Since God is Good, Why…
For centuries this question has been asked in various ways: “If God is good, then…” or “If God is in control, then why did… happen?” “Why does evil and suffering exist if God is loving?” These are questions skeptics’ use in an effort to discredit Christianity. Believers ask these when they go through difficulties in life, out of anger or anguish. Some ask out of a true desire to know why, while opponents ask in a way to try and demean or destroy the faith of others. Even the prophet Habakkuk asked God “why” (1:2, 13-14). One of the themes of the Book of Job is an attempt for humanity to understand the suffering of an individual, though in all of their attempts (and ours), they failed to answer the question “why.”
The “problem of evil and suffering” is something the Bible never calls a “problem.” Scripture declares the reality of these things, however. They are related, but evil and suffering are in actuality two different questions. Evil usually has to do with issues of morality, such as terrorist events, murder, genocide, war, etc. Suffering often revolves around questions concerning natural disasters, sickness, death, abuse, and more. Many theologians have given thorough replies to these questions, and in light of recent events, it is good to give a summary. We will look at foundational principles and consider some reasons for evil and suffering in the world.
4 Principles to Keep in Mind
First we must ask, why is someone asking this question! Many ask “why” out of pain, loss, or sadness. If this is the case, then the response should be framed differently for those who only want to cause strife. One’s reason(s) for asking should make us carefully consider how we answer their inquiries. One must also do some digging with wisdom and love to discover the assumptions one is making when asking these questions.
Second, we must define our terms. What is evil? What is suffering? Evil is not a thing, but a corruption, distortion, or lack of what is good. Suffering is the result of or pain caused from something or lack of something else, due to evil. In Genesis 1-2, God created everything “very good.” There was no evil or suffering. This changed in Genesis 3 when Adam, as the primary “cause,” (Romans 5) brought sin and death into the world. Since then, we live in a fallen and cursed world full of evil, pain, and suffering. This world is decaying and “groans and labors” as Romans 8:21-22 states. “Bad” things happen as Jesus said in John 16:33a. Christians and non-Christians suffer, despite false teaching which says God promises everyone health and wealth.
Third, these questions are about God’s character. Note the title – “Since God is good…” rather than, “If God is good…” Each says something different about the Lord’s character. “Since God is good,” we ask these questions. The Lord is good (1 Chronicles 16:34, Ezra 3:11, Psalm 118:29, 145:9) and more. We must start with a Biblical understanding of who He is.
Fourth, another issue is purpose. Those who are or see others going through hardship wonder if there is a reason. God is sovereign or in control over all things that occur (Genesis 1, 2 Chronicles 20:6, Job 1:21, Psalm 115:3, Matthew 10:29, Acts 17:24-28 and more). This goes back to God’s character. Because He is sovereign and good, God must have a reason for everything. While we will never have all the answers, there are helpful Biblical principles.
Reasons for Evil and Suffering
Just because we see evil or suffering today does not mean God can’t stop it. God is good and all-powerful (Psalm 147:5, Ephesians 1:19-21, Revelation 19:6 and more). However, His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8) and He is outside of time (2 Peter 3:8) and though this is not an exhaustive list, these few reasons may help you, or help you to help others, who are asking these questions. Some reasons for evil and suffering are:
1. To make us more like Christ – Romans 8:26-29. Paul talks about the Holy Spirit’s role in helping us pray when we don’t know what to say. It is in this context Paul says all things (including problems) work together for the good (determined by God and not us) – to make us more like Jesus! So, remember Romans 8:28 is tied to verse 29.
2. To turn our attention away from earth to heaven – Romans 8:18-19. Suffering in this life makes us focus on the next life. We are to seek the things above and not the things on the earth (Colossians 3:1). We pay bills, go to school or work, have fun and more, and should do so with an eternal perspective. God uses pain to wake us up and remind us our home is with Him (John 14:3). Our treasure is in heaven, where our heart should be (Matthew 6:21).
3. To remind us our dependence and security is not on what we have, but in God – Psalm 46:1. God is our security. We depend and submit to Him because of this (Romans 8:29-30, 35-39, Philippians 1:6, Hebrews 13:5-6, to name a few). We only find security in that which does not change. Only God’s word and character do not change (Psalm 118:29, 1 Peter 1:24-25, and Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8)!
4. To lead us to the grace of God, and the God of grace, who is sufficient – 2 Cor. 12:8-10. Paul had a “thorn” in the flesh and begged God to take it away. God said, “No, My grace is sufficient.” God gave this thorn to Paul’s to keep him humble and dependent on Him. Sometimes we wish God would take away something, but He puts or keeps them there to keep us humble and dependent on Him, His grace, and remind us that He alone is sufficient!
5. To make us repent – Amos 4:6-10. Israel rebelled often and God used evil and suffering to bring them to repentance. While we are not under the Old Covenant, the principle is the same. When we sin, He uses or brings suffering into our lives, families, churches or nations, to bring us repentance. This happened to the assembly in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:27-32, and is seen in Job’s response in Job 42:1-6).
