The Truth About Suffering

There are so many wrong answers to the question, “Why does God allow evil in the world?” “Why did God allow the pains of hurricane Irma? Couldn’t he have stopped it?” Better yet, “Why did God allow an earthquake to strike Haiti in 2010 that killed nearly a quarter of a million people?”

Honestly, when natural disaster strikes a nation, I’m torn when trying to figure out how to respond as a Christian. On the one hand, I want to offer a word of comfort, on the other hand, I want to explore the theological technicalities of explaining how the existence of seemingly fortuitous evil can exist in a world created by a good and sovereign God (the technical term for this theological dilemma is theodicy; Google it).

Thankfully, we have the Bible and the Holy Spirit to help us navigate these things.

The first major answer that the Bible gives to to explain the existence of fortuitous evil in the world is trust Him. That’s it.

We find this answer in the book of Job. Job is struck down with every imaginable form of human suffering. His suffering ranged from physical agony (painful boils all over his body) to the death of his children. The kicker is that at the beginning of the story, we’re told that Job was a completely righteous person. In other words, he’s undeserving of this suffering.

“Why, God, why?!” is the question that resonates over and over again throughout the many chapters of Job.

Job’s buddies give him all sorts of answers to his questions. Their answers make sense from a human perspective, but ultimately, none of their answers are correct, as God affirms at the end of the book. Sometimes the answers that make sense in a human framework aren’t the right answers. Sometimes the right answers extend into the realm of deep and mysterious truth.

When we arrive at the end of the book of Job, God finally answers Job’s question, and his answer is simply, “trust me.” Thankfully, God elaborates just a bit. He explains to Job (with a series of rhetorical questions) that there are things that happen in life that extend far beyond human comprehension (after all, humans aren’t God), and that there’s no explanation that we can fully understand. Our minds are just too small and our perspective just too narrow. God, however, is God, and has a purpose for everything (Rom. 8:28).

This forces the tremendously difficult question, “Can you trust God even when you don’t understand what he’s doing at the moment?” This is the litmus test question of Christian maturity. Can you trust him even when there are things in life that you don’t understand, like suffering? If you can’t, then the implication is that he is not God, at least to you he isn’t.

This is a tough answer that may or may not bring comfort to someone who is suffering (I leave it to you).

The other answer to why there is seemingly fortuitous evil in the world is sin. This answer doesn’t tend to bring comfort to people who are hurting, however, there is truth in this answer and Jesus tells us that the truth will set us free (John 8:32).

The rebellious heart of humanity that brought sin into a good and perfect world has simply wreaked havoc on the creation. Things are broken and corrupt because of the sin of humanity. The systems don’t work according to their original divine design anymore and it infects the entire creation. In other words, our decisions and behaviors matter. God created humanity with unequalled responsibility. What we do matters and impacts the world around us.

This is the truth; may the truth set you free.

PS – I highly recommend this book by N.T. Wright on the matter.

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