suffering

Why Does a Good God Allow Human Suffering?

“Good and upright is the Lord.” – Psalm 25:8

Why does a loving God allow human suffering and evil? If God is all-powerful, doesn’t he have the ability to prevent it? If the Creator truly cares, wouldn’t he bring peace upon this earth? What is the purpose of suffering, if any at all? These are all common questions that people ask, especially when they are experiencing tragedy.

When my wife was a child, she had a younger sister named Natalia. At the age of 1, it was evident something physically was wrong. Her parents went from doctor to doctor to get a diagnosis. Finally, the worst news possible: Natalia had terminal cancer.

Her parents were determined to save Natalia’s life. They tried chemotherapy, surgery, traveled to clinics around the country, but there was no remedy for this cancer. It started in the tailbone and spread to her lungs.

When Natalia began to walk, she would complain about her leg pain. She just wanted relief. My wife vividly remembers a time when Natalia said to her Mom, “I just want an injection. Can you give me an injection to relieve this pain?” Most children loathe shots, but Natalia needed it because her pain was unbearable. That same year Natalia passed away and began the journey to her heavenly home.

Stories like these are hard to hear. My wife and her family were devastated. Heartbroken. Questioning the goodness of God was a natural conversation considering their circumstances. Despite the pain, this tragedy had started a positive direction for their family.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

After the funeral, my Father-in-Law, who was an agnostic, started attending church. He had nowhere else to go. In his brokenness, the only relief was to be part of a community of believers who would pray and comfort him and his family during this ravenous storm.

My wife started going to church with her grandpa. My Mother-in-Law also began attending church. Although Natalie had passed into eternity, her influence was prevalent. This tragedy brought the entire family into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Today, my wife loves the Lord. She has helped missionaries translate the gospel from English to Ukrainian. She has counseled several women in the church. Everyday,  she teaches my two boys the importance of God’s love. For instance, our eldest son Evan is already sharing Jesus with kids he meets at the park. She has been a tremendous helper for me and a vital asset to the strength of our family.

My Father-in-Law owns a successful business. He gives employees the option of staying after work to do in-depth Bible studies with him. And yes, they get paid for being present. He has contributed greatly to their city, revamping dilapidated buildings, creating programs for youth, and teaching Bible studies at his house. He knows the Bible better than any seminary trained professor I have ever met.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4

All of us will experience tragedy at some point. It’s inevitable. When these tragedies do arise, what will your attitude be? If you become bitter and angry towards God, I can promise you, life will become a dark tunnel filled with disappointment. Bitterness always leads to the grave.

My wife’s sister Natalia was a heartbroken event. Both her laughter and tears will never be forgotten. And yes, grieving is the right attitude, but it’s not the final outcome. Natalia had a positive impact on my wife and her entire family. Her death brought brokenness, but that brokenness led the Livinyuk family to seek refuge in Christ. Praise be to God.

Keep Enduring Through Trials because of the Joy of Your Salvation in Christ

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“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Pet. 1:6-7).”

When I first came to faith in Jesus, I preached virtually every weekend in the open air. I went to various places–downtown, bars and clubs, parks, social events, concerts, you name it. If it was a place where people gathered and could hear God’s word proclaimed, I was there.

One day I decided to share the gospel at a Nine Inch Nails concert. Many wore black gothic clothes and told me they worshipped Satan. I kept reiterating that Satan masquerades as an angel of light, not a scary gargoyle creature. I told them not to be deceived but to repent and put their trust and faith in Jesus Christ.  My goal was to balance the truth of God’s wrath and judgment with his mercy and grace.

While preaching this message, a man approached me, opened two beer cans, and poured it on my head. As I was dripping with beer juice, I looked the man squarely in the eye and told him–Jesus loves you. It was the grace of God that helped me love this person regardless of the mistreatment I endured from him. He walked away and continued shouting, “Hail Satan.” Afterwards, a man came up to me, was impressed with the genuineness of my faith, and proceeded to ask me questions about Jesus.

