In the previous blog post, we saw that God can have morally sufficient reasons for permitting suffering. We also saw that given the dizzying complexity of how events and choices interact with one another all around the world and throughout history, no mere man is in a position to make a probability judgment as to whether God could have a morally sufficient reason for permitting some event.
Continuing my line of thought that God has good reasons for permitting suffering, I would like to turn now to a different category of reasons that I know for a fact He has. Isn't it the case that immense suffering has lead to many people giving their lives to Christ? Surely you've noticed how many personal testimonies include suffering, and moreover, the suffering was the primary factor in bringing the person to their knees. I can't think of many coming-to-Christ testimonies that don't involve immense suffering that lead up to conversion. Could it be that God uses suffering as a means to get people saved?
The Christian Apologist J. Warner Wallace has noticed the same thing. He wrote "No single explanation will account for every act of evil. There are often several causes involved in explaining any given episode of suffering. But one thing is certain: Thousands of Christian believers tell a story of conversion involving some act of pain or suffering. In that time of crisis, they turned to God for the very first time. In fact, most of these new Christians can recall a number of people who shared Christ with them prior to their time of trouble, but these efforts fell on deaf ears. Only through the prompting of pain and suffering were these people brought to the end of themselves and the beginning of their relationship with Jesus."1
As William Lane Craig put it in his book On Guard, the ultimate goal God is driving towards for humans in this life isn't happiness, but knowledge of Himself. As I said in part 3, we're in a sin situation, we've all fallen short of His moral standard (Romans 3:23), and as a holy and just judge (Psalm 11:6, Psalm 9:7-8, Psalm 10), God must punish sin. As a loving Being though (1 John 4:8), God doesn't want to punish us but desires to forgive us. God became incarnate (John 1:14) and took the punishment on Himself at the cross of Calvary (Romans 5:8). All one needs to do is repent and receive this gift, confessing Jesus as their Savior and Lord (Isaiah 55:7, Romans 10:9). The primary goal in this fallen world is to get as many people saved as God possibly can. God loves you and will do everything possible to get you into His kingdom short of coercing you. The Bible says that God is "not willing that any should perish, but for all to come to repentence" (2 Peter 3:9). If God knows if a person would freely be saved if he endured through an immense amount of suffering, then God will allow suffering to enter that person's life for the sake of their eternity.
Examples Of People Of Coming To Christ Through Suffering
I'm going to show you a few real examples of this. These testimonies were posted online and are available for public viewing. I'm telling you this so that you'll know I'm not violating anyone's right to privacy. Moreover, I'll tell their testimonies in their own words, for the most part, so I won't either violate the fair use doctrine or have to ask for permission.
Example 1: Vanessa
Vanessa shares her testimony on a TruthSaves.org article.2 She opens by saying that she was born to young and violent parents who abused drugs and alcohol, and that she can recall thinking that her mother had a greater love for drugs than she had for her. By the time Vanessa was 4 years old, her mother was sent to prison and didn't get out until she was 7. In the mean time, Vanessa says that she had moved in with her father who sexually abused both her and her siblings. She then says that at the age of 9, she was put into Foster care.
Vanessa then wrote that her first foster mother was a Christian who took her and her two brothers and her sister. She says that they went to church for a year every Sunday, Unfortunately, her foster Dad soon began to molest her. She, like many sexual abuse victims, thought that the reason she kept getting abused must have had something to do with her. It must have been her fault, she thought. She said that by age 13, she had become hateful, angry, and rebellious.
Vanessa began cutting herself at the age of 14. In the article, Vanessa recounts being "on the run", drinking and smoking, and living a wild life, until the police caught up with her and sent her back to foster care. Eventually, she says, she moved in with her boyfriend and his parents. The boyfriend's father was an alcoholic and his mother was a Christian. After living with her boyfriend and his family for a year, the boyfriend's younger sibling was killed in a car accident. She said "I had seen many tears. It wasn’t until then that I started to take notice of my life, past and present." Then she recounts spending many nights walking the streets alone or sleeping in houses that had been abandoned.
