Some weeks press the reality of evil and suffering more than others. This week three things happened that reminded me how living in a world broken by sin brings real and painful suffering.
I’m sure your morning began like mine; twelve killed and many more wounded by a gunman who opened fire on an unsuspecting crowd of movie goers. Senseless violence. What could possibly justify the killing of random individuals?
In the midst of this terrible news my daughter Rebekah was sent to Duke Hospital for a persistent fever. A fever in a leukemia patient could be a sign of an infection gone crazy. Since leukemia patients have suppressed immune systems, a bacterial infection can easily get out of control, do great damage to internal organs, and in extreme cases cause death. She’ll be there at least until Sunday as we await results from her blood cultures.
Finally, a long time family friend, Billy Wooten, died after a courageous and, most importantly, faithful-to-Christ battle with cancer. I knew Billy from a young age, the volume of his laughter only eclipsed by the tenderness of his heart. That last line might not sound manly–of if you knew Billy only shortly you may not think it–but there is no greater mark of a man than heartful tenderness in the right places. You learn a lot about a man when you pray with him, and that’s one of the most frequent memories of Billy I have. For years Billy would meet with me and my then girlfriend (now wife) Lauren before Sunday services to pray. Praying with Billy confirmed my suspicions; he was a man who love Jesus more than anything. In fact, every ounce of greatness anyone saw in his life was owing the savior he follows and loves (note that the last two verbs are in the present tense).
And that brings me back to where I started. This week the reality of evil and suffering has been unavoidable. And in these moments, like countless Christians before us, we ask, ‘Why?’ We may not want to admit it publicly for fear of being counted among those of weak faith, but the question lies in our heart. But when you ask why you’re in good company, so don’t be dismayed at the presence of that powerful one word question. Job asked why when he suffered; David asked why a hundred times about his own life and kingdom; Habakkuk asked why when he saw death and destruction. I don’t know about you, but I’m O.K. with my name being tossed in the same hat as those men.
So ask away, with one caveat. Don’t stop until you find the biblical answer to your question. It’s easy to look around and think that evil, death, and suffering are ruling. They are not. Christ is ruling, and if we miss that we fail to see the gospel of the King who’s kingdom broke through into our world some 2,000 years ago. The King of peace, grace, and joy is here and his kingdom is growing, not diminishing (Daniel 2:34 – 35). So why the heartache? Why doesn’t the King put his foot down? Let me give the short answer and then point you to some resources.
The short answer is best summarized in Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God. Keller writes:
The Bible says that Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.
Never forget that sin is the root cause of all evil, pain, and suffering. God could end all the terrible things right now, but to do so he’d also have to end the sinners who constantly bring sin into the world (in case you’re not following, that’s you and me!). However, in deep grace and wisdom, the King has found a way to end sin without having to end his children. Through Jesus and the salvation God offers to sinners, God is ending evil, pain, and suffering, but he is doing so in a way that doesn’t mean the end of us! “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways” Romans 11:33.
Here are some resources that will help you think through this issue. I’ve arranged them according to difficulty.
Previous blogs I’ve written:
‘Intermediate’ books on suffering
The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis
Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, John Piper & Justin Taylor
‘Complicated’ books on suffering (hard reads, but big lessons!)
A Creation-order Theodicy: God and Gratuitous Evil, Bruce Little
The Many Faces of Evil, John Feinburg
God and Evil: and introduction to the issues, Michael Peterson
**I own these books and will be more than happy to loan them to you.