Week 2 Why does God allow evil & suffering if he is fully in control?
THE MAIN POINT
There are no easy answers to evil & suffering, but two possible reasons why God allows them is; the value of human freedom & the refining nature of trials and difficulties.
You may have asked the question or heard someone ask “Why does God allow evil and suffering?” Usually, this question is loaded with other questions or personal experiences which we have to be sensitive to. To be honest, we do not know the exact answer to this question; well not fully. The Bible talks about “the mystery of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:7)—and that’s what evil is: a mystery. There are moments in our lives where we pray that God would intervene, and there are other moments when we hope He won’t.
The experience of evil and suffering is the most frequently raised objection to the Christian faith by believers and unbelievers alike. There are no easy answers to evil & suffering, but two possible reasons why God allows them are; the value of human freedom & the refining nature of trials and difficulties.
In a world of many thoughts, beliefs, religions, and ideologies; Christianity addressed the problem of evil and provides hope in the midst of a hurting world, hope beyond a band-aid solution.
As you prepare the core of the message using personal story and questions, keep in mind these points:
THE VALUE OF HUMAN FREEDOM
- There is no true, genuine, loving relationship without the free choice of both parties involved. Theologian Greg Boys puts it this way: “Pre-programmed agents would not genuinely be loving. Love can only be genuine if it’s freely chosen. Which means unless a personal agent has the capacity to choose against love, they don’t really have the capacity to choose for it.” For humans to have the ability to love and receive love, humans must have freedom. And with freedom comes also the opposite of love, evil.
- It’s not just love that makes freedom possible, but as humans, we have freedom of will. We have the ability to choose what we believe to be right from wrong, logic from illogical, virtues and values. Freedom of the will is central to what makes our human experience so unique. Without it, we wouldn’t have love, reason, or morality. But to be free to love is also to be free to hate. Freedom is a double-edged sword.
- From a Christian perspective, God created us with free will because he wants us to share in his love, know his truth (reason), and take on the character of his goodness (virtue). C.S. Lews sums it up this way when he writes: “Free will is what made evil possible. Why, then, did God give [us] free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world… of creatures that worked like machines would hardly be worth creating.”
- You may have heard a question like “Can’t God just give us freedom and then intervene every time we choose wrongly?” In principle, this sounds nice and almost ‘Disney’ like… yet in reality imagine what this type of world would look like. When a drunk gets into a car it turns to Jell-O. When the bully throws a punch their arm turns into a pool noodle. The problem with this reality is that it describes a cartoon world; a world where there is no genuine freedom, and even worse it doesn’t deal with the wrong, hurtful desires in our hearts. In fact, this world would nurture evil in our hearts because there would be no consequences for any of our wrong actions. This is not, all things considered, a better world.
So what about natural evils, like tornadoes or diseases? Some would object that free will can’t explain these situations. However, some Christians would point out that Adam and Eve’s freely chosen rebellion fractured the natural world in unforeseen ways, leading to disease and a lack of protection from what we label as natural disasters. Other Christians would point to the freedom exercised by angelic beings who rebelled against God and brought sickness and other types of ills to the world. And other Christians have pointed out that in order for free will to be enjoyed, there is a need for fixed laws to regulate our environment. Just like a fire keeps us warm on a cold night, it can also burn down a forest. Just like gravity can keep us grounded it can also be damaging to the child jumping out the tree thinking they’re a superhero.
6. Freedom is a precious gift. Without a reasonable degree of self-determination, our lives would lack meaning, and everything that makes our human experience authentically human would be severely diminished… if not completely eradicated.
The refining nature of trials and difficulties
- Have you ever had the opportunity to look after a spoiled child? Not just a child who gets lots of things but gets their own way, all the time! They never get told no, and they run the home as if they are in charge. They are brought up to believe that everything revolves around them and if they complain loudly enough, they will get what they want. This breeds entitlement and ruins character. From childhood onwards, human experience appears to teach us that a certain amount of deprivation (of not getting what we want), actually helps our character. It turns us into the type of people who realize that life is about more than just meeting our needs. As we grow up, some hardship may also produce a context in which character and virtue can flourish. In the New Testament, James puts it this way: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” According to James, trials are part of the maturing process.
- Dallas Willard describes the refining nature of trials and difficulties in this way: “One does not develop courage without facing danger, patience without trials, wisdom without heart-and-brain-racking puzzles, endurance without suffering, or temperance and honesty without temptations. These are the very things we treasure most about people. Ask yourself if you would be willing to be devoid of all these virtues. If your answer is no, then don’t scorn the means of obtaining them.”
- Trials and difficulties are just that, difficult. They are personal and often involve grieving and pain. Having good theology can give us a framework to think, but when push comes to shove, we must draw close to God who wants to embrace us and care for us in our pain. God doesn’t do evil. We do. God doesn’t need suffering and evil to accomplish his purposes, but once we introduced it through our sin, God is wise enough and big enough to bend it back towards his good purposes. What is crazy though is that God began this bending process through Jesus. What is utterly unique to Christianity is the claim that God, in Jesus, reconciled the world to himself meaning that God experienced rejection, heartache, physical agony, and betrayal. He tasted the worst parts of the human experience. And Jesus did this for one simple thing: HE LOVES YOU.
- The death and resurrection of Jesus inform us that evil and suffering are real, which is why Jesus had to die. But it also tells us that the love of God is real, which is why Jesus was willing to die. The good news of Jesus also instructs us that God’s power is real, stronger even than the grave, which is why death itself will one day die. Ultimately, the Christian answer to evil is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which allows holding both realities together as nothing else does.
As you prepare the application, challenge and/or encouragement, keep in mind these points:
- As Christians, we refuse to participate in evil by owning our part in it. After all, there is something off-putting about demanding that God clean up the world but refusing to let him start in us.
- Enter into suffering rather than shy away. Practice a ministry of presence that doesn’t minimize pain but provides support through the difficult season.
- Have hope in the future because Jesus has promised to one day eliminate all death, pain and suffering, and evil (Rev 21:4).