Though the Apostle Peter mentions in this passage that Christians will experience trials in this life, it pales in comparison to the glory that will be revealed at Christ’s return. The word trial here doesn’t mean the inner wrestling with evil inclination, but undeserved sufferings from real, physical and/or emotional persecution from others. Can you remember the last time you were persecuted for your faith? How did it make you feel? Do the promises of God help alleviate the pain?

Suffering will rob us of joy if we do not remember God’s word. He is telling us, “hang in there, don’t give up, trust in me.” No matter what happens to you, keep enduring through trials because someday every tear of sorrow will be wiped away. Also, you never know who is watching you during your greatest trials. If the mistreatment by the beer guy didn’t happen, would my conversation about Jesus have taken place? Only God knows.

Why Does God allow Natural Disasters?

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There are two types of evil and suffering in the world. Moral evil as a result of free choices (murder, violence, greed) and suffering as a result of natural disasters (tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanoes). Since moral evil is a result of independent choices that humans make, it’s possible to convince a skeptic that it’s not God’s fault. However, how do you convince a skeptic that God allows natural disasters while maintaining that He is good and right for doing so?

Dr. James Beebee from the University of Buffalo writes that Christians can’t put all the blame for pain and suffering on human beings. Although much of the evil in this world results from the free choices people make, some of it does not. Cancer, AIDS, famines, earthquakes, tornadoes, and many other kinds of diseases and natural disasters are things that happen without anybody choosing to bring them about. He continues: “This objection leads us to draw a distinction between the following two kinds of evil and suffering: moral evil is evil or suffering that results from the immoral choices of free creatures, and natural evil results from the operations of nature or nature gone awry.” I disagree with Dr. Beebee and contend that poor choices humans make do have a direct impact on natural disasters too.

Both you and I know that selfish human activity has resulted in detrimental changes to the Earth’s atmosphere. The increase amounts of greenhouse gases, aerosols, the burning of fossil fuels, and other contaminants that release carbon dioxide into the air affect our climate by altering incoming solar radiation and out-going infrared (thermal) radiation that are part of the Earth’s energy balance. Changing the atmospheric abundance or properties of these gases and particles can lead to a warming or cooling of the climate system. Since the start of the industrial era, the overall effect of human activities on climate has been a warming influence. The human impact on climate during this era greatly exceeds that due to known changes in natural processes, such as solar changes and volcanic eruptions.

What about famines? Was the Irish famine that led to one million deaths a result of the failure of the potato crop, or a deliberate plan by the British authorities to destroy the Irish people? Irish revolutionary John Mitchell stated, “despite the failure of the potato crop there was still enough food in the country to feed the population.” The suffering wasn’t a result of natural disaster, but because of the laissez-faire economics.

As a Christian, I don’t find it contradictory to maintain that natural disasters are a result of seismic activity, air pressure, ocean currents, and soil erosion while also being influenced by the curse of sin. God said that when we sinned, the whole human race and the environment in which we are responsible for was affected. Romans 8:22 states: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”

From a purely naturalistic perspective, atheists don’t have an adequate answer to suffering as a result of natural disasters. To them, it is simply natural selection maintaining its course with no meaning and purpose. Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, professor at Oxford University, has stated this grim view of reality in his book, River out of Eden: “The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

I believe the Bible has a better explanation for natural disasters. God is very focused on the physical world. He cares about the trees, rivers, stars, galaxies, goldfish, horses, mountains, you name it. He’s going to reestablish it all. Furthermore, God doesn’t describe heaven as a mystical, disembodied state of existence where we play the harp and sing with angels in the clouds. He talks about a new Earth where even the lion and the lamb, the predator and the prey, will lie together in peace and perfect harmony. I love what C.S. Lewis once said. ““If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” This new world is not a figment of our imagination or wishful thinking, but an innate desire that God has bestowed upon us for a future day. Don’t you look forward to it?

THE MEANING OF SUFFERING IN A BROKEN WORLD

460px-Sépulcre_Arc-en-Barrois_111008_121. Accidental suffering and evil – A pastor is cutting his front lawn. He looks up from his task just in time to see his neighbor back out of the garage–right over his three year old son, who had been hidden from the rear view mirror. The pastor runs over to assist the panicked father while they take the boy to the hospital in the ambulance. The father holds his son in agony and watches him breathe for the last time. Where is God? Why did He allow this unnecessary suffering to occur?  How do you console the father after this tragedy? 

