Suffering and Evil
I thought that I would start a ‘mini-series’ (which means it will probably be only two posts) about the idea of how the Gospel – the good news of the coming of Jesus Christ – His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, session, and coming again – what does all of that have to do with, or how does it effect our view of suffering and evil in the world?
Here we enter into a space that is not only very confronting for Christians to enter into, but also a very tricky space to navigate in conversations. Often we will get the question, as it has been famously posed by both Epicurus and Hulme:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
All we have to do to be confronted by this reality is to think about some of the most horrific things that have happened in the world, it’s not that hard! I think the one that springs to mind the most, at least for me – and if you’ve listened to our podcast you’ll know I use it as an example all the time – is The Holocaust. It is often said by theologians, that The Holocaust is the event that our account of suffering must take into account, if it cannot, then it is no good.
Let me tell you, looking at some of these pictures broke my heart – to think that this sort of thing has gone on in the history of our world!
6 Million – at least – Jewish people intentionally tortured and put to death!
Here is a quote from a journalist who was with the army the day that they liberated one of the camps:
Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which… The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them… Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live… A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms… He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days. This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.
Richard Dimbleby, 1945
Here is a quote that was found inside a concentration camp – scratched into the wall:
“If there is a God, He will have to beg MY forgiveness”
In light of all this evidence for suffering you have to ask the question, “With all of this going on in the world around us, how can we be sure that God is there, and if he is, how can we be sure that he is a good God?”
We can think about even the so-called ‘everyday’ instances of suffering in the world – like sickness, cancer, the death of those we love. And we ask, why can’t God just fix this? Does he not have the power to do that? Does he not want to?
These are all questions that go through my mind as I come to think about this issue, because, if we believe that God is in control, as we often say, then how can we give an answer for all of the suffering?
This theme is all the way through the Bible too, here are just a few passages that bring it up, it is usually prefaced with a question: “How long, O Lord?”
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long will I store up anxious concerns within me,
agony in my mind every day?
How long will my enemy dominate me?
Psalm 13:1-2 (CSB)
How long, Lord? Will you hide forever?
Will your anger keep burning like fire?
Psalm 89:46 (CSB)
How long will you torment me
and crush me with words?
Job 19:2 (CSB)
But humans are born for trouble
as surely as sparks fly upward.
Job 5:7 (CSB)
How long, Lord, must I call for help
and you do not listen
or cry out to you about violence
and you do not save?
Why do you force me to look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Oppression and violence are right in front of me.
Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates.
This is why the law is ineffective
and justice never emerges.
For the wicked restrict the righteous;
therefore, justice comes out perverted.
Habakkuk 1:1-4 (CSB)
It is a big theme in throughout scripture, so what I want to do in this set of posts is put forward two theses about suffering and evil, and I will pre warn you – they may be controversial, but I think that they are biblical reflections of the topic. Stay tuned for the next post in this series!
Feel free to leave a comment – what is your response when people suffer? Does it make you wonder about the goodness of God?
Featured image credit:
Hoach Le Dinh