The problem of evil and suffering is so much a problem, there’s actually an entire area of theological study devoted to it, called theodicy. Pain is a problem only for those who believe that 3 things are true:
The Theistic Set
1. God is all-loving.
2. God is all-powerful.
3. Evil and suffering exist.
The atheist has no problem (or shouldn’t), because without a God, life has no purpose- so there’s no purpose in pain, unless it’s somehow a part of natural selection , weeding out the weak. For Eastern Religions, Hinduism for instance, pain is an illusion, wrong thinking, you must try to look past it.
Epicurus summarized the problem this way, “Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or He can, but does not want to. If He wants to, but cannot, He is impotent. If He can, but does not want to, He is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?”
The Problem of Pain (four questions):
1. Is God all-powerful?
“For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm. The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.” Psalms 33:9–11
Is God all-powerful? Can He do anything? Think deeply about this question: Can He make a rock so big He can’t move it? Can He create two mountain peaks without a valley between them? Some things can’t be done. God can do anything that can be done. Can He create a world in which there is free will where evil and suffering do not exist? Evidently not, or He would have done it. Can God be loving and evil at the same time? God is all-powerful but God cannot contradict Himself. He cannot sin. Pain is the result of our sin. Think about it: How much of your pain is self-inflicted? How much of your pain is caused by other people’s sin? If you purchase and use drugs, you’re part of causing the murder and pain of the drug cartels along the Texas boarder. If you look at porn, you’re part of the abuse of sex slaves and trafficking around the world. Our sin has far-reaching consequences.
2. Is God all-loving?
“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8
We have a different definition of love from a personal perspective. We think that all things loving will always be good for us, or always make us feel good. I remember taking each of our kids to the doctor for shots. The child thinks, how can you do this to me? You know that it is because you love them. It will be better for them in the long run, some vaccinations may very well save their lives.
3. Is God all-knowing?
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…” Romans 8:28–29
God can see the present and the future. He’s outside of the time-space continuum. Have you ever noticed that you often grow through pain? God is at work. Job serves as the great story of pain and suffering in the Bible. We must have faith that God is accomplishing something through our pain. Can you say with Job?
“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” Job 13:15
Paul explained further:
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3–5
So God is all-loving. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, there’s a purpose and a hope.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18
It seems of the three questions we’ve addressed, the one people struggle with the most is the second one: Is God really all-loving? What you need when you are in pain is not an explanation, you want the one you love to come and meet you there in your pain. If I’m hurting or if Stacy is hurting, or one of my children are hurting- when someone in our church is hurting… you don’t simply want good advice, or solid theology, (those things can be helpful) but what you really want is someone who can simply be present and share in your pain (the ministry of presence).
In The Reason for God, Tim Keller writes, “If we again ask the question: ‘Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?’ and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is. However, we know what the answer isn’t. It can’t be that He doesn’t love us. It can’t be that He is indifferent or detached from our condition. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that He was willing to take it on Himself.” Jesus knows our pain at the deepest level.
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to His own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:3–6
Whatever your pain, Jesus knows it. He cares so much that He came. Psalms 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” God sees and feels every human tear. There is no pain that you have ever experienced that Jesus Himself did not experience.
John Stott, in his book, The Cross, wrote this:
“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the one Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in my imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside His immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of His. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering. The cross of Christ … is God’s only self-justification in such a world as ours…”
God is not sitting back, cross-legged, smiling, He’s agonizing, slowly dying on the cross, in the face of complete and utter injustice. But watch what He is does. On Friday, His family and friends were saying, “This is the worst thing that has ever happened.” On Sunday they were saying, “This is the greatest thing that has ever happened.” He’s doing the same thing in your life right now.
4. Do you trust Him?
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4:8–10
The Cross shows us that our pain is not meaningless. The Cross also reminds us of God’s unconditional love for us in Christ. We live in a sinful world; our bodies are breaking down and some day they will shut down altogether. Only Christ brings us hope in our suffering, Christ alone gives hope is our dying. Only as we die to ourselves, is He able to live in and through us.