A fellow traveller in life’s journey, F, once stated, “But since you believe in [God] you must blame him [for] floods, earthquakes and of course rapes. Of course, all these things happen because THERE IS NO GOD.” Another atheist wrote, “for what purpose could God possibly permit so much evil to be in the world?”
First of all, to find the answer to, Where is God?, one does not ask an atheist. Atheists are alienated in their relationship with their Creator. Getting an accurate depiction of God from an atheist is like getting an accurate rendering of the justice system from a career criminal. Therefore, the following is garnered both from what the Bible tells us about God and suffering as well as from Christians themselves as they describe their journey through tragedy and suffering. What we find from those sources is that:
. God is with believers in their suffering.
- Whether we sense His presence or not, God is with us as any loving parent is with a child who has just been hurt. I happen to know firsthand about years of childhood sexual assault. While I wasn’t a Christian until I was thirty-years-old, I can see clearly how it was God’s tender mercy that sustained me through that and much more as life went on. I don’t expect His presence to end - ever!
. God is able and does bring good out of the things that satan uses to destroy us.
- God is working in us the good that is spoken of in Romans 8:29. That good is the development of Christ-like character. God is able to bring that about in all the things that may happen to us during our lives.
. God is with the meek, the humble, the merciful.
- “God opposes the proud, but give grace to the humble.” Therefore atheists should not be surprise or confounded when Christians seem to experience tragedy in a way that is different from pagans or atheists. “We do not grieve as those who have no hope.”
. His presence sustains those who love Him and follow Him.
- Our faith in God is not for the purpose of generating good feelings. Our faith in God is meant to sustain us in the absence of good feelings.
. Death and suffering are not the final word for those who are part of God’s plan for redemption.
- For those of us who love God, everything that we experience, pleasant or unpleasant has meaning and context and purpose. I know from when our child died and from talking to other Christians when they’ve experienced the death of a child that the palpable presence of God, not just in our lives but in our homes is awe inspiring, jaw-dropping real. I’ve run Christian based grief groups and the nodding of heads as one after another describe the drawing near of God. The infusion of His comfort and peace in the presence of death is a wonderful, wonderful experience. Those who don't have an intimate, healed and forgiven life with Jesus seem to think that God is out to get us. Rather, God is out to Love us. The presence of suffering and tragedy does not change that fact.
. Even those who hate God, like F and Hitchens and Dawkins and Harris etc. are still, for now, somewhat protected by the mercy and grace of their Lord and Creator.
- “I will cause it to rain on the Godly and the ungodly.”
. We don’t know how many millions of rapes God prevents from taking place in any given year. For those that He allows to take place, the suffering is not without purpose, nor is it apart from a bigger plan.
The Bible seems to say that for a while (it doesn’t say how long), God is going to allow evil, under the direction of a Being we know as satan, to run it’s course (isn’t it interesting that atheists never rail against satan, or our love affair with our inherent evil?). Because of that we have rapes and murders and theft and hatred and division etc.
Because of that, even the noblest human endeavours become tainted with crud and corruption. Because of that we have atheists thinking they’re better than Christians and Christians thinking they’re better than atheists. Because of that we have a world that is groaning under the weight of sin and wickedness. Because God has allowed pain and suffering to be part of His plan for the redemption of humankind, Christians have an opportunity for tremendous growth in character. As far as I can tell, for the pagan or the atheist, suffering is little more than a way of ensuring they get what they want - a life apart from God.
So, that's where God is. He is with the brokenhearted, bringing the best possible scenario out of the evil that WE inflict upon those around us.
The question of “Why?” still remains. Even if God is with us in our times of suffering, so what? What’s the purpose? What is He trying to accomplish? Examples of “evil” that are often used to besmirch the name of God are the holocaust and earthquakes. Why would God allow or even cause those things to happen? Well, the murder of six million people may have six or twelve or a hundred million reasons, so I’ll try to narrow it down to the most obvious.
First, God used the Nazi Holocaust as a means to reunite the nation of Israel, as was prophesied 3,000 years earlier. God is going to bring to fulfilment His plans for humanity and the gates of hell will not be able to stand against it. Still to come is the destruction of nations that try to remove Israel from the world stage, even as Israel becomes like "a huge stone around the neck of the world." This also was predicted thousands of years ago.
Most people think that the greatest book in the Bible on the topic of suffering is the book of Job. Yes, it talks about suffering but it speaks, I think, much more about God’s goal in allowing suffering. The book of Job asks each of us one very important question and it asks it at least three different ways.
- Will you love and worship Creator God because, and only because, He is worthy of love and worship?
“Even though He slay me, yet I will serve the Lord.”
- Will you worship Creator God without the “benefit” of God’s gifts, or the fear of God’s wrath?
“Even though He slay me, yet I will serve the Lord.”
