For centuries we've been trying to work out whether or not God is to blame for the evil and suffering in the world. The problem goes like this: God is all powerful. God is all good. An all good and all powerful God wouldn't allow suffering - because his goodness means he wouldn't want there to be any suffering, and his power means he can stop it all. Therefore God is either not all good or not all powerful.
In fact, asking "Does God cause evil" is basically another way of asking whether God is evil. That's a very theological and philosophical question... and a question for another day. Don't get me wrong. It's an important question - not least because our answers reveal what we think God is really like (and there's nothing more important than knowing what God is really like). But I think there is another question that's more important... and perhaps sometimes forgotten.
The important question isn't whether or not God causes evil, but what he's done about it. And I think this is the question the Bible is much more interested in answering. The Bible's focus isn't so much about why there is evil or how we should understand the existence of suffering. It just assumes that there is suffering. Instead, the Bible shows what God has done to deal with the problem of evil. Why is there evil in the world? Honestly, I don't think we'll ever fully understand that. But we don't have to get all worried about God's character because of the presence of evil in the world.
It's good Friday.
Good Friday is the reminder that God doesn't stand at a distance. God doesn't watch us suffer from a long way off. God isn't some malecious, malevolent being - like some sort of super-villain bent on destruction for the sake of causing pain. No! God himself stepped into this broken world and suffered alongside us – actually, suffered for us! We can’t approach this ‘problem of evil’ without remembering what God has actually done to deal with the problem. God paid the price to set things right because that's what God is like.
A better question.
A couple of years back Christchurch had an earthquake - you may have heard about it. I was there, I got myself a decent concussion... and my wife thought I was dead. Curiously, a YWAM discipleship school was scheduled to run just outside of Christchurch shortly after the quakes. A girl from the States who had signed up for 'a normal training school' was sitting on a plane flying into Christchurch. She ended up in conversation with the man beside her, sharing about her reasons for travelling. The man eventually blurted out, "How can there be a God when things like this happen? ... I mean, what is God doing about this?"
Her answer was either inspired... or perhaps arrogant. "Well, God has sent me."
To be honest, I think there is something really deep in her simple answer. She didn't try to explain away the disaster or defend God's character. Instead, she looked at something she was sure God was doing: challenging her to respond to the needs now in front of her. And she did just that, along with the rest of her school. They spent much of their time knee deep in silt and mud, digging out driveways and houses for complete strangers.
And I think this was the position of the early church. They didn't sit around pondering why there was suffering in the world. They knew there was suffering in the world, they knew God had addressed suffering and sin once for all at the cross, and they knew it was their job to take that victory and challenge suffering wherever they went. The 'problem of evil' wasn't so much a theological problem as it was a call to action!
So maybe we're asking the wrong question. Maybe the question isn't "why does God cause pain." And maybe the question isn't even "what has God done about it." Maybe the real question is what am I doing about it? What am I doing in response to the pain and suffering in the world? And, if the example Christ has given us is to suffer alongside (and for!) the world, then perhaps God is inviting us into situations that hurt, situations that cost us, situations that leave us worse off, so that his love and grace may be known to many more. Like with Paul, our suffering for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of God and for the sake of others allows people to look beyond our suffering to the very suffering of the Son of God himself. Maybe God's calling us to action, and maybe he's calling us to suffer.
"I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" - Colossians 1:24
Watch this video. How should we respond to Stephen's heart-felt objections to God?
You know the 'better question.' Go be the answer!