There is something dreadfully wrong with our world. As I write this, part of my world is still in shock and mourning over more than 200 lives that were lost just a few days ago in horrific attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.
Suffering has a way of raising serious questions about life and who we are as humans – and it is especially challenging for Christianity because of the way we think about God.
Even though the Bible doesn’t really explain why a loving God permits suffering, could there be good reasons for Him to allow a certain amount of suffering in this world – and good reasons for us to trust in this loving God even if we suffer?
Let’s think about this logically: If God is all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful, then evil cannot exist since such a God would hate all forms of suffering, know what to do to eradicate them from this world and have the power to do so. But suffering and evil does exist in the world – so it seems as though one would have to give up on some characteristic of God to avoid this contradiction and inconsistency between the existence of such a God and evil in the world. However, I believe it is reasonable to say there is no contradiction in the existence of God and the existence of evil in the world. An all-wise and timeless God could have good reasons (morally sufficient reasons, scholars would say) for allowing a certain amount of suffering in this world that could be outside of our knowledge and as finite beings. Furthermore, an all-loving and all-knowing God could decide that the best possible world is one with creatures that are capable of love. For love to be possible, these creatures need to have choice which includes choice between right and wrong. The existence of suffering in the world is what you would expect from a creation of a loving God with humans that are free to choose between good and evil in a meaningful sense.
There are other issues, too. Even if humans are responsible for suffering in the world, and even if natural disasters are not meaningless suffering to a God who can see how everything is tied together, it is still God who allows suffering to carry on. How can we possibly trust a God who allows the worst that this world has to offer? How can we trust a God who allows our children to die of cancer without revealing His reasons to us? We can trust that God is good even though the Bible doesn’t describe in detail the explanation as to why God allows suffering in our specific situations. What the Scriptures describe in detail however, is how God’s goodness was shown when Jesus died on the Cross and this gives meaning to our questions and trust in the goodness of God. Tim Keller says that the Gospel is “the true story that God made a good world that was marred by sin and evil, but th
orough Jesus Christ he redeemed it at infinite cost to himself, so that someday he will return to renew all creation; end all suffering on earth; and restore absolute peace, justice, and joy in the world forever.” If Christianity is true, we do not only have a God who allows suffering, but who suffers alongside us. If Christianity is true, we do not only have a God who allows suffering, but who died for our evil. If Christianity is true, then we do not only have a God who allows suffering, but through the Cross, has put an expiry date on suffering and offers real comfort in our times of pain through His Spirit and through His people. He works now to comfort those who are in pain and invites those who are called by His name to participate in His work to fix His cosmos. And while we work with Him to give and receive healing, comfort and peace in times of pain, we hold on to His promise of ridding this world of evil once and for all.
Vince Vitale says that even though we might not have the goodness of God explained in detail in our specific suffering, we have the goodness of God displayed on the Cross. For what kind of God would come and die? A God of love. A God we can trust. A Christ we should trust in the midst of our pain