Sunday, 21 May 2017

Why does God allow suffering and evil in the world?



This question comes up a lot.  If God is supposed to love us and be all-powerful, why doesn’t he put a stop to all the suffering and evil that goes on in his world? 

Many people conclude that a powerful, loving God cannot possibly exist because suffering does.  They’ll say, “If God exists then he can’t possibly be both loving and powerful.  He’d either be loving enough to stop suffering but not powerful enough to stop it, or he’d be powerful enough to stop it but not loving enough to do so.”  This so-called logic assumes it’s not possible for a perfectly loving and powerful God to exist whilst suffering and evil exists.  The problem is, this assumption is wrong.

Think about this question:  Is it possible that there is a perfectly loving and powerful God, who has perfectly good reasons beyond our present understanding for allowing the suffering and evil we see in the world?

Yes or no?  Whatever your answer, it reveals what you think about God.  If you say NO, you don’t think God could possibly be any better than you are or know things you don’t know.  But this isn’t the God the Bible speaks about.  If on the other hand you answer YES, then you already know that God, by definition must be better than us in every way and know everything, including many things that are beyond our grasp.  This is the God the Bible speaks about.

Isaiah 55:9
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than you thoughts.”

Psalm 139:17-18
How precious to me are you thoughts, God!  How vast is the sum of them!  Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.

Romans 11:33
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

So we should acknowledge that any answers we come up with to the question of why God allows suffering and evil in his world are only going to be partial answers because no-one could possibly know what God knows. 

But God has given us enough to go on so that we have a few partial answers that should help us.

1. Pain helps us.

I know it sounds strange but imagine a world in which when a toddler stumbled into a fire, instead of jumping back when it hurt them, they didn’t feel anything and got badly burned.  That would be awful!  One of the reasons leprosy is such a tragic disease is that it renders a person’s pain receptors useless so that they don’t feel anything when their bodied are getting badly damaged.  It’s a disease that takes pain away!  But this turns out not to be a good thing at all.

Pain shows us when something is wrong so that urgent action can be taken.

2. Something is wrong with the world.

Most suffering in the world can be traced back to selfish human actions but not all of it.  Sometimes this world simply kills us.  Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, etc.  The Bible tells us that the world we live in is broken or cursed not to work in the way it should.

Romans 8:20
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it…

The reason God has allowed this world to be cursed or broken is because of sin.  The Bible says that it wasn’t just people who were negatively affected when people rebelled against God – the world was too.  When God explains the consequences of people’s sin in Genesis, he says…

Genesis 3:17-18
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you…”

This world needs rescuing!

So pain helps us know when something is wrong.  Something IS wrong with our world.  But it’s not just our world…

3. Something is wrong with us.

The Bible makes it clear that each of us are sinners by nature and by choice.  We have a sin problem.  And it’s this sin problem that causes most of the suffering and evil that we see in our world, in the lives of those around us and in our own lives too. 

Paul wrote something in the Bible that we should all be able to identify with:

Romans 7:24
What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

If we want God to do something about the evil in the world, we should expect him to have a few problems with us too. 

Romans 3:23
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

We need to be honest and own up!  We each need rescuing from the suffering we cause because of the evil in our own hearts.

GOOD NEWS: Perfect in the beginning!

God created everything perfect in the beginning.  There was no suffering back then.  Everything was good.

Genesis 1:31
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

The Bible also tells us that God is good and has good plans.  More than that – the Bible tells us that God is perfect and has perfect plans!

Deuteronomy 32:4
He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.  A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.

God didn’t create evil and suffering but he did create the possibility for it and he knew that it would happen.  Nothing surprises God. 

So why did God create in the first place, knowing full well that suffering and evil would come? 

GOOD NEWS: Perfect in the end!

The same passage that I mentioned earlier, which describes our world’s current broken state, also describes its future state…

Romans 8:20-21
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.

The Bible also describes the ultimate future of this world and God’s people who have been saved by Jesus…

Revelation 21:3-4
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “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 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.”

God created in the beginning, even though suffering would come (including his own), because he knew that the end would be worth everything that went before.

Relient K, a punk band of Christians, has a brilliant song about this in which they sing…  ‘The end will justify the pain it took to get us there.’

This is hard for us to imagine, wait – it’s impossible for us to imagine, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

1 Corinthians 2:9
“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” – the things God has prepared for those who love him.

GOOD NEWS: The Perfect One loves us and died to save us!

We can be part of this world’s perfect future by trusting in what Jesus did for us on the cross.  We can belong to God forever!

The Bible says that Jesus is ‘Immanuel’, which means ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23) and it also tells us that he was given the name ‘Jesus’ because he would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). 

Jesus came as God to suffer for all suffering.  He was sinless, spotless, perfect.  He was God himself, coming to rescue us!

2 Corinthians 5:21
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Hebrews 4:15
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with us in our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.

When Paul asked who would rescue him from ‘this body that is subject to death’, he went straight on to answer his own question…

Romans 7:24-25
What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me thought Jesus Christ our Lord!

Jesus offers us forgiveness, friendship with God, life to the full and life forever.  The whole story of the Bible is about how God wants to rescue his people and this earth.  We have been offered the chance to outlive the suffering and evil we see in this world and to be free from it forever.  The only question is…

Are you in?