Evil & Suffering

Can somebody help me with this question? I am trying to understand evil and suffering at the moment.
If an unbeliever posed the question,

“How can an all-powerful Father who can do anything allow his child to suffer?”

How would you answer this question?

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Hello Brian,

This is an excellent question and I thank you for asking it. It is, perhaps, one of the ultimate questions of our time. How can God, who is above all things, all-powerful, all-good, all-loving, and all-knowing simply watch our suffering and not do anything about it? It all seems against character for Him to allow such horrible things to happen in our lives. So, it becomes very difficult sometimes to just say, well I’m just going to have faith in Him no matter what happens. We experience these challenges in our lives and we come this point where we want answers, and we need something more to hold us to believing in God.

I think one thing that is truly guaranteed is that most of us experience challenges to our faith and so I think we all need an answer for this, but then I think there are some people who have something truly horrible happen to them which is so far beyond our capacity to deal with on our own that it changes us completely. Maybe a loved one develops cancer, or you personally develop cancer, or someone very close to you passes away or is killed.
In 2012, I was holding my daughter in my arms as she breathed her last breath on this Earth. Let me tell you that I could not reconcile that by so easily just believing that all things work together for good. That was not going to do it. I and my wife were ripped apart from our daughter and a scar remains from that time which will never be gone in this life. How can God allow this to be?? He could have saved her…He could have reached down and just as simply as touched her…and she would be here today.

So, why would God allow us to suffer?
First of all, we have to reconcile something very important; the answer will not take your pain away. There is no answer that can be given which will make you ok with the pain of this life. If God reached down from heaven, tapped you on the shoulder, and explained why He allows pain, and suffering, and evil; it would not be a comfort to someone who just lost their loved one, or who is sitting in a hospital in pain and dying. I think many times that people are looking to God for an answer the way they look at aspirin when they have a headache. “This hurts, it is painful, I can’t stand it…please take it away from me.” Then, when God doesn’t take it away, we wonder why, and some of us assume…”well, He must not exist, a loving God wouldn’t let this happen.”

Now, does the suffering in this world prove that He does not exist? Or that He does not love us?
Short answer: NO
Now for the long answer

Could God just reach down and stop this suffering, or that suffering, or that evil? Of course He could. But He did not want to stop specific sufferings and evils, He wanted to put an end to ALL suffering and ALL evil. That is why we see Him stepping into this world in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Jesus came into this world to live with us and reveal Himself to us, and to show us the way to be saved. He suffered one of the most horrible deaths imaginable and gave His life so that we may have a chance to be saved. Why? Because God is going to give us a new life, free of suffering and death.

But why doesn’t He just get on with it??? Why does He allow this pain and suffering to go on?
Because He wants us to have a chance to be with Him in this new life. He is not sitting by idly. 2 Peter 3:9 says that “ The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” He knows how much we are suffering, but He also knows that the suffering we experience here will be nothing compared with the eternal suffering we will experience if we reject Him. He does not wish for any to perish, but He gives us time in hope of us reaching repentance.
Paul recognized this in Romans 8-18-25, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
No matter our present sufferings, we have hope in God for the redemption of our bodies and our adoption as sons and daughters to a new life with Him forever.

Now, remember that I said the first thing we must recognize is that this will be little comfort to one who is in the midst of such suffering. As I held my daughter, as I saw the last breath leave her, and felt her spirit leave my arms, there was no comfort. I could have heard everything I just said, and nothing would have taken my pain away in that moment. Even to this day that pain stays with me as persistent as if something very necessary to me was amputated. But as I have healed through the love and comfort of family, and the love and comfort of Christ, I have realized that He has not abandoned me, and that in that very moment He was with me, hurting alongside me. I lost my daughter, well my friend, God lost His Son, but Jesus is alive today in heaven, and I know that my daughter is alive today with Him, and I will see her again.

