Earthquakes and tsunamis devastate Japan. An earthquake in Haiti brings widespread death and suffering. Hurricane Katrina and other disasters disrupt people’s lives and destroy communities. Diseases such as cancer and viruses cause suffering and death. Some people see or experience these events and cry out “Where is God?”
Suffering is a part of every generation. According to Job “man who is born of woman is of a few days and full of troubles,” Job 14:1. To the atheist, suffering is just a characteristic of the world. For the Christian suffering is more complex because the suffering of the world appears to be at odds with the characteristics of God.
The Bible teaches us that God is all good and all powerful. This introduces an ancient dilemma: If God is good and is all powerful He would not let these things happen; therefore, His is either not good or not all powerful. Some theologians have suggested that God is neither infinitely powerful nor infinitely good, but only in the process of acquring these attributes. This would be insufficient for if God is neither good nor omnipotent, He is unworthy of our worship.
Judging God’s Goodness
The first problem we encounter when we try to evaluate the goodness of God is our own limited standards.
As sinners, we are poor judges of a good God, Romans 3:10-18
Many conflicts arise between parents and children when the children want to do something that the parents, through wisdom and experience, forbid. Older children realize the wisdom of their parent’s decision and thank them for not allowing them to do something that they, at the time, thought was a “good” thing to do. The degree of wisdom that separates parent and child is much less than the degree of wisdom that separates us from God.
Finite beings are poor judges of an infinite God, John 40:2, 8
God can see the chain-reactions of all actions and can bring about ultimate good from any situations. God was able to convert the apparent defeat in the life of Jesus on the cross to a victory for all men. Many people credit their greatest moments of growth and strength to the greatest trials in their lives. Paul conforts believers, in Romans 8:28, that “All things work together for good to those who love God.”
We only see the limited view of a life that is like a vapor. God is eternal and can see how all things fit together and how events interconnect with other events. We get wrapped up in the events of our lives and often do not realize the far reaching implications of our actions today on future events. But God knows.
Questioning is sometimes a matter of degree
At what point of suffering do we feel justified in questioning God’s goodness or feel that God should intervene to prevent suffering? What number of lives lost in an incident allows us to question God’s goodness? 2,000,000? 200,000? 20,000? 2,000? 200? 20? 2? What about loss of property?
At what point to we go beyond feeling sad about a tragedy and move to questioning God’s power or goodness? There are many problems and trials that occur in people’s lives. We were not created to live pain-free lives. We were not created to live forever in the flesh. We live in a natural world with consequences for all of our actions. If we fall from a large height or are involved in a high speed accident, there is a good chance that our physical body will not survive and, if it does, it will suffer great pain. Pain, suffering, and death is a part of life. To complain that the suffering and pain of life is unfair is immature. It is unpleasant, and perhaps we feel we do not deserve the pain, trials, and suffering, but they are part of life.
We must realize that one cannot draw a line that separates “acceptable” suffering and “unacceptable” suffering. If the death of 200 people in a tragedy leads us to question God, why would we mourn the loss of 150 without questioning God? Why would the death of even one not cause us to question God? It’s only a matter of degree between what we accept as a part of life and what leads us to question God. This is an arbitrary judgment.
Often we judge God’s goodness based on our hapiness or ease–never a standard for good with God. The greater good for man is not ease for his spiritual life often languishes when he does not endure trials. The muscle grows when it is torn and stretched. Iron is made hard through fire and hammering. Gold is purified through fire. We develop character and perseverance through trials and suffering, Romans 5:1-5.
As we will examine later, instead of blaming God for suffering perhaps we should see the opportunities to grow in our faith and in our trust in God.