Last week, we looked at why God allows pain and suffering, classically referred to as the logical "Problem of Evil." This challenge attempts to present the existence of evil as evidence that an all-good, all-loving, all-powerful God is impossible because the claim is that both evil and God are contradictory and therefore they could not both exist.
Today, we are going to look at the more difficult side of this idea of God and evil or suffering. The other aspect of this challenge has less to do with the logical compatibility of God and a world in which there is evil and more to do with how people can reconcile their faith in God when they, or people they know and love, go through extremely difficult and painful events.
Sometimes this issue is identified by questions that begin with some form of the phrase, "Where is God when...?" or, "How could God allow...?" The question is hardly surprising because we have all dealt with tragedy (some certainly more than others) and when such tragedy strikes, a common reaction to these events is to wonder why God allowed such a thing to happen.
Before I get too far along here, I do want to point out that the answers and the thoughts that I will offer here are likely to be less than satisfactory to someone who is currently dealing with the pain of some form of tragedy in their life. If that is you, if you just lost a loved one, if you just found out your husband or wife or child has terminal cancer, if you just found out your spouse has been having an affair, if you just lost your job and are now losing your car and/or your home, if you or someone you love was involved in an accident with a drunk driver and now they are going to be paralyzed for the rest of their lives...please know that my heart goes out to you and that this article is in no way attempting to over-simplify or make light of your circumstances. This is just a bunch of words on a screen. It's an answer to a question, not an offer of comfort. Not that I wouldn't want to offer comfort, but I can't physically do that from my keyboard.
My life, thankfully, is not currently experiencing the pain of any such tragedy and because of that, I do not have to process the emotions that go along with such situations. During a tragic time of a persons life, the pain and anguish is so real and so visceral that it has an affect on our perspectives, our perceptions and the way we think and reason. That is certainly no put-down for those in the midst of such thing, but rather a recognition that you are going through a difficult time and that dealing with that situation is already enough. Trying to think objectively about this sort of thing is nearly impossible when in the midst of such trials and I do not expect you to.
That said, let us move forward with this idea of where God is when tragedy strikes and how a loving God could allow pain and suffering in the world.
There are two types of causes for pain and suffering. First, there is suffering brought on by the actions of another human being. Secondly, there are those tragedies which occur through such things as the forces of nature or even just accidents involving people which were not done out of any malicious intent but were completely unintended.
Any evil willfully committed by another human being which results in the suffering of another person is, of course, somewhat easily (though not happily) attributed to the idea that we live in a fallen world and there will be people who are mean, violent, greedy, angry, hurtful, etc. We don't necessarily like that idea, but few people find an issue with reconciling evil behavior with the teachings of the Bible, though we might wonder how God could allow such things to happen to us.
What about suffering that is not caused by fallen people with a sinful nature? What about those people who are killed or maimed in earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc.? Sure, I could point out the fact that in Genesis 3 God said, "Cursed is the ground because of you..." and point out that it was not only human beings that were affected but it was the entire creation.
That doesn't seem to help much, does it?
But it is part of the answer. And the fact of the matter is, it seems to me, that only God has a solution. The way God set things up, particularly for people who love and follow Him, is that we would live in communities with other like-minded people who love, serve and honor God. When we live in that kind of community, we are surrounded by the comfort that helps us to get through these things. When we share our lives with others, as God intended, there are people there to walk through the pain and suffering with us. God has the bases covered in that regard.
In fact, God has built His people to the degree that they will often go out of their way to identify and support people who are dealing with tragedies and who are not part of their community...just because they know how important it is! He is truly the "Father of compassion and the God of all comfort." (2 Cor 1:3). He truly loves us and does not want us to be alone in our suffering.
I am reminded about an anecdote regarding Bertrand Russell, a well-known philosopher and atheist. He famously argued what the Christian would say at the bedside of a dying child with respect to how God is "love." The problem, as has been pointed out by people like William Lane Craig, is that atheism does not make this situation any better! In fact, what would such an atheist have to offer that dying child? "Too bad?" "Tough luck?" "That's the way it goes?" Certainly the hope of an eternity with the Creator of the universe is a better prospect than that!
In the end, and this is a very difficult realization to those in the middle of dealing with tragedy, God will bring good out of any bad situation. I know that it sounds like a cop-out to say that we may not ever know (at least in this life) what good came from a baby dying minutes after birth or a teenager getting killed in an automobile accident or a father being taken by cancer and leaving his wife and three young children behind. I am aware of how that sounds. It's certainly not easy. It provides those suffering with no closure.
Sometimes we do get to realize the good from these situations, but not always. There are times, I suspect, that our own suffering ends up benefiting someone else rather then the person actually enduring the pain. Perhaps it could be someone that the person suffering has never met...and maybe never will. They might not even be born yet.
Again, I know this sounds like a big, safety-net style, catch-all so that in any awful situation we can just say something like, "You may never know the good that will come out of this." I get that. I do! But just because that seems like a cop-out, just because it seems like speculation, just because it seems perhaps a bit far-fetched...that does not make it untrue.
If you were to actually do some research on it, you will find countless stories of people who benefited from some tragic event that happened to someone else whom the benefactor had never even met. And those are only the situations in which people are actually able to make the connection between the two events. I suspect that most of the time, nobody knows how certain events are connected except for God, Himself.
As I said at the beginning, this answer may be unsatisfactory to many people. But it also seems quite plausibly true given the God that is described in the Bible. In the book of Joshua, Rahab probably never would know the part she played in salvation history. It's doubtful that Ruth actually understood that she would be part of the lineage of the eventual Messiah. While Jacob really wanted to marry Rachel, it was through Leah's line that Jesus was born.
We just don't have the knowledge and information and perspective that God has in order to know whether or not any particular trauma or tragedy is justified somehow, through someone, at some time. The unfortunate thing is that this is something we can neither legitimately deny nor can we adequately prove. For that, I am sorry. I am sorry that I cannot provide a better answer.
However, I think it is clear that this is ultimately supported by the Bible. And Jesus indicated that the Bible was the Truth. And Jesus was raised from the dead. If Jesus was raised from the dead, I am going to give Him the benefit of the doubt that the things that He said carry some substantial weight. And if He says the scriptures are inspired by God and completely true, then I'm going to take the word of the guy that conquered death itself by coming back to life. In my view, that tips the scales in favor of the ideas that I have offered here. Not enough to eliminate suffering, but at least enough to help me hold true to my faith through suffering.
I hope this helps. Even if it is not helpful today, I urge you to keep this in the back of your mind and revisit it when you have processed whatever trial you may be going through. When you're past the pain enough to think about these things objectively, I hope you will find it to be true. And if you know someone going through a significant struggle, I only ask that you don't trot out this or other articles like it while they're in the middle of that pain. Although I have never had to deal with that kind of pain myself, it seems obvious that these thoughts are not helpful to someone who is right in the middle of it.
So wait a while, please. Don't offer answers. Don't offer justifications. Just be there. Pray for them. Cry with them. Hold them. Be there for whatever they need...but at that moment, the one thing they don't need is philosophy.
For more information on the "existential" or "pastoral" Problem of Evil:
For more information on the "existential" or "pastoral" Problem of Evil: