Tackling The Problem Of Evil - Part 8: The Emotional Problem



In this blog series, I've been addressing the atheist's argument from evil. In part 1, I tackled the logical version and established that the atheist has not and cannot affirm that God and evil are logically incompatible. In parts 2 through 7, I've been addressing the probabilistic version of the problem of evil. In Part 2, We've seen that there are good philosophical and biblical reasons to believe that God has given mankind free will, and therefore, the reason there's so much suffering in the world is because people abuse the free will God has given them. Even though God knew ahead of time that we would abuse our free will, He gave it to us anyway because only in a world of free will is love and moral accountability possible. It is very likely, also, that a possible world in which creatures are (A) free and (B) never go wrong was infeasible for God to actualize. In Part 3, we saw that given the dizzying complexities of life, the complex ways that events and choices interact with one another and have an impact on human history, that we are in no position to say with any confidence whether or not it's improbable for God to permit some instance of suffering. Every event that occurs sends a ripple effect through history. Every event affects the future. God may permit some evil in the present to bring about a greater good in the future. God is omniscient. We are not. So the only one who can judge whether some instance of suffering is unjustified is God! Additionally, Romans 8:28 actually teaches that God uses suffering to bring about a greater good. In part 4, we saw that one of the reasons God permits suffering is to draw as many people as He can into His Kingdom. The countless testimonies of many Christians attest to the fact that God has used suffering to bring about the conversions of His children. Given the Christian doctrine that the knowledge of God, not happiness, is the primary goal of life, this makes suffering probably in light of the Christian God. In part 5, we saw that The Bible teaches that God uses suffering to mold our character, to make us into better people. And we also saw that there are good reasons to think that unless certain kinds of evils afflict the world (e.g danger), then certain moral virtues could not develop (e.g courage).

In parts 6 and 7, I did an overview of 6 arguments for God's existence and argued that relative to the full scope of the evidence, God's existence is probable. The evidence for God's existence just simply swamps any improbability suffering might be thought to throw upon God's existence. In light of all this, I think the probabilistic version of the problem of suffering fails. 

Addressing The Emotional Version

But, that doesn't mean that we can end it here, for the problem of evil and suffering is more than merely an intellectual puzzle for Apologists to solve. Evil and suffering is something that hits us where we live. Every single one of us has experienced suffering in this life at various points and in various degrees. No one can go through life without experiencing at least some suffering. Everything that I've said in parts 1-7 of this article series may be satisfying to those who struggle with evil and suffering as a potential defeater to the Christian worldview, but those articles will come across as dry and uncaring to the person who is struggling with this issue in his heart rather than in his head.

Some people just don't like a God who would permit them or others to suffer. They begrudge Him for allowing them to experience it. They shake their fists at him in rage. If you've seen the movie God's Not Dead, then you'll know that movie's antagonist Professor Raddison (played by Kevin Sorbo) struggled with the problem of evil on an emotional level. When he was a child, he prayed for God to save his mother's life when she was dying from cancer. But God didn't answer his prayer and his mother died. This fueled his bitterness and animosity towards God and everyone who worshipped him. Josh, the protagonist, was able to get Raddison to admit this at the end of their debate. He didn't just simply accept atheism because it found it more reasonable than theism, he had a true hatred of God (which is a bizarre thing if he truly doesn't believe God exists).

What can we say to those who are struggling with the problem of pain on an emotional level?

Remember, Your Tears are God's Tears 

One thing that brings me comfort is knowing that whenever I suffer, God suffers with me. When you hurt, God hurts. God feels pain in His heart to see you hurting even though He's allowing you to hurt for a good reason and it's all part of His divine plan (see "Tackling The Problem Of Evil - Part 3: The Butterfly Effect"). When Martha was weeping over the death of Lazarus (see John 11), Jesus didn't sit back coolly observing her suffering. No, Jesus wept when Lazarus was dead (John 11:35). I believe He was crying because He sensed the pain inside of Martha and Mary's hearts. I don’t agree with the common interpretation that Jesus was weeping over Lazarus’ death. I mean, look, Jesus knew for a fact that He was about to raise Lazarus back to life and everything was going to be ok. In fact, He said that was the reason He took so long to get there. He said “Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him” (John 11:14-15). Jesus said He was glad that it happened so that He could raise Lazarus from the dead and confirm his messianic status even further. He knew ahead of time that He was going to raise Lazarus. That’s why he let him die. He knew Lazarus was going to come back to life, so why would He weep over Lazarus’ death? That’d be like mourning over your friend taking a nap. You know he’s going to wake up soon, so why fret?