- Is your faith genuine or is it contrived?
“Even though He slay me, yet I will serve the Lord.”
This, I think is the number one reason for allowing the consequences of sin to envelope the globe. I for one don’t believe that Job’s story, or the Abraham / Isaac paradigm for that matter are isolated incidents. I think Job and Abraham’s stories are in the Bible as examples for all of us who desire to cast our lot in with our Creator. Surely you’ve noticed on life’s journey how all of us are subjected from time to time and in varying degrees to things similar to Job’s life and his struggles? The things we love most are yanked out of our lives? Well, so too are we asked to take part in the journey of Abraham. At some point we will be asked to voluntarily give up what we want or what we are tempted to depend on the most. Occasionally we’re asked to give it up before we even have it.
I think this is why it happens. Sooner or later in our Christian life, we will pray, “Lord use me. Let me serve you. Show me where you want me to go and I will follow.” Brave words. God hears our pledge of allegiance and He responds with, “Oh really?” Our Creator knows us better than we know ourselves.
To help us see the true state of our affairs, God shows us that there are things in our life that we consider more important than our relationship with Him. We’ve all heard the comments and some of us have made them.
“I couldn’t live if s/he left me.”
“Running, canoeing, collecting (insert your favourite here) is everything to me.”
“My job is my life.”
“I can’t live alone.”
When, with His help we recognise this thing, behaviour, or person, God asks us to be prepared to let it go; to give it up. He wants to increase our faith to the point where we can say, “If You don’t want me to have this Lord, then I don’t want it either, because all I really need and want is You.”
This might involve issues like infertility where more than anything the couple thinks their happiness is dependent on having a child.
Or, as with atheists, it might be physical or emotional safety that we depend upon. In fact, atheists seem personally offended when tragic things happen, even in someone else’s life.
It might be a relationship that you think you must have. And because you think you can’t be alone and be happy, you’re asked to chose between an unhealthy, needy relationship, and a healthy relationship with God.
The Abraham / Isaac syndrom might involve issues of money, or homes, or sexual relations, or anything else where you mistakenly believe that your value and worth, your sense of security or belonging is dependent on you having that thing or person.
I think that it’s only those of us who have dared to let go of things the world considers essential, and who have grasped the secure hand of God who have discovered a whole new way of dealing with tragedy. We’ve discovered a superior way of living that is unequalled to anything that came before. When I was in seminary, I remember a Missionary saying, “Hold your possessions lightly.” That was a man who’d discovered ONE of the secrets of a profound peace and a deep and abiding joy.
There are so many benefits to suffering, there are so many obvious answers to the question of “Why would God allow evil in the world?” that it’s surprising that atheists seem dazed, confused and oblivious to any of them. For example:
. Suffering brings into a relationship with God, those who have been predestined to such a journey.
- You never know that God is all you need until God is all that you have.”
. Suffering PREVENTS a relationship with God, for those who God knew would never accept their subordinate position to their Creator.
- Suffering drives them deeper into their entrenched rejection of God. These people hold a certain degree of pride in their rejection of God, while all along it's been God who has rejected them for their attitude toward Him, this before they were even created.
. Suffering increases the awareness of God in the lives of believers and non believers alike.
- “God shouts to us through the megaphone of pain.” Most people become acutely aware of a power greater than themselves when the rug is pulled out from under them.
. Suffering increases trust and faith in believers.
- This is something that Richard Dawkins finds absolutely confounding and infuriating.
. Suffering answers the question from Job and produces feelings of invincibility in those who can answer with a resounding, “YES!”
I can tell you from my own life that suffering in combination with a close relationship with Jesus has made me more than a conqueror. I am so blessed and reassured to know that I will follow God even if I get nothing out of it except a relationship with Him.
Bottom line - We know in part where God is when hurt comes into our lives.
. He is with us.
. He is relating to our suffering because He knows what it is like to endure horrific suffering.
. He is making sure that the suffering need not be a waste. Because the suffering that takes place in the world is OUR fault, not God’s fault, He steps in like the responsible parent and makes sure that the best possible outcome is a reality.
We know in part why God doesn’t always intervene in our suffering.
. He has allowed us, for a time, to experience the consequences of our decision to reject Him. However, God takes that decision and turns it for good in preparing us for heavenly duties.
. He uses those consequences to bring about in the people of His choosing, a repenting or a turning from our rebellion and to bring about a desire to accept His offer of forgiveness.
While we don’t know the complete answer to the question of suffering, this I do know:
- Telling God to fix our world is inviting His response of:
. “You’re the ones who’ve caused the problems. Why don’t you fix it?"
. "If you don’t need Me to be a good person, then why aren’t you a good person?"
. "Why is it that you don’t live up to even your own code of ethics?"
. "Why is it that you judge other people by their behaviours but judge yourself by your intentions?"