EPISODE 3: If God is good, why does he allow pain?
“Why would a good God allow pain, suffering, and evil?”
We do not think fondly of pain and suffering. Think about even experiencing small levels of pain and suffering, how we still detest it! Things like a tooth ache or receiving a feeling of rejection from your preteen at home when you tell them, “no.” We can explain these small levels of pain and suffering pretty quickly; tooth aches come from a history of poor dental hygiene and preteens are… difficult. But when it comes to the deeper pains, the true sufferings, things surely driven by evil, we lack the words to quickly explain them away. I’d bet that you’ve experienced a level of pain or suffering that stirs you to beg the question: “why would a good God allow evil?”
I know that when I beg this question, I tend to subconsciously cast the blame of evil upon God. I’m not asking the question expecting an answer. I ask the question with a critical tone. If we are truthful with ourselves we would admit that this question rarely, if ever reaches our lips. Rather it stands as a rift between us and God. A rift of mistrust. A rift of doubt. A rift of open sores, frustration, and bitterness. When we let this question linger within our hearts, it morphs from desire for understanding to this accusation: “You caused this.” A belief springs up within us that God either caused/created evil or He is okay with it… Is this true? When we consult scripture, we find that evil is not brought about by God, but actually by us.
In the beginning, God created. He crafted all things, the earth, the plants, the animals. And then He created humans. God created mankind in His image. Part of His image that He bestowed upon us is independent will. When the Lord had finished His creative work, He looked upon it and saw that, “it was good”. Good according to God’s standard is not just fine, even comparing it to excellence falls short! God’s standard of good is perfection. That means no pain, no suffering, no evil! So where do these come in? Genesis chapter 3, the fall. Adam and Eve willingly choose to disobey God. Humanity chose to reject God’s design for a good life. And remember, God’s good is not just good, it’s perfect. Adam and Eve chose autonomy over perfection. They sinned and in doing so, they brought evil into the world. Instead of being linked to God, evil is actually linked to us.
Why doesn’t God just destroy evil then? Humans are born into sin. We are born into evil. Evil is not just caused by us, it is linked to us! So, if God were to destroy evil, He would have to destroy the one’s bringing about evil. This can be hard to accept. We are raised believing that humans are generally good willed, well intended beings, with just a few outliers that stir up evil and that’s what prisons are for. But when we look within ourselves, when we soberly consider our core motivations what do we find? Selfishness & pride. These motivations birth thoughts and actions that seek to benefit ourselves over others. These motivations ultimately lead to the sorts of evil that lands people in prison, and they exist within all of us.
The fact that evil is linked to us, that it has its roots in us, makes events of pure evil more complicated. Typically, we feel so far removed from events like the Holocaust that we think it impossible for a “normal” human to have caused such evil! It must have been some other worldly force that led to the mass genocide of millions of Jews! But that is not the case. Hitler was a man. He had a childhood. He experienced pain and love and failure and success, just like every one of us. And just like us, Hitler was born into sin and evil. Yes, the Holocaust was an extraordinary act of evil, but the same heart condition, the same propensity to sin and cause others harm is within our hearts! Even so, why wouldn’t a Good God stop the genocide of millions? Because God has issued free will for humanity to choose, evil or good, and He has also issued consequences for every decision. Will acts of unrepentant evil go unpunished? No. God is perfectly just and it is His judgement in the end that will reign and balance the scales. Even though evil happens, sometimes in widespread ways, God is not okay with it.
Sometimes we are tempted to believe that God doesn’t care about evil happening on the earth and He is just sitting in the clouds waiting for people to die so He can judge them. God is not passive when it comes to evil in this world. God hates evil’s degenerative effect on His image-bearers and on top of that, God absolutely loves His image-bearers. So, in His hatred for evil and His love for humanity, God set, before time, an active plan to redeem a people to Himself through the atoning death of Jesus! God’s response to evil is not to ignore it and let it run rampant! His response is to destroy its power over us through Jesus sacrifice! This is Grace. That we might be empowered by complete forgiveness to live a redeemed life of holiness; bringing about less and less evil and bringing about more and more love.
In effect, we (those who follow Christ) are God’s action plan against pain and suffering and evil in this world! We are to be agents of grace. Procurers of peace. Dump trucks of love. While on earth, we will not be able to completely escape evil and its effects. But we are called to meet evil with the powerful love of Jesus.