God and Suffering

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We are reading “The Case for Faith” by Lee Strobel with our teens right now. I read the book myself a few years ago and really loved the way it illuminated my faith for me. It didn’t just tell me wonderful things about God, but it also challenged me to think about God in ways I hadn’t before. “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis was a life-changing read for me as a teenager, but some of the analogies and concepts may be a little too advanced for our younger students.

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Anyways, the book discusses a series of objections and problems many people have with the Christian faith. I won’t tell you that the book provides fool-proof answers, but that is logical considering our beliefs are reliant on faith. I will say that the book can give you new perspectives and may help you to better understand things you’ve had troubles with.

The first chapter discusses the problem of pain and suffering. Many people will say that a loving God would not tolerate the kind of suffering we see in the world- cancer, sex trafficking, war, waterborne diseases, divorce, etc. It’s difficult to fathom that a loving father would allow such things to occur in the world He created. You may say, “if I was God I would never allow the world to suffer as it does. I wouldn’t allow evil.” I think most of agree that world peace would be the most ideal situation. So why does it seem like God doesn’t agree with us? He has the power to control everything, right? Why doesn’t He just take all the suffering away?

In the book, Strobel is interviewing a christian philosopher, Peter Kreeft, on these very questions. Kreeft offers an interest analogy in response:

“Would you agree that the difference between us is greater than the difference between us and, say a bear? …Imagine a bear in a trap and a hunter who, out of sympathy wants to liberate him.  He tries to win the bear’s confidence, but he can’t do it, so he has to shoot the bear full of drugs.  The bear, however, thinks this is an attack and that the hunter is trying to kill him.  He doesn’t realize that this is being done out of compassion.  Then in order to get the bear out of the trap, the hunter has to push him further into the trap to release the tension on the spring…at that point, [the bear] would be even more convinced that the hunter was his enemy who was out to cause him suffering and pain.  But the bear would be wrong.  He reaches this incorrect conclusion because he’s not a human being… now, how can anyone be certain that’s not an analogy between us and God? I believe God does the same to us sometimes, and we can’t comprehend why does it any more than the bear can understand the motivations of the hunter. As the bear could have trusted the hunter, so we can trust God.”

I believe what Kreeft is alluding to is the same thing people allude to when they tell someone who is hurting, “God is in control.” Too often, we like to pretend or to believe that we know better than God. I’m not saying we are ignorant or that we can’t attempt to understand Him, but rather that we can’t claim that God does not care when we hurt when in reality He sees a much greater picture for us.

Perhaps, God in His infinite wisdom “would tolerate certain short-range evils in order for more long-range goods that we couldn’t foresee.”

In just my short 23-years on planet earth, I can think of times when I never believed the suffering would end. I never believed any good could come out of it. Now, however, I see who I am and how those sufferings have refined me and built my character. I am, dare I say, thankful? Yes, I am thankful for those times of suffering if they meant bringing me where I am right now.

In the book,Kreeft admits that not all suffering begets goodness. However, as for believers of Christ, we know that no amount of earthly suffering can compare to the eternity that awaits us.

Lastly, something I find both interesting and beautiful is that it was in my suffering, the difficult times, that I had the most real experiences with God. As a young Christian, I might have felt anger towards God when things didn’t go my way. Now, however, I am grateful for His comforting presence when things hurt or end up badly. I am thankful that when I seek Him, I find Him.

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8 thoughts on “God and Suffering

  1. The problem of evil, or the problem of suffering, or whatever you want to call it, doesn’t have to do with the “greater good.” Not every evil has some sort of long-range, happy ending circumstance. When kids get raped or some other horrible instance like that, God’s not sitting around saying, “Hey, let’s let this kid get raped so something good can happen.” God doesn’t advocate for sin. The reason for evil is our free will. Our freedom allows for evil to exist. People choose to commit evil acts and God allows people to make their own choices. That’s why evil exists. Now, suffering can be different. Someone can suffer with no sort of evil taking place. Things like parents dying and leaving kids orphaned or something. Here, no evil takes place. Someone just died. In that situation, I could buy the argument that God engineered an event that seemed like suffering but was actually for the greater good. But God does not engineer evil. Through mankind’s free will evil persists. And God finds a way to shine a light through that evil. Because love always trumps hatred. And that is the long term happy ending we have hope in.

    1. Hey, spencer! Thanks for reading.
      I agree with you that God doesn’t engineer evil and that evil results from the absence of God in other people and their free will.
      This is simple one perspective of why God might tolerate certain evils and not just intervene at every point of suffering. I don’t think every bit of suffering turns good in the end, but God knows that in the end when Christ comes all will be right again. He allows the suffering so that those without God will have more time to turn to him.
      I do think that God makes beauty from ashes, which is what I’m alluding to here. Not all suffering brings about a positive change, but because of God’s love and transformative power we often find ourselves growing closer to God in those circumstances or growing in character or even later on more capable of comforting someone else.

      Thanks for bringing up that point. In the book free will is discussed also. It’s a good read for people who like to think and don’t except answers without a little logic.

  2. After reading Spencer’s comment, I do not think that God causes suffering to encourage us to turn toward him. I think he allows it because he gave humans free will and there is sin in the world. Some people choose evil, some people choose good. Most of us choose both. I really liked that quote from Kreeft about the bear. It’s a great analogy but, as Spencer says, cannot be applied in all situations. Bad things had not from God, but through Him we are able to make good things come from it.
    Have a great day!

    1. Great points! Like I said to spencer, I don’t think God causes it but that He tolerates it. We don’t have have to turn to God when we suffer, but he wants us too. I think what I like about the bear analogy is that we can’t understand the reason things happen the way that they do, but we can trust the one who has control.

      Sent from my iPhone

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  3. Thank you for the reminder that the suffering is not permanent. Mere Christianity is one of John’s favorite books, but ashamed to admit that I’ve not read it.
    Thank you Kate! XO

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