In the second week of the “You Asked for It” series, Lead Pastor Ben Snyder tackled arguably the most pervasive question mankind has asked in relation to God’s ways.
This question has been posed and pondered for thousands of years, dating back to the pages of the Old Testament. It has led some to question their faith, others to defiantly forego belief altogether, and even the most devout of believers to struggle in reconciling their faith with their life experience.
The question is, “Why would a true and loving God allow the pain and suffering we witness and endure?” Or, as Ben asked, “Why should we follow a God who allows Satan, spam, skeeters, sickness, and sadness?”
Why does God permit unspeakable tragedies, such as the recent mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas? Why does he allow innocent children to suffer from terminal disease, predators to prey upon their victims, and millions to struggle against seemingly insurmountable foes of poverty and starvation? Even comparatively lesser troubles, such as financial worries and broken relationships, can leave us asking, “Why, God?”
Central to each of these questions is the presumption that God chooses to stand by, without taking action, as he witnesses our pain and suffering. What sort of God would do this?
To begin unpacking his response to this question, Ben went back to the beginning – literally – in the Book of Genesis where sin first entered the world.
1The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” 2“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. 3“It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’” 4“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5“God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” 6The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. 7At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.
In the first verse of the above passage, we are introduced to the serpent (Satan) who proceeds to shrewdly tempt the woman (Eve) and her husband (Adam) with devious promises. When Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, they receive what is promised – knowledge of good and evil. But as we know, there is a tragic cost for this act of defiance, for with their first bite of the fruit, sin is ushered into the world.
Genesis 3 also introduces us to the concept of free will, or the permission to make decisions, which opens the door to evil in our world.
This backstory is important, for while sin is indeed the root of all evil, Satan, not God, is its father.
Lee Strobel, pastor and author of The Case for Christ, spoke to this point in a sermon following the tragic 2012 shooting in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater. “God did not create evil and suffering,” Strobel told the congregation. “Now, it’s true that he did create the potential for evil to enter the world, because that was the only way to create the potential for genuine goodness and love. But it was human beings, in our free will, who brought that potential evil into reality.”
As Strobel noted, free will was God’s way of bringing about genuine goodness and love. Free will is about our ability to make choices that are not controlled by fate or God. Without the unconstrained ability to make choices, we would essentially be programmed beings no different from automatons, machines that perform functions according to a predetermined set of coded instructions. In short, there would be no value to our love because it would be involuntary. True love, including our love of God, cannot be programmed. Rather, it is the result of our conscious actions, our feelings, and our choices.
Free will, of course, provides the opportunity for bad choices… and sin. Now, contrary to what some would suggest, God did not stand by without action in response to our sin. Far from it, he took the ultimate action through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ.
As the Rev. Billy Graham eloquently wrote, “Jesus Christ came to destroy sin’s power—and He did this by His death and resurrection for us. As we turn to Him in repentance and faith He forgives our sins, and as we yield ourselves to Him every day He helps us defeat sin’s power over us. He also gives us a new love for others, and sends us out to help alleviate the sufferings of our world.”
While there is no question that pain and suffering are an unwelcome reality of our earthly life, Christ followers can take comfort in knowing that this anguish is not entirely without purpose, and most certainly not a condition devoid of hope.
Though it may seem to be a slight consolation, pain does awaken us to God. Noted author and theologian C.S. Lewis wrote about this topic in The Problem of Pain. “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to,” Lewis wrote. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
The good news for Christ followers is that our earthly sufferings are just that. As Strobel added in his aforementioned sermon, “The day is coming when suffering will cease and God will judge evil. Many times you’ll hear people say: ‘If God has the power to eradicate evil and suffering, then why doesn’t He do it?’ And the answer is that because He hasn’t done it yet doesn’t mean He won’t do it.”
Indeed, the story of our existence is not yet fully written. And we can take comfort in knowing that when we give our lives to Christ, the promise of heaven awaits.
In the coming days, LivingItOut writers will explore how God helps us through the responses we may have when trying to understand why bad things happen to good people. These responses are geared to address questions from:
- The Curious – those who wonder why God allows pain and suffering. The curious need a conversation.
- The Hurting – those who are experiencing hurt from pain and suffering. The hurting need to be heard.
- The Healing – those who are ready to become sound and healthy again. The healing need help and hope.
Have you wrestled with the question of why God allows pain and suffering? If so, how does understanding the source of evil and the concept of free will impact your thinking?
How can you leverage this knowledge, and your belief, to help others who may be struggling with pain and sorrow?
What can you do, even in moments of anguish, to be ever mindful of the future rewards that God promises, in this life and beyond?
If you have wrestled with why God allows pain and suffering, think about how you’ve typically approached this question – perhaps with a near-term focus – and how embracing your faith in God’s ultimate promise can help to alleviate your burdens. Consider also how you can be a light for others by sharing God’s love with those in your life who are struggling with pain and suffering by identifying if they are curious, hurting, or healing.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for your gift of this life and both the good and bad that we encounter on our earthly journey. Help us to understand that there is a purpose for all that we experience. Provide us the wisdom to treat the gift of free will with respect and full understanding of its consequences. And help us to always remain focused on you and your glorious promise of eternal life and love with you. Amen.
This post was written by Todd Romain. Todd is a regular contributor to and editor of the LivingItOut Bible Study.
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