A friend of mine recently posted a statement on her FaceBook page. In short, it said, Life is unfair. She was lamenting her 40 year old sister in law, a new mom, being diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Besides this kind of individual suffering, I’ve frequently been asked where is God when there are earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, mass shooters, you name it. Last week we talked about how to handle adversity. Today, let’s discuss why God allows all this human suffering?
Since here I am on the radio, answering questions about God every week, you’d think I’d have a good answer. I don’t. No one has a simple and satisfying answer for such a painful and complex question. But I do have some thoughts that help me when I struggle with this question. So, here’s six concepts that we can embrace about why a good God allows evil and suffering.
First, it is an absolute truth that God is sovereign over everything, including suffering. No natural disaster or personal struggle or any evil experience we encounter can cause God to be surprised. God knows it all. He says in Isaiah 45:7: “I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” Just as God is the sovereign Creator, so He’s sovereign over disasters.
Second, our problem is that we don’t know His purposes. It’s a terrible mistake to assume that God’s purposes are even knowable. That’s why God declared through Isaiah: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).” God’s omniscient plans and purposes are way beyond our finite human ability to understand them.
Third, we need to remember that tragic events are not necessarily related to some specific behavior of nations or individuals. Evil things happen because we live in an evil and fallen world. People get terminal diseases, planes crash, tidal waves overwhelm communities. Paul wrote in Romans 8:22, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” This world is groaning because it is fallen.
Fourth, Jesus taught that disasters, whether natural or man-made, are a reminder of God’s mercy. In Luke 13, responding to the question of why God allowed evil, Jesus said that bad things happen to some people, not because they are “more evil” than others. According to Jesus, if God were to act based on our behavior, disaster and devastation would be the norm, not the exception. We all sin, and if God responded based on what we deserve, we’d all be devastated all the time. This is what Jeremiah meant when he wrote, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail” (Lam 3:22). It’s only God’s loving mercy that prevents Him from destroying all of us instantaneously.
Fifth, God uses suffering to remind us to turn to Him. When we see natural disasters strike others, Jesus said that this was the reminder for us to turn to God before we perish as well (Luke 13:3-5). That’s the very reason the Psalmist wrote, “I turn to the Lord in my distress, and He answers me (Psalm 120:1).” C. S. Lewis said: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world .” God uses our pain and sorrow, to get our attention and remind us turn to Him for comfort.
Sixth, God uses tragic events to remind us that we’re not home yet. It’s so easy to get overly comfortable here on earth and never to want to leave, as if this temporal life was all that God has for us. But He offers us eternity. Suffering on this earth reminds us that God intends a far better home for us in the future. These “present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Rom 8:18).” Suffering and adversity remind us not to allow ourselves to become overly comfortable here. It’s God’s great reminder that this world is not our real home. Suffering makes us remember that, if we know the Lord Jesus, we’re citizens of a far better, future world, where every tear will be wiped away, and all pain and sorrow will be removed.
One last thought: Dorothy Sayers said that when it comes to human sufferings, sorrow, and death, God had “the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine.” In the Messiah Jesus, God entered this world as a fully human person, and not only suffered with us, but suffered for us, that through His death and resurrection, we can have life forever.