December 5, 2014 § 1 Comment
The reality of sin (Genesis 3, Romans 5) brings misery to the common human experience. The presence of evil and suffering in the world makes sense to most Christians, but many wonder why there is SO MUCH evil and suffering. Couldn’t a loving God just spare us from the high degree of heartbreak, disease, death, and natural calamity that we see on the news and in our own lives? Personally, I’d be okay with a lot less. But how much less would do it for me?
A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
Hypothetically, let’s say the amount of evil and suffering in the world was HALF of what it is now. Either the trials we endure are cut by 50%, or the number of people who endure trials is cut by 50%. What would our perception be? The news would still be filled with stories of crime and tragedy, and instead of everyone we know hurting, every other person we know would hurt. I think we would still ask God why there is so much evil and suffering in the world. The reality is, half of what we see now would not make much of a difference at all.
Suppose the degree of evil and suffering in the world were just TEN PERCENT of its current level. Instead of trouble striking me and most of the people in my life, only one in ten people met with trouble. Or instead of daily trials, we experienced trials only one day in ten. Would we still look to the sky and ask God why we must see so much pain and suffering? We all know hundreds of other people and are connected to many media sources, so even if we were fortunate enough to escape tragedy, I believe the suffering of those around us would still cause many to question God’s compassion.
So let’s go further. Imagine that we never personally experienced the amount of evil and suffering we currently see, but that only ONE PERCENT of the world did. Ninety-nine percent of our current trouble never touched us, or only one in a hundred people ever lost a house, a job, a loved one, or fell into addiction, illness, or died. Even in the middle of a good world, where the vast majority of us only knew joy, goodness, love, and perfect health, the 1% of the world that was decaying and corrupt would not go unnoticed. Its rarity might even highlight it more, and I’m sure the question would still be there.
That news story about the child who died from the rare disease. Why him, God? Things like that just don’t happen!
A small village buried in a landslide while the entire surrounding communities were untouched. Why them, Lord? How could you allow that?
God, You brought me so much good in my life for 80 years, and today I find out I have cancer. Why?!
I CAN’T GET NO…
What ratio of evil to good would truly satisfy us? The thing is, no matter how scarce evil, death and suffering were in the world, I don’t think many would express the sentiment: Yes, God, this is a good balance. Very few people suffer. This seems fair. The fundamental truth is that even ONE sin—one lie, one act of rebellion, one bite from the fruit, and one effect of the Fall—is too much for us to be content.
God isn’t satisfied with it either, which is why He didn’t leave us alone in the world we tainted with sin. Romans 5 reveals that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (vs. 12,17) God loved us enough to give us the free will to choose right and wrong, and He loved us enough to redeem us because we made the wrong choice. The atonement of Christ for our sin satisfies, and will one day deliver us from the effects of sin on the world.
We also have no idea how much MORE pain and suffering there could be in the world if it were not for the restraining hand of God. I might lose my job and then shake my fist to the heavens completely ignorant of the fact that God spared my life the day before in an accident that, by His providence, never happened.
HOW’S ABOUT ZERO PAIN AND SUFFERING?
Why a good God allows bad things to exist at all is a different category of problem, one which C.S. Lewis and countless other theologians have tried to address. To me, the most satisfying answer comes from remembering who God is.
He loved us enough to give us a free will, the freedom to choose to follow Him or to take our own path. Our own path was sin, which brought evil and corruption into the world. He could miraculously prevent us from sinning, but we would lose our freedom. And while preventing say, half the sin would result in losing just half our free will, the problem begins to look like the one above. How much of the freedom we have now do we want to be without?
It would also do us well to remember that an all-knowing, all-loving God is like a wise and loving parent who keeps a child from too much cake or a busy street, or must inflict pain to clean a wound before bandaging. These things hurt and seem unfair to a child who knows much less about the good plan the parent has for them. Finite minds can’t expect to know what God knows about what He has in store for us, and why we are going through pain. But we can know that He loves us, and that the Son of God went through it too.
OUR GOD REIGNS
We need an eternal perspective here. No matter how rare calamity was, we would still want less of it because we know God’s ideal was a good creation (Genesis 1:31). So for now, creation “groans” and “waits in eager expectation” for deliverance (Romans 8:18-23). But we wait for a God who is still on His throne in the midst of it all.