Yes, God allows suffering in our lives, and if we want to explain its purpose or why, there may not always be an answer that can satisfy us here. But He has made the sacrifice for us, experienced the pain with us, and by His suffering and death, given us a way to be free of all suffering for all eternity. This way will not always be easy. He tells us that outright in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you that in Me you may have peace, in this world you will have tribulation.” He tells us that we will have tribulations. We will experience evil, and pain, and suffering, and death…but then He shares the last half of that verse… “but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

I hope that this helps to answer your question Brian. It’s a hard question, but it is one that is worth pursuing a true understanding of. Keep searching for the answers brother, and I hope I have helped you in beginning to find an answer to this question. If there is anything else that you want to ask, please do not hesitate to post it. God bless you and may He grant you direction and wisdom in discerning His answer for you. Thank you

Matthew

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@brianlalor Thanks for sharing that question Brian :slight_smile: I think our response depends on whether the person asking the question is going through deep suffering at that time, asking an honest intellectual question, or using the question to dodge having a deeper conversation. I think our ultimate goal is to help this individual to fix their eyes on Christ’s demonstration of love for us and God’s grandeur rather than being overwhelmed by the suffering in their own life / in the world.

Below are some general points / resources that I think are helpful, but it does depend on why exactly they are asking the question. Let us know if there are any more specific areas of the question you would like to dig in to…

  • without God there is no objective basis for saying that suffering is evil/bad - there must be a moral law / lawgiver for us to condemn injustice and evil in the world
  • God did not remain distant from our suffering, but came down to this broken world and suffered with/for us - that is evidence of God’s love for us (Romans 5:8). So even if we do not understand why God allows bad things to happen, we can trust that God does love us.
  • suffering is temporary - our life on this earth is 70 years or so, but life with God without tears, pain, or sorrow is eternal
  • God may have reasons for allowing suffering that we do not know / understand - a God who cannot have reasons that we do not understand is no God at all, but rather an invention of our own minds. We should expect that, if God exists, He is great enough to have reasons we cannot guess.

John 16:33 - “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Romans 8:18 - I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

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Hi Brian,

I would completely agree that evil and suffering aren’t traditionally thought of as good . So the contradiction that they would be allowed by an all-powerful Father is most obvious and clear.

Obviously if God is good, and if he is all-powerful ~ Of course he would wish good over evil and happiness instead of grief. A good God would desire joy rather than suffering, pleasure over pain and abundance over poverty. Certainly he’d want us to have triumph over defeat and happiness rather than sadness. He would want us to have health over sickness, order over confusion, reconciliation over hatred… Peace over war, Sanity and not craziness, freedom over bondage. He’d want us to be smart rather than stupid, wise and not foolish… and to receive good consequences rather than bad… He’d want happy endings where everyone went to heaven and nobody went to hell.

But if such a utopian story were to be written, or watched on a screen what would be the meaning? Where would be the struggle, the tension, and the resolve? Where would be the true triumph, the glory, and the reconciliation? And what would the moral of the story be?

If sorrow never existed would the essence of true joy be all that it is? If pain and evil and poverty and tragedy were eradicated what could be written about faith and hope? And who among those “blessed utopians” would there be anyone able comprehend it?

The courageous souls who would be struck down seven times and get back up are the true characters we honor; and whom we find worth becoming. Although we’d much prefer a life without evil, and a life without suffering the reality we live in is a magnificent design. The growth and appreciation we’re able to realize in ourselves and those who inspire us give us models worth following and show us a life worth living.

a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again… Prov 24:16

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Great question. I know you are in China. Maybe this answer will vibe with them there, IDK.

The Trinity agreed to it as they have perfect fellowship with each other.

Secondly, Jesus was doing the will of the Father in accordance with His will. There could not be a sweater look of devotion of a Son listening to their Father.

Prov. 4:20 My son, pay attention to my words—
incline your ear to my sayings.
21 Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart.
22 For they are life to those who find them
and health to their whole body.
23 Guard your heart diligently,
for from it flow the springs of life.
24 Put away perversity from your mouth,
and keep devious lips far from you.
25 Let your eyes look directly ahead,
and fix your gaze straight in front of you.
26 Clear a level path for your feet,
so all your ways will be firm.
27 Do not turn to the right or to the left.
Divert your foot from evil.

