Romans 8:28 makes the promise that, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” – ‘in all things’… REALLY? Yes, really. Even in painful situations God works things out for our good – ‘for the good of those who love him’. The prison of pain will one day become a prism of praise.
Steve Jobs, the inspirational CEO of Apple Computers, made the following connection, as recorded by his biographer Walter Isaacson: ‘Even though they were not fervent about their faith, Jobs parents wanted him to have a religious upbringing, so they took him to a Lutheran church most Sunday’s. That came to an end when he was thirteen. In July 1968 Life Magazine published a shocking cover showing a pair of starving children in Biafra. Jobs took it to Sunday school and confronted the church’s pastor.
“If I raise my finger, will God know which one I am going to raise even before I do it?”
The pastor answered, “Yes, God knows everything.”
Jobs then pulled out the Life cover and asked, “Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?”
“Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.”
Jobs announced that he didn’t want to have anything to do with worshipping such a God, and he never went back to church.’ Like many of us, Jobs struggled with the idea that God could see and know the details of the injustice in the world and do nothing to prevent it.
Source: Isaacson, W., 2011, Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography, Little Brown, pp14-15 and quoted by Krish Kandiah, 2014, Paradoxology, London: Hodder & Stoughton, p.49-50
A minister shared his story: ‘At home I have a silk bookmark,’ he said, ‘given to me by my mother. When I examine the wrong side I see nothing but a tangle of threads… it looks like a big mistake. One would think someone had done it who didn’t know what they were doing. But when I turn it over and look at the right side I see beautifully embroidered, the words ‘GOD IS LOVE’. Often we look at challenges and suffering from the wrong side but one day we shall see it from another standpoint and then we shall understand.’
People ask, if God is real why does he allow natural disasters and untold suffering or evil to exist? There is no short answer. We live in a fallen world – fallen from God’s grace because of man’s sin. Adam’s sinful act of disobedience affected Creation and now Creation is out of kilter. The earth is under a curse. God said to Adam (Genesis 3:17) “Cursed is the ground because of you.” This is the greatest environmental disaster that has ever happened. The world we know is not the place it was originally created to be… earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, floods, wars, famines, disease, epidemics… when God finished making the earth it was a good creation (Genesis 1:31). But today it is a groaning creation, filled with suffering, death and pain. All of this is a result of Adam’s sin. Creation is not at fault. Creation is groaning as it waits to be renewed; waiting for God to recreate the new heavens and the new earth (see Revelation 21v1).
Why does God allow evil to happen? ‘God is capable of preventing evil, and God desires to rid the world of evil. So why does God allow evil? Perhaps another way to look at that question is to consider the alternative ways that people might have God run the world. For example:
- God could change everyone’s personality so that they are not able to sin. But that would mean we’d no longer have freewill and so there’d be no meaningful relationship between us and God.
- Another option is that God could compensate for people’s evil actions through supernatural intervention 100 percent of the time. God would then intervene and stop a drunk driver from causing an accident or stop terrorists from flying airplanes into buildings. But while this solution sounds attractive, it would very quickly lose its attractiveness as soon as God’s intervention infringed on something we wanted to do. We want God to prevent horrible evil actions, but are we willing to let “lesser-evil” actions slide? Again we don’t really want to be controlled, do we? We want to retain control over our own lives. We value our freewill.
- Another alternative would be for God to judge and remove those who choose to commit evil acts. But the problem with this is that there would be no one left, because God would have to remove us all.
Instead of these alternatives, God has chosen to create a “real” world in which real choices have real consequences.’
“God didn’t create us to be robots. He created us to be powerful expressions of Himself. When He did this, God made it possible for Him to feel heartache and pain from our choices. All parents understand this pain. God took a risk by giving us a choice to serve Him, ignore Him, or even mock Him. And our freedom of choice is so valuable to Him that He restrains Himself from manifesting His presence in a way where our freedom of choice would be removed.”
Bill Johnson, 2016, God Is Good, Pasadena USA: Destiny Image Publishers, p.56
Rick Warren writes: “The Bible says sometimes suffering is God’s will for your life. Why? Because it makes you more like Jesus. It deepens your faith. It brings you rewards in Heaven. It builds your character. It teaches you to worship instead of worry. There are three kinds of suffering in the world.
- Common suffering is suffering that’s universal — it doesn’t matter if you’re Baptist or Buddhist or Muslim or atheist or whatever. Everybody suffers certain things. When a hurricane comes into town, it doesn’t just pick on Christians. There is suffering in the world that we all share in common.
- The second kind of suffering is carnal suffering. That’s suffering you bring on yourself from your own sin. If I choose to live an immoral life, one consequence could be a sexually transmitted disease. My choices led to that result, so it’s my fault. It’s not God’s fault. It’s not anybody else’s fault. Or if I spend more money than I make and go into debt and face bankruptcy, that’s my fault, too. I suffer because of my sin and bad decisions.
