Theologians and philosophers sometimes talk about the problem of evil—if God is good and has all power, why does evil still exist? It’s a hard problem. But for most of us the question is much more basic. When I hurt, does God know? Does He care? Why won’t He take away my sorrow? There are three basic truths we need to remember in such times.
We don’t know half of what God is doing.
In the middle of trials we often find ourselves asking “why?” If we knew of something good that came from out of it, we could make some sense of what happened. Even unbelievers use clichés like “everything happens for a reason” out of a desire to find purpose in the pain.
But the most painful struggles aren’t easily dismissed for just that reason—there are no simple, happy outcomes. Sometimes an obvious greater good never presents itself to us at all; our suffering seems completely unnecessary and gratuitous. Rather than search in vain for a reason beyond this, we should know that more is going on than we can possibly comprehend.
Scripture has occasional hints of this fact. One window into the workings of heaven is absolutely startling. It’s an angelic conference before the throne of God and Satan is in attendance (Job 1-2). The story develops into a showdown between Satan and God as to whether Job really loves God or simply returns the favor for prosperity. In the end, Satan destroys Job’s life in an attempt to shame the Almighty (though he can go exactly no further than God allows). After Job struggles for an unknown length of time, God eventually restores and even increases His prosperity. But interestingly, there’s no sign that Job himself ever knew of the heavenly contest. Job may well have finished his life never realizing what was at stake or why he suffered as he did.
I would never flatter myself to assume my life ranks in debates before the throne of God. But Job wouldn’t have either. There is, we discover, far more at stake in the lives of believers than any of us would dare imagine. And before thinking that God has fallen asleep at the cosmic wheel or that He simply doesn’t care, we ought to know that He works on our behalf in ways we cannot comprehend.
A simple comparison might help. At 1 1/2, my daughter is terribly frustrated that I won't let her run in the middle of a busy street at rush hour. Add to that the fact that I make her eat healthy food, put her to bed at a reasonable hour, don’t buy her every toy she wants, and require her to obey me. These are the biggest frustrations and limitations of my daughter’s life, but every one contributes directly to her long term well-being.
Except she doesn't get that fact at all. My child still doesn’t understand why I won’t let her run in traffic. It’ll be a long time before she does. How many other things do I constantly take care of that never even enter into her mind? And I wouldn’t want it any other way—why should she carry the burden of knowing that life involves more than cookies, toys and her blanket?
In the meantime, she has no choice but to simply trust what she does know of me—my love to her expressed in other ways and the fact that I regularly act in her best interests. Facing the limitations I’ve imposed on her, this can’t solve her problem, but it certainly helps.
God Himself has entered our sorrow.
In a certain sense, every religion or viewpoint must answer why evil exists.* In fact, the problem of evil is not a particular weakness of Christianity but one of its unique strengths, because only Christianity teaches that an omnipotent God has Himself endured our suffering (Heb. 2:9). Jesus experienced the ordeal of birth, the frustrations of childhood and uncertainties of adolescence, the drudgery of physical work and constant pain of life on a fallen planet. But Jesus’ suffering was not merely equal to ours. What Jesus carried on the cross was the distilled essence of sin’s horror, agony and curse. Sin is sorrow. Carrying the weight of the sins of the world, Jesus also carried its sorrow. His dying cry, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) distills the agony of humanity across the ages. In that moment, Jesus experienced what it is to be condemned, guilty, cut off from God and consigned to torment. If sorrow is the galling experience of mankind because of sin, God Himself has shared it.
And so we face the pain of life on planet earth, but not alone. Joining in the experience of that sorrow is One who bore all the consequences, though He never sinned. Knowing that all will be restored through Jesus’ cross, we wait together with Him for the final victory over sin, suffering and death.
We await the final victory over all.
In the final analysis, there are no simple, pat answers for the problem of evil. The ultimate answer is epochal and cosmic—as big as the history of the world. If suffering entered the world because of sin (Rom. 5:12), only by the eradication of sin will all things be restored. In other words, the omnipotent God is in the process of working. He is restoring all things as they ought to be. (Isa. 65:17–18; Isa. 66:22–23; 2 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 21:1). The problem of evil, though real, is a temporary one. The victory is coming—the great and final victory of Jesus Christ over all.
* Even atheism must answer how we can legitimately designate anything as evil. Without a standard of ethics, the problem of evil simply becomes why anyone should care about human suffering. In fact the logical conclusion of atheism is far worse—evil and human suffering are utterly meaningless or even good because they are just the struggles of biological machines experiencing natural selection.
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