She was shortly after invited to a church retreat. There, she says, "I met the God who died for all my sins, which were many. The God whose forgiveness gave me strength to forgive. The God whose LOVE left me speechless. I cried and cried and cried. God’s glory was so strong and real it filled the room. I knew He had always been there. I wasn’t the same broken girl I had been just three days earlier. By His love and embrace I had become a new creature. To my surprise my heart of stone had become one of flesh."3
If Vanessa hadn't been allowed to go through all that she had been through, then she never would have found herself in the circumstance in which she had a personal encounter with God, and therefore she might still be dead in her trespasses and sins today (Ephesians 2:1).
Example 2: Kevin
I told a friend of mine about this series I was working on, and he volunteered to let me use his testimony as part of my theodicy. However, he hardly ever gives his testimony to anyone because he is ashamed of who he used to be and moreover, he doesn't want to shame the people involved in his story. However, Kevin said I could use his testimony if I changed the names of the people and places, much like J. Warner Wallace did when talking about his Cold Cases in Cold Case Christianity. He typed up a long e-mail telling of his journey to Christ. He said it was painful to drudge up those painful memories, but he knew that God could use his story for His glory.
So, "Kevin" grew up in Texas with his parents Don and Darla, and his little sister Kendra. Kevin grew up in a Christian home, was taught The Bible, was taught the basic Christian truths, and they went to church every Sunday up until Kevin was about 9 or 10. Kevin had what I call "Demon Faith". He believed Christianity was true, He believed God existed, he had just never fully committed himself to Christ. Even the demons believe that God exists, James 2:19 tell us, but they're on their way to Hell (Revelation 20:10). Kevin thought that just acknowledging that Christianity was true was enough for salvation. He hadn't actually surrendered to God.
Kevin was a good kid who always tried to do what he was told. He wasn't perfect. No child is. All children sometimes disobey or do what they're not supposed to, but Kevin was never really a problem child. For the most part, he didn't give his parents any grief, with the exception of the terrible 2's and 3's. But when Kevin turned 13, things began to change. Kevin frequently found himself under intense, shall we say, treatment by his mother. He didn't try to make her angry or get on her wrong side. In fact, he made great pains and efforts to stay on her good side, but somehow or other he would always end up making her furious and having to endure getting grounded or listening to a 3 hour lecture (or, more appropriately, rant). She would force him to play whatever his younger sister Kendra wanted, and she would force him to play that thing (whether it be Polly Pocket Dolls, Littlest Pet Shop pets, or what have you) for hours on end. And this is not hyperbole, Kevin says. Kevin says he actually kept track of the time. After an hour or two had passed, he would ask Kendra and Darla "Can I go do something else now?" Sometimes they would say yes, other times, they would say no. Kevin said that he spent most of his free time proverbially chained to either his sister's bedroom or at the Dining Room Table (a place she would frequently take her toys to play).
The big problem with making Kevin play Polly Pocket or Littlest Pet Shop or whatever with his younger sister is that his mother and sister were totally unreasonable in so many areas about how they handled it. For one thing, whenever the desire struck Kendra, she would approach Kevin and ask "Will you play with me?" and if Kevin said "Sure, in a minute" or "Wait until I'm finished with this episode of X", she would angrily storm off to their mother and tattle on him to Darla. Darla then made Kevin stop whatever it was he was doing and made Kevin play X with Kendra at that very moment. Whenever Kevin tried to reason with his mother, that he would indeed play the game with Kendra, he just wants to finish watching his show, or come to a good stopping place in his video game, or what have you, Darla would get upset and accuse Kevin of "Back Talk". If Kevin made any more objections, Darla would label Kevin with an additional charge of "Back Talk" or "Talking Back". This would make Kevin angry, but he had to hide his anger because if Darla saw that he was angry, she would fuss at him, saying "don't you make that ugly face at me", the "ugly face" being the scowl that usually results from being ticked off.
Now, Kevin had no qualms about spending time with his sister. He loves his sister. He would have gladly done those things with her of his own free will if he had ever been given the chance, but it was (1) being forced against his will, and (2) having to play the game at the drop of a hat that he hated so much. (3) It was also the case that she would dictate everything the little figurines would say and do, not leaving Kevin much room for improv or have the toys go on their own adventure.
Kevin would frequently find himself delighted if his sister took a long afternoon nap for he knew that then he would have free reign to do whatever he wanted to do. He could read a manga, play video games, watch anime, or anything else, and he wouldn't have to worry about his sister coming up to him to ask "Will you play with me?" which would mean an abrupt end to whatever he was doing.
