promise a group of people that they will have a wonderful life and experience nothing except for good, and then tell them to count it all joy when they go through trials? The problem here is a misconception of what God means by good. In Romans 8:28, the “good” that Paul uses does not mean “whatever we perceive as good or desire.” In the commentary section of the ESV Study Bible by Crossway the writers argue that, “… good in this context does not refer to an earthly comfort but conformity to Christ, closer fellowship with God, bearing good fruit for the kingdom of God, and final glorification.” (2170) When good is understood in this context, verses such as James 1:2-4 should be no problem.
God has also been known to use suffering as a catalyst to bring people towards His undeserved favor, forgiveness, and gift of eternal life. Take for example Nick Vujicic who is a young evangelist from Australia and President of the non-profit ministry Life Without Limbs. Vujicic was born without arms and legs and was bitter at God for a while. His main question to God was “Why?” Vujicic said in an interview that “There is no point of being fixed on the outside when you’re broken on the inside.” Vujicic later gave his life to Jesus Christ and became who he is today. He now travels the world and shares his story with millions. Vujicic says, “God can use a man without arms and legs to be His hands and feet, then He will certainly use any willing heart!” This is only one example of many people who have disabilities that God is using to do great and amazing things!
Throughout all of man’s evil and suffering, one must realize that God is with them always. This is evident from Genesis to Revelation, as God was there during the fall of man and will be there during the ultimate redemption of man. Though it may seem rough, there is a Savior who knows what human suffering is like and who knows their pain. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) We also have a Father who offers salvation through that same Savior, who is Christ. There is a Spirit who guides Christians through suffering, and there is a God who shapes and molds them through every step of the way, so suffering can be good. Man shouldn’t blame God for all of their suffering as there are times when they are the cause of their own suffering. Even when man is the cause of their own suffering, God is patient in that He bears with the foolishness of mankind and still loves them more than they could ever imagine. Some say that evil and suffering makes the probability of God’s existence pretty low, however logically speaking (considering the fact that evil requires the existence of good, and purpose requires a will) it makes the probability rather high.
Thank you for reading dear Reader. God bless you and may you have hope in Him during your sufferings and down-times.
Mercadante, Linda A. Victims and Sinners: Spiritual Roots of Addiction and Recovery. Louisville, KY.: Westminster John Knox, 1996. Print.
Peterson, Michael L. The Problem of Evil: Selected Readings. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1992. Print. (31)
Dawkins, Richard. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1995. Print.
Keller, James A. Problems Of Evil And The Power Of God. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web.
Rice, Richard. Suffering and the Search for Meaning: Contemporary Responses to the Problem of Pain. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2014. Print.
Pinn, Anthony B. Why, Lord?: Suffering and Evil in Black Theology. New York: Continuum, 1995. Print.
Carson, D. A. How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990. Print.
Earnst, Roland. Why Pain and Suffering? Suffering for Our Mistakes. John N. Clayton, 2007-2015. Web.
ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print. (2170)
Bio – Life Without Limbs. Life Without Limbs. Web.