Another title for this piece could be ‘How not to respond to the problem of Evil’.
I recently heard someone briefly share the story of Joe Bayly who lost three of his children, (all young), and from this series of tragedies he wrote the book The View from a Hearse. Joe was in the hospital room with his young boy who was dying from leukemia. One friend came in and prayed with Joe, prayed for healing, for strength, understanding and then left. Joe felt nothing from those prayers, they seemed hollow and empty. Not faulting his friend or questioning his sincerity, it just was not comforting. But then another friend came in and just sat with Joe. Held Joe and wept with Joe. This friend left without a word, and it was this that moved Joe, that touched his spirit and brought comfort.
Having said that, let me say that our efforts in prayer do not require ‘feelings’. If feelings, (love, compassion, concern, kindness to name a few), are necessary for a successful prayer life then I would say that many of my prayers for my marriage, my children, my family and friends are unsuccessful. Thankfully, the Lord does not look for us to have feelings, but simply obedience toward His will. John 14:15, Luke 6:46 and Christ was our example for that. Philippians 2:8
Sometimes, when a friend or loved one is going through difficult times it is best not to attempt to answer the question about why the suffering is taking place, but to simply be with them and mourn with them, (assuming your presence is wanted). Dependent on circumstances, silence can be preferable to answers.
If the question about why suffering is raised, the following are three things you should not say.
1. God does not bring evil into peoples lives, but He may allow it.
2. We must have evil in order to have good.
3. Quote Romans 8:28
So let’s work backwards on this short list of five. Garrett DeWeese, a Christian philosopher and apologist, in a lecture at Biola University points out if we run to Romans 8:28, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. The verse is true, but it does not say all things are good, but that all things work for the good of those that love Him. It is a subtle but significant difference that many well meaning Christians miss. 1
When discussing the misleading idea that we must have evil in order to be good, DeWeese points out that good is an absolute property. As Christians we must be committed to this idea. Before creation there was the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and in them no evil could be found. So good is the absence of evil. Evil is not required for there to be good. Just as light is an absolute property, so is good. Darkness is the absence of light; you do not have to have darkness for there to be absolute light. Evil is not an absolute property, it is a relational property. 2
My wife is reading a book titled, When Skeptics Ask, by Norman Geisler and Ronald Brooks. They define evil this way, “It is a lack in things. When good that should be there is missing from something, that is evil. After all, if I am missing a wart on my nose, that is not evil because the wart should not have been there in the first place. However, if a man lacks the ability to see, that is evil. Likewise, if a person lacks the kindness in his heart and respect for human life that should be there, then he may commit murder. Evil is, in reality, a parasite that cannot exist except as a hole in something that should be solid.”3
Does God allow evil in the lives of those He loves? Go to the book of Job. It is clear that God will allow evil to touch our lives. Satan was before God and God pointed out what a great servant Job was. Satan said it was because God blesses him. The bet was on. God allowed Satan to do as he pleased, but he could not take the life of Job.
Job lost everything and his friends told him to curse God and die. They tried to get Job to confess to some hidden sin, but there was none for Job to confess. His friends viewed God as a cosmic cop or judge. If you sin, you get punished. If you do good, you are blessed, but Job had done nothing. Then his friend Elihu said it was not because of sin in Job’s life, but that God was trying to teach Job something. Elihu was partly correct – it was not because of sin in Job’s life.4
Did you realize that Job never learned why he suffered so? Do you think the answer would have helped him? Sometimes if we know why, that information would not help, but only looking at who is what matters.
DeWeese pointed out in his lecture that the real question in the book of Job is not why, but who. Maybe this illustration will help. When my daughter Sarah was very young, she had to receive a shot. The doctor gave it to her and she wailed and reached out to me. What was important in that moment? Did she care about the why, (the reason for the shot), or was it the who, (her daddy), that was ultimately significant to her?
There is no doubt that God can teach us through pain, but if we hang on, and reach out, God will be there. Did my arms and comfort remove the pain of the shot for Sarah? No, but she understood who I was, and that was what she desired above all, to be in the arms of her father. When we suffer, understanding why is not always possible, but Job teaches us it is more important to understand Who than why.
In a series I watched recently by John Bevere, he addressed growth and tied it in to suffering. He looked at physical growth, intellectual growth, and finally spiritual growth.
Bevere pointed out that physical growth is a function of time. We all see that in children as they grow older, first learning to crawl, walk, and then run. This kind of growth needs time to take place. Granted, some may mature physically sooner than others, but everyone needs time for the visible changes to take place.
Is intellectual growth a function of time? No, intellectual growth is a function of learning. That is why we have some graduate from college at the age of 12 and others who at the age of 50 finally earn their high school diploma. Some learn faster then others, but it is the amount of learning that determines intellectual growth.
Finally, what is spiritual growth tied to? Is spiritual growth a function of time? No, that is why we have some Christians who have been believers for 20 years or more are still sucking their thumb and drinking mother’s milk. After 20 years, their spiritual immaturity is obvious to the mature believers surrounding them. 1 Corinthians 3:2 Is spiritual growth tied to learning? No, the Pharisees proved that; they memorized large portions of scripture and could quote it chapter and verse, but they could not recognize the Son of God standing before them. John 10:19 So what is spiritual growth tied to? John Bevere said it is tied to suffering. Hebrews 5:7-9 Anyone who has traveled along difficult roads comes away with a greater maturity and healthier perspective on what is important in life. Christians often focus on what matters, the eternal. 5
When we suffer, we are left with two choices, the trial will make us better or bitter. DeWeese leaves with a list of what the book of Job teaches.
1. Get an accurate vision of God.
2. Understand that God is talking you through deep waters.
3. Know that God is with you.
4. Understand that the God who is allowing your suffering also suffered.
5. Remember that He had a son who suffered and died.
6. The larger our understanding of God, the more resources we will have to get through the evil we face.
7. Philosophy can help answer the skeptic or atheist.
8. Theology helps answer our hearts and our friends.6
1. DeWeese, Garrett. “Solving The Problem of Evil.” Certificate Program in Christian Apologetics. Biola University, La Mirada. N.D. Lecture.
3. Geisler, Norman. Brooks, Ronald. When Skeptics Ask. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1990. Print.
4. DeWeese, Garrett. “Solving The Problem of Evil.” Certificate Program in Christian Apologetics. Biola University, La Mirada. N.D. Lecture.
5. The Bait of Satan. Writ. John Bevere. Messenger International. 2014. DVD
6. DeWeese, Garrett. “Solving The Problem of Evil.” Certificate Program in Christian Apologetics. Biola University, La Mirada. N.D. Lecture.
Why Do We Suffer? by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.