Moreover, Kendra frequently fussed at Kevin over every little thing, and then their mother would get mad at him for "teasing her". As is normal for siblings, Kevin and Kendra frequently got into arguments over things, about which now, Kevin does not know. However, Darla would harshly rebuke both of them for fighting. It didn't take long for Kevin to know that if he didn't want to get in trouble with his mother, he and his sister shouldn't fight. So, whenever they did begin to fight and Darla's warnings came to cut it out, Kevin would cease immediately. He thought to himself "It doesn't matter who's wrong or right. I just want to keep the peace." Kendra, on the other hand, kept complaining and griping. Sometimes, this would lead to Darla penalizing both Kevin and Kendra even though Kevin had tried to keep the peace. He would say to Kendra "Please, stop fussing at me. Calm down. If you don't, we'll both be in trouble." Sometimes his efforts succeeded, sometimes, they did not. When they did not, Kevin was forced to listen to a rant from his mother that sometimes lasted 3 hours. Again, this is not hyperbole. Kevin told me that he actually kept track of the time by looking over at his cable box to see how much time had passed.
If Kevin objected to the way he was being treated, or tried to explain to his mother that she was being unreasonable, it would just make her even angrier, and she would rebuke him for "talking back". However, being silent didn't help anything either. All of this took place in 2005 and 2006.
Kevin wrote to me, in his own words "I guess this started back in 2003 or 2004 when she made me play stuff I didn’t want to and I politely declined. I was confused why I had to do stuff she wanted but she never had to do what I wanted. I got in trouble when I was older than 11 and 12 for declining so I just did it. Well, later in 2006 I moaned and groaned when Kendra asked me to play with her and I was told that was wrong. Well, I stopped doing that and tried to hide my feelings. I agree with that. That is immature behavior. However, it took a good while before I got the hang of not freezing up whenever she popped the question. I was ok because I thought I understood everything to stay out of trouble. I just said to myself 'Whenever she asks, just do it. You’ll be obedient and everyone will be happy. You’ll be a good boy.' Then I got in trouble later in 2008 for arguing with her. I told myself 'Just let her win. Agree with her even if you really don’t.'” and then he said "It got to the point where I only argued with her [ Kendra] when she was really, really, making me angry. She kept doing it though. She kept yelling and ranting even though she got in trouble too; as if out of spite for the moaning and groaning in 2006. And then, the arguing stopped. I thought it would be the end of this conflict, but I was wrong. It seemed as though playing with her 2 to 3 hours a day was not enough now and Mom and Kendra count it as neglecting her. True, some days we don’t play at all but the majority of days we play for that long. Sometimes we only play for 1 hour before dinner or bed. It also seems as if I have to eat, bathe and have teeth brushed before she wakes up or else if she asks me to play with her, I won’t get too. Mom will say I’m putting her off."
Kevin grew to resent his mother and sister deeply. The arguing and fighting between him and his mother, and between him and his sister, seemed constant. He even took notice on his bedroom calendar of how long it had been since the last time his mother blew up in anger. Often times, he would be thankful if even one week had gone by without conflict. Kevin was just a teenager, and he was trapped in a house of constant fighting and turmoil. Kevin found solace in music. His favorite bands were Three Days Grace and Papa Roach. He liked them especially because they wrote songs he could relate to. The song "Home" by Three Days Grace described his situation almost to a T (with the exception of that "getting stoned" part in the second verse. Kevin never did drugs). So, "Home" was his favorite song. The song "Points of Authority" and "One Step Closer" by Linkin Park, and "Shut Up" by Simple Plan also reminded him of the frequent conflicts he had with his mother.
