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The Reason for God: If God is Good and Powerful, why is there Suffering and Evil

in the world?

Where is God in the midst of our pain? Why doesn’t He do something about the evil and
suffering in this world?

David Hume: Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able,
but not willing? Then he is cruel. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?

This serious objection against the existence of God is sometimes called the Archilles’
heel of the Christian faith. How would you answer? It becomes a profoundly difficult
question (both intellectually and emotionally) if you believe in a biblical vision of God as
holy, loving and all-powerful. For people who experienced terrible tragedy, this is a
personal issue not just philosophical. Empathy and pastoral care are more appropriate.
Remember Job’s friends.

The first thing to note is this: The Bible recognizes, allows, and even invites such
questions. If you are troubled by the reality of sin and suffering in the world, you are not
alone. Listen to the wailings of suffering Job, the laments of prophet Jeremiah, the angry
complaints of Habakkuk or Psalm 22; leading to the climax of Jesus’ cry on the cross:
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” You can hardly find any faithful saint
who does not wrestle with the why questions. The Bible recognizes, allows, and even
invites such questions.

Not all faiths or religions will do something like that. John Dickson points out:

For our Hindu friends, such questions would never arise because all suffering is the result
of “karma” (you reap what you sow). There is a universal law of cause and effect. If you
suffer, it is the fruit if your own deeds. You must have done something wrong in this life
or in a past life. It’s logical and simple – you are just reaping the consequences of your
own actions. Everything is fair and square.

For our Buddhist friends, the why question proves that you have not attained
Enlightenment. The Buddha teaches that all suffering is caused by desire. Poverty is
painful because you are attached to wealth. The desire for love makes the loss of a loved
one unbearable. So what’s the solution? Get rid of desire and you are free from suffering
(3rd Noble Truth). When you are detached from desire, you don’t need to ask these big
why questions.

If you don’t believe in God (an atheist), then there is no rhyme or reason in tragedy or
suffering. It’s just the way nature is – ‘survival of the fittest’. Some people are going to
get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky. There’s no point asking the why
questions. Richard Dawkins wrote, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties
we should expect if there is at the bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good;
nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” There is no One out there to ask this question to.

For our Muslim friends, you don’t really complain to God. Islam means ‘submission’.
You need to submit to the mysterious will of Allah who has predestined everything
(Qadar). Suffering is a test of your faith. To question Allah’s wisdom and will borders on
blasphemy. It’s scandalous enough to say that Jesus, a prophet of Allah, should suffer
death on the cross. It’s absolutely unthinkable that God Himself should suffer!

For non-Christian worldviews, suffering is either the payment you make to settle your
karmic debt, an illusion caused by desire, a test of submission to Allah or the blind,
uncaring nature of the universe. Are these responses adequate for those who suffer?

But the problem of evil hinges on the assumption that a good God would not allow evil to
continue. Just because we cannot think of any justifiable reason why God would allow
suffering and evil to continue does not mean that God cannot have such a reason. Why
should there be no reason from God’s perspective just because we cannot think of one?

If there is no God, then there is no objective evil or a good reason to be angry with
suffering. Survival of the strong and death of the weak is ‘natural’. Nature is “red in tooth
and claw”. You can only raise the problem of evil if you presuppose God.

Christians have come up with some possible reasons why God would allow evil.

The Punishment Theodicy: Because humanity sinned, the suffering of the world is
deserved punishment for sin.

Helpful: Most people assume that people deserve a comfortable life from God. This
theodicy exposes the assumption that people are good and the consequences of sin.
Perhaps the question is really: Why does God allow so much happiness to sinners?

Problem: Why is the distribution of punishment so random and ‘unfair’? Why allow evil
in the first place?

The Free Will Theodicy: Freedom of choice is a precious thing. God doesn’t want
robots but free agents who could choose to love or reject Him. So the risk of evil is

Helpful: Perhaps freedom is worth the risk of abusing free will for evil. Much suffering
can be attributed to human choices, rather than blaming God. Greed, racism, oppression
and wars often lead to oppression and deaths.

Problem: What about natural disasters like tsunami and earthquakes? We do not let a
child run out in front of a bus to let him exercise his free will. Why doesn’t God block the
harm? Free will explains some suffering but does not completely explains it.

Tim Keller: “Two things can happen when you suffer. One is you think, “I’m being
punished”. But the cross says, no, Jesus took your punishment. The second question

comes up, “Well, maybe God doesn’t care.” But the cross says God does care, he’s lost a
child out of his love for you.”

While we cannot explain the detailed purpose behind every specific case of suffering, the
Bible gives us clear answers on two other important questions that help us to trust in
God’s goodness and power:

1) “Does God care? Where is He in our pain?”

God is with us when it hurts: He is not far away, looking indifferently at our struggles.
Rather he has come in the person of Jesus and suffered personally on the cross on our
behalf. The answer cannot be that God doesn’t care. Only the Christian faith shows us a
God who suffers injustice, rejection and pain with us and for us.

Albert Camus, the existential philosopher: “The god-man (Jesus) suffers too, with
patience. Evil and death can no longer be entirely imputed to him since he suffers and
dies. The night on Golgotha is so important in the history of man only because, in its
shadows, the divinity ostensibly abandoned its traditional privilege, and lived through to
the end, despair included, the agony of death”

“Jesus of the Scars” (a poem by Edward Schiltoff)

The other gods were strong. But Thou wast weak.

They rode, but Thou didst stumble to Thy throne.
And to our wounds, only God's wounds can speak,
and not a god has wounds but Thou alone.

2) Will evil and suffering be resolved one day?”

God will renew the heaven and earth: We despair with the question of whether evil
will eventually be overcome because it appears so powerful and pervasive. But Jesus
promised that God will intervene and stop evil one day. He will wipe the tears from our
eyes and turn weapons of war into instruments of peace. There will be future resolution
when relationships will be restored, all creation restored and healing justice in society.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the ultimate sign that God’s righteous rule will
eventually prevail over sin and death. Evil shall not have the last word.

What God has done in Christ on Easter morning, He would do on a cosmic scale for the
entire creation, including us! In the meantime, we are to live today as if the future is
already present. The way we live should point forward to what God’s kingdom in its
future fullness would look like (like a movie preview). Therefore we have every reason
and motivation to be His agents of healing justice in a sinful and suffering world.

Perhaps the question is: What are we doing about the evil and suffering in our world? It’s
a call to action, not just reflection. Are we actively working as individuals and church to
alleviate suffering of the poor and marginalized?