Evil, Tragedy and God


It’s back again.  The “it” I am talking about is the tragedy and suffering question—why does a good God allow bad things to happen to good people?  The tragedy of December 14, 2012 will live in all of us for quite a while because it questioned both God’s love and His power.

So, from my daily devotional writer, Jim Denison, I want to use his thoughts and my experience to help all of us with this issue of the “evil, tragedy and God.”  Let’s break it down into “bite-size” pieces. 

Foundational to all that we will say, please realize that the “why” question is not one the Bible shies away from as we see in the life of Habakkuk.  He complained to God about the devastation of his people at the hands of the Babylonians:  “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.  Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?  Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”  (Habbakuk 1: 3)  Jesus even cried from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  (Matthew 27: 46).        

We who follow Christ are especially susceptible to this issue because we believe three seemingly contradictory facts to be equally true:

·      God is all-loving.

·      God is all-powerful.

·      Evil exists.

And for people who deny God, the easiest way to do this is to minimize one of these three conditions.        

First, regarding the love of God, many today view life as random coincidence and that if there is a “God” he has little interest in us.  He is a clockmaker, watching his creation wind down.        

Second, regarding the power of God, it is popular to see God and Satan, good and evil locked in a battle for supremacy.  Very popular a few years ago, the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People agrees that even God is not able to do everything he wants to do.        

Third, regarding the existence of evil, the worldviews are all over the map.  Hindu tradition views evil as an illusion.  Ancient Greeks saw evil as the product of the material world to be escaped through ascetic discipline or philosophical reflection.  The Buddhist treats evil as the product of wrong desires.  Hinduism likewise believes that suffering results from wrong choices.        

But as you might expect, none of these satisfy the deepest part of us.  Christians, sensing more, have wrestled throughout the history of our faith and have developed five basic approaches to the question of suffering and evil:

The spiritual warfare model … identifies that Satan is real and much of the pain and suffering in our world is attributable to his malignant work.  However, not all suffering is a direct result of Satan’s plan.  Our ability to make choices and counter what Satan is doing will in fact bring some level of pain and suffering.

The free-will model … is usually based on the following assumptions:  God created everything and he created it good.  Before the fall, evil was present but not yet reality, at least from our ability to choose it for ourselves.  God then created humans with freedom of will and we have used this freedom to bring evil into existence, which absolves God of the blame.

The soul-building model … believes that God can redeem any suffering and pain for God’s glory and our good.  The weakness of this view revolves around the existence of Hell, since it is not a soul-building or redemptive reality. 

The eschatological (big word meaning “future”) model … asserts that evil will be resolved in the future, making present suffering endurable and worthwhile.  This view does not solve how the promise of future hope makes present courage possible.

The existential model . . . is more practical than theoretical.  It says that God suffers as we suffer and gives us strength to withstand and even redeem our pain.  But it offers no real explanation for the origin or existence of suffering.

So, how can we “apply” all this information to our world of suffering? 

First, utilize the “free-will” approach to examine the origin of suffering.  Is there sin involved?  Is this pain due to the result of misused freedom?  Do a spiritual inventory but do not assume that suffering is always your fault.

Second, use the “soul-building” approach to ask—what can I learn from this situation?  Strive to be open to every source of spiritual source.  Stay close enough to Jesus so that you can hear his voice and feel his touch.

Third, use the “future hope” approach to ask—how can God redeem this present suffering for future good?  We may not be able to see the future, but we can believe that is real and that God is IN it working for our good.

Finally, utilize the “existential” approach to trust God’s help in the midst of our pain.  Nothing can take you from his hand (John 10:28).      

So, look at our world with a tear in your eye, knowing that God is still God and then go and live like you believe it.  Someone will notice!

After over three decades of managing and motivating people in the local church as a pastor, I now spend my waking hours heralding the call for living in redemptive, reconciled relationships. I simply call them “stay in the room” relationships.