Kevin developed a genuine hatred for his mother and his sister because of the constant emotional stress that they put him through. The more he was mistreated, the more resentment he harbored. The War Zone which was his home life let up a little in 2007, when Kevin was 15 years old. Kevin thought things were finally going to get better. However, at the turn of 2008, the War Zone life returned, this time fiercer than before. Arguing and fighting all the time, playing Littlest Pet Shop at the Dining Room table had gone from 2 hours to 5 hours, leaving Kevin with no free time to pursue any of his own interests. As always, if Kendra said "Play with me" it was get-up-and-go time or face the consequences. Kevin wrote "It wasn't just actions or inactions related to playing with Kendra that got Darla fired up. I felt like I constantly had to walk on egg shells around my mother. If I said something in the wrong tone of voice, or if she misinterpreted my body language, or if I made a minor mistake, she would get upset and I'd have to listen to a rant that lasted for hours. I'm not saying I was ever in the wrong. I was a teenager, for Pete's sake! We're unwise at that age and sometimes we need strict disciplining or reprimanding, or penalization when we go wrong. But the things my mother would get upset at were downright silly. To say that she made mountains out of molehills is putting it mildly. Even when I was in the wrong, she got more upset than what was warranted. For example, I once accidentally bought a Digivice toy on E-bay under my mother's account. I thought I was just putting it in the shopping cart. My plan was for her to see it, infer that I wanted it, and then get it for me for my birthday. I had no idea that one click went the entire way and actually purchased it. I sheepishly told her about it, and I thought I would never hear the end of it! She went on and on and on and on. I can't remember exactly what she said, but I just remember feeling like a major screw-up. She just couldn't give me any grace in that situation. Yes, I made a mistake. I realized that. There was no need for her to rub my face in it." (emphasis in original). Kevin went on to say "I think what hurt the most is that my mother didn't even appear to care how much she was hurting me. Whenever I tried to tell her, she would always find some way to turn the criticism back on me! She made ME out to be the bad guy! Even worse was any attempts to tell her the wrong she was doing was met with 'don't you talk back to me' or 'don't argue with your mother'. It's very hard to bring to someone's attention that they're hurting you when they won't even allow you to do so. She also said things that implied I was in the wrong for even feeling the way I felt."
By November 2008, things got serious for Kevin. One Saturday morning, he got up, and ate Peanut Butter Crunch for breakfast. Kendra came up to him and asked the dreaded question "Will you play with me?" Kevin said "Sure, just let me brush my teeth and take a shower." for he forgot to shower the previous night and hadn't had the chance to brush his teeth yet that day. His mother already expressed displeasure at "putting Kendra off" but let it slide. You know how Kevin knows this? Because while Kevin was brushing his teeth, he saw Darla's scowling reflection behind him. This made him uneasy and knew that if he didn't tread carefully, he could set off Darla's fierce wrath. When Kevin was finished, he came and sat down to play with Kendra. He then noticed that his finger nails were incredibly long and realized that he had forgotten to trim them the previous night. He asked if he could just take 5 minutes to trim his nails, and then he would get back to playing with her. Big mistake. Kendra went and tattled to Darla. Both Darla, and Kevin's father Don came into the room to give harsh rebuke to Kevin for "putting Kendra off". By this time, Kevin had had enough. He stood up and gave his parents a tongue lashing, something he usually didn't do, as he knew full well that would just make the situation worse. His father told him "You better calm down before I make you!" and both of them sent Kevin to his room. What Kevin then told me happened next was dark.
"I went into my room and laughed maniacally and said 'You dare defy the prince of darkness? You don’t know what kind of power you’re dealing with! I could kill you with my bare hands if I wanted to!' and then laughed some more with the evilest look on my face. I realized what I was saying and got control over myself. I prayed to God, asking him what the hell I just said. Why I said it and what the heck was inside of me. I just knew instantly it was Satan making me talk. I feel he is there feeding on my anger and grudges against those people so that he can corrupt one more good soul. I kept it to myself because I didn’t want to scare anyone. I was so afraid that Satan, the one who calls himself 'The prince of darkness' was trying to lead me away from God. "
Kevin told me that he felt like there were two people inside of him; himself, and this "evil alter ego" that would take over and cause him to have fantasies of killing his family and then himself in a fit of rage, which he would gleefully laugh at until he could get ahold of himself. He said "Evan, it's really hard to describe, but the closest analogy I could come up with was....you know how the Bleach protagonist Ichigo had this hollow living inside of him that would take over whenever his enemy was about to deliver a finishing blow, and then it would have control over him until he could regain control through sheer willpower? That's kind of like what happened to me every time my mother would verbally abuse me and send me to my room."
For those who aren't Bleach fans, here's a clip to help you know what he's talking about. --> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y83dmIBMRp4
Kevin still sought solace in his music. And like a lot of people, he liked to listen to songs that he related to in his situation. This time, it was song's like Within Temptations "It's The Fear" and Three Days' Grace' "Animal I Have Become" and "Monster" by Skillet. The last of the three, he was able to record from an airing of it on his local radio station and enjoy the song months before it was released (August 2009). He "felt like a monster" because of his psychotic, murderous fantasies.
