The Problem of Suffering
As Christians, we believe that God is all-good and all-powerful. But this poses a problem for many people. If these things are true about God, then why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? As one person has put it, “God allows terrible suffering in the world. So he might be either all-powerful but not good enough to end evil and suffering, or else he might be all-good but not powerful enough to end evil and suffering. Either way the all-good, all-powerful God of the Bible couldn’t exist.”
What are we to do with this? Do we as believers throw in the towel and concede that God cannot be good, and powerful, if there is suffering in the world? Certainly not. There is suffering in the world because there is sin in the world. God created the world perfectly good, but sin entered, as did death. The all-good, all-powerful God of life will overcome sin and death. This is the biblical story in a single sentence. That being the case, let’s consider three things that might be helpful when we are confronted by those who doubt the existence of a good God on the grounds that people are suffering.
First, this line of skepticism assumes that good and suffering cannot co-exist. In other words, it is assumed that anything good doesn’t involve suffering. But who are we to make such assumptions? Experience has taught most of us that these oftentimes do exist side-by-side. Actually, they exist together quite frequently. No one likes suffering, but most of us can recall instances in our lives, or in the lives of others, when something tragic resulted in great triumph. We can recall a time when suffering was in fact good. But we rarely see the blessings of the storm when we are in the midst of it.
Second, when someone begins to say “God is not just because of…” we must respond by asking “How do we decide what is just or unjust?” Everyone has a particular vantage point from which they view the world. At times, understandings of justice are rooted in cultural understandings. It is actually quite arrogant to assume that a 21 st century American understanding of what defines justice is normative for all people. As believers, we ultimately arrive at the conclusion that someone must define what is just or unjust, and that person can only be God Himself.
Third, while we do not understand everything about suffering, we do believe that God knows what it means to suffer. Christianity is unique among the world religions in that God became flesh, fully experiencing suffering. The Christ on the cross shows that God knows what it means to suffer. God does not avoid our suffering. The opposite is true. Jesus enters into our suffering and experiences death. But the story doesn’t end there. The resurrection follows.
Our hope is in eternity with the eternal God. Although we will never understand everything in this life, the God of justice can bring about good things as a result of suffering. The cross and the empty tomb is the greatest example.