Several years ago, I saw Martin Bashir, a news anchor for MSNBC at the time, interviewing a pastor on national television following a tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people in japan. He started with a question: “Help us with this tragedy in Japan. Which of these is true? Either God is all powerful, but He doesn’t care about the people of Japan and therefore they are suffering, or He does care about the people of Japan, but He’s not all powerful. Which one is it?”
This question — “Is God all loving or all powerful?”— has been around for a long time. The logic being: If God is all powerful, then He cannot be loving and allow human suffering, because a loving God would not tolerate pain. or, if God is all loving, then He cannot be all powerful, or He would do something about it. Since suffering exists, the assumption is God is either loving but impotent, or powerful but calloused. He cannot be both loving and powerful.
Over the years, I have heard this question played out on college campuses, around the water cooler in the office and in private, candid conversations. The question is what theologians call theodicy — the theological study of evil. How can a good, loving and just God tolerate evil? In some sense, questions like this are what keep philosophers and theologians up at night. But the issue of suffering and evil is not just for the intellectually erudite; it is the main question spiritual seekers are asking today.
Researcher George Barna conducted a national survey inquiring: “If you could ask God any question, and you know He would give you an answer, what would you ask?” The top response, represented by 17 percent of those surveyed, was “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?”
What does the Bible say about God and suffering?
God is powerful.
The Bible clearly tells us that God is powerful. He is called “Almighty” fifty-eight times. (Psalm 147.5 ESV)says, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power.”(Jeremiah 32.17 NlT)says, “O Sovereign LORD! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!” [See also (1 Chronicles 29.11; Jeremiah 10.12; Colossians 1.16).] God is all powerful, and nothing is too difficult for Him. He made all that there is and sustains it all by His power!
God is good.
The Bible also clearly teaches that God is all good! He is loving, gracious, merciful and abounding in steadfast love. (1 Chronicles 16.34 NaSB) says, “O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.” (Psalm 86.5 NaSB) states, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.” (Psalm 145.9 NaSB) says, “The LORD is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works.”
God is all good and all loving, and His mercies endure forever.
If the Bible clearly teaches that God is good AND He is powerful, then how do you explain evil in the world? The Apostle Paul wrote in (1 Corinthians 13.12 NlT), “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” What we see and understand this side of heaven is like looking in a fog. We can make out the edges, but we don’t see things clearly. We don’t have all the details, but one day we will.
So, where do pain and suffering come from? When you get an “F” on your report card, that’s not a good thing. Three “F’s” would be even worse. The Bible tells us that our world has three “F’s” that cause us to fail, and these are the sources of suffering around us.
- Free choice: In Genesis 1-2 God created the world and placed man in it. Man was given the freedom to choose to obey God and enjoy His blessing or disobey God and suffer the consequences. Unfortunately, man freely chose to disobey God, and in that moment, sin came into the world and everything changed. The freedom to choose brings with it the freedom to choose both rightly and wrongly. You might say, “Why didn’t God create a world where we would choose what’s right every time?” He certainly could have, but then there would be no true love or fellowship. Love is a choice. Without the freedom to choose to obey and choose to love, this world would be robotic and loveless.
- Fallen world: God created the world good, but then sin permeated it, and we now live in a world that is much different than the world God created. (Romans 3.23 ESV) says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We live in a fallen world, and this “fallenness” affects everything — our thinking, our culture, our behavior and our sense of right and wrong. This is why we see abuse, addiction, perversion, killing of the innocent, rape, incest and all manner of evil. This “fallenness” also affects even the natural world around us. diseases like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and mental illness are all the effects of sin in the world. Natural disasters like tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes are the reverberations of sin in our natural world. Romans 8 tells us that our world is corrupted by sin and is groaning, weakening and struggling under the weight of it.
- Forces of evil: There is a real, unseen spiritual world of evil that empowers and emboldens evil in our world. (Ephesians 6.12 NIV) says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Mass shootings, terrorist killings and preoccupations with the occult are all expressions of evil motivated by the unseen forces of evil around us.
Craig Etheredge, author of this blog, wrote a short eBook, which is available to you as a free download. Access Invest in a Few here.
God is wise.
While the Bible asserts the fact that God is all powerful and He is all loving, it also declares that God is all wise. (Psalm 147.5 NaSB) says, “His understanding is infinite.” (Romans 16.27 ESV) declares Him to be “the only wise God”. Even Job, who suffered more than anyone, confessed, “With Him [God] are wisdom and might; To Him belong counsel and understanding” (Job 12.13 NaSB). “His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts,” (Isaiah 55.8-9 ESV), and “He is able to work all things together for good for those of us who love Him and trust Him,” (Romans 8.28 ESV).
When Satan sought to destroy Jesus and make Him suffer on the cross, God worked even that for our good and for His glory. While we all endure suffering, we can find comfort in God. The Scripture promises that God is moved when we suffer (Psalm 34.18 ESV), Jesus prays for us to the Father when we go through seasons of suffering (Romans 8.34 ESV) and ultimately God will put an end to suffering once and for all.
The Apostle Paul wrote in (Romans 8.18 ESV), “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” One day, Jesus is coming again, and “He will set right every wrong and wipe away every tear, and suffering will be no more,” (Revelation 21.4 ESV)! Until then, we look to Jesus and trust Him to give us strength to overcome. Jesus told His disciples, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world,” (John 16.33 NlT).
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