Countless people wrestle with the problem of evil. If God is so great, why would God let suffering happen? Even though I preached yesterday about how we live in a sinful world (and that this obviously leads to worldly suffering), the question still remains: Couldn’t God at least decrease some pain, suffering, and evil? Maybe fewer famines, tragic accidents, or wars?
It is certainly possible to try and “explain away” the problem of evil and suffering. There are countless ways Christians often formulate solutions to evil. One of the most popular arguments is that God allows suffering only when it leads to a “greater good.” Perhaps you’ve heard of this reasoning before:
- It is morally OK for God to allow some instances of evil if it results in a greater good in the future.
- There is evil in the world.
- Therefore, God will bring about greater good from the evil we witness
Another “explanation” for evil is highlighting the importance of free will:
- Humans are free creatures, able to choose between right and wrong.
- True love only exists when someone has a choice.
- Therefore, God allows humans to have free will, and that often results in humans doing evil.
One of the huge problems with getting wrapped up in formal arguments about evil is that we often stop being understanding and empathetic with one another. Sure, it might make sense to believe in “greater goods” and human free will, but in the midst of life’s dark valleys, these logical statements rarely offer up much comfort. Perhaps you’ve prayed and felt like God was nowhere to be found. Having someone tell you to look for a silver lining can sound kind of calloused. Perhaps you’ve lost someone you’ve loved, either through death or even a broken relationship. To hear someone say “Well… free will can be tough, but that’s the way it is!” would be incredibly insensitive!
So the important think to keep in mind is that when we think about evil, logical arguments can be unconvincing and rarely provide true comfort. Sure, you may be able to find some assurance in faith that a greater good will come, or that evil is the product of human sinfulness, but how should we understand evil in the midst of our broken world?
Instead of giving us a tight theological argument or explanation about evil, God instead chose to give us a person: Jesus. When we are helping a friend in need (or facing suffering on your own) we must always focus on how Christ comforts us and walks alongside us.
One of my favorite theologians is a guy named Jurgen Moltmann. He was raised in a secular environment, drafted into the German army in World War II, and spent several years in an Allied prisoner of war camp. During this time, he felt so disillusioned with his past life and was especially haunted by how Germany persecuted and committed genocide against the Jewish people and so many others. Fortunately, Moltmann was evangelized by an Anglican chaplain in the prisoner camp and started to read a pocket bible, eventually dedicating his life to Jesus. He later talked about how “I didn’t find Christ… he found me.”
Moltmann’s experiences of World War II shaped a lot of his theology. In his professional studies as an academic theologian, he studied topics like repentance, hope, suffering, and reconciliation. After a war that claimed the lives of 60 million people, Moltmann devoted his life to promoting the forgiveness, peace, and hope of God’s kingdom. Here are some thought-provoking quotes from his book, The Crucified God:
- “When the crucified Jesus is called ‘the image of the invisible God,’ the meaning is that THIS is God, and God is like THIS.” Colossians 1, one of my favorite bible passages, talks about how Jesus is the clearest picture of what God looks like. Instead of being angry or vengeful, God is compassionate and loving. God even goes to the cross to suffer and die for creation!
- “God allows himself to be humiliated and crucified in the Son, in order to free the oppressors and the oppressed from oppression and to open up to them the situation of free, sympathetic humanity.” God took the absolute worst the world had to offer on Good Friday and transformed that into redemption. By freely suffering and dying for you and me, God gave us the greatest example of love. Both the oppressed and oppressors alike can experience God-given salvation and transformation into new life.
- “Jesus humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.” Jesus entered into our human experience, and that includes suffering, too.
As I reflected on Moltmann’s life and testimony this week, I was struck by several things. In the midst of our broken world, Jesus Christ knows what it is like to feel pain and suffering. When faced with evil in our world, arguments from philosophy or theology will probably not give you much comfort. But Jesus can… he’s been there before and knows what it is like! Remember the compassionate words of Jesus from Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.