We know from Psalms that God is good (Ps. 119:68), that He is gracious to us in our afflictions (Eph. 1:7), that God is love (1 John 4:16), that He is almighty and holy (Rev. 4:8), and the Lord will fulfill his promises (2 Pet. 3:9).

2. Natural Disaster suffering and evilOn April 26, 1989, an extremely destructive tornado in Bangladesh, India killed around 1,300 people, making it the deadliest tornado in world history. Countless trees were uprooted, every home within a five mile radius was destroyed, and 80,000 people were left homeless. In 2004, a tsunami of gigantic proportions caused by shifting plates in the ocean floor off the coast of Aceh in northwest Indonesia, caused horrific damage in several countries. It killed 300,000 men, women, and children. Where was God? If He is sovereign over nature, why would He inflict pain and agony on creation? 

Scriptures teaches us that God is sovereign over the natural world (Ps. 65:9-10; Matt. 5:45), human history (Ps. 33:10-11; Dan. 4:34-35), individual human lives (Ps. 139; Jeremiah 1:4-5), chance (Prov. 16:33), human decisions (Ex. 3:21, Ezra 6:22), and salvation (Matt. 16:17-18; Jn. 6:44-45).

3. Purposeful suffering and evil Most people have heard about the horror that happened during the reign of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. Six million Jews, gypsies, and physically or mentally handicapped were systematically exterminated because of racism. We are told that we must not compare it with other acts of violence lest we trivialize it. However, the sad truth is that the twentieth century has experienced a string of similar holocausts: The same percentage of Cambodians died under the evil dictator Pol Pot, a million Hutus and Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda, Africa by Idi Amin, during the reign of Stalin, around 20 million Soviets and Ukrainians starved to death, and in the United States, from 1973 to 2008, nearly 50 million abortions have terminated the lives of unborn children who could have grown up to be future lawyers, doctors, and teachers. If God is all-loving, why would He allow such evil? If God is all-powerful, why doesn’t he bring justice and righteousness to the Earth?

How can accidental, natural, and purposeful suffering and evil be understood? First, lets examine what the skeptic or Atheist may argue then try to understand suffering from a biblical perspective. The originator of the problem of evil is often cited as the Greek Philosopher Epicurus, who argued the following proof against the belief in God.

  1. If an all-powerful and perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.
  2. There is evil in the world.
  3. Therefore, an all-powerful and perfectly good god does not exist.

English: Image of Alvin Plantinga released by ...

Alvin Plantinga, an American analytic philosopher professor from Notre Dame, posited a “free will defense” in 1965, which refutes the logical problem of evil–the argument that the existence of evil is logically incompatible with the existence of an all-powerful and wholly good god. Plantinga’s argument states: “It is possible that God, even being all-loving, would desire to create a world which contains evil if moral goodness requires free moral creatures.” In other words, people have been created as free moral agents, to choose either evil or good. If there was no choice, humans would be predetermined and not be truly free.

Skeptics may claim that the problem of evil is difficult to reconcile with a theistic worldview, but actually their worldview makes the problem of evil impossible. D.A. Carson comments on his book How Long, O Lord? “If there is no God and no criterion of goodness outside the universe itself, if all that happens is by chance from evolution, atoms and particles bumping into each other randomly, what rational person should feel outrage before evils at all?”

From a Christian perspective, evil is known because we can contrast it to a God that is full of love, mercy, and grace. More importantly, the God-Man Jesus Christ knows firsthand what it means to experience evil and suffering. He, who knew no sin, became sin for us. He was perfectly righteous and yet was treated as the most heinous criminal in the world. He took the full weight of God’s wrath. If God can take the greatest example of evil in the universe and turn it into the greatest source of praise, then he can take a small suffering in our lives and turn it into something good. We may never understand fully why God allows human suffering, but we do know that there is coming a day when He will bring justice to the tyrants of history, set free the oppressed, and wipe every tear from our eyes, turning our sadness into ecstatic joy (Rev. 20-21). Continue to trust in Him!

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