By 2009, Kevin felt like he was losing himself to the evil inside of him. He said "It was like a progressive disease. The more that time passed, the worse it got. The easier this evil version of me was able to come out, and the more frequently I had the gory fantasies. I felt like if it kept up, I would eventually cease to exist, that this other individual inside me would be the only one left inhabiting this body. And at that point, the fantasies would become reality."
During the summer of 2009, Kevin's mother was watching EWTN and its programs. Although he and his family were Protestant (and still are to this day), Darla was curious about what Roman Catholics believed. One afternoon, Kevin was in the room watching the television. An animated children's program was on. The program featured Jesus telling his disciples "The Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant" recorded in Matthew 18. The point of the parable is that if we don't forgive other people of the trespasses they have committed against us, God will not forgive our sins either. This raddled Kevin to his core. He believed God existed and that The Bible was true (being a nominal Christian), so he took Christ's words very seriously.
"It was at that moment that I realized I was Hellbound," Kevin said. "I had harbored so much resentment and hatred towards my mother and sister for the way they had treated me over the course of those 4 years. I knew that Jesus was telling the truth; if I died still hanging onto that resentment, I would be cast into Hell, because God would never forgive me for my sins, even if I asked him. I had to forgive others before I could be forgiven" Kevin told me.
"I immediately went into my room, trembling, and I prayed for God to save me. I prayed for God to give me the power to forgive my mother and sister so that he could forgive me for all the wrongs I commited. I begged God to help me because I did not want to go to Hell. I had heard preachers preach about Hell, and I knew how horrible it was. I knew I did not want to spend eternity in agonizing torment. I begged and begged God to help me forgive so that I could be forgiven. I begged him to save me." Kevin wrote.
Now, I know for a fact that God saved Kevin at that very moment, and Kevin now does as well. He was under the false impression that because he didn't FEEL any different, that therefore He WASN'T different. He prayed for God to save him from Hell by giving him the strength to let go of his resentment for 3 long, agonizing months. "I was constantly afraid. I knew that tomorrow wasn't promised to anyone and that I could die at any time. I knew where I was going if I didn't change, so I prayed every night, sometimes in tears, for God to save me from myself. I had never had so much fear in my entire life." Loving songs relating to his situation, he said that "Breathe Into Me" by Red was essentially his prayer in song forms.
Kevin then described something that happened one September night. "One night, I felt the evil me starting to take over again. I felt the evil presence within me rising up in me again. But then, I felt a benevolent presence in the room with me. It's hard to describe. You know how if you can sense when someone is standing behind you even though you can't see them and never heard them approach? That's kind of like what it was with this benevolent presence. I knew that this presence was the God I had been calling on for 3 months. I felt this benevolent presence begin to enter me, but when it did, the evil presence would resist and fight back. I knew that God was trying to come into me to change and save me. I thought 'this is it! God is here with me! He's trying to enter me and get the evil out of me!'. For a few minutes, the evil presence would be more prominent in me, and then the good presence would be more prominent in me, and then the evil presence would be more prominent in me. Back and forth it went. I knew that there was battle going on inside of my heart, and I knew that if The Holy Spirit didn't win, it was over for me. I started rooting for The Holy Spirit to win inside my mind, and as soon as I did that, the evil presence disappeared entirely and I was filled with....what I can only describe as light, love, and peace. I felt the bitterness and resentment completely gone from my mind. I felt that the hatred for my mother and sister had turned into love, and, moreover, I knew that I had encountered The God of The Universe. I had believed existed before, as a properly basic belief, but now I had actually encountered Him. I was changed! I was saved! I knew that I was born again. The old me had died, as 2 Corinthians 5:12 says, and the new creation had arrived."
Praise God for saving this man's soul! Praise God! But, I want you to notice a very crucial thing: God used suffering to bring about his conversion. If Kevin hadn't gone through what he went through, he would most likely not be the devout Christian he is today. God had a morally sufficient reason for permitting Kevin to suffer what he did. What would be better for Kevin: to endure a finite amount of suffering in this life with an eternity of uninterrupted bliss to look forward to, or would it be better for Kevin to have a good and easy life but an eternity of suffering? Obviously, the former would be better, and Kevin would tell you that. "I'm glad that God allowed my mother and sister to do what they did. I would never have been brought to my knees if it weren't for what I endured."
