GOOD GOD? Suffering and Evil

Question: How can there be an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good God in light of all the suffering and evil in the world?

When many people consider the excruciating suffering and horrific evil in the world, they conclude God cannot be infinitely powerful AND genuinely good. Some think God is willing to end suffering but unable to do so. Rabbi Harold Kushner, who wrote the bestseller When Bad Things Happen to Good People, speaks for this group when he writes, “(God) does not want you to go on having this problem, but He can’t make it go away. That is something which is too hard even for God.” Others think that God is able to end suffering and evil, but He is unwilling to do so. Job’s wife believed this, and accordingly she told Job to “curse God and die!” – Job 2:9

The Bible reveals that God is both willing & able to eliminate both suffering & evil. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God declared, “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind,” and rhetorically asked, “Is anything too hard for Me?” – Jeremiah 32:27. Jesus asked people prone to worry, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” and then declared, “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father” – Matthew 10:29. God is always completely aware of everything & always able to bring His good will to pass. When contemplating the combination of God’s kindness and capability, the psalmist wrote, “God heals the brokenhearted & binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars & calls them each by name. Great is our Lord & mighty in power; His understanding has no limit. The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground” – Psalm 147:3-6. Thankfully, Scripture reveals that God is not only willing & able to end suffering & evil, He has committed to do so. He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove the disgrace of His people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken” – Isaiah 25:8. This, of course, begs the question: “What is He waiting for?!”

To answer that, let’s first consider our place in the history of God’s Kingdom on earth. Generally speaking, we are in the Middle Age(s) of God’s Kingdom History. In the First Age, God created a truly good world that humanity corrupted by rejecting God and rebelling against His rule. “God saw all that He made, and it was very good. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” – Genesis 1:31 & 2:9. To give humanity the capacity for volitional love, God gave humanity the liberty to choose against it. God gave our original ancestors paradise to live in, mountains of good options to chose from and one restriction for the sake of choice for the sake of love. Humanity followed the lead of a fallen angel who had apparently forgotten his place and thus lost his place in heaven. So in the first age, spiritual evil seduced humanity to moral evil and paradise on earth was lost. Ever since humanity’s fall, everything on earth has been corrupted. We need to remember this when we feel tempted to accuse God of poor workmanship. He created it all very good, and our sin spoiled it all….thankfully not for good.

If I found a spoiled rotten fruit, I would throw it away – particularly if I had plenty more, but God did not chose to throw away His spoiled rotten earth. Instead He chose to redeem His corrupted creation by subjecting Himself to the very worst suffering and evil His gone astray creation can give. Scripture reveals that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’”- Galatians 3:13. In the First Age of Kingdom history, God gave us the tree of life, and we lost it. Here in the Middle Age(s) of Kingdom history, God took our tree of death to put an end to death, destruction, suffering, sin and evil. Now, God is saving and preparing a people to inherit the paradise He has purchased with Christ’s blood. In the Final Age(s) of Kingdom history, God will complete creation’s perfection and His people will inherit eternal paradise. “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and 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”- Revelation 21:1-4.

Now let’s look back at the question “What’s He waiting for?” Thankfully, God has given us good reasons for this season of suffering. For one, God is being patient with those who are persisting in rebellion and giving them every opportunity to turn from sin to Him. Under the inspiration of God’s Spirit Peter explained and warned, “Do not let this fact escape your notice…with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up”– 2 Peter 3:8-10. Once the transition from this age to the next has been made, the window of opportunity to be saved will be closed. When the Biblical flood came, people were either on board God’s ark of salvation or under the waters of God’s wrath. Jesus said that it will be same when He returns. So one reason for the season is that God is graciously and patiently holding open the window of opportunity. During this age, God is also using the difficulties that His rescued people experience to grow our faith and faithfulness, which will result in tremendous blessing upon Christ’s return. Writing to people who were suffering greatly, Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, & unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise & glory & honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”- 1 Peter 1:3-7.

So, how are we supposed to persevere through suffering and respond to evil in the meantime? I think three things will help us. One, we keep things in God’s perspective by remembering where we are in kingdom history. God has acted to redeem His corrupted creation, and the best is yet to come (see Romans 8:18 & 2 Corinthians 4:16-18).  Two, we trust in God’s purposes for this season (the opportunity for people to turn from sin to Him and the preparation of His people for eternity in paradise with Him), and three, we rely on God’s presence for the comfort, strength and wisdom we need to follow Jesus all the way home. God says to His people, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God…your Savior” – Isaiah 43:1-3. Awareness of God’s presence can bring us extraordinary comfort as we walk through difficult days. As King David famously wrote, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” – Psalm 23:4. I think Paul, who valiantly opposed evil and endured tremendous suffering to follow Christ, asked the best question for our closing consideration. “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!” – Romans 8:32-37 Amen.