“If God is good why does He allow so much suffering and evil in this world?”
This is a form of the philosophical issue known as “the problem of evil.”
To start off, this is not a crash course in philosophy nor is it a fully developed apologetic of the existence of suffering in our world and in our lives, though I do have some answers for those, which satisfy my issues with the existence of evil. This is an exercise of thought, but hopefully there are some things that will help.
Often times the problem people have with believing in the existence of a good, powerful, personal God is that evil exists. They cannot seem to reconcile the two realities. They want to know why God, if all-powerful and good, would allow for millions of children to die due to starvation or why tsunamis take out whole villages. Or if God is in fact good, and wants to help but isn’t powerful enough to, why should someone believe in a weak, helpless God. Don’t get me wrong these are good questions, but they have already been answered. Philosophers, contemporary ones at that, like Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig have already offered plausible reasons for the existence of evil (Here is Craig’s response).
These philosophers, as well as many other philosophers throughout the last 2,000 years have addressed the logical problem of evil. The complaints coming from most people is more of an emotional problem of evil.Such as, “why would God allow my mother die of cancer, why did God let my son die in a car crash, why has my life been filled with so much pain and suffering?” These are issues stemming from an emotionally charged experience.
Some answers could be perhaps 1) there is a bigger picture, or grander purpose not now known to us (sometimes we are looking at the trees and miss the forest); 2) another answer is that maybe God is doing a disciplinary work in one’s life or trying to bring to their mind a need for a relationship with Him: maybe God has to get your attention after a life or season of rebellion. I know many people who have had these kinds of experiences. In fact, I heard one around Easter from a guy (mid-30’s) who had a serious wild streak and went through a couple of severe motorcycle accidents before he came to believe in Christ. He talked about the Christians who visited him in the hospital after multiple back surgeries who told him how fortunate he was and how God has used these accidents, while preserving his life during them, to get him to see how short and fragile life is and to see how blessed he was and how merciful God is to give him another chance. I know that not everyone has this sort of experience seeing that some die without a “second chance,” which is a post for another time. If you are reading this, you don’t have this latter dilemma.
Here is where I want to “flip the script.”
Suffering raises a lot of “why me” questions, but if you stay in that mindset too long then grace does the same. If you do “why me” during the bad, you must then ask “why me” during the good. You may be experiencing some pain and suffering now but in your life you have had some good things happen to you as well:
“Why is my loved one dying/Why is God taking this person from me?” Flip the script: “Why did God give me such a wonderful spouse/child/parent? Why do I get to experience the blessing of what it is to love, be loved and have companionship? Did I do something to earn the 20 years I had living my life with this person, or the 2 weeks I had talking with this person who taught me a lot?”
Many people question suffering, and yet no one dares question blessing and grace in their lives. Interesting, isn’t it. Does that stem from a sense of entitlement (does God owe us something)? Or perhaps does it comes from pride (I’m a great person and so I should be rewarded with great things – note: Jesus was the only ‘good’ person [without sin in the eyes of God, and He suffered tremendously and died on a Roman cross and rose again.])? I am willing to posit that this sort of arrogance and ungratefulness is a result of our sinfulness.
We should be humble and thankful for the good, and not just complain when things don’t go our way. God gives us air to breathe, and a beautiful world, which points to Him, to admire and be stewards of. God gives us joy, peace and comfort during tough times; the strength to press onward. He has wired us to be social beings and gives us the capacity and ability to have relationships. This list could go on. Most important of all, He provides hope and forgiveness in Christ; the opportunity for repentance and faith.
I feel that this isn’t the time or place for this discussion but if one wants to talk about evil and suffering, you would have to deal with the fact that there were around 40,000,000 Christians killed for their faith in the 20th century (1901-2000 AD) PLUS millions, if not billions before that. Most of which suffered gruesome deaths, but they did not complain for they were fixed upon Christ and His precious gospel of forgiveness and hope.
However one wants to look at these issues there are a couple of things to note: without the existence of God, despite the existence of evil and the amount of it, there is no hope. Thanks be to Christ for redemption and renewal and a hope that transcends the physical suffering of this world.