Kevin's statement at the end of his e-mail reminded me of Psalm 119:71 which says "My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to obey Your [God's] decrees".
Kevin told me his relationship with his mother and sister has never been better. God not only healed his heart, but he healed the relationship. Kevin said that he truly, and genuinely, hated his mother. "All teens say that they hate their parents, but when I said it, I actually, truly meant it. But that is not the case anymore. I love my Mom, and have forgiven her of everything wrong she has done. I prefer to focus on the numerous things she did right rather than the mistakes she's made." I can personally attest that the love between those two is real. You would never have known such animosity ever existed. What an awesome God I serve! He brings the dead to life! He fixes the unfixable! He brings light to the darkest of places. Praise His holy name! If you're an unbeliever reading this, I want you to know that God can change your life just like he changed Kevin's. Will you call upon Him?
Kevin said that he knew that his salvation was the reason God allowed him to suffer like he did. "If that wasn't the reason," Kevin asked rhetorically, "Why did my life suddenly improve once I had committed myself to Him? I actually didn't expect my circumstances to change. I had long given up hope that they would. I just wanted God to change me."
So many examples of testimonies like this could be given; testimonies where God used terrible suffering to bring people to himself. If you'd like an entire book on the topic, I recommend Lee Strobel's The Case For Grace.
Example 3: The "The-Last-Night Girl".
In 2006, Skillet released an album called "Comatose". Track 2 is a song called "The Last Night". The song is about a suicidal girl who God speaks to through her friend John Cooper (Skillet's frontman). Cooper said "It's a song about a girl who wants to end her own life. She has been told ever since she was small by her parents that she was never going to be good enough. Never pretty enough, never smart enough, wished she had never been born, can't do anything right, and so on and so forth. And she says 'you know what? I hate myself. I hate what I see in the mirror. I hate going home at night. I don't have a single reason left to get out of bed tomorrow morning.' And in this song, I have a chance to tell my friend how special she really is, and I get a chance to tell her that her life is not a mistake. I'm telling you this story not just so you know what this song is about, but because I meet people like her at every single concert that I play. ....I came here tonight to tell you there is a God, His name is Jesus Christ....if you give Him one chance, it will be the very last night you spend alone"4
John Cooper wrote this song about someone who was suicidal: "You come to me with scars on your wrist." When John sings, the lyrics are directed towards the girl from God's perspective. When Korey sings, the lyrics are from the girl to God. In the story that this song tells, God saved a girl from suicide through John. God used her suffering, and the abuse that she went through, to draw her to Himself. Now, the identity of the girl in the song is unknown. Some have speculated that the girl in that song was the singer's wife Korey way back in the day, but only God and John know for sure. The point is, this is another example of suffering being used to bring about salvation.
Statistics Show That The Acceptance Of The Gospel Spreads In Places With The Most Suffering
Statistics coming from the book “Operation World” by Patrick Johnstone shows that in countries that have endured the most evil and suffering were also countries where the gospel was most widely accepted. Just look at these reports – from Johnstone’s Operation World:
"China: It is estimated that 20 million Chinese lost their lives in Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Christians stood firm in what was probably the most widespread and harsh persecution the Church has ever experienced. The persecution purified and indigenized the Church. Since 1977, the growth of the Church in China has no parallels in history. Researchers estimate that there were 30 to 75 million Christians by 1990. Today, it is estimated to be somewhere between 90 million and 100 million. Mao Zedong unwittingly became the greatest evangelist in history.
El Salvador: The 12-year civil war, earthquakes, and the collapse of the price of coffee, the nation’s main export, impoverished the nation. Over 80% live in dire poverty. An astonishing spiritual harvest has been gathered from all strata of society in the midst of the hate and bitterness of war. In 1960 evangelicals were 2.3% of the population, but today, they are around 20%.
Ethiopia: Ethiopia is in a state of shock. Her population struggles with the trauma of millions of deaths through repression, famine, and war. Two great waves of violent persecution refined and purified the Church, but there were many martyrs. There have been millions coming to Christ. Protestants were fewer than 0.8% of the population in 1960, but by 1990 this may have become 13% of the population."5
Tons more examples like this could be talked about. When you examine human history, you see that it's been a blood soaked one, however, it also been a history of God's Kingdom advance.
