The Middle of Evil

Now that we understand how evil began, and we’ve studied how it will end, let’s consider how to deal with it now in the present. Apologist Dinesh D’Souza writes,

When terrible things happen they seem more easily explained by God’s absence in the world than by His presence. But what few have noticed is that evil and suffering also pose a formidable challenge for atheists. The reason is that suffering is not merely an intellectual and moral problem; it is also an emotional problem. Suffering doesn’t wreck minds; it wrecks hearts. When I get sick, I don’t want a theory to explain it; I want something that will make me feel better. Atheism may have a better explanation for evil and suffering, but it provides no consolation for them.[1]

We’ve seen that God is not responsible for the origin of evil, and he will defeat evil in the end with perfect justice. But, we are still left with the length and span of human history. How do we navigate through a hostile world full of evil and suffering? While the Bible hasn’t given us complete answers, it has given us sufficient answers.

Limited Knowledge

The Bible teaches that we have limited knowledge about our world and about God (Deut. 29:29; Rom. 11:33; 1 Cor. 13:12). For this reason, as finite beings, we need to acknowledge that we haven’t been given all of the answers. John Wenham writes,

Man’s happiness lies in accepting his creaturehood from the hands of his wonderful Creator. When one thinks about it, it is really absurd for a being as ignorant as man to expect fully to understand the whole complex web of purposes which go to make up his God-given experiences. The truthful answer to the question: ‘Why has God allowed this?’ must always be pre­faced by: ‘I cannot pretend fully to know.’[2]

Part of dealing with the problem of evil is admitting the fact that we are limited in our understanding. In other words, we do not want to make the mistake of Job’s “comforters,” who were trying to give explanations, which were beyond their field of reference.

Sufficient Knowledge

While God hasn’t given us all of the answers, he has still given us some of them. Paul wrote that we are “perplexed” but not “despairing” (2 Cor. 4:8). According to Paul, a lot of suffering is perplexing –even to the Christian. However, according to Paul, we never have to despair at suffering, because we have been given sufficient knowledge to get us through it. Actually, when we consider the fact that we don’t have all the answers, this should make us cling even harder to the answers that we do have.

Clinging to Truth…

What sorts of truths can the Christian cling to, during times of suffering?

First, God suffers with us. The Christian God is affected by our suffering in an intimate and personal way (Prov. 14:31; Mt. 25:40; Acts 9:4; Ps. 51:4). While modern men can change the channel when the news is too violent or throw away the newspaper, when it gets too gory, God cannot numb himself to the horrors of human activity. God sees the world through omniscient eyes. He can’t stop knowing about the evil and suffering on Earth. This is a horrible part of being all-knowing; you can’t keep yourself from knowing something. For this reason, God hasn’t left us to suffer; instead, he shares in our suffering (Heb. 4:15; Mt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5).

Second, God suffered for us. We might not have all the answers, but in the shadow of the Cross, we certainly know that God has not allowed us to suffer without a purpose. God knows what it is like to lose a son, and because of this, we can be sure that he is not allowing us to suffer needlessly. When we consider the Cross, we know that God is not removed from our world, but he suffers with us in flesh and blood. John Stott writes,

I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross… In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering.[3]

John Lennox explains, “If Jesus actually was the son of God, and I believe he was, it raises a very big question; what is God doing on a cross? And what that tells me at the least is this, that God has not remained distant from our human suffering but has become part of it.”[4] Therefore, at the very least, the Cross demonstrates that God has not abandoned us in our suffering; instead, he has personally entered into it.

Third, God can change us through suffering. Paul teaches that suffering can bring growth in our character (Rom. 5:3-5). There are certain issues in our life that God cannot work on, unless he brings us through suffering. We learn patience through our waiting, courage through our fears, and love through our enemies. God uses suffering to refine us into people who are greater at consoling and comforting those in the same situation (2 Cor. 1:3-7). In this way, we learn more on trips to hospital, than we do on trips to Hawaii. However, the old mantra, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is simply not true. It depends if you are willing to be made stronger. Many people snap during suffering, while others soar. Some people grow, while others groan. It depends if we are willing to choose to believe in God during these times.

Fourth, God can use our suffering for a future purpose, when we choose to trust him. For those who suffer for Christ, they can have the assurance that God will use this suffering for good (Rom. 8:28), which is an incredible comfort. Under the Christian worldview, we can know that our suffering is not in vain. Instead, this life prepares us for the love, security, and reward of the next.

[1] D’Souza, Dinesh. What’s So Great About Christianity? Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2007. 274.

[2] Wenham, John William. The Goodness of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1974. 85.

[3] Stott, John R. W. The Cross of Christ. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986. 335-336.

[4] Interview with John Lennox on ABC by Rachael Kohn. Broadcast: Sunday 7 August 2011 6:00 pm.–john-lennox/2928496