If God is all powerful and all loving, why is there suffering in the world?
If God was all powerful He could stop it.
If God was really loving He'd want to.
The classic problem. It's one many people struggle with.
One reason people trip up is they assume God is our equal. We get angry because we trust in our own inherent goodness. We make martyrs of the dead, calling them innocent, taken before their time. We think God unjust and believe that for Him to cause death is tantamount to murder.
Rebuking such a double standard would be totally right if God really was our equal. However, God is the only one who gives life and He is the one who takes it away. This is His right. No one else is as wise as God. He sees the big picture.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Many people struggle with the concept of Hell. If God is so powerful and loving, why is it there? Again, there's a wonky perspective. We judge God because we think people are basically good. The Bible, and the overwhelming claim of human history, tells us otherwise.
We are not good. We do not love each other. We do not rule creation justly, we can't even control ourselves. We are a bunch of rebels seeking any alternative to God we can lay our grubby hands on. In the process we debase ourselves. What we desire is ultimately harmful and dehumanising. The Biblical perspective is it's literally a miracle anyone will escape God's just judgement.
Questioning the Sadistic Tyrant
We cringe at the idea of predestination. It seems somehow demeaning to say we don't control our fate. We think it is unfair God can hold us accountable for actions He ultimately makes us do. We think God being in total control means we are merely puppets on a string.
We want to say "I chose God". In part, this is true: we all, as Christians, regularly make the decision to follow Christ. But behind this is the greater reality: God chose you. Before you were born, God decided to be gracious to you.
Sure, predestination would suck if God was really evil, but God provides good things for everyone, and gives eternal life to many. It is as Paul writes: "...all things work together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose".
God has us in the palm of His hand, and that's a good thing. He tells His people He has plans for them, plans for good and not evil. He promises to defeat death and cast away all sin and grief and pain. He promises to restore creation to how it was always meant to be.
Can we trust Him? He has always kept his promises in the past. The Messiah came. Jesus fulfilled so many promises it is mind boggling. Jesus predicted His own death and resurrection, and it happened.
Freedom under Authority
God is totally able. He is also compassionate. God knows what it is to experience loss and pain. Did His Son not die, taking on the punishment we all deserve? Yet even in the midst of the most evil act ever—the execution of the only totally innocent person and the death of God Himself—God was in control. He used the momentary victory of Satan to bring about the ultimate defeat of Satan, sin and death.
Trusting the sovereignty of God is liberating. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, tells us not to worry. Why? Because God cares for the birds, and we are worth much more to Him than them. He provides for them. He is able to do this and continues to do so.
How much more, then, will He provide for us? Are you going through hard times? God is in control, working for your good. Do you fear for the future? God's good purposes will not be thwarted. God so often uses our roughest patches to grow us, develop our character, and teach us to trust Him better.
A Soundtrack to Suffering
My favourite hymn is by William Cowper, a man well acquainted with suffering. It goes like this:
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break in blessing on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste but sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err and search his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter, and He shall make it plain.
Matthew Joils was created by God and he is In Christ. He is studying toward a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Filmmaking at the University of Canterbury. He is involved in the Christian Union on Campus. Sometimes he earns money in the hospitality industry; sometimes he does theatre stuff, gardens, and bakes.
Matthew Joils' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/matthew-joils.html