Investigating Faith with Lee Strobel, August 26, 2014
Q. Why does God allow tragedy and suffering?
A. You see it all over the news: wildfires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes – as well as senseless shootings, acts of terror and wars. In addition, there is the everyday pain in individual lives: illness, abuse, broken relationships, betrayal, sorrow, injuries, heartache, crime and death.
People are suffering all around us. And many ask, “Why? Why did God allow this?”
Jesus predicted these things would happen in our sin-stained world. Unlike some religious leaders who wrote off evil and suffering as mere illusions, Jesus dealt with reality. He said in John 16:33, “You will have suffering in this world.”
But, again, why? I cannot stand in the shoes of God and give a complete answer, but we can understand some things.
To illustrate, Leslie and I were driving from Chicago to Door County, Wisconsin. It was dark when it started raining heavily, and then we hit dense fog. I could barely see the line on the edge of the highway, and didn’t know what to do. Then a truck went by us, traveling at a confident and deliberate pace. We could see his taillights through the fog, and realized that if we could just follow those lights, we’d be headed in the right direction.
It is similar with tragedy and suffering. We may not be able to make out all the peripheral details of why, but there are some biblical truths that can illuminate some helpful points of light for us. And if we’ll follow those lights, they will lead us toward conclusions I believe can satisfy our hearts and souls. Let me mention five that I’ve found helpful:
• First point of light: God is not the creator of evil and suffering
Genesis 1:31 says everything God made “was very good.” But if God is not the author of evil, then where did it come from? God created us with free will so we could love him – because real love always entails the ability to love or not to love. Unfortunately, we abused our freedom by rejecting God’s love and walking away from him. And that resulted in the introduction of evil into our lives and into the world.
• Second point of light: Though suffering is not good, God can use it to accomplish good
Romans 8:28 promises: “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Notice it doesn’t say that God causes the evil and suffering, just that he will cause some kind of good to emerge. And it doesn’t say we will see immediately or even in this life how God has brought good out of the bad circumstance – just that it will happen for those of us who love him.
• Third point of light: The day is coming when suffering will cease and God will judge evil
“If God has the power to vanquish evil and suffering,” people ask, “then why doesn’t he do it?” But just because he hasn’t done it yet doesn’t mean he won’t do it. The Bible says the day will come when sickness and pain will be eradicated and people will be held accountable for the evil they’ve committed. Justice will be served.
Also, “the Lord is not slow in keeping His promise … he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). In other words, God hasn’t vanquished evil yet because he’s waiting to first reach some of us!
• Fourth Point of Light: Our suffering will pale in comparison to what God has in store for his followers
Paul said in Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” This is not to deny the reality of pain in our lives. But after 354,484,545 days of pure bliss in heaven, we’ll look back and realize that these difficult days in this world aren’t worth comparing to an eternity of blessings and joy with him.
• Fifth Point of Light: We decide whether to turn bitter or turn to God for peace and courage
We’ve all seen examples of how the same suffering that causes one person to turn bitter and reject God can cause another person to turn to God. We all make the choice to either run away from God or to run to him. But as one who’s tried both responses, let me assure you: it’s much better to run to him!
Let me finish the story of Leslie and me in Wisconsin. We were following the taillights of that truck when the fog slowly began to lift, the rain let up and we entered a town with some lights. And there, silhouetted against the night sky, we saw the steeple of a church and the cross of Christ. After driving through the confusion of the fog for so long, that image struck me with poignancy I’ll never forget – because it was through the cross that Jesus conquered the world for us.
God’s ultimate answer to suffering isn’t an explanation; it’s his incarnation. He isn’t some distant, detached and disinterested deity; he entered our world and personally experienced our pain.
Jesus is there in the lowest places of our lives. As philosopher Peter Kreeft says: “Are you broken? He was broken, like bread, for us. Are you despised? He was despised and rejected of men. Do you cry out that you can’t take any more? He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Did someone betray you? He was sold out. Are your most tender relationships broken? He loved and was rejected.
“Jesus is much closer than your closest friend. Because if you’ve put your trust in him, then he is in you. And, therefore, your sufferings are his sufferings; your sorrow is his sorrow.”
So when tragedy strikes, when suffering comes, when you’re wrestling with pain – and when you make the choice to run into his arms, here’s what you’re going to discover: peace to deal with the present, courage to deal with your future and the incredible promise of eternal life in heaven.
“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. But be courageous! I have conquered the world.” – John 16:33