So Jesus Said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67-69 (ESV)
The question is posed not infrequently, “If God is loving, and if God is sovereign, then why so much suffering & evil in the world?” This is one of mankind’s most penetrating questions. I was confronted with this at one of the darkest moments in our lives, as we attempted to alleviate our son’s suffering while he was on hospice, his life slowly ebbing away after a valiant battle against cancer. For a brief moment, I wondered if trusting God was really the answer. It was then that Peter’s response to the Lord hit me with full force—where else would I go?
Alternate Answers to the Problem
There are, of course, other suggested solutions to the issues of pain, suffering & evil in the world. Christian Science has labored long & hard to convince us to see pain as an illusion. In a sort of mind-over-matter approach we can isolate ourselves from these issues of pain & suffering. Ignore it & it will go away; deny it & it is not really there. As a physician I can state that this does not hold up in the presence of broken bones or ruptured spleens.
There are other attempts to deal with suffering that don’t remove pain from our mindset but by reject God. The thought goes: “If this is how things will be, I will reject God.” The hope is that somehow by rejecting God I will be able to make sense of it. Unfortunately, the reality is, no one solves the problem of pain & evil & suffering by rejecting God. All that they do is remove the possibility of providing a meaningful answer to the predicament. If there is no God who is wise & in control, then all events of life are the result of blind chance, leaving us without any understanding. We add to the issue of pain by making it meaningless. The moral dilemma of pain, suffering, & evil is not rectified by rejecting God, it is only exacerbated. With God we at least have a point of reference to origin of pain, suffering, and evil.
Still others cope by re-defining God, as in the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” The author, Rabbi Kushner, solves the problem by denying God’s omnipotence. He advises us to love God, and to forgive Him, despite His limitations.
The Only Cogent Answer to the Problem
The question is this: Why did God, who in His sovereignty knows everything & plans everything, create a world in which He knew things would go wrong & so much suffering would result? I am not asking this in a disrespectful way, but in a thoughtful way. Why would He choose to do this? He wanted men & women to serve Him freely & lovingly, and not just because He gave them no choice. God knew that men & women would learn more about their Creator & bring more honor to Him if He allowed them first the freedom to go their own way.
The outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins has stated that we observe in our world exactly what we would expect if there were no reason, no God. It is interesting that his approach (which is the approach of many) presupposes that there could be no logical basis in which evil & suffering could exist with a God who is both all powerful & loving. In making this assumption we undermine the glorious sovereignty of God which absorbs the evil & suffering and gives each human being the dignity of choice.
I have been immensely helped here by the teachings of Dr. John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, and a gifted defender of the faith. He reminded me that it is one thing to look at the issue dispassionately, and quite another to be on the receiving end of pain & suffering. If we dismiss the sovereignty of God here, looking at events as examples of blind, pitiless indifference, we still do not get rid of the pain. But we do get rid of any hope. Even as Christians, we have the intellectual problem of pain. But because I am a Christian I believe that Jesus rose from the dead and therefore death is not the end. Because death is not the end, God is going to be perfectly fair. People who have had the wrong end of injustice will be ultimately compensated for that. Atheism offers no such hope. It appears to give an intellectual solution to the problem but removes all hope, including hope for justice. This contradicts the way humans feel.
The heart of Christianity lies not only in the resurrection, but in what preceded it. We know that Jesus was crucified and died, as did the many who were crucified around that time. Jesus’ resurrection rests on the nature of the person who was crucified and died–God himself.
Listen to Dr. Lennox: “Here is the logic: If this is God incarnate then the question is, ‘What is God doing on the cross?’ At the very least this shows me that God is not distant from the problem of human suffering, but He has actually become part of it. This is a window into a possibility that brings hope, and has provided hope for many who have experienced the dark night of the soul.”
What does this say to the mother who has lost a child? If Christianity is to be at all credible it has to speak not only to those whom God has rescued from disease, but it must be able say something to those who experience a different outcome. For my wife & I, God’s love is evident through the hope we have of one day seeing our son again. Our parting, though very painful, is only temporary. Without God, there is no hope.
Can I rely on the hope that Christianity offers? Well, if the resurrection did not happen, then there is no hope. But if it did, then we can grasp on to it with all our heart & mind.
I pray that this is helpful to many.
Yours, in Christ,