Not long ago I told a group of 5th graders that if they live long enough their hearts will be broken. No doubt we are reminded daily that we live in a world of suffering. Death, destruction, and disease come as constant as the sunrise, yet when suffering becomes personal or hits closer to home it still surprises us. One of the questions most often asked of pastors is, “If God is both all-loving and all-powerful, then why does evil exist?” In 1981, a Jewish rabbi named Harold Kushner wrote the book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” as he grappled with his 16-year-old son’s premature death. He concluded that God was all-loving, but that God was not all-powerful. Kushner had no other way to harmonize his tragic experience with the idea of God.
How are we to understand pain? If we trust in the words of the Bible, we must confess that God is both all-loving and all-powerful. But what do we do with suffering and evil? When a tragedy occurs we cry out to God, “Where are you?” However, it is interesting that the first time in history that question was asked, it was God questioning man (see Genesis 3:9). The record in Genesis reveals that God actually created all things good (which gives evidence of all power and all love), but humanity disobeyed God, which led to the broken and pain-filled world we know today.
But isn’t God still all-powerful and all-loving? Could He not just take all the pain away? Doesn’t God love us enough to end the suffering? Perhaps we know too little of God’s love. One author has suggested that pain is actually a gift. Let me illustrate. A boy comes too close to the fire and his built-in nervous system tells him he should back away before his body is totally consumed by the fire. I can see that pain here would be beneficial in order to sense danger. So what if we never felt pain? Would we sense any need for God? I know, being a parent, that when one of my children experiences pain, it sends him crying for help. Maybe in the same way, pain is allowed to be a part of our world so that we go running for God.
In no way am I minimizing anyone’s pain. I know that some have experienced such tragedy that no reasoning can provide an easy remedy. This world can be heart wrenching at times and we will all face its fury someday. But let me suggest that due to our sin, the door for suffering has been opened. Since sin has its consequences, we remain in a fallen world. But God hasn’t abandoned us. God allows suffering to remain, so that we become aware of our need for Him. Pretty drastic I suppose, but if we need proof that suffering can bring about good, we need to look no further than the cross. At the cross, Jesus Christ took the punishment for the world’s sins so that we could be forgiven and allowed into an eternal paradise. Without the pain at the cross, we would be separated forever from all that is good. Without the pain in the world, we would neither recognize this world was broken, nor would we seek a Savior.
Perhaps if we look at this temporary world through eternal eyes, we may see the answer for suffering. Is God all-powerful and all-loving? The cross proves that both are true. Yes, we certainly have a problem of pain. But there is also a purpose for pain and a pardon from pain. Those who go running to Jesus and place their faith in Him will one day understand the mystery of God’s ways when the words in Revelation 21:3-4 come true: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”