A Good God and the Problem of Suffering
Suffering is one of the most difficult questions that we wrestle with as human beings and it seems only more complicated when God is factored into the equation. That might sound strange at first glance, but the existence of suffering is one of the primary arguments people have against the existence of God. How can there be a God; or more appropriately, how can there be a good God since we go through this grief?
These are questions that people have had to wrestle with since Cain killed his brother in Genesis 4 and I would submit that the answer we accept to this question impacts us as people at the most fundamental level and shapes our perspective on every other question we’re faced with in life. -It’s that important.
Because of that, it’s critical that we get it right. So how about this question of “A good God and the problem of evil?” What do you do with it?
Theologian John Frame illustrates the common path of logic that many people take:
1. If God were all-powerful, he would be able to prevent evil.
2. If God were good, he would desire to prevent evil.
3. So, if God were both all-powerful and all-good, there would be no evil.
4. But there is evil.
Conclusion: Therefore, there is no all-powerful and all-good God.
Sometimes, very bad things happen to people for no just reason. Why does God allow bad things to happen? How do we trust God in this suffering?
The answer that Scripture gives isn’t a quick fix, an easy answer. We don’t come to God with our pain and find Him responding by just giving us an aspirin. He deals with it at its depths, but it won’t be what we expect.
How the Bible answers the question of a good God and the problem of suffering.
1. God doesn’t tell us why
God doesn’t explain his actions and to take that a step further, Scripture assumes that God has the right to be trusted.
In Job 38-40, God responds to Job and his friend’s charges and questions with a series of questions that emphasize that we are incapable of understanding all of God’s ways. Isaiah 55:8-9 has this same theme in mind when he writes, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
That is a very difficult thing to swallow, especially for people who are accustomed to being told why. However, there’s great peace in a willingness to simply bow the knee before God and acknowledge this reality.
2. God’s purpose in all things is to glorify himself
John 17:1-2 says, “Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.” God’s purpose in all of creation is to glorify himself.
What do we mean by God glorifying Himself?
God is teaching us who he is through his words and actions. Glorifying God, whether its him doing it or my doing it through my life, is all to declare the truth of who he is. God doesn’t want us to merely know facts about him, but his actions and words are designed to cause us to actually know him and to be transformed by that knowledge. God wants me to know his character and nature in such a way that it impacts every aspect of my life because as I know him I begin to trust him.
3. God tells us who he is
Scripture is filled with descriptions of the character and nature of who God is. He is love, kind, good, just and the list could go on. If we are to know God, we must know the Bible. I cannot have a correct understanding of who he is except through him telling me and he has done that in the Bible. Christians must be people of the Book, we must know what the Bible teaches through diligent personal study. The failure to do so leaves us in the position of needing to come up with answers on our own to “fill in the gaps” in answering questions like A good God and the problem of suffering.
However, be warned, this knowledge brings us to a crossroads; how will I respond?
4. God commands us to trust him
Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”
We must be willing to trust God and not simply know information about him. What does that look like practically? Jerry Bridges gives a great definition in his book, Trusting God, “Trust is not a passive state of mind. It is a vigorous act of the soul by which we choose to lay hold on the promises of God and cling to them despite the adversity that at times seeks to overwhelm us.”
We must choose to trust and sometimes that means making that choice several times an hour. We are learning to live in light of the reality of God and that is not easy for a people so accustomed to living by sight.
5. God tells us how he will ultimately deal with suffering
Christ is coming again! Do you believe that? Do you live in light of that reality? We’re often so indoctrinated into this idea of measuring life and even the love of God by my current circumstances and God calls us continually to put our eyes on eternity and the hope we have in Christ that lies beyond this world. I would encourage you to make a regular practice of thinking deeply about these biblical promises. This world is not our home and we measure God’s love only by the character of our loving heavenly Father and Jesus’ death on the cross.
There is no easy answer to suffering, but if you’re a Christian, God is your refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)