Making Sense of Evil and Suffering

Whenever disaster strikes, such as the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma, or evil happens, such as the recent Boston Bombing, the question inevitably arises – why does a good and loving God allow evil and suffering in the world? This is an important apologetic question and one we must wrestle with as Christians. If you are talking to an atheist, it will no doubt be hard to dialogue. Most people are not atheists, however, and they bring theistic assumptions to the table such as the existence of God and His involvement in the affairs of the world. This means you have some common ground to build upon, at least with most people. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you seek to think intelligently about this subject and then dialogue with those around you.

First off, we live in a fallen world. The sin of Adam and Eve and the fall of man (Genesis 3) had devastating consequences on all of their offspring, including us. There is not an hour that goes by where we don’t feel the effects of the fall and we are most clearly reminded of this in the midst of tragedy.

Second, as Christians we need to grieve with those who grieve and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Evil and suffering are sobering realities in this world and it does not do any good to pretend they don’t exist. Sooner or later they are going to touch us in some way or another. It is critically important for us to be there for one another and to minister to one another.

Third, God is sovereign and governs the affairs of the world according to his purposes. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:9-10). How silly it would be to think we could understand all the ways and purposes of God (check out Isaiah 55:8-9). Finite minds cannot comprehend the infinite, but we can have absolute faith and confidence that God knows what he is doing in our own lives and around the globe.

Fourth, God is just and merciful. There are times where God acts in such a way to judge nations and peoples. In our Wednesday night Bible study, we have been working through the Old Testament book of Hosea, where the prophet was preaching to a people on the brink of judgment. Hosea was warning his people (the northern kingdom of Israel) that if they did not repent and turn back to God, they would be judged. History tells us that they were conquered by the Assyrians and sent into exile around the time of the prophet’s death. Bottom line, those who do evil will be judged by God, if not in the present life, then most certainly in the afterlife. But we must always remember that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145:8). Time and time again in the Scriptures we see this. After sinning by taking the census, David said, “Let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (1 Chronicles 21:13). Following tragedy, we often hear that it was a miracle that more people did not die. But the Christian already knows why – the mercy of God.

Fifth, in the midst of pain and suffering, God ministers to those in need in remarkable ways. Only those who have gone through the fire truly know this. And often God ministers through His body, the church. Christian’s are always on the front lines of mercy and relief efforts around the world. As ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), we are to be reflectors of God’s mercy to the world.

Sixth, God often uses suffering to sanctify his people. “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). We don’t always like this, but God knows we need it and that’s why we can rejoice in our suffering.

Seventh, in the midst of suffering and evil, we must remember to give glory to God. Job is a great example of this. “Naked I came from my mothers womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Can we really fault the One who is the giver of all good things (James 1:17)? One of my hero’s of the faith, Jonathan Edwards died from a smallpox vaccination at the age of 54. His wife Sarah responded to his death in a letter to one of her daughters. “My very dear child, what shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be. Your ever affectionate mother, Sarah Edwards.” Even though her husband had died in this unfortunate way, Sarah still gave glory to God.  

Eighth, the reality of evil and suffering make us long all the more for heaven. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have past away” (Revelation 21:4). And so we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)

Ninth, God suffered Himself. This is the most important point because it shows us the way to the gospel. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ suffered and died! Therefore, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). Through his suffering, Christ defeated sin, death, and Satan. In essence, He conquered the powers of evil. He did not leave us in our helpless estate, but rescued and delivered us from the domain of darkness. Praise God!

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