“Why is there so much evil in the world?” “If a loving God is in control of this world where is he in our suffering and pain?” “What is God doing about evil?”
These are good questions. They are difficult questions. They deserve our careful attention to Scripture and our world. And we have to move past pat answers such as, “everything happens for a reason,” and “it was all part of God’s will and plan.” While such a response might seem religious, they have more in common with the responses of Job’s friends then with what we find in Scripture. In Scripture we learn that the reasons for evil, pain, and suffering are varied and complex. Several of these reasons include:
- Human Freedom: God is love and the reason he created the world was for that love to be manifested to people, replicated in people, and reflected back to people. However, as we all know, love requires risk. Real love requires the chance that it will not be reciprocated. It requires the freedom, which can lead to evil.
- Angelic Freedom: Humans are not the only free beings in the universe. Other creatures, sometimes called angels, also are free creatures and many of them have rebelled against God (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6; John 8:44). Because of this angelic rebellion the whole world is “under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), and, in one sense, Satan is “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The reason the world looks like a war zone, is because it is one! “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8).
- God’s Punishment & Discipline: Sometimes suffering occurs because of divine punishment. Out of love and holiness, God judges nations and individuals. For example, after numerous warnings God justly judged the Israelites and sent them into exile in Babalyon. If left unpunished they would have gone from bad to worse, but in exile there was hope they would see their sin and return to God. So while there suffering was real, and while God used an evil nation to bring it about, justice, redemption and love were behind his actions.
- Broken Creation: After the "Fall", the book of Genesis tells us the world increased in “thorns and thistles.” Somehow the invasion of sin and disobedience affected creation itself, which leads to even greater damage.
- Creation Untamed: God created humanity to tame and rule over a good, but untamed, creation. Sometimes the nature of our untamed creation creates devastation that leads to pain and suffering
These are only some of the many reasons pain and evil are in our lives and in our world. And as the book of Job and interactions of Jesus (Luke 13:1-5) make abundantly clear, more times than not, we do not know why bad things happen. It could be because of human freedom, angelic freedom, God’s discipline, broken creation, untamed creation, or sometime else. However, without knowing everything, we simply do not know. So how do we respond with pain and tragedy enter our lives? Here are several places to find courage, strength, and hope in the midst of pain:
- Fix your eyes on Jesus: Focus on Jesus above your circumstances. This will help you better understand the nature and character of God and his deep love for you that was poured out on Calvary. On the cross Jesus absorbed all evil so he could overcome sin, death, and evil for us.
- Remember God is with you: Jesus tells us that his disciples should expect bad things to come their way. Thankfully, Jesus also gives us the Holy Spirit--the presence of God--that empowers us to walk through trouble and pain with God. Let him guide and direct you.
- Pray for God's redemptive power: Although God does not cause bad things, he is able to redemptively use them for our good (Romans 8:28).
- Let go of the "why" question and confront your evil: Stop obsessing over the why question and turn your attention on what you have control over, your own soul. Evil is not just something "out there," it is also "in here," inside us all. Confront and repent of your participation in evil and sin and live in God's forgiveness.
- Live in hope knowing it all will be worth it: Somehow the joys of the New Creation are so great that our present suffering and pain will pail in comparison (Romans 8:18).
There are not easy answers or quick fixes to the problem of evil. In this life there will always be mystery and questions surrounding this thorny problem. But you and I can have hope that God is not sitting on the sidelines. He is doing something about the problem, and we see this in the rescue operation that begun with Abraham and his descendents and ended with death, resurrection and the enthronement of Jesus. This is God's answer to evil and our challenge is to live into his evil-crushing kingdom by looking to Jesus, trusting in God's presence, praying for his redemptive power, letting go of the why questions, and looking to our eternal future.