Monday, October 18, 2010

Mental Vitamins: Why Does God Allow Suffering?

In recent weeks myself and several of those around me have experienced pain, suffering and/or the loss of a loved one. There is one question that is often asked when faced with these types of difficult circumstances and can potentially become an emotional barrier to faith and that question is: "Why does God allow suffering to happen?" If God is all-loving, all-powerful and all-knowing then why on Earth would He allow evil in the world?

To understand the Biblical view of evil and suffering we must first consider an apparent contradiction in 5 core beliefs in Judeo-Christian theology:
  • God exists
  • God is all-good
  • God is all-knowing
  • God is all-powerful
  • There is evil in the world
    There appears that there is a conflict between God's goodness and God's power. If He was all good he would want to get rid of all evil and if he was all-powerful He would be able to - but evil exists so either He isn't all good or He isn't all-powerful. And I think there is a lot of confusion about what it means to say God is all-powerful. Many people think that means that God can do anything. But Scripture tells us that there are things that God CANNOT do. For instance,  God CANNOT lie. It's not that He chooses not to it's that He is incapable of lying. (Hebrews 6:18) 

    C.S. Lewis once said "Can a mortal ask questions that God finds un-answerable?"  "Yes, quite easily. Is yellow square or round?" "How many hours are there in a mile?" And if you extend that a bit yes, God can't make a square-circle. So there are things that God can't do because they would be illogical or non-sensical. So when we talk about God being omnipotent what that means is God can do anything power can do but it doesn't mean that God can violate the laws of logic and do something contradictory.

    I think we also need to take a step back and realize who the true engineer of evil is. It certainly was not God. God is the creator of all that is good. Evil is the lack of good. I think we make the mistake of believing that evil is a thing and because God created all things then He must have created evil, but here is an excellent analogy given by Greg Koukl: Think of evil as a donut hole...not the round sugar balls that you eat after church, but the missing part of the donut, or lack of donut - the hole...that is like evil...the lack of good or the removal of good. It was our free will...our freedom of choice that put a hole in goodness. The pain and suffering that we see in the world is often the cause of our own choices and our own sinful nature. We are so quick to blame God for things that we ourselves have brought about. God gave us our free will so that we could choose whether or not to love God and love other people. Love, the most valuable thing in our universe, must involve a choice. The moment love is forced, it's not love anymore.

    Unfortunately, we have abused our freedom of choice by hurting each other and that's where most of the world's suffering comes from. There are answers for the natural disasters that also cause so much harm.  When we as human beings told Jesus to 'shove off' he partially honoured our request. The result: creation was marred. We no longer live in the world as it was designed.

    People often give heart-breaking examples of how evil destroys lives and then immediately point their finger at God but those same people fail to remember that God created a way for us to escape the evil of this world. He endured the greatest suffering by being beaten, humiliated, tortured, rejected and killed...for us. He endured the weight of the entire world's sin on the cross just so that we might one day be free from the pain, the suffering and the evil. He didn't have to do that. But when we look at the evidence of who Jesus was and is and what He has done then we can view Him against that backdrop as opposed to that of an evil mastermind, and we  can see Him for what He truly is, that He is in fact a loving God who understands our hurt, our grief, our suffering and wants to rescue us from a life of evil and through His own suffering and sacrifice provides us with that very chance of redemption. Heaven was meant for us to enjoy with Him and the cross made a bridge between man and God.

    "There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark - the cross - which symbolizes divine suffering. In a world of pain, who would worship a God who was immune to it." -John Stott

    It's hard to make sense out of the suffering and the pain when it is happening but I know several people, myself included, who years later, could look back and recognize that there was a purpose in all of it. This isn't to diminish the hurt. The pain is real, there is nothing wrong with asking questions and wondering why certain things are happening in our life but I hope you find peace of mind in knowing that our God is a God of purpose and He works the all-together for good.  His intent is not to harm us, but to help us see more clearly His purpose in our lives. Sometimes it just takes time to see the whole picture. Life is not a snapshot. The pain that we may be feeling now can't compare to the joy our future holds in Christ Jesus. I hope these words find you encouraged.

    **Please check out my other blog entry on suffering by clicking HERE.

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