Ten Questions: #5 – How could a good God allow so much evil, pain, and suffering — or does he simply not care?

Summary

  • Many times when people ask this question, they are in the midst of great suffering.
  • Jesus himself warned us we would all face trials and suffering; it’s important to help our friends see this truth with love.
  • As Christians, we believe in three seemingly incompatible truths — God is good, God is great, and evil is real.
  • Remember the illustration of driving in the fog by following the taillights of someone just ahead of you.
  • Evil was not created by God; instead, he gave us a choice.
  • People desire a place without suffering–and God has promised that! One day…
  • God knows about suffering: Jesus suffered in unimaginable ways.
  • God can bring good out of all kinds of evil and suffering.

The question that’s not always a question

  • Realize that when your friends are experiencing pain they are probably not asking for explanations as much as they’re looking for empathy, concern and tangible expressions of love. See James 2:15-16, 1 John 3:18-19
  • Here’s a scripted answer to consider:
    • “Well, that’s a really good question that we can talk about sometime, but I’m pretty sure what you need most right now is not a deep philosophical discussion about pain and suffering. Let’s talk about that later. For now, how can I help you get through this?”

The problem of evil

The conundrum: God is good, God is great, evil is real. How do we deal with this reality?

  • Solution 1: Deny God’s existence — and, with it, the reality of evil.
    • as soon as you throw out the idea of God, you’ve also thrown out the meaning of evil
    • C.S. Lewis: “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”
    • If all we have is a human race that evolved by chance without a God in the picture, then there is no absolute standard.
      • If there is no absolute standard, then there is no real evil.

Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.45-46

  • Solution 2: Make evil part of God–thus deifying it.
    • Primarily an Eastern thought, especially Hinduism and Buddhism and through New Age teachings in the West.
    • If everything is a part of God, so is evil…the Dark Side of the force.
  • Solution 3: Diminish God’s power
    • This teaches that God himself is a growing, changing being who is caught up in the struggle against evil, and he has only the power of persuasion to aid him in his efforts to, hopefully, win out one day over it
    • There are major problems with this teaching!
  • Solution 4: Diminish God’s goodness
    • Some suggest that God knows about evil and has the power to vanquish it, but apparently doesn’t care enough to deal with it.
    • During bad times it’s easy to forget the good things that God has provided.

Living in the Tension

  • There is a God — One who is good, who is great and who nevertheless allows real evil in our world for a season and for his greater purposes.
  • It’s wise to admit we don’t have a simplistic solution

Addressing the question with our friends

  1. First point of light: the world is as Jesus predicted John 16:33
  2. Second point of light: evil was not created or caused by God. Real love can never be forced.
  3. Third point of light: the cause behind most suffering is human. We live in a world where people do what they want to do, and therefore all kinds of sin, abuse, and damage occur. God didn’t want any of this and he warns us against it all.
  4. Fourth point of light: we live in a fallen world. Romans 8:19-21.
  5. Fifth point of light: God will finally judge evil. 2 Peter 3:9.
  6. Sixth point of light: God suffered too. Hebrews 2:17-18, 4:14-16.
  7. Seventh point of light: God can bring good out of bad. Romans 8:28.
  • He can use pain to deepen our character (Romans 5:3-4).
  • He can use pain to reshape us as his sons and daughters (Hebrews 12:10-11).
  • He can use pain to give us a more spiritual and eternal perspective (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
  • He can use pain to protect us from ourselves.
  • He can use pain to grab our attention and teach or redirect us in ways that will be important in our lives.
  • He can use pain to lead us to himself.

Tips for Talking About This Issue

  • Remember that many times people’s questions are not really questions, but cries for help. Pray for wisdom and discernment, but lean toward the side of listening and serving.
  • Don’t overreact when your friends blurt out some strong feelings about God or their faith. Remember, “Skeptics argue with each other, but true believers argue with God.” (See Psalm 13)
  • It’s better to admit you don’t know what to say or to say nothing.
  • Don’t tell people that loved ones died because “God must have needed them in heaven” or “This must have been God’s will.”
  • It’s rarely appropriate to quote Romans 8:28 to people in pain; rather, encourage them and love, support and serve them.
  • Remember that prayer is almost always an appropriate response.
  • Don’t underestimate the encouragement and influence you can have on people’s lives by simply being there to love and serve them.

Questions for discussion

  1. Why do people tend to not think about God when their lives are going well, but then blame him when bad things happen?
  2. How would you describe to someone “the problem of good?”
  3. Why is it difficult for people to reconcile the three truths that God is good, God is great, and evil is real? Have you ever struggled with any of these?
  4. Why does the denial of God leave us with no absolute standards? Why is a standard for judging good and evil vital for life in this world?
  5. What does it mean to you that God offers a choice–to love and follow him or to not love and follow him? How does that affect your approach in talking to friends about this question?
  6. How do the words not yet apply to God’s dealing with evil and suffering in the world?
  7. Describe a time when God brought “good out of bad” in your own experience or in the life of someone close to you.

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