In yesterday’s sermon, we spent some time talking about “the problem of evil.” If God is really good and sovereign over all that goes on in this world (as the Bible repeatedly tells us He is), why is there so much evil, pain, and suffering in the world?
This is perhaps the most difficult intellectual struggle with embracing the God of Christianity. And the Bible doesn’t give us any easy, fully-satisfying answers to this question. This is one of those areas where no matter how much you dig into it and try to understand it, there will still be a need for faith.
That being said, there are many truths the Bible does give us to help us wrestle with this difficult topic. Here are five truths:
1. God himself does not directly cause sin and suffering in the world. While he is the ultimate cause for all that happens in this world, there are secondary causes that God allows to work, namely the devil and human sin. Evil in this world is always directly caused either by our sin, the devil, or simply the brokenness of the world brought about by sin. We are never right in blaming God for evil.
2. God himself is grieved by sin and suffering. We are told that it’s possible for our sin to “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30). Which means that God is not cold, distant, or unmoved by what happens in our lives, even if he has ordained it from eternity past. He lives with and in us by his Spirit, knows how we feel, and is moved in some sense by our sin and suffering.
3. God himself experienced the sin and suffering of the world. God came into this world in the person of Jesus, felt the full range of temptations, felt the full range of emotions, was betrayed, spit upon, beaten, and then killed. God, completely on his own accord, submitted himself to the evil of this world.
Yes, there is immense suffering in the world. And we don’t understand all the reasons God ordains it. But he hasn’t remained distant from it; he has placed himself in the middle of it. God was murdered by the very people he created. And that was part of his sovereign will from before He created the world. God wrote that into the script!
John Stott reflects on the significance of this: “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. . . . In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?”
4. God will one day eradicate all sin and suffering. He will make all wrongs right. His justice is delayed now; sin and Satan still have a presence here on earth. But in time, God will stamp them out, and what will remain will be only good.
The book of Revelation tells us there will be no more tears, death, mourning, or pain. This is what we are to long for. This is what God longs for. Especially as we encounter the hurts, disappointments, and evil of this world, we should increasingly long for God to come and overcome.
5. God’s glory, and not human happiness or comfort, is the point of the universe. How does this relate? There is a tendency to think that God exists for our happiness above all else. And of course, if this is our working assumption, then he’s clearly either not good or not in control, because there is plenty in this world that doesn’t make us happy.
But if God’s glory is why this world exists, and why we exist, the role of human suffering changes. If it can be used to bring about God’s glory, by pushing us to cling to and trust in him more, than it’s not inherently evil.
While suffering is not inherently good and while it won’t exist in the life to come, in this life where we are continually tempted to live for self above God, suffering can be used for good. God can use it to break our selfishness and pride and look to him for life, comfort, and hope.