But Jesus loves Martha so it hurt Him to see her in so much pain. Martha and Mary didn’t know that that was Jesus’ plan. So they really were mourning Lazarus’ passing. Jesus had no reason to be mourning over the death of Lazarus because he knew in advance that He was going to bring Him back from the dead. So I'm absolutely convinced that His tears were from seeing Martha and Mary hurt. He was hurting because they were hurting.

Since Jesus IS God (John 1:1-4, John 1:14, John 10:30, Isaiah 9:6, Colossians 1:15-17), I know that God The Father is that same way when we're in pain. He knows the future and knows that we'll be smiling again (see Psalm 30:5) and that these things are happening for a good reason (see "Tackling The Problem Of Evil - Part 3: The Butterfly Effect"), but He hates having to see us hurting. 

When I was 3, my mother took me to get a flu shot. When I got the vaccine, it hurt, and I cried all the way back to the car. My mother knew ahead of time that it wouldn't be pleasant to get the vaccine, but she allowed the doctor to stick me with it anyway. Why? Because she knew that if I didn't get the shot, then I would most likely get the flu, get very sick and possibly would die from it. She allowed me to suffer to bring about a greater good. But don't you think it hurt her to see me hurt? 

Just as my mother didn't like to see me crying from a flu vaccine, yet allowed it to happen anyway for my good, the same is true when God allows suffering to afflict our lives. In His wisdom, he permits it to happen, but in His compassion, He hurts with us.

This is even more so when you consider the incarnation. The Christian philosopher and apologist Alvin Plantinga agrees with me. He wrote: "God does not stand idly by, cooly observing the suffering of His creatures. He enters into and shares our suffering. He endures the anguish of seeing his son, the second person of the Trinity, consigned to the bitterly cruel and shameful death of the cross. Some theologians claim that God cannot suffer. I believe they are wrong. God's capacity for suffering, I believe, is proportional to his greatness; it exceeds our capacity for suffering in the same measure as his capacity for knowledge exceeds ours. Christ was prepared to endure the agonies of hell itself; and God, the Lord of the universe, was prepared to endure the suffering consequent upon his son's humiliation and death. He was prepared to accept this suffering in order to overcome sin, and death, and the evils that afflict our world, and to confer on us a life more glorious than we can imagine. So we don't know why God permits evil; we do know, however, that He was prepared to suffer on our behalf, to accept suffering of which we can form no conception."1

Lean Upon God For Comfort And For Support

Sometimes God calms the storm, sometimes He calms His child. If and when you go through terrible suffering in this life, you shouldn't spurn God, instead, you should do just the opposite! You should turn to Him for comfort and support. The Bible says that God "heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." (Psalm 147:3). The Bible says that "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:18). Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28).  Psalm 32:7 says "You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance." 

These Bible passages tell us that when times of suffering come, God is there for us. He is our hiding place (Psalm 32:7), He will heal our broken hearts and bind up our wounds (Psalm 147:3). He will give us rest if we come to Him (Matthew 11:28). If you've turned your back on God because of a tragedy that has entered your life, I implore you to return to Him now. Ask Him to heal your broken heart. Ask Him to help you cope with whatever it is you're dealing with. Ask Him to help you forgive Him. Of course, I am not at all implying that God has actually done anything sinful. By "forgive Him" I simply mean to stop resenting Him. You may not be able to stop begrudging God on your own power, but God can help with that. He can help you stop resenting him. Psalm 121:1-2 says "I lift my eyes up to the mountain. From where shall my help come from? My help comes from The Lord, the maker of heaven and earth." And Matthew 19:26 says that while some things are impossible with men, all things are possible with God. If there's anyone who can help you stop being mad at God, it's God! 

Who will you be like? Will you be like Job's Wife, who thought that Job should curse God on account of his suffering (Job 2:9), or will you be like Martha, who ran to Jesus during her time of mourning (John 11:20)? God gave you free will. It's up to you how you respond to your circumstances. The better thing to do would be to run to Jesus, fall at His feet and say "Lord, my heart is broken. Heal me".

Jesus stands with arms wide open saying "Come to me, all who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest." 

Given The Beauty In Store, How Is The Hurt Of Life's Sting?

