Opinion: How Christians can see God’s goodness in the midst of suffering
This is the first of a two part series addressing the proper Christian response to tragedy in the world.
Perhaps the most unanimously agreeable statement shared between all worldviews is that a lot of bad stuff is going on in the world.
Australia has been on fire since November, a Philippine volcanic eruption has displaced 30,000 people and over 1,200 earthquakes have shook Puerto Rico within a month. Iran’s Tasnim News Agency unveiled underground “missile cities” showing their teeth in the US-Iran conflict, 671,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Burma’s Rakhine State and, in one example of many, 33,007 people in Burkina Faso have left their homes fleeing militant Islamic groups.
While tragedy is always occurring in the world, it seems at times such as these that they are more frequent, or at least they are getting more news coverage. This should be raising the question of how you rationalize this and respond to this according to your worldview. Does your worldview account for the existence of heinous events? What does your worldview offer to the suffering?
The core of the Christian belief is about a God-man who, while incarnate, dealt with others’ suffering daily and that also suffered himself. Many times, Jesus warns there will be suffering, persecution and rejection ahead. Having an adequate understanding of suffering is largely at the forefront of the Christian faith.
Not only that, but the problem of evil and suffering is perhaps, at least seemingly, the largest deterrent skeptics have from considering the faith and the hardest milestones believers must endure.
The new atheist movement took a major charge at theism following the 9/11 attacks. Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkinsand Sam Harris– all leaders in the new atheism movement – published books regarding the morality and the problem of evil in the early 2000s.
If God is good and all-powerful, why do we still have evil in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people? If God created all things, did he also create evil?
For the Christian to ponder and research these things is of monumental importance. Scripturally speaking, Peter said Christians should “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). The Christian is to understand what he/she believes and be prepared to answer the things listed above.
So, what is the Christian to think of why evil exists and why God doesn’t act to prevent it?
Genesis 3 – the story of the fall of man – is the foundation to understanding the presence of evil. Man rebelled against God and thus invited evil into the world. The underlying point is that God allowed man free will. It is only with free will that man can genuinely love God and love others – which Jesus would later present as the two biggest commandments. With free will also comes the ability to hate, to rebel, to commit evil acts.
Even still, one can protest that a good God should prevent specific events such as the 9/11 attackers or the more recent natural disasters in Australia, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. This objection neglects that all of mankind is evil (Romans 3:10-11). Christian apologist Frank Turek addresses this objection and elaborates on this point.
“Maybe because if he did (stop evil), he might start with you and me,” Turek said.
Everyone sins and falls short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and God shows no partiality.
Nabeel Qureshi suggests in a video by Ravi Zacharias International Ministriesthat it is mostly the people who look at suffering from afar that are the ones who doubt God because of suffering.
“Generally speaking, around the world, those who are suffering say that God must exist. He is their hope, He is their reason, and this isn’t just a crutch to hold on to, they have seen God come through for the people around them,” Qureshi said.
Qureshi’s observations introduce the thought that not everything about human suffering is bad.
Tragedy provokes prayer. God wants us to talk to him, and when major disasters happen, millions of people may immediately pray. In the grander scope, the worst thing for humanity is to be distant from God.
Tragedy arouses attention to the grander scope and reminds us how little we can do without God. Life’s mundane details become unimportant and thoughts are centered on eternity and life’s bigger picture.
C.S. Lewis in his book, The Problem of Pain, refers to pain as a great megaphone – an instrument for getting people’s attention.
Tragedy influences people to love more. The months following 9/11 was special for Americans in that they were all unified. Families that experience loss often mend old relationships. People love their spouses more and they hug their kids a little tighter having been reminded that tomorrow is not promised. Similarly, according to BBC, the fires in Australia moved people from all levels of society and from all around the world to send aid and serve those who are hurting.
Some people are led directly to salvation through tragedy. This was Qureshi’s point – victims and witnesses are, at times, drawn to church or to other believers when bad things happen. Possibly because they have arrived at the mindset that they cannot go on by themselves and possibly because they have seen God at work. The book I am Nby The Voice of the Martyrscontains many such examples following Christian persecution.
Pain from tragedy is productive. It is purposeless pain that is ungodly. Pain is given to us as a helpful mechanism to strengthen us and make us learn and experience more efficiently.
Tragedy works out for good in the end. Paul confirms this for us in Romans 8:28. God did not stop Pharaoh the first time he caused pain to His people, but in his own time, he intervened and made good out of it. God will make good out of all things eventually, it just may not be in our preferred time.
Dykstra is an opinion writer. Follow him on Twitter.