Why Doesn’t God Stop Evil and Suffering?
September 11th 2001 will go down in U.S. history as a dark and evil day. It was the day that two hijacked planes were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City. As the world watched in horror the burning buildings exploded and later crumbled down taking the lives of over 3,000 desperate people who were trapped inside.
Johnny was one of the firefighters on the 82nd floor of the burning building that September morning trying to save as many terrified people as possible. Johnny was just twenty-four and he had his whole life ahead of him. He and Cindy had been married three years and they had a baby girl, Gina who was crazy about her Daddy.
Johnny’s father, Sam, paced the floor and watched the burning buildings on television that morning knowing that his son and the other firefighters were there. “Please God, don’t let my son die. Please God Please.” Sam bargained and pleaded with God that awful day. But Sam’s prayers were not answered the way he wanted and Johnny never came home that night. Johnny died a painful and violent death with all the others that morning, just doing his job, just being a hero.
In the months and years that followed, Sam still went to Mass every Sunday, but he just went through the motions. He hurt so badly and missed his son so much. Where was God when Johnny died? Why hadn’t God answered his desperate prayers? Why hadn’t God done something? If God is loving and just then He must not be all powerful! He would have stopped the planes from hitting the buildings if He was all powerful, wouldn’t He? Or if God is all-powerful, then He must not be loving and just! Or He just didn’t care! Johnny was too young to die! And all those other people too! The unfairness of it all! Maybe there is no God after all! The doubts and disappointments and questions went round and round inside Sam’s head.
And then Johnny’s wife Cindy was also going through her own grieving and her own hell! Listening to her own doubts and fears and questions. How could God take Johnny away and leave her so alone to raise their baby all by herself? Johnny had been her best friend, her lover, her everything. And now he was gone! It didn’t seem real. One minute she was in his arms and the next minute he was gone – gone forever! She was so lonely without him- so lost. How could she keep on going? And the baby keeps crying and asking where her Daddy is. What can she tell the baby? How can she make up this loss to little Gina? Johnny had loved her so. It was all too cruel! Why God, why?
Cindy’s friends tried to comfort her, to say something to make her feel better. “It must have been the will of God,” they whisper to her hoping those words might help. But those words don’t help Cindy, not at all, they only made her angrier with God! Were her friends saying that God wanted this to happen? And her cousin insists that, “Everything happens for a reason,” making Cindy wonder what reason God could have to let Johnny and the others in the World Trade Center die such a violent death.
Cindy had given to the church and prayed to God and volunteered to serve others. She read her Bible and loved God. Since she tried to be a good person, shouldn’t God have taken care of her and blessed her and not allowed her husband to die and leave her alone like this? Wasn’t that the way God was supposed to work? Why was God punishing her? She felt so angry now at God and so lost.
After Johnny’s death Cindy and Sam both lived through a crisis with their Christian faith. They both wrestled with questions trying to reconcile their beliefs in a powerful and loving God with the unfairness and suffering that happened on that terrible day. And with all the suffering that happens in our world. And all of us at some time in our lives may find ourselves in the same quandary – the same painful place of wondering why God is allowing us to go through what we are going through.
Perhaps without realizing it we too may, like Cindy and Sam, have misguided ideas about how God is supposed to work in our world. What does the Bible say about these issues? For starters the Bible does not teach that if we try to be good people God will stop all bad things from happening to us! Instead the Bible records that down through the ages most of God’s people endured hardships and persecutions but refused to let go of their faith in the face of their suffering.
Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt and later imprisoned. He never held a grudge against his brothers and stayed true to his God. The Israelites who were God’s people spent 400 years as slaves to the Egyptians. Job lost all of his children and his wealth and his health and he refuses to give up his faith in God. Steven was stoned for his faith in God. And nearly all of the apostles who followed Jesus were persecuted and ultimately put to death. Jesus even warned his followers that in order to follow Him they would need to take up their cross.
There are several basic ideas that provide the foundation for reconciling God’s goodness with the suffering in our world. First of all, God has given people “dominion” over the planet. He has made us responsible to manage and oversee His creation. Scripture says: “God blessed humans and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
So the Bible tells us that God works through people. When God wants something done in this world, He most often calls people to do it. He gave us humans “dominion” over the earth and it is our responsibility to take care of the earth and to look out for one another. God promises to be with us in all that we do and sustain and help us. He gives us his Holy Spirit to guide and comfort and He gives us His peace. And He answers our prayers and gives us our talents and abilities. But the responsibility to make a better world is ours - the buck stops with us!
When the hungry need food, God sends people to share and bring food. When the sick need to be cared for, God sends people. When life is unfair and justice is needed God calls for us humans to pay the price and to fight for justice and fairness. We are the “body” of Christ – We are His hands and feet. When God wants to bring hope and help to others, God sends people. Much of the suffering in our world is because we do not answer God’s call to go and do what He calls us to do. The natural disasters and all of the poverty and hunger in our world are a call to action for us. Will we heed the call?
And the second idea is that God gave humankind the freedom to choose good or evil, and to make choices. God created humans in His own image and since God has free will He gave us humans the gift of free will also. We are not robots or puppets. God deemed the freedom to choose to be an important part of our human existence. But that freedom comes with the possibility that we may choose evil and cause suffering in our own lives or in the lives of others.
God does not take our freedom away from us when we misuse it nor does He miraculously deliver us from the consequences of our actions or the actions of others. Much of the suffering in the world comes from people using their God given freedom to make sinful selfish choices. The lives of over three thousand people who happened to be in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 could have been spared if God had just stopped the terrorists who were planning the attack. But most of the time that isn’t the way God seems to work. He seems to allow us humans to be free to choose evil. Actually what would your life look like if God made it impossible for you to ever do the wrong thing? Our freedom to choose seems to be important to Him. As His followers we have to have faith that He knows best.
But suffering never has the final word for the Christian. That is the overwhelming message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Scripture says that: “the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) God promises to walk with us through our sufferings. And He promises to eventually work our sufferings together to our good. “All things work together for good to them who love God, to them who are called according to His purposes.” (Romans 8:28)
In the end we will be victorious through Jesus Christ. Our sufferings are not the end of the story. Good eventually triumphs over evil and the forces of light in time will defeat the forces of darkness. Life will conquer death. Scripture proclaims: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) We may not live to see the problems in our lives taken care of – the wrongs righted – our hopes fulfilled. But with the eyes of faith we can believe that what God has promises in his Word, He will do. And God promises that we will be “overcomers” through Christ when we reach the other side. We don’t need to try to figure out how God is going to wipe away our problems or overcome our deep sorrows. We just need to believe it. We serve a God who works in mysterious ways and we just need to learn to live with the mystery.
Many of these ideas were taken from Adam Hamilton’s book, Why?