Compelling Evil: How Suffering Points to a Loving God
If the Bible is correct about God — that God is, and God is love — then why is the world in such a mess? Why is there suffering?
Sin Is “Eager to Control”
Yes, the Bible teaches that God is love, but the Bible also teaches that the world is, indeed, in a mess. First off, notice that sin destroys humanity’s relationship with God. Adam and Eve were free to enjoy the Garden of Eden, except for one thing God said they ought not do:
“You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden — except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” — Genesis 2:16-17 (NLT)
Of course they did that one thing and death became an eventuality. Sin separates us from God. However, the Bible tells us that human sin affects more than just humanity:
And to the man he said,
“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.”
— Genesis 3:17 (NLT)
Adam is affected by his own sin, he will die, but so too is the ground affected. Sin messes up everything. We see this theme carried on in the very next story:
“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him. — Genesis 4:6-8 (NLT, emphasis added)
Sin was “eager to control” Cain, but Abel, and Adam, and Eve, were the ones to suffer. Before there was ever a death by the natural consequence of one’s own sin, there was violent death from another’s. Sin makes a mess of everything! It still does. Consider a particularly cruel and selfish man whose attitudes and actions make life miserable for his family. He spreads the misery into his workplace like a bad virus. He then either gets fired, or his business runs down. Soon the money runs out, and the household falls into ruin also. Sin messes everything up for everyone and everything, not just the person who sins.
The Bible teaches that sin even makes a mess of creation:
For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse [as a result of the sin of humanity]. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. — Romans 8:19-21 (NLT)
Creation is not waiting for God to wipe out humanity, so it can flourish on its own, but to rescue humanity. Brokenness in all creation is tied to human sinfulness. Restoration of creation is tied to the healing of humanity’s sin problem.
We Live in Exactly the Kind of World the Bible Describes
So if the Bible is accurate, then we should expect to live in a world where relationship with God is destroyed, where death is the expected and normal end, and where everything is messed up. This is the world we live in! There is suffering because there is evil and sin, there is sin because there is freedom, there is freedom because God is love. It turns out that the world is exactly as we would expect if God is love. Therefore the presence of evil and suffering lends support to the Bible being accurate about the way things are.
But if God is love, would we not expect God to rescue us from evil and suffering? Indeed. The Bible teaches, from Genesis through to Revelation, that God is not content to leave humanity in a mess. God continued to work with humans. He did not just walk away.
God rescued a particular people from a messy situation, then gave them the law so that they would learn to not make a big mess of everything. For example, the Israelites were forbidden from practicing child sacrifice. If they kept that law, there would be less evil and suffering in the world, for that practice was too common in that day. The law was given to lead God’s particular people out of evil so they could be an example to the other nations. However, they kept tripping on the way out.
All of this was part of a bigger plan for a bigger rescue. God sent his Son and Spirit to rescue us from sin. The two problems of sin are solved. First, we are personally, and individually, reconciled to God. Death — separation from God — is no longer our final end. Second, when it comes to sin making a mess of everything, we are enabled to be part of Spirit-led solutions rather than part of sin-wrecked problems.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. — Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)
Just think of how much less suffering and evil there would be in the world if all lives were marked by these “fruit” of the Holy Spirit! As people participate in God’s great rescue, our dark world gets brighter.
God’s rescue is not limited to the possibility of individuals being reconciled to God and making less mess along the way. God will rescue all of creation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega — the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. — Revelation 21:1-7 (NLT)
Christianity provides a reasonable accounting of why evil and suffering exist in a world created by a loving God. There is suffering because there is sin, there is sin because there is freedom, there is freedom because God is love. Our sin messes up everything. God knows, and since God is love, He has a rescue underway. Christianity speaks of God’s revealed love solution to evil and suffering in Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and a future with God. The presence of evil and suffering in the world does not prove God does not exist or does not care. It confirms what the Bible teaches. People sin, God is, and God is love.
Originally published on Clarke’s blog. Reprinted with permission.