Why does God allow suffering and evil to exist? This has been a theme through a lot of things I’ve seen, heard, and read recently. The simplest explanation is this: God loves us. That’s it. God loves us and that is why there is suffering and evil in the world. Right now you probably want to click the back button or slug me for suggesting such a thing. But bear with me for a few minutes.
“God is love.” 1 John 4:16b NLT
God loved us so much when He created us that He gave us a free will. He wanted us to be able to choose to love Him, choose to obey Him, and choose how we will live. Sin, like a violent earthquake, created a wide and long chasm between us and the Lord. Sin opened the door to evil and suffering.
“In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” Hebrews 9:22 NLT
God, in His mercy, showed love and compassion toward Adam and Eve first by clothing them in animal skins (the shed blood for the forgiveness of their sin). This set into motion the plan of redemption that would eventually lead to the cross and salvation through Jesus’ shed blood.
“22And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.” Genesis 3:22-23 NIV
It was also love that caused God to expel them from the Garden of Eden. For if they had eaten of the Tree of Life in their now fallen state they, and we, would have lived forever fallen and separated from God. (See Genesis 3 for the account of the Fall of Man.)
Free will gives all people the choice to do good or evil. If God intervened every time to stop evil it would take away free will. Like it or not we cannot have it both ways. We may feel deep hurts because of free will, but our joys are also much greater because we have the right to choose and because we know the pain of sorrow.
God just reminded me of what it was like raising my children. Maybe this can help us understand God’s way with us. I wanted to protect my children from everything that might hurt them. But I could not. When my son was in middle school he was small for his age. He was bullied a lot. The proctors on the school playground either didn’t see or didn’t care. He felt helpless. We weren’t getting any help from the school. I told him that he did not have to be a punching bag. I didn’t want him starting fights, but if he could not run away he could defend himself. I was called to the principal’s office. She said I could not tell my son to defend himself. This was ridiculous! I told her then she needed to take care of the situation, because my son was not going to be a punching bag. She can’t allow the bullying and expect us to just accept it. Things did get better. But I’m not sure if it was my talk with the principal or enabling my son to defend himself. In any case I could not be there with Him all day at school to keep him safe. I had to let my son deal with it on His own and learn from it.
“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT
I could not be with each of my three children 24/7/365 trying to prevent bad things from happening. There were other instances where my children were hurt emotionally and physically, even worse than the bullying, that they and I had to deal with the pain and the whys. We may never know “why” something happened. Especially when it comes to sickness. My one daughter has had rheumatoid arthritis since she was 13 years old. I have had migraines since some of my earliest recollections. I have prayed for healing, but have not received complete healing. These conditions are not due to a choice either of us or any other person has made. Some things happen because we live in a fallen world. Those are the things that we have the hardest time accepting. The things that many people use as excuses to turn their backs on God.
“14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV
The most important thing we need to teach our children about God is how to trust and rely upon Him through the pain and suffering that life can bring. When we are suffering we need to turn to Jesus, who already bore our sins, diseases, and our suffering in His body when He was flogged and on the cross (Isaiah 53).
“You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” Psalm 16:11 NLT
Jesus has endured the suffering of being human and understands our pain. He is willing and able to replace our pain with His love, comfort, peace, and yes JOY. I have been able to find JOY from my sufferings, first because Jesus is present and at work in me and my life. Second, because I have seen good fruit come from it when I can empathize and help someone through a similar circumstance and see God move and change their lives.
“Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!”
Nehemiah 8:10c NLT
“2Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:2-5 NIV
We can find JOY in the strength of the Lord to carry us through the suffering that is a part of living in a fallen world. When we live in Him and allow the Holy Spirit to produce fruit from the troubles we endure we can have the peace and the joy Jesus promises despite our circumstances (John 14:27 &16:33).
“The fear of the LORD leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.” Proverbs 19:23 NIV
I don’t believe this verse means we will never have trouble, because Jesus warned us that we will have troubles (John 16:33). But I believe the word untouched here means that after we have “gone through” the trouble we will not have a negative impact on our lives by having endured it.
I was just reminded of what Joseph told his brothers in Genesis 50.20 (NASB):
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
God has a plan and a purpose for everything he allows to happen in our lives. Joseph endured persecution from his brothers, slavery, betrayal, and false imprisonment before the fulfillment of His God-given dream. Then, all he endured, brought him joy – having a family, a royal position, and reconciliation with his brothers.
Though God’s love and the existence of evil appears to be a paradox, “God IS Love” is an absolute truth. Many in this world today do not choose to believe in absolute truth anymore, but God’s Word is truth. God’s Love is true. God is real, eternal and active in this world. He is not a God far off, watching from a distance. He is close to everyone and waits for us to invite Him into our lives, so He can shower us with His perfect love with:
forgiveness of our sins (JOHN 3:16-17)
The hope of the life to come for all eternity in His presence-the hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:5)
The joy of His presence (Psalm 16:11)
The peace that transcends our understanding (Philippians 4:4-7)
The fruitfulness of a life that abides in Him (John 15:1-17)
Which brings me to the verse which Renee Swope began chapter 1 of her book, A Confident Heart:
“35So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” Hebrews 10:35-36 NIV
Yes, we can be confident of God’s love and His presence in our lives even when bad things happen, even when we can’t always see His hand at work right now. We can also be confident that God has a plan and purpose for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11) and that when we rely on His power and not our own ability He will turn our troubles into a testimony that can impact the lives of others. God does not make junk. All who are in Christ can be confident before the throne of God.
Heavenly Father, I pray for everyone reading this post. May Your Spirit wash over them revealing Your perfect love to their hearts today. May we all learn to trust You more and more even in those times of great suffering, knowing that You are Sovereign, You are in control (Romans 2:8) and you make it all work out for the greater good for all who love you, according to Your plan and purpose (Romans 8:28). You show us the way out when we are tempted, so that temptation is never more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). You have not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). We need never doubt Your love and faithfulness for You are Love (1 John 4:16). We can choose to trust You and praise you even inside the storms of life knowing You are with us now, just as Jesus was with His disciples in the storm on the boat (Matthew 8:26). Thank you Lord for Loving us and wanting to be involved in every part of our lives. You care so much you number the hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7). No detail of our lives is too small for You to care about or too big for You to handle. We thank you and praise You, oh Lord our God, in Jesus’ name, amen.
This is a blog post for week 1 of the online Bible Study of A Confident Heart by Renee Swope of Proverbs 31 Ministries.