Now that Jesus has triumphed over sin and death in His cross and resurrection, why does our world still contain so much evil and suffering? Perhaps part of the answer is that suffering is a process. This process by which we mature is built into our God-given humanity.
Someday this Earth will be remade into a new world. Meanwhile, God is not only preparing a place for us, He’s preparing us for that place, through our suffering and growth in character.
We prefer that God would immediately crush and remove evil, not allowing it to hurt us. And because we know God is all-powerful, we may be puzzled why He doesn’t immediately demonstrate His power by preventing tragedies and healing diseases. But power isn’t God’s only attribute. He’s also glorified in showing His wisdom, which is best seen over time.
Ever been to a football game at half time when the band forms words or pictures in the middle of the field? They look great from up in the stands. But what if you’re on the sidelines when the band forms its symbols? You can’t see them. What the band’s doing appears pointless, confusing, apparently meaningless.
We see life from the sidelines. God sees it from above, in the grandstands. The Bible invites us to trust God that one day, when we can see from heaven’s perspective, many things will make sense that don’t appear to when we’re on the sidelines.
To label suffering as pointless, we must be able to see clearly that it lacks any point—but we can’t. Imagine an air traffic controller instructing a pilot to assume a certain altitude and to take a certain line of descent. The pilot might argue: “That doesn’t make sense to me. It would be easier to make a different approach.”
But he doesn’t argue, because he knows hundreds of other flights come in and out each hour. Good pilots must know the limits of their understanding and trust those who have the big picture, who can see the potential consequences of each pilot’s decisions.
What if knowing God and growing in faith and becoming more Christlike is the point of my existence? What if the universe is not about human comfort and happiness?
If we could stop it, we wouldn’t allow a child to be born with a severe disability. But what if, without that child’s disability, the parents would become self-absorbed rather than servant-hearted people, and their marriage would end in a bitter divorce? What if the disability influenced the child in such a way to cause him to come to faith in Christ, to grow up loving God, and then to spend eternity with his Savior and also with his parents? Since we’re not God, we can’t know.
Behind almost every human expression of the problem of evil stands the assumption that somehow we know what God should do. But unlike Him, we are not all-knowing, all-wise, all-loving, all-powerful, and perfectly good—so how could we know?
As finite and fallen individuals, how can we presume to judge God? Compared to Him, we know very little, and even that is often distorted. We simply lack the necessary qualifications to assess what God should or shouldn’t do.
We might think a good and all-powerful God should disarm every shooter and prevent every drunk driver from crashing. But if God did that, this would not be a real world in which people make consequential choices.
Freedom to do good, which can bring enjoyable consequences, cannot exist without the corresponding freedom to do evil, which brings suffering. We can’t influence each other for good unless we can also influence each other for evil. If I could not hurt you, I could not help you. If you could not kill me, you could not die for me.
God made the world as He did so that we could live in relationships where our choices have consequences in the lives of others. If we value freedom, we value a world that allows both good and evil choices. If we say we wish God made humans without the freedom to do evil, we are saying we don’t think humans should have freedom. Which is to say that humans shouldn’t be human.
The reality of evil and suffering in this world points to a God who despises evil but values freedom. He desires meaningful relationships with His creatures—and that requires a degree of freedom on our part.
Experiences like those of missionaries David and Svea Flood lead many to conclude that even noble sacrifices can have pointless endings. In the early 20th century, the Floods left Sweden and made great sacrifices to serve God in the Belgian Congo. They and another young couple, the Ericksons, felt God’s leading to take the gospel to a remote area called N’dolera.
Because a tribal chief would not let them enter his village, they had contact only with a young boy who sold them food. This boy was led to Jesus by Svea Flood. Then malaria struck, and the Ericksons returned to the central mission station, while the Floods remained alone near N’dolera. Svea died shortly after giving birth to a girl.
Stunned and disillusioned, David dug a crude grave where he buried his young wife. He gave his baby girl, Aina, to the Ericksons and returned to Sweden embittered, saying God had ruined his life. Soon thereafter, the Ericksons suddenly died. Aina again had no one to care for her.
Why did all this happen? What possible good could have come from such a string of tragedies? I am about to tell you the rest of the story, but keep in mind that it unfolded over many years, and none of those aware of this heartbreaking story knew the eventual outcome—except God.
Eventually, American missionaries brought Aina to the United States where she was adopted, becoming Aggie Hurst. Years later, a Swedish Christian magazine appeared in Aggie’s mailbox. She didn’t understand the words, but a photo inside shocked her. It showed a grave with a white cross, marked with a name she recognized—that of her mother, Svea Flood.
A college professor translated the article for Aggie. It told of missionaries who came to N’dolera long ago, of a young mother who died when her baby was born, and of a little African boy whom the woman had led to Christ before she died.
That boy grew up and built a school in his village. Gradually he won his students to Christ, and the children led their parents to Christ. Even the tribal chief became a Christian. Stirred by this story, Aggie felt an urge to try to find her father, with whom she had lost all contact long before.
After decades of bitterness, one day an old and ill David Flood had a visitor. Aggie told her father the story recounted in the article.
“Today,” she said, “there are 600 African people serving Christ because you and Mother were faithful to God’s call in your life.”
David felt stunned. His heart softened. Just weeks before he died, he turned back to God.
The great tragedies in the lives of David, Svea, and Aina Flood were undeniably heartbreaking. They appeared utterly cruel and pointless. But in time they yielded a great harvest of joy that will continue for eternity.
I’m convinced that no evil, even truly horrible evil, is completely pointless. I’m assured of that by God’s goodness and sovereignty, and also by knowing that He has a purpose for the world as stated in passages such as Ephesians 1:11, which speaks of “the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (NIV).
Adapted from The Goodness of God: Assurance of Purpose in the Midst of Suffering by Randy Alcorn, copyright 2010. Published by Multnomah Books. Used by permission. No portion of this article may be copied or redistributed in any form. To purchase the full book, visit ChristianBook.com.