6. Humanity makes choices – Joshua 24:14-15. The debate about “free will” or the “bondage of the will” is another matter. Scripture says humans make choices with consequences. While God’s creation had the potential for evil, He did not create it and does not tempt us to do evil: James 1:13-15. There is an evil one, the devil (John 8:44, 1 Peter 5:8) and a spiritual battle that is constant (Ephesians 6:10-18). Within this, people make choices which affect others. Governments rob people because of greed. Professors teach lies to students because of agendas. A selfish husband or wife, who divorces their spouse, may use children as weapons. These are evil, because the human heart is sinful. The choices people make can hurt others!
7. God has a “greater good” for what happens – Genesis 50:20. When it comes to hurricanes, wildfires, and evil, there is a greater good. Storms distribute the earth’s heat. Wildfires put nutrients back into the ground. Remember Genesis 50:20? What Joseph’s brothers did was evil (he didn’t deny that), but God meant it for good to save many. Think of the cross! The worst human evil possible is what God used to bring salvation to those who believe in Christ.
8. It is an opportunity for the Church to make a difference – Romans 8:9-21. Christians made a difference with the unwanted children in Rome in the first century. The Church instituted hospitals, universities, and orphanages. Christians are often in the forefront of helping those who have suffered due to natural disasters. When evil and suffering take place, we should be there with help and hope, both physically and spiritually. I lived in Sendai Japan for just over two years. In March 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami hit this and the surrounding areas. Nearly 16,000 died and many are still missing. This disaster opened the doors for Churches and ministries to help physically and spiritually. The people were open to the gospel because they saw the love Christians expressed. Some became followers of Christ because of the outreach of the Church, turning from darkness to light.
9. To challenge our assumptions – Mark 4:1-20. When we face evil and suffering, our beliefs, faith, understanding of the Bible and who we think God is, are turned upside down at times. When we are squeezed, we discover what is in us and what needs to change! It is never pleasant, but needed. In exercise, our muscles tear, form again and become stronger. It is a painful process. God strengthens our faith and challenges our assumptions through the evil and suffering we face, to turn us to Him and His Word to learn the truth and be changed by it.
10. We would not understand the answer even if God gave it to us – Job 38-41. In response to Job’s self-righteousness, God asked him some 70 questions! Job could not answer any of them! God showed Job that even if He explained “why,” he would not be able to comprehend. In fact, God never told Job why he went through everything. Often, we will not know why we or someone else faces evil or suffering. Sometimes, with Bible study, prayer, and discussion, we may be able to find out why and take appropriate action. But do not spend all of your time trying to figure out why, because you may not know this side of heaven.
11. For His glory – John 9:1-3. Life is not about us. When people do their best to do things God’s way, you hear some amazing testimonies. Think of a godly wife who loves and respects her husband, even when he is not respectful and he becomes a Christian. Think of persecuted Christians who pray for their captors, and their lives impact those who did great evil. Just as Jesus healed the blind man for His glory, He uses suffering and evil we face for His glory.
12. When we live in an area, we accept what will potentially happen. If we choose to live somewhere, we accept the possibility of suffering. Some places have crime or snowstorms; others are prone to tornadoes, droughts, floods or hurricanes. This is not comforting when everything is lost, but it is a factor we need to consider. With people having more opportunity to live in different parts of the world, the resulting potential pain and fatalities have increased.
Reason for Hope
One more thing to keep in mind is that every philosophy and religion needs to be asked these questions. Often only Christianity is considered when the questions about evil and suffering arise. However, everyone must answer them! Christians should ask non-Christians why they think evil and suffering exist. Only a Biblical worldview gives hope in the midst of the evil and suffering we see in this world.
For Habakkuk and Job, their interaction with God yielded the same results… silence (Habakkuk. 2:20, Job 40:3-5). They were speechless before God. For Habakkuk, faith also resulted after hearing what God said (Habakkuk 3:16-19). Though he did not fully understand, the prophet took comfort in the character of God and recognized His sovereign control over all things, including what he did not understand. Perhaps Job’s faith grew after his repentance in chapter 42, because he understood who God was in a deeper way.
There is evil in the world. We know this because there is a good God to compare things to. There cannot be evil unless there is a good measure to compare it with. To confess there is evil is to say there must be something or Someone outside of oneself that is ultimate good, and that is God. Suffering is the realization things are not the way they should be. Something did go wrong in Genesis 3. Sin is the cause of all problems today, but the good news is, it doesn’t end there.
God, in the eternal Person of His Son, chose to come into this world and die for sinners on a cruel cross and resurrect three days later. Through faith in Him, we have forgiveness of sins and an eternal hope. Jesus died, resurrected, and will return to establish His Kingdom, wherein dwells righteousness (2 Peter 3:13), and where no sin shall ever enter (Revelation 21:27). God will make all things right! In the end, God will personally wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:1-4). This is the Christians anchor of our soul when we face the evil and suffering in God’s world. Look to God, look to the future and remember who He is.
Written by Michael Weis, Bible teacher, Missionary, and Manager of Social Media at Zion’s Hope.