The recent tragedy in Haiti and Pat Robertson’s subsequent response has caused a lot of dialogue regarding the issue of evil and suffering in this world. Pain, evil and suffering seem to be the some of the biggest deterrents people express to belief in a good and loving God. Here are some of my own thoughts and ponderings regarding this difficult and complex issue. I would love to hear your thoughts!
WrESTLING with unANSWERED PRaYER
When I was completing a graduate degree at Biola University I was amidst a time of
confusion about unanswered prayers and this seeming pain and disappointment that had entered my life. It was during this time that I had lunch with one of my classmates who told me his story and gave me his insights on the problem of evil in this world. For the following ideas I must give credit to my friend, Steve, who as you will see, had good reason to speak into my life about the issue of evil, pain and suffering. Steve had been a follower of Christ for years and was a healthy, athletic, attractive man. However, a few years before I met Steve he was in a serious accident in which He was paralyzed from the waste down and restricted to a wheel chair. From what I understood, he had some serious spinal problems which continued to cause him considerable pain throughout his daily life. He explained to me that there was a period of time after the accident where he rejected God because of the severe pain in his life. He wrestled with the issue of how a good God could allow this kind of tragedy in his life. Many of his friends gave him the explanation that his accident was karma coming back to repay him for bad things he had done in his life. He pondered this issue of karma and made, what I think is, a profound conclusion. He related the idea of karma to God – if God were like the idea of karma then he would punish and strike down all those who had been sinful and done evil in their lives, and likewise he would pour out blessings on all those who were righteous, good, believed and followed Him. Many times we expect, even want God to act in accordance with the idea of karma and this is why we believe that the evil things should not happen to us, or seemingly innocent people, but instead blessings should rain down. The problem my friend identified with this “Karma God” analogy is that if God were to smite everyone who did evil and did not follow God then it would be as if God were “twisting our arm” into following him. We would be controlled, in a way forced to believe and follow God; if we didn’t, we would be punished and encounter evil in our lives. Steve explained that he would not want to follow a God who controlled us in this way or “twisted our arms into believing in him” in order to avoid suffering and enjoy a blessed life.
For this reason God allows the rain to fall on the good and the evil (See Psalm 72 and Mathew 5:45). He allowed freedom of choice in this world so that we could be free to believe or not believe, free to follow him, free to love him – not for fear of being punished or in order to receive blessings, but for genuine belief and commitment. I believe the evil we see in this world is because God endowed us with autonomy for the sake of our freedom. This freedom and our subsequent choices brings detrimental, painful circumstances into the world and daily life. I believe that this world is not the perfection that God intended it to be when he created the earth with Adam and Eve. He desired a world where we could enjoy the earth without strife, pain and suffering. He loved us and he desired for us to be free therefore he gave us the option to allow evil to enter the world. Now we live in a world with freedom, but consequently, a world with evil, pain and suffering. I believe God’s heart breaks with every instance of suffering in our lives, every instance of evil committed against us, or every natural disaster like the earthquake in Haiti. He did not intend the world to include this evil and suffering, but he allowed it for the sake of our freedom.
CoULD the ANSWER be fOUND in the KiNGDOM of GOD?
With that in mind, and to conclude these ponderings, I believe that frequently our wrestling and agony with the problem of evil and suffering is because of our myopic nature, our shortsightedness and lack of vision for the coming Kingdom of God. We are finite creatures and often view this world as all that there is. However, scripture tells us differently. Scripture says that this life is but a fraction of the eternal Kingdom of God. We understand from scripture that the Kingdom of God is here now in part but not in full; it is now, but not yet. The aspect of the Kingdom of God that is here and now resides in the followers of Christ who are God’s active voice and body, representing Christ on earth. It is the calling of followers of Christ to actively bring the peace, justice and restoration of the Kingdom of God. It is the job of Christ followers to actively alleviate suffering, evil and pain in everyway possible as the active and living body of Christ. However, in our failure to act, we circuitously add to the evil and suffering in the world which God would desire to be lessened. Furthermore, there is still an aspect of the Kingdom of God that is not yet. This is the peace, justice and restoration God promises to bring with a new heaven and new earth. We must remember that this life is not the end; not even close to the majority of time we may experience compared with eternity. We must keep eternity and the kingdom of God in view when we encounter suffering, especially on a large scale such as Haiti. God promises that in his kingdom he will wipe every tear and there will be no more pain, suffering or mourning. In Psalm 72 Solomon looks to eternity and the kingdom of God to answer his grappling and wrestling with the suffering in his life. We must do the same. We must widen our vision to see this world as a glimpse in comparison to eternity, in the kingdom of God, where the wrongs of this earth will be made right and we will no longer experience death and mourning. We may not understand how God will bring this peace, justice and restoration, but we trust and hope that in his infinite grace and mercy he will bring justice and restoration to the evil and suffering that we experience here on earth. This life is but a glimpse and we have eternity to hope for.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God is himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:1, 3-4
Revelation 21:1, 3-4