- Not all suffering is from sin. The Bible says sometimes suffering is according to the will of God, because God is more interested in your character than your comfort.
The Bible says in 1 Peter 4:19 (NIV), “Those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” No matter what arrows are thrown at you, no matter what you suffer in this life because of your faith, God wants you to remain faithful to him and keep on doing good to others. Is that easy to do? Not always. Does it take faith? Definitely. Is it worth it? Absolutely, because God is guiding you to becoming more like Jesus.”
Rick Warren, Daily Hope, accessed 16/01/2018
The number one reason people cite for not believing in Christianity is because of all the evil and suffering in the world. And yet, the number one reason people accept the Christian message is because of all the suffering in the world. In a nutshell, they know that evil and suffering are not right and so they turn to Christ seeking help and get their answers.
People ask, ‘If God is all knowing, if He is a God of love who knows everything about us – even down the number of hairs on our head, and our very thoughts – why doesn’t He intervene to end our suffering and to stop all the evil in the world? If God is love why doesn’t He intervene to save ‘innocent’ lives and heal people? – We worship a God who, we are told, loves us and knows everything about us and yet, He often remains silent! How do we reconcile this? What about the abduction of Madeleine McCann on holiday in Portugal a number of years ago? How do we reconcile such events with a God who loves us and knows everything about us? If we had known something was going to happen to 3-year old Madeleine we would have done something to prevent it, wouldn’t we? Why does God allow these things to happen, why doesn’t he intervene to stop them?
Friends, the trouble is we want God to intervene when we want him to intervene… but we don’t really want him to intervene all the time. We want God to save and heal and comfort but we don’t want God to intervene and bring judgment on the world, or to treat us, or our loved ones, as our sins deserve. We only want God to intervene to stop horrible things happening or to intervene when it suits us. But if God constantly jumped in to fix the world’s problems, then God would have to impose his will over ours; over mankind, and that would destroy the greatest of all freedoms, our free will. If God intervened and imposed His will over ours, He would forfeit the chance of receiving any love that is worth having. Real love, genuine love cannot be forced or commanded. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote: ‘Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.’
So how, then, do we reconcile suffering and God apparently remaining silent and not doing anything about it? Why did God even allow evil and suffering to enter the world in the first place? The short answer is we don’t know for certain why God allowed evil and suffering to enter the world, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t concerned about it. He is! God is not indifferent. He cares massively; that’s why He sent Jesus. One thing we do know for certain is that much of the suffering in the world is caused as a direct result of our own sinfulness (drunkenness, adultery, greed, selfishness, lust). God values our freedom; our free will; he respects our choices; he doesn’t want to force or control us to have to obey Him, like robots.
Why doesn’t God do something about all the evil and suffering in the world? – Friends, he has done something about it (He sent Jesus), He is doing something about it (God is not inactive or impotent), and one day soon He will do something about it, conclusively (when Jesus returns).
C.S. Lewis once described suffering as God’s megaphone through which He calls on people to turn to Him. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” So suffering is used by God to act as a global conscience.”
Cited in It Makes Sense, by Stephen Gaukroger, 2003, Gold Hill: Scripture Union, p.15
Why does God allow evil and suffering? This is a valid and frequently asked question, and the only honest response is that no one knows for certain; because no one has all the answers. ‘Like the bailiff who said, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” And the man answered, “Sir, if I knew the whole truth and nothing but the truth I would be God!” That much is true. But we are not God, are we, and so none of us has all the answers.’
Rick Warren, God’s Power To Change Your Life, 2006, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, p.186
When non-Christians go through hard times, they often take it as a sign that there is no God, or that God is not loving. In fact, it could be that the loving God is bringing them low so that they cry out to him. – Is there someone you know who you could gently suggest this to?
Explore Bible notes, 6/3/2015
You remember Jesus taught us to pray: ‘Our Father… your will be done on earth’ – which is tantamount to saying God’s will is not being done on earth, at least not all the time. Anyone who thinks God’s will is always been done on earth is not looking at the evidence around them: poverty, murder, child trafficking, terrorism, disease, sickness… Jesus knows that God’s will is not being done all the time on earth, that’s why He tells us to pray daily: ‘Our Father… your will be done on earth… give us this day…’ – It’s a daily prayer.
When things get tough we learn how to really pray. Maybe that’s one of the reasons things get tough.
“It is good for us that at times we have sorrows and adversities, because they often make a man realise in his heart that he is an exile, and puts not his hope in any worldly thing.”
Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471), Augustinian monk
Source: Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, p.35
In the book, ‘Where Is God When It Hurts?’ Philip Yancey wrote: “If God is truly in charge why is he so capricious, unfair? Is he the cosmic sadist who delights in watching us squirm?” – He then goes on to show that God is not like that, at all. Scripture assures us that our God is a suffering God, being himself far from immune to suffering. We need to see him weeping over the impenitent city of Jerusalem and dying on the cross.