This past week, we saw another horrific act of terror as over 40 people were killed and more than 150 were injured in a bombing at an airport in Istanbul, Turkey. I don’t know if it’s the increased news coverage or if there truly has been an increase in the number of terrorist attacks, but these acts of terror appear to be happening more and more frequently. As these dreadful acts of terror take place, we can’t help but wonder why. Why in the world does so much evil exist? Where is God in the midst of all this pain and suffering? Why doesn’t He do something about it? Well, I don’t intend to answer this question fully, but I do intend to introduce how the Christian worldview sees God’s relationship to pain and suffering.
First off, God is sovereign; there is nothing outside of His control, including our pain and suffering. Jesus says in Matthew 10:29-30, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” Jesus is teaching us that there is not even one bird that God does not sovereignly reign over – even their deaths are in His hands. The context of this passage is teaching us not to fear God but to trust in Him, for He reigns over the seemingly insignificant sparrows, and He even knows how many hairs are on your head. He doesn’t just know these things from observation; He knows because He is the Creator.
Second, God is good; He is perfect in every way. Psalm 25:8 reads, “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way,” and James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” We see here that God is sovereign and good, and not only that, but God also created a world that was very good (Genesis 1:31). It is God’s nature to create that which is good, because He is the very essence of goodness.
Herein is where the problem lies from a humanly perspective. If God is good and sovereign, then why does anything exist that is not good? Why do bad things happen if God is powerful enough to stop them? These are very difficult questions, and we need not speculate here, but instead should continue to look at what we know. What we know from God’s Word is that pain and suffering entered into the world as a result of man’s sin (Genesis 3:16-19). No, I cannot tell you why man sinned in the first place – All I can tell you is what I know from God’s Word. And what I know is that while God is sovereign and good, when Adam and Eve were tempted, they rebelled against God in the Garden, and along with that rebellion came pain, suffering, and death.
While the Bible does not tell us why this happened, the Bible does teach us that God is not indifferent to our pain and suffering. In fact, God chose to become man and to suffer on this earth. That’s worth reading one more time: God chose to suffer. God, who need not suffer, for He is lacking in nothing, chose to suffer. He became like us in flesh and blood, and then suffered the most heinous death on the cross. God suffered firsthand as we suffer (Hebrews 2:14-18; Hebrews 4:14-16).
In Mere Apologetics, Alister McGrath writes,
“In the incarnation, God the creator enters into this world of pain and suffering – not as a curious tourist, but as a committed Savior. Christians thus recognize that God’s loving commitment to a suffering world was so great that God entered it personally – not sending some representative, but choosing to share in its pain and suffering.”
God the Son became flesh and lived among us and suffered alongside us. He is able to sympathize with us because He knows our suffering. In Revelation 2:9, Jesus says to the church in Smyrna, “I know your tribulation and your poverty and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Jesus doesn’t just observe their pain and suffering from a heavenly view, He actually understands it; He knows it. In fact, the church at Smyrna shares in His suffering. Jesus Christ, who doesn’t just see our suffering but who, in fact, knows it and has experienced it, now welcomes us to come to Him to take refuge in Him who has overcome this world. He tells us that in this world we will have tribulation, but to take heart because He has overcome the world. Not only this, He also invites us to Himself and says that in Him we will have peace.
So whenever you hear people ask, “Why doesn’t God do something about the pain and suffering that we are experiencing?” You can answer, “He has.” He has done something! He has sent His Son to die in our place. Romans 8:2 reads, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.”
And not only has He already done something, but one day He will do something else – He will completely free His people from pain and suffering. We acknowledge that the world is not as it should be. We live in a fallen world, where we are surrounded by war, terror, injustice, and greed, but one day God will wipe it all away. There will come a day when God will make all things right; He will rid this world of pain and suffering; He will make all things new (Revelation 21:1-5).
While I cannot answer specifically why we experience pain and suffering, I can point you to God Almighty who is sovereign over pain and suffering. He rules over it. He has done something about it, and He will do something about it – He will finish His work in the future. I am a finite creature, and therefore I don’t know why God does as He does. That is what makes Him God, and that is what makes me man. I cannot comprehend the mind of God, but I can point you to Him who is the answer in the midst of all our pain and suffering.
Much more could be said, but here are my concluding thoughts on pain and suffering:
- When we view the problems of pain and suffering, we often do so from a humanly perspective. We think that we somehow deserve something better, that we have a right to be happy, prosperous, and comfortable. However, we forfeited that right the day we rebelled against the Holy God. But now He invites us to come to Him and escape this tragic reality of sin, suffering, and death.
- When we view the problems of pain and suffering we tend to forget the many blessings that God bestows upon us now. If you recall from Romans 1, one of the marks against fallen humanity is that we fail to give thanks to God. One reason man focuses upon the bad is because we don’t want to acknowledge God and the good things that He has given us.
- Although people may claim otherwise, the problems of pain and suffering are not the main reasons most people reject God and deny Him as Lord. The main reason is unbelief. This is why, when sharing the Gospel and defending our faith, it is so important to know who we are talking to and why they have raised the question about pain and suffering in the first place. Is it truly an intellectual stumbling block, or is it just a defense mechanism they use to justify themselves as they continue walking in unbelief?
- The Christian worldview is the only worldview that can truly stand up to the problem of evil. And while we do not understand it fully, we can turn to God and trust in Him. If evil is outside of His control, then we are in a world of trouble. On the other hand, if evil exists but God does not exist, we have no hope. It is comforting to know that, according to God’s Word, God is in control of our suffering, and He is using it for good. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Additionally, we can be sure that there is nothing, including evil, that can stop the purposes of God (Romans 8:31-38).
- The final and most important point is this: If pain and suffering did not exist, we would know nothing of the sweetness of the cross. Pain and suffering point us to God and to His goodness. Many times we think too lightly of pain and suffering, as if these trials are a mistake, but if we truly believe God’s Word, then we know that God works all things for our good. He uses His own pain and suffering on the cross to bring about our salvation, and He uses our pain and suffering to continually point us to Him. C.S. Lewis said pain is God’s megaphone when he stated, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
So, whenever we experience times of trouble and pain, let us look to God and thank Him for these times. God often uses the hard times, when we have nowhere else to turn, to reveal Himself to us and to cause us to fall on our knees and call upon His name.
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8 The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.