I am currently writing a series of blogs that deal with the topic of suffering. These blogs will seek to answer the following questions: (1) What does Christian community have to do with suffering?, (2) What does the Bible teach us about suffering?, (3) What does the gospel teach us about suffering?, (4) If God is good, why is there suffering in this world?, and (5) How can we help those who are suffering? For the rest of this post, I will focus specifically on answering the fourth question.
Please note that I originally posted this post on Facebook but adapted it to post it here on this blog.
If God is good and is all powerful, then why do evil and suffering exist?
This is an important question. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the vast majority (if not all) of the people I’ve talked to that deny the existence of God usually do so because of some variation of the problem of evil. And often times it’s deeply personal. Many of them have had very difficult experiences in their lives that have led them to their atheistic convictions (sickness, betrayal, loss of loved ones, etc.).
The heart of this question is commonly referred to as the “problem of evil” and is used as an argument against the existence of God. However, the argument itself has some built-in irony to it. You cannot claim that objective evil exists apart from the existence of God. The problem with the problem of evil argument is that it assumes that objective evil exists which presupposes that objective good exists which necessitates the existence of God. There would be no objective good and objective evil without God, who’s the very standard by which we can judge what is truly good and what is truly evil in the first place!
Nevertheless, the problem of evil argument goes something like this:
1. God’s power means God can prevent any evil, since God can do absolutely anything.
2. God’s goodness means that he would prevent any evil.
3. But there is evil.
4. So, God cannot exist.
At first glance it seems this argument has some weight to it. But the central problem is that it makes a false assumption. This argument wrongly assumes that there is never a morally sufficient reason for God to allow evil. But we know from Scripture that even though we may not always understand how it works, God has good purposes in allowing evil to occur in this world.
For example, in Genesis 50:20 as Joseph reflects upon how his brothers sold him into slavery he says these words, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” God used evil for good.
Similarly, Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God works all things together for the good of those who love him. He sovereignly uses both good things and bad things in our lives for our good and for our sanctification.
God occasionally uses evil (or at least what many would perceive as evil) to punish the wicked. For example, Romans 1 teaches us that God gives sinners up to their sin as an act of judgement against them (Romans 1:24,26,28). Evil can be used as an act of judgment against the wicked.
God uses evil sometimes to show his glory in triumphing over it. John 9:1-3 says, “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” So God allowed this man to be born blind that he might show his power through him.
God has good purposes for the evil he permits in this world, even when we do not always understand them. God’s thoughts are above our thoughts and his ways are above our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). For any evil that God allows, He has a morally sufficient reason for allowing this evil, even if we don’t always know what it is (as is the case with Job for example).
That means that our suffering in this world is not meaningless. Our suffering, no matter how hard or how difficult, has meaning, significance and purpose! In a godless worldview, there is no point to “evil” or suffering. It’s all random and absolutely meaningless. If your life is hard then it’s just hard and that’s it. You’ve simply been dealt a bad hand and just have to deal with it. Your inner cravings for justice will never be satisfied. It’s all meaningless. There is no hope in the midst of suffering in a godless worldview. But as Christians we have hope in the midst of suffering. There is purpose to our suffering. Frankly, it’s much easier for me to believe that God allows evil to happen according to his good purposes than it is for me to believe that bad things happen for no reason at all and that evil will go unpunished. Evil will not have the final word on judgement day. On that day, every wrong will be made right. And that inner desire we have for ultimate justice in the midst of tragedy and suffering will be satisfied because God’s justice will prevail over all. Rather than concluding that life is meaningless, bad things happens, and that’s all she wrote, the sense of injustice that you feel when you observe or experience evil should actually cause you to turn to a God who will one day right every wrong.
We see God use evil for good most clearly in the gospel itself. If we didn’t know what evil is…then we wouldn’t know how glorious the gospel is. The concepts of sacrifice and courage and heroism would not exist in a world without evil. But God used the greatest evil ever imaginable—the crucifixion of Jesus Christ—to bring about the greatest good. Through the sacrificial death of the sinless Jesus Christ, he purchased our forgiveness and our salvation. And so if someone is having a problem reconciling why God might be allowing a certain evil to happen, I would encourage them to consider the gospel. If God used the greatest evil to bring about the greatest good then that means he can sovereignly use their suffering for good as well. There is hope.
 Douglas Groothus, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2011), 629.