It is fair to say that all humans struggle with the problem of evil. If God is sovereign, why doesn’t he remove all the evil in this world? Why did he allow it in the first place? Can God truly be good if he has the power to stop evil but doesn’t? The harder you try to answer these questions, the more confused you will become. For thousands of years, humanity has wrestled with these questions. Neither side of the debate has won the other side over. The atheist refuses to accept a God who allows innocent people to suffer at the hand of cruel men or suffer the cruelty of something like cancer. Christians do their best to defend the holiness of God but are left flat-footed with the reality that if God is sovereign, why doesn’t he fix this problem.
God has remained silent when it comes to parts of his will. Why doesn’t he save all of humanity? How does God decide whom he will save? Why has he waited this long to return and fix everything? The Bible simply does not give us definite answers to these questions. But this does not mean we are left to wander in hopelessness until we die. Thankfully, our loving Father does lead us to paths of rest. Just because we do not understand the plans of a Holy God doesn’t mean we can’t have confidence and hope in a world of chaos. With all of the questions that arise in times of suffering, we can be assured by what God has told us in his word. For as many questions that we don’t have answers to, we are never left to wonder about the most important questions. We have full confidence that God can and will fix all that is wrong in this world. The first promise of redemption given to Adam and Eve in the garden was fulfilled despite thousands of oppositions against it, and yet God prevailed. Jesus came even though Israel failed to keep their covenant with God. Jesus rose from the grave even though Satan tried to destroy the plan of redemption. The resurrection of Christ is all the proof we need that God will make all things right.
The Bible tells us that God abounds in goodness and truth (Exodus 34:6), he never lies (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2), he is the creator and sovereign over all (Daniel 4:35; Colossians 1:16-17). What does not remain a mystery to us is the nature of God. The Bible provides thousands of stories that tell the same story over and over. God can be trusted, he is faithful to his promises, and he only does what is good and right. For the answers we don’t have, we have more than enough knowledge to lead us to rest in the sufficiency of our Savior. I honestly do not understand how large metal objects weighing 1750,000 pounds can fly thousands of feet in the air. My lack of knowledge doesn’t prevent me from stepping on board a plane and trusting the promises the airline companies to have made to me. We have a long history of seeing these planes fly, and we trust that history. The Bible is proof that God can be trusted. Even though we don’t fully understand how God works in this world, he is still trustworthy and worthy of our praise.
What answers can we offer when it comes to pain and suffering in this world? The Bible promises not only relief but also full and glorious restoration. Someone who suffers from cancer and then receives the wonderful news it has been removed will still suffer death. The hope we receive from the Father is that when he heals us, we will never die. We will never see pain again. We will never feel the need to cry. Now, that is true healing.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:18-23).
Paul’s explanation for the suffering we experience in this life is connected to the curse placed upon the earth in the garden in Genesis 3. Adam brought sin into this world when he attempted to be equal with God. Sin is not just a disappointment but has serious ramifications. All death is the result of sin. All suffering is the result of sin. God told Adam in Genesis 3:17-18,
…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.
Thorns and thistles are used throughout the Bible to describe pain. The earth was pure and beautiful before the fall, now it is cursed with pain because of Adam’s sin. All suffering in this life is the result of sin, no matter where that pain may come from. God never promises to heal us in this life; the one guarantee we have is death. Our groaning, as Paul puts it, is a realistic picture of our inner experience. The longer we are alive, the louder these groanings become. No level of effort, obedience, or prayer can reverse this curse. The promise we have received is that those who are in Christ will be set free from this bondage and given a new body and a new home where only righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). We are not waiting for our level of spirituality to rise, so our suffering will decrease. Paul instructs the Galatian church, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness” (Galatians 5:5). We look past our pain to our final hope. It is faith in this promise that brings joy. Looking to our own performance will never bring us the relief of pain. This will only increase our disappointment when pain remains. The Gospel is not the good news that God will remove our pain in this life, but that it will save us from not just pain, but our final punishment of death. The Gospel promises that we will be delivered from God’s wrath to wearing his Son’s clothes. Our name will be changed from enemy to adopted (Ephesians 2:1-7).
As the world frantically looks to find answers to why all of this happens, we can offer the eternal hope of the Gospel. We are all sinners in equal need of God’s grace. At times like these, we become the light to those in darkness.
Small group questions I provided for my church:
- Healing in this life is not what has been promised. How would you use this truth to bring comfort to the Christian in pain?
- What verses or truths about God bring you comfort in moments of pain and suffering?
- What should we NOT say to those who are suffering or in mourning?
- How should we pray during a major crisis like COVID19?
- How can our church demonstrate mercy and love to our community right now?
Written by Jon Moffitt