In the past few blogs, I’ve been talking about suffering and the existence of God. The world frames the argument as “there is evil in this world, therefore, there is no God.” But in order to know that there is evil, we have to have some concept of what good is, otherwise, nothing would be good or evil, it would just simply be. So knowing that evil exists presumes that good exists as well. But it isn’t just the existence of good that is necessary, it’s the fact that we can judge between good and evil. On what do we base that judgment? It can’t just be personal preference. People prefer all kinds of things yet that doesn’t make those preferences good or evil. We judge different societies as being better than another, implying there is some ideal standard of behavior that we are striving towards. It means there exists a Moral Law that permeates across all times, societies, and peoples that drives what things we should and should not do. It’s what tells us that honesty, loyalty, and selflessness are traits to be admired while cowardice, greed, and treachery are traits to be despised. And the only way that we have this concept of a Moral Law is because something outside of mankind and nature imparted that to us. There must be a Moral Law Giver.
But just knowing the existence of suffering does not negate the existence of God doesn’t serve to answer some common questions people have about suffering. First, people often ask, “Why is there so much suffering?” We look around the world and wonder, "Why can’t God just stop a little of this?" Can’t some of this suffering be dialed back a bit? The concept sounds very noble and valid, but when we take a closer look, we realize the idea is ridiculous. How are we to define “so much”? When would it be acceptable for God to step in to stop things? Was “too much” suffering reached after the third million Jews died in the Holocaust or after the second million? Were the first 20 lashes Paul received for preaching the gospel allowable, but the last 19 were “so much”? Should God stop all murders or just murderous thoughts? Should God stop adultery or just cheating on our taxes? Where would you draw the line? Keep in mind, in order to stop a certain level of suffering, God must violate someone’s free will. So ask yourself what pet sin of yours God should stop you from doing in order to prevent the suffering of others. We can see that saying “so much” suffering is completely subjective. And it becomes ridiculous when you try to implement the concept.
Second, many people question how God can let people get away with evil. We have to remember that delayed justice is not denied justice. Because God exists and there is an eternity, we will all be judged for our deeds one day. God will hold us accountable for every evil deed committed – and every evil thought entertained and idle word spoken. So in reality, the only way that evil people get away with doing bad things is if you take God out of the equation. This really needs to be the question for the atheist. In the atheistic worldview, people doing evil DO get away with it if they go unpunished here on earth. But for the theist, and particularly the Christian, we know God says, “Vengeance is Mine.” God will have the last judgment and will issue the final punishment for all mankind.
Hidden within this question though is evidence of mankind’s desire for ultimate justice. Many times we don’t like to think of God as being our judge; we only want to focus on His goodness and love. But He can’t have the traits of goodness and love if He lets evil go unpunished. So He must mete out His punishment on evil in order to be a God of love. And at our core we truly desire that. We want evil deeds to be punished, both temporally and eternally. We see certain people that all mankind, both atheist and theist, would declare as evil, and we all hope that there is an eternal damnation for those people because of the heinous crimes committed against mankind. The problem is that no one wants to consider themselves to be worthy of that same eternal punishment. We desire justice for the wicked but never open our eyes to see our own wickedness within our hearts.
This leads us to the third question. The third question usually comes along when we see someone innocent or good suffering (notice we don’t usually question God when a bad person suffers). When we find ourselves asking that question though, we have to really look at what we are defining as good. Who are these “good” people? Good based on what? There really are no good people. Before you protest to defend the case of yourself being good, consider what your heart is really like. Morally we are all sinners. Paul says in Romans 3:23 that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. He says a few verses earlier in Romans 3:10 that no one is righteous, no not one. Jeremiah tells us, “The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” That means we can’t even fathom how wicked our hearts truly are. Even what we would display as our good works to prove our goodness are all tainted with self-interest and pride. Our desires for justice are all clouded with our desire for vengeance. Isaiah says, “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
In light of that, who is so good as to be outraged by their suffering? We find ourselves saying “they don’t deserve this” or “I deserve something better.” But what is it that we truly deserve? If we are desperately wicked and unrighteous sinners, what do we really deserve when we stand before a Holy and Just God? To answer that we must look again at the cross. That is what we deserve. That is the place where we see God’s justice perfectly meted out as punishment on sin. But it is also the place where God’s love is perfectly expressed because He willingly accepted the punishment due to us. When we wonder how God could let us suffer, we just need to look at the suffering He offered to save us from. He suffered more than we could ever know in order to give us peace during our suffering, in order to cover over our pain from sin, in order to give us life eternally and more abundantly.
When we wonder these things about man’s condition and suffering, and when we wonder where God’s love is when we suffer, we must look to the cross.