This is a Somolminic prophecy in my understanding. It is the Father’s words to the Son. Read Chapter 5 to see the parallels of Jesus Kingdom and Babylon.

Another verse…

Prov. 13:24 He who spares the rod hates his son,
but he who loves him
is diligent with discipline.

It was just as much a sacrifice for the Father as it was for the Son. I know this as I have lived this lesson. Of course what I experienced was just a shadow, but it was enough to teach me a valuable lesson.

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I’m sure you’ve read the other answers, and knowing that we brought this suffering into the world doesn’t change the fact that we don’t like it.
My wife and I buried our only child 2yrs ago. He was a single father of a 2yr old.1yr and 1month later my 3 yr old grandson told me his mother’s boyfriend was molesting him.
Why so much pain in a small child’s life?
I asked that question many times and I came up with a couple answers.
God sometimes allows suffering so that we will call out to him.
He sometimes allows it if we need chastising.
He sometimes allows it, so he can work good from it.
I poored over Job more times than I can count to come to this understanding.
God knows better than we do.

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I had a colleague of mine pose this question just the other day. My response to her was to ask what had happened and to who?
After some give and take, she started to open up and talked about a random act of violence that occurred and that a innocent young bystander was badly injured.

As we talked, it became apparent that the person was really not angry at God, she was angry and saddened at the violence and how an innocent young child could get side swiped in the moment.

The interaction showed me how important it is to get a good understanding where the the questioner is coming from as opposed to answer the incorrect question.

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Hi @brianlalor
The simple answer is free will.
In order for real love to exist, free will must be the basis. If love is manipulated or coerced then it is not real love.
Now, Gods unconditional love means we must have free will to choose that love or not. Because God gives us free will we are free to love God and live for him or we are free to ignore God and do our own thing. Unfortunately too many people use their free will to do bad and evil things in the world, that why there is so much evil in the world. Some one might ask why doesn’t God stop those who are doing evil? If he does then he will be limiting our free will, which means his love for us will be tainted. That is why evil exists in the world. But the awesome promise of God is that one day all evil will be punished and there will be no more weeping and pain in the next life. In the end evil will ultimately lose and goodness will ultimately win!

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I would just add more resources… if you haven’t yet you can read God, Freedom, and Evil by Alvin Plantinga or C.S lewis’ Problem of Pain. also see lectures by ravi zacharias & john lennox…visit apologetics 315 foor more resources ( under the problem of evil.

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Hi @PetePete. I agree that focusing on the issue of free will is important. I don’t remember where I read it, but someone has estimated that maybe 80% of human suffering is human caused. That’s a useful “in the ballpark” number, I think. The answer you gave also gives me hope, and I’m always surprised when someone criticizes God for what people do.

In addition there are disease, disaster, and death (the ones not caused by humans). These are sometimes referred to as “natural evil.”

In any case, there are answers which are satisfying to us, and then there is an issue of how to engage others who are asking questions about this. It is important to try discover why they are asking and empathize with their pain.

One point I have not seen in this thread is to engage “where does my compassion come from?” I honestly don’t believe other species on this planet have compassion quite like we do (they have some social stuff, but we believe things are “wrong”), and it comes from the Image of God in us. Since that comes from Him it makes no sense that we would be more compassionate than God himself. I’m grateful that I get angry at stuff that we call evil, the Christian world view explains why better than any other, and I have a foundation to work against evil.

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The problem of evil has been described as the Achilles heel of Christianity.

I have read two books that are helpful in this area. One is God and Evil: The Problem Solved by Gordon Clark. The other is What About Free Will: Reconciling our Choices with God’s Sovereignty by Scott Christensen. Be forewarned these books will most likely challenge how you think and how you have been taught. Read them at your own peril.

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