Christianity’s Extraordinary Solution to Believing in God in a World of Evil and Pain
Most of the world believes in God — for good reason. The existence of God makes sense of many of the most important facts about the world. One set of facts causes some people to struggle over God, though. It’s what Christians call the fallenness of the world. It’s actually a dual problem. It includes moral evil — the wrong things humans do to themselves, each other, and the world we live in. And it also includes the pain and suffering that results from natural causes.
For many people, this poses the one great stumbling block for believing in the existence of God. There’s real tension between the idea of a maximally great and perfect God, and the broken and fallen world we experience. For many, therefore, the world appears to be God-less. Even if there were good reason to believe God exists, the deep fallenness of the world — filled as it is with evil, pain and suffering — counts (for them) as direct evidence against a maximally great and perfect God.
Now when I say this is a problem, I mean it is a genuine problem for believing in God. It creates a tension every believer must wrestle with. Unfortunately, many Christians hardly even wonder about this issue, much less wrestle with it. And the solutions they propose — even those offered by some Christian philosophers — are often less than satisfying.
But I believe there is a solution that satisfies, even though it does not make all problems of evil go away. There will still be plenty worth wrestling with. Still, the solution is adequate.
That solution is simply the Christian gospel.
Before I spell that out, though, I want to address a mistake people commonly make. The idea is that if a maximally great and perfect God exists, He would make the world a faultless utopia filled with pleasures for as far as the eye can see. It’s this thought, or something like it, that seems to drive much of the thinking on the problem of evil and pain.
The idea is that if God exists, then the world must be finely tuned for its inhabitants’ pleasure. But this isn’t necessarily what God wants — even a maximally great and perfect God. God could have other purposes in mind for His world — other good things for humans to learn, experience, discover or know.
What other good could there be? According to the Christian gospel, God’s aim isn’t human utopia but human redemption. How then could a good and all-powerful God allow His creation to fall? Because it was not intended to stay fallen, but to be redeemed.
According to the Christian gospel, the sacrifice of God’s own Son is the means of redemption. This, the Bible clearly says, comes from God’s love and goodness (see, for example, John 3:16 and Romans 5:8).
Peter Kreeft does a great job of telling us Jesus’ place in all this:
Jesus did three things to solve the problem of suffering. First, he came. He suffered with us. He wept. Second, in becoming man he transformed the meaning of our suffering: it is now part of his work of redemption. Our death pangs become birth pangs for heaven, not only for ourselves but also for those we love. Third, he died and rose. Dying, he paid the price for sin and opened heaven to us; rising, he transformed death from a hole into a door, from an end into a beginning. …
Let’s step back a bit. We began with the mystery, not just of suffering but of suffering in a world supposedly created by a loving God. How to get God off the hook? God’s answer is Jesus. Jesus is not God off the hook but God on the hook.
Jesus provides the answer. He Himself is the answer. God doesn’t merely pluck us from the danger we face and evacuate us to a heavenly paradise. God, in Jesus, enters the world and addresses our fallenness. In His death and resurrection there’s the promise of being made new and properly oriented to God with the hope of, one day, the entire world being redeemed and also made new.
Thus, we shouldn’t expect all issues of evil, pain and suffering to simply go away in this life. That’s not God’s redemptive plan. And we are going to have the challenge of coming to grips with pain and suffering when evil touches our lives. But the Christian worldview provides an answer to the problem of a fallen world unlike all other worldviews. The fallen world is part of the redemptive plan of God. And though we will suffer, the Christian gospel provides a very great hope through it all.