I hardly have to describe the problem. If you’re human, you know it. If you’re perceptive, empathetic, or it has touched you, you know it all too well.
This world doesn’t just bite, it mauls.
And the question we’re all left with in the aftermath of what looks like gratuitous and flagrant rage is this:
“Where was the Master?”
Behind a lectern, the problem gets dressed up in scholarly robes and presented as an equation whose sum always equals God’s absence. In much the same way that round squares and honest politicians defy rationality, some argue that the existence of evil alongside an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God is likewise a nonsensical proposition. Universally, this is known as the “logical problem of evil.” And to be honest, it’s not incredibly hard to solve, as long as you’re in an ivory tower.
Evil is a dead category unless you have an objective standard of good to measure evil actions against. Such a standard of good must inherently be social, since it judges social conduct. And common to every conception of evil is the intuitive, visceral notion that it ought to be punished—which helps us infer that it will be. So far from falsifying God, evil assumes Him.
With that in mind, the solution that balances our ominous equation is that God exists and has morally sufficient reasons for the evil He allows.
It makes perfect sense. So why aren’t you satisfied with that answer?
Because the truth is, there’s still a problem. Academia’s ivory tower, as it turns out, is no where near the valley of the shadow of death. Pain is real. Babies are born still. Tsunamis don’t discriminate. Nightmares come alive. And when such is the case, grief takes the rudder. Severe loss steers the ship. And in the storm of a tragic life, when well meaning souls insist on offering stoic rationalizations in place of heartfelt sympathy, grief goes rogue and pain makes quick work of reason.
You can hardly blame such victims. Nobody in their right mind ought to think straight after drowning in disaster. And well crafted answers bring nobody back from Sheol.
Help to the brokenhearted doesn’t look like a philosophy lecture, it looks like filling an empty seat and warming a cold, trembling shoulder. It looks like catching tears on yours. Help is saying you’re sorry and then shutting up.
Does that mean there’s no merit in having answers for why God might sometimes allow sickness, calamity, and death to dominate an individual’s life?
But it does mean the worth of those answers are scant while deep wounds remain fresh. So consider a hug.
Thinking through the goodness of God and the reality of misery in a world where hairs don’t hit the ground without His say, is exactly what we should do while the waters are still. Before the squall ever tests your ship, gird it with care. Because learning God’s kindness and wisdom ahead of future anguish can keep you from serious error in the midst of grave sorrow and help you find His love amid all the pain. With the eye of faith, you might even faintly grasp how God is turning your struggle into strength, Hell’s worst into His best, and unbearable grief into unapproachable glory.
G.K. Chesterton said it well:
“When belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from Him, but in heaven’s name to what?”
If then we must weather our trials in light of God’s presence and sovereignty, and cancer is a thing, how do we make sense of His love?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the Scriptures plain teaching that Adam broke the world. And the reverberations of that seismic fracture show up, not only in our propensity to follow his example, but also in the very nature of creation itself. Our negligence and abuse of all things good has caused all good things to revolt and unravel, departing from their original purpose. In a very real sense, we bear the guilt of our own ruin and are suffering under the cumulative weight of our own calamitous decisions.
Being unkind in all our ways, it’s fair to say that nature’s reaction to our brazen disobedience has been devastating, yet proportional, to the radical and obscene treachery that we’ve unleashed on the earth. But hospitality is seldom, if ever, a natural response to injury, so can we really blame nature for behaving naturally?
Assume for the sake of argument (and for the sake of truthfulness) both that God is completely sovereign over His creation, such that nothing occurs apart from His active involvement or passive consent, and also that man is entirely responsible for the sin he commits in the flesh. That both these realities are in play and congruent with one another. If that is the case, and I’m certain it is, why would God allow the world to assail us as it has, if He loves us like He does? No doubt, we collectively deserve some trouble, but what about individually? What about SIDS? If all is in God’s control, what about SIDS? What are those morally sufficient reasons?
And let me be candid. I don’t know.
I don’t know for sure why God takes one child and not another, or any children for that matter, in the middle of the night while they sleep feet away from their biggest fans. And I’m extremely hesitant to guess, but also very much tempted. Hesitant because it’s altitudes above my clearance. Tempted because I want so badly to understand a splinter of why God chooses such fates for men.
For that reason, please take what comes next with a grain of salt and an extremely open Bible.
I think we misunderstand life.
I think we’re extremely quick to make the assumption that we know what life actually is, because we can see its shadow.
Before Adam ever conceived of challenging God, he was His friend. God so condescended to the creature man, and in such an accommodating and caring fashion, giving him such privilege and such purpose, that it had to be given a name.
To no other creature did God give the special sense and desire to know Himself. For no other creature was made with a spirit, with the ability to specially commune with God. To exist beyond the physical realm, in the plane of eternity where God resides.
Adam existed and had life. Then he fell.
He trusted the Serpent instead of God and chose brokenness and self-exaltation over the certainty of eternal and diverse joys in his Creator. He chose something far worse than any example of earthly trauma available to our imagination. Especially so because he didn’t just choose for himself.
All the pain and misery we now experience are mere echoes of that first decision which our first father made, when he thought to give death a try. And that death that Adam died, that he bequeathed to all of us, is nothing short of a chasm between us and our Maker.
That chasm is true death.
Physical death is merely its shadow. A tertiary result of Adam’s wanton rebellion. And right here is where we can begin to understand, maybe, a sliver of God’s purpose for letting death survive (at least for now).
Because physical death is as I described, it serves as a perpetual reminder and a first glimpse of God’s very real ability to punish sin and the chief symbol of man’s ultimate fate if he remains outside the camp of God’s undeserved love, in the squalor of his own self-obsession. Physical death is a warning. And since it has this vocation, because it acts as God’s messenger of caution, an admonition to settle accounts with the Almighty, it is then a peculiar measure of grace to all that still have breath. And if ultimate death really is as bad as the Bible describes, you want that warning.
Case in point: The Author of Life said as much when He entered history stage left.
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And [Jesus] answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”—Luke 13:1-5
We tend to think that if we drive the speed limit, live on the safe side of town, eat our cabbage, and lock our doors, repentance can be put off until we’re gray and ready. Prayer can be ignored and God can be avoided just long enough for us to enjoy our youth. Tragedy serves as an awful reminder for those beholden to such foolishness, that God’s patience is a grace, not an obligation. He wants our attention and we, following the way of men, are highly reluctant to give it. So God takes our wayward works and bends them beautiful. He commandeers the cruelty of suffering and death, the natural end of our vile stupidity, and awakens us to the reality of reality. The possibility of life as He intended. Forever in God’s presence and favor.
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”—C.S. Lewis
I wish I could say clinging to Christ drives away every harm. And I wish I could promise that peace for this present life could be guaranteed at the moment of conversion, when darkness turns to light in the sinner’s heart. But I can’t. Even Christians suffer. Though perhaps for a slightly different purpose.
For the souls who have already found an appropriate posture at the feet of Jesus, the goal is Christ. It’s trust.
Adam’s failure was a failure to trust God. A failure to love the gift of life more than the allure of death; an existence untethered from God’s council and care. Therefore, it then should come as no surprise when our redemption starts the work of reversing that dreadful tradition. It’s not impossible that God’s grace sometimes comes cloaked in sorrow and looking like pain.
Not to break you, but to put you back together.
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