The following is the outline used in a 20 minute radio interview on the subject of evil and suffering. The interview was given on July 16, 2010 on Radio Luz: XHTE in Tehuacan, Puebla in Mexico. The program is a favorite of the listeners called, “Un Cafecito Con Jose Angel”. The questions were asked in Spanish through an interpreter, Michel Lagunes, and I replied in English through the same interpreter.
I was in Tehuacan as part of our bi-annual term teaching more than 100 Christian leaders the subject of Apologetics. Jose Angel, one of the station owners, was part of the class and invited me for the interview.
Question: What is Evil?
- Evil is the absence of the good, which comes from God; the exception to the normal that God created. Evil entered the Cosmos through the fall of Lucifer (Ezekiel 28:15)
- Sin is a choice to step away from truth righteousness and goodness; it is choosing something partial, twisted, negative or improper. Sin entered the human race through Adam (Romans 5:12)
- Suffering is a direct or indirect result of evil entering the Cosmos and gaining a foothold. In Genesis 3, the curses followed the disobedience.
If God is good, why does he allow evil and suffering in the world?
God’s reasons are above and beyond our understanding (Isaiah 40:13). We do know certain things about God:
- He is good (Deuteronomy 13:4)
- He is wise (Job 12:13)
- He is all-powerful (Isaiah 44:6)
Maybe the best way to capture the essence of at least part of God’s reasons for allowing evil and suffering into the Cosmos is because he desired that people have real choice. Only with real choice can we truly choose him. Maybe we can over-simplify this and juts say that God, who loves us, wants us to really love him in return.
That choice to love God cannot happen if he pre-programmed us to love him. Only when we may choose to love or not love; obey or not obey, is there the possibility of love and obedience freely given. Sadly, some of his angels chose not to love him and evil entered the Cosmos. Then the human race chose its own way in the Garden, bringing the infection of sin into the human race.
The good news is that we may still freely choose him by faith. Hebrews 2:10 refers to Jesus Christ bringing many sons into God’s presence. We become God’s children through this choice we call faith.
How can the problem of evil and suffering be dealt with?
- God has decisively dealt with sin and evil. He did this through his son Jesus on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). This means:
- He personally knows the horrors of evil as well as the mental stress and agony of suffering (Philippians 2:8).
- He has dealt a decisive blow to evil, sin and suffering (Colossians 1:20).
- Someday God will put an end to suffering (Revelation 21:3-4).
- In the meantime God is so wise and powerful that he can use all things (including the evil and suffering he didn’t cause) to work for the ultimate good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).
I once saw a bumper sticker which said, “Life is hard; then you die.” When I read those words, they rang so true with my experience at the time that I really didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. At one time or another nearly everyone experiences the frustration of feeling that life is a huge hassle with little hope for improvement. Some people feel this way a lot and experience depression. A few take it seriously enough to attempt to end their lives, which seem so difficult.
In the early years of my Christian experience, I somehow got the impression that a decisive commitment to Jesus Christ would change all this. I fell into the type of thinking that if I followed Christ closely, problems would resolve themselves, life would be happy and everything would be positive. While it is true that believers experience a new quality of life, it is not true that the problems and hardships of everyday living automatically go away.
Christ’s followers get sick, have differences with people and suffer like anyone else. The difference is not in the circumstances of life, but in life’s source and direction. The person uncommitted to Christ has few effective resources and little hope of rising above the frustration above what they can muster within themselves and their personal network; followers of Jesus have available the power of the living God to cope with life, and the reassurance of eternal life as well.
The New Testament book of Acts, chapter 14, verse 22 states that, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Suffering is an essential part of our redemption—not because suffering itself gives eternal life—that only comes by faith in Christ. But the growing experience between conversion to Christ and the completeness we will know in eternity, cannot have its effect without the benefit of hardship. In other words, hardships are the schooling of Christian maturity.
So, frustrations, problems, hardships are not roadblocks to spirituality, but are in fact absolutely essential to it. According to Hebrews 2:10, Jesus himself was perfected in his humanity through suffering. If the Son of God had to submit to the school of suffering, can that training be anything less than essential for the rest of us?
The words to the old favorite hymn “Be Still, My Soul” were written by Katharina von Schlegel. The first verse goes like this: “Be still my soul: the Lord is on thy side; — Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. Leave to they God to order and provide; in every change He faithful will remain. Be still my soul; Thy best, thy heavenly friend, through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”
Relax and enjoy the journey. Entrust yourself to the wise and loving hand of God. Even suffering can work for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purposes (Romans 8:28).