One of the philosophical objections to Christianity is the “Problem of Evil”. Why does an all-good, all-powerful God allow evil in the world? I noted in a previous post how Jesus’ death and resurrection gives Christianity a unique and powerful answer to that question.
But this question is rarely raised in a philosophical void. The more common question everyday people face is this: Why is something evil happening to me? This question is personal and is best answered in a personal context. I got this question while giving a talk in our After School program, and thankfully it was addressed later in a one-on-one conversation between a leader and a student.
Nevertheless, here are some Biblical answers I might give. My exact answer would depend on the particular situation.
We live in a fallen world. God created the world and declared it good, but when sin entered the world that goodness was broken and corrupted. The general brokenness of the world accounts for lots of things that don’t appear to have an immediate “culprit”. We get sick. A relative gets cancer. A natural disaster strikes. These are all signs of our broken world. Our hope is that God will eventually bring about a world where there is no sickness, death, or sudden disaster.
We also hold out home in this life because we know that God is a master at bringing good out of evil.
God may be using this to help us grow closer to Him. Paul says that he was given a “thorn in his flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited. He pleaded with God to remove whatever it was but God didn’t. Instead God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). Through this trial, Paul learned to rely fully on God.
I recently had a conversation with a woman who went through bouts of depression. She told me that during one bout she was able to experience the comfort of God in a unique and powerful way which she is able to return to again and again. Why did God allow her to experience depression? I’m not sure, but he has found a way to redeem at least a part of it for good.
God may be using this to help us grow in character and hope. Paul also tells us that we should “glory in our sufferings,” which is a pretty surprising and counter-intuitive command. We can glory in our sufferings because “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character hope” (See Rom 5:1-5). Somehow, our temporary comfort is less important to God than our hope and our character.
Last week on Sunday we were blessed by having Pastor Emmanuel from Rwanda speak at our church. He is a man who has undergone much suffering. His family was killed before his eyes during the genocide. He lived as an orphan for much of his teen life. And yet, he is a man of incredible character and hope. And his hope runs deep. Did that genocide break God’s heart? You bet. Do I have any idea why God allowed it? Nope. But I do know that out of it God raised up a man to bring the light of Jesus to Rwanda.
God may be using this to accomplish something beyond ourselves. The story of Joseph in the Bible is a great place to go to look for comfort in our trials. In it we see how God uses terrible circumstance (Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers) to raise up Joseph to a place of power. At the end of the story Joseph says “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). God had a plan for Joseph beyond himself.
God has a bigger plan than we could ever imagine and rarely do we get the same glimpse that Joseph did. But we have the same God that he did. His plans for our lives transcend our own lives. In this life we might not ever see the good that can be brought out of evil, but someone else might.
We may have to ask, is there something in my life that needs to change? In each of the examples above, the individual was not directly responsible for their trial. But, if we’re honest, we must admit that much of the time our suffering is self-inflicted. The guy who looks at porn shouldn’t wonder why his marriage is crumbling. The man who cheats on his taxes shouldn’t blame God when legal trouble comes along. The teenager who is a jerk to her friends shouldn’t be surprised when her friends desert her. This doesn’t mean everything that is bad that happens to us is our fault or that others don’t share blame. But, we are wise to examine ourselves. Lots of bad stuff happens because the world is fallen. Sometimes it happens because we are fallen.
But God is a master at bringing about good in the midst of evil. He beckons us to himself whether our suffering comes from others or is self-inflicted. Just like the prodigal son, when we return to God, he runs to meet us with open arms to heal, forgive, restore, and redeem.