On the opening night of one of the more anticipated movies this summer, for unknown reasons, a man threw tear-gas grenades into the audience of an Aurora, CO theater killing twelve and brutally wounding fifty-nine people.
As a husband, father, pastor and movie-fan, I can picture myself or dozens of other people I care about in that crowd. It’s difficult to care and not ask deeper questions about where God was, why this happened, why is the world so violent?
Followers of Jesus have always had to deal with this question. Jesus faced pain and unfair treatment. His 12 disciples all faced injustice and most death at the hands of violent men. One man who knew pain well (while fighting in WWI, watching a young wife die of cancer, and living through WWII) was C.S. Lewis. Written at the outbreak of the Second World War, C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain states the dilemma:
“If God were good, he would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty he would be able to do as he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.”
Is this true? Do we have to pick between God’s goodness and His power? Lewis (spoiler alert) came to realize that it is possible for God to be both good and powerful … but it took a long season of prayer, Bible study and personal reflection for him to get three.
As you work through your questions, let me encourage you with a few ideas:
First – Realize that you have a God big enough to handle your Questions and Frustrations
The Book of Psalms is full of questions, doubts and screams for God to wake up and do something. Though they always end in praise, the inspired writers of the Bible were not afraid to point out their problems and doubts. (for example, see Psalm 3)
Secondly, Remember that this is a Problem for Atheism & Agnosticism too
If someone rejects God, then it makes no sense to feel like this sort of event “shouldn’t happen.” That gnawing feeling we get in the pit of our stomach at the sight of evil like this points out that we were created for more … for a holy and peace-filled world. While theists (believers that God exists) might have to defend God’s goodness and power in the face of seemingly random evil, non-theists have to defend their sense of indignation in the face of their reaction to last night’s events.
As Tim Keller wrote in his book Reason for God:
Eastern religions say that suffering is an illusion; other western religions say that God is up there and he has his reasons but only Christianity has a God who has himself come into the world of suffering. If God himself has suffered then he must have reasons for allowing it to continue that aren’t a matter of remoteness and distance. If God has himself experienced suffering then he can be with you in the suffering. You just have to say that Christianity has better resources for believing that God is involved and cares about our suffering than any other worldview. In the secular worldview who cares about suffering? The strong eat the weak and it doesn’t matter. If you are morally outraged by it, so what? If you go to every other religion the view of suffering is less poignant and immediate than the idea that God would come and get involved in this worlds suffering. You should always talk about evil and suffering in terms of the Cross.
Thirdly, The Bible teaches that God Allows Evil Because it Either Brings about a Greater Good or Avoids Some Greater Evil
We can never prove that gratuitous, needless Evil exists. Though it might “feel” like last nights events are needless, we don’t see enough of the story to know for sure.
My daughter and I are currently listening to an audio book called The Sword (free for download this month from ChristianAudio.com) In the story a poor farmer’s mare is about to foal. She prays for the safe delivery of the colt, hoping to make a gift of him to her daughter. She is sure that the God who created the universe would care enough about her small family and this small horse to help the birth happen without event. It doesn’t go well. The colt is breach, so they call a neighbor to help with the delivery. After a long, frustrating night the colt is lost. That night also the neighbor’s house is attacked and burned down. In this simple story God says “No” to the prayer for the safety of the colt so that two human lives can be spared.
I don’t claim to know what possible good can come from any tragedy, especially not last night’s events. I do know that my insight is way too limited to claim that this is meaningless.
With Faith, we can hope that even the worst tragedies will lead to a greater good and to the Glory of God
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28
Fourth, God Created a World That Now Contains Evil and Had a Good Reason for Doing So.
Honestly, this is the best answer, and is a clear call to faith. Even one of our nation’s best minds, Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame, a man who clearly and logically defends God’s goodness against logical attacks on this topic … he ultimately has to pause after he’s won the fight and admit that this will take faith.
God is God, and I’m not. God’s ways are higher than my ways. God has never let His people down … even though many of them have suffered and died. God created, loves and will redeem a world that currently contains evil and has a good reason for doing so.
This statement admits that God’s insight and understanding far surpasses our own.
This statement allows room for us to squirm and protest when we deal with pain.
…but this statement always returns to the place of Faith: God has Good Reason for this, even though I don’t get it!
The Best Reason For Belief In the Face of Pain and Suffering Is That We Serve A Suffering Savior
1 Peter 1:3-9 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Eternal life is not compensation for pain and suffering in this life.
Eternal life is restoration of this life.
Let me close this long post with the prayer that Max Lucado wrote for a national prayer vigil held three days after September 11, 2001:
“Dear Lord, We’re still hoping we’ll wake up. We’re still hoping we’ll open a sleepy eye and think, ‘What a horrible dream.’
“But we won’t, will we, Father? What we saw was not a dream. Planes did gouge towers. Flames did consume our fortress. People did perish. It was no dream; and, dear Father, we are sad.
“There is a ballet dancer who will no longer dance and a doctor who will no longer heal. A church has lost its priest, a classroom is minus a teacher. Cora ran a food pantry. Paige was a counselor; and Dana, dearest Father, Dana was only 3 years old. (Who held her in those final moments?)
“We are sad, Father. For as the innocent are buried; our innocence is buried, as well. We thought we were safe. Perhaps we should have known better, but we didn’t.
“So we come to You. We don’t ask You for help; we beg You for it. We don’t request it; we implore it. We know what You can do. We’ve read the accounts. We’ve pondered the stories; and now we plead, ‘Do it again, Lord. Do it again.’
“Remember Joseph? You rescued him from the pit. You can do the same for us. Do it again, Lord.
Remember the Hebrews in Egypt? You protected their children from the angel of death. We have children, too, Lord. Do it again.
“And Sarah? Remember her prayers? You heard them. Joshua? Remember his fears? You inspired him. The women at the tomb? You resurrected their hope. The doubts of Thomas? You took them away. Do it again, Lord. Do it again.
“You changed Daniel from a captive into a king’s counselor. You took Peter the fisherman and made him Peter an apostle. Because of you, David went from leading sheep to leading armies. Do it again, Lord, for we need counselors today, Lord. We need apostles. We need leaders. Do it again, dear Lord.
“Most of all, do again what you did at Calvary. What we saw here on that Tuesday, You saw there on that Friday. Innocence slaughtered. Goodness murdered. Mothers weeping. Evil dancing. Just as the ash fell on our children, the darkness fell on your Son. Just as our towers were shattered, the very Tower of Eternity was pierced. By dusk, heaven’s sweetest song was silent, buried behind a rock.
“But You did not waver, O Lord. You did not waver. After three days in a dark hole, You rolled the rock and rumbled the earth and turned the darkest Friday into the brightest Sunday. Do it again, Lord. Grant us a September Easter.
“We thank You, dear Father, for these hours of unity. Disaster has done what discussion could not. Doctrinal fences have fallen. Republicans are standing with Democrats. Skin colors have been covered by the ash of burning buildings. We thank You for these hours of unity.
“We thank You for these hours of prayer. The enemy sought to bring us to our knees and succeeded. He had no idea, however, that we would kneel before You; and he has no idea what You can do.
“Let Your mercy be upon our president, vice president, and their families. Grant to those who lead us wisdom beyond their years and experience. Have mercy upon the souls who have departed and the wounded who remain. Give us grace that we might forgive and faith that we might believe.
“And look kindly upon your church. For 2,000 years You’ve used it to heal a hurting world. Do it again, Lord. Do it again.
“Through Christ, Amen.”
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