Rousing A Deaf World
So many people have come to Christ because of immense suffering. The data and evidence talked about in this chapter were only a measly sampling. Testimony upon testimony could be compiled to show that the majority of people who become born again Christians actually have, in part, immense suffering to thank. Moreover, one day while I was reading The Bible, I discovered something interesting. In Jesus’ “Parable Of The Prodigal Son” recorded in Luke 15:11-32, we find that the prodigal son didn’t return home to his father until he had lost everything and became so hungry that even the pig’s food looked appealing to him. It was only until The Prodigal Son hit rock bottom that He “came to his senses” and returned to his father.
Yes, I absolutely believe that pain and suffering is one of God's ways of drawing us to Himself.
As C.S Lewis once put it, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world”6
And as venerable archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said “Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them.” 7
Now, the atheist may object that God is a jerk if He would allow suffering just to get people to bow to Him, but consider this: Let's suppose you wake up in a room somewhere strapped to a chair, and consider someone set in front of you, two buttons: one button would cause you the worst pain you could imagine for 5 minutes. The other button would cause you that same pain for 50 years. You can only be freed from the room if one choose to press one button or the other. If you had a true dichotomy of suffering extreme, agonizing pain for 5 minutes or suffering that same pain for 50 years, which would you choose? Obviously, you would choose to suffer the pain for 5 minutes. It's done and over it. Suffering extreme agony for 50 years would be far worse. Now, let's suppose you unwittingly go for the button that causes pain for 50 years, but I quickly intervene and push the button that causes pain for 5. I brought about misery for you in the short term, but in doing so, I prevented it in the long term.
Or to give a less sci-fi illustration, think about when your parent took you to the doctor to get vaccinated. I remember when my mother took me to the doctor when I was 3 years old to get a flu shot. For some reason, shots hurt a lot more when you're a little kid. I don't know if it's a placebo effect (i.e we see the sharp needle so we just assume it's going to hurt a lot) or if children just have a lesser threshold for pain than adults. In any case, I remember getting it and I remember that it hurt. I cried all the way to the car. Now, was my mother unloving for taking me to get the flu shot? No. She knew it was better for me to get a flu shot and not get the flu. Even though the shot hurt, it would be a lot less painful and less dangerous than getting influenza. In the same way, is God unloving for letting people suffer if that suffering leads them to eternal life? No. In fact, one might argue that it would be unloving if He didn't.
Kevin, Vanessa, and The-Last-Night girl don't begrudge God for using suffering to save them. They praise Him for it. What right does the atheist have to cast judgment on God for what the Christians praise Him for?
And, here's something else to consider: God didn't just use their suffering to bring them salvation, He used His own suffering to bring them salvation.
"Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed." - Isaiah 53:4-5
By the wounds of the Christ, came the healing of mens' souls. The God of the universe took on human flesh (John 1:14) with the primary purpose of enduring physical suffering (something impossible for Him to experience if He only had a divine nature).
As J. Warner Wallace said in the citation near the beginning of this blog post, no one explanation will account for every instance of suffering. But the saving of souls is certainly one reason God has for permitting suffering that is well documented. In light of the Christian doctrine that the primary purpose in life is not happiness, but the knowledge of God, we can say that the Christian God's existence in light of suffering is not at all improbable. Quite the opposite, it is probable.
In the next three blog posts, I will go further to show why suffering fails to render God's existence improbable, and after that, I will finish up this series by dealing with the emotional version of the problem of suffering.
1: J. Warner Wallace, "Would God Actually Use Evil To Draw Us To Himself?", January 22nd 2016, http://crossexamined.org/would-god-actually-use-evil-to-draw-us-to-himself-1/
2: TruthSaves.org, Vanessa's Christian Testimony, http://truthsaves.org/christian-testimony/vanessas-christian-testimony/
4: I transcribed this from a YouTube video of John Cooper explaining the song's meaning live on stage. The video can be watched here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6s86R1-6JC0
5 Patrick Johnstone, Operation World, 5th ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1993), pp. 164, 207-8, 214.
6: C.S Lewis, "The Problem Of Pain", HarperCollins, page 3.
7: Quote By Fulton J. Sheen. (n.d.). Quotery. Retrieved August 8, 2017, from http://www.quotery.com/quotes/sometimes-the-only-way-the-good-lord-can-get-into/