I don't want to at all minimize the suffering of anyone reading this, however, I think it helps if we look at suffering with a long-term perspective. Read this Bible passage, and keep in mind that it was written by the Apostle Paul, who endured a life of “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, and hunger.” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5)

Paul wrote: "So we do not lose heart. . . . For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Paul wasn't downplaying the suffering of people who suffer, indeed, he himself was a person who endured a lot of suffering! Yet, Paul says that as rough as this life can be, it pales in comparison to the beauty and joy that God will lavish upon those who trust in Him. He said this also in his epistle to the Romans. 

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” - Romans 8:18

Paul lived his life with an eternal perspective. He knew that as terrible as this life can get, as he himself could personally attest to, it isn't anything compared to how wonderful the life to come is. 

Lee Strobel gave this illustration to make the point. Just mentally change the year to the current year. He wrote "Say that on the first day of 2012, you had an awful, terrible day. You had an emergency root canal at the dentist and they ran out of pain-killers. You crashed your car and had no insurance. Your stock portfolio took a nosedive. Your spouse got sick. A friend betrayed you. From start to finish, it was like the title of that children’s book: Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. But then every other day of the year was just incredibly terrific. Your relationship with God is close and real and intimate. A friend wins the lottery and gives you $100 million. You get promoted at work to your dream job. Time magazine puts your photo on its cover as 'The Person of the Year.' You have your first child and he’s healthy and strong. Your marriage is idyllic, your health is fabulous, you have a six-month vacation in Tahiti. Then next New Year’s Day someone asks, 'So, how was your 2012?' You’d say, 'It was great; it was wonderful!' And they’d say, 'But didn’t it start out bad?Didn’t you go through a lot of trouble that first day?' You’d think back and say, 'You’re right. That was a bad day, no denying it. It was difficult at the time. It was hard. It was painful. But when I look at the totality of the year, when I put everything in context, it’s been a great year. The 364 terrific days far outweigh the one bad day. That day just sort of fades away.'”2

This is analogous to our life versus our eternity. In Lee Strobel's analogy, our whole life represents January 1st of the year where everything goes wrong, but our eternity in Heaven represents the 364 days where everything goes right. When you think about it: the time we'll spend in suffering (approx. one century) is infinitesimally small to the time we'll spend in overwhelming, uninterrupted Joy in God's Kingdom (all eternity). All of our sufferings will be a mere blip in time! No wonder Paul called it "a slight, momentary affliction"

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." - John 16:33

A Day Is Coming When Suffering Will Cease And God Will Judge Evil 

Although this blog post is about the emotional version of the problem of evil, I think this point applies just as much to the intellectual versions and it does the emotional version, and that is that evil and suffering are not something that will always exist. Yes, we'll go to a perfect afterlife if we trust in Christ, but even our physical universe will be reformed some day.

The Bible says that a day will come when sickness and pain will be done completely away with and people will be held culpable for the nasty deeds they did. This is talked about in Revelation chapters 20 to 21. Justice will be served in a perfect way. That day will come, but not yet.

Now, you may be wondering what's holding God up. One answer is that some of you may be. The Bible teaches that God is actually procrastinating the cosmic apocalypse so that more people will come to trust in Him and ergo, spend eternity with Him in Heaven. He's delaying out of His love for mankind. 2 Peter 3:9 says “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." When you read 2 Peter 3:9 in context, you see that the entire passage is actually about why Christ is taking so long to return, and Peter says "This is the reason! God wants all people to be saved! He's tarrying for the sake of those still yet to repent!" If a person will repent tomorrow, God will keep the world spinning until tomorrow. If a person would repent in 2022 if God allowed the world to continue that long, then God will allow the world to continue until then for the sake of that one person. 

Conclusion

We have come to the end of this blog post series. I hope that I have answered the problem of evil satisfactorily for anyone who struggles with this issue. If you're an atheist, hopefully, you now see that one of your favorite arguments isn't any good. Hopefully, you've also seen that there are also good reasons to believe that Christianity is true (i.e the arguments in part 6 and part 7).

If you are convinced, then I admonish you to not hesitate in giving your life to Christ. Christ died for your sins (1 Corinthians 15:3, Romans 5:8) because He loves you (John 3:16, 1 John 4:10). If you place your trust in Him, whatever suffering you've experienced in this life will have an immeasurable recompense in the next. It has been said that "This life is all the Hell Christians will experience, and all the Heaven unbelievers will experience." I pray that this life is the only one in which you experience suffering, and it will be if you place your trust in Christ. Repent! Believe in The Lord Jesus and be saved!

Pray right now to receive Christ – so that you can know for sure that even if you were to die of a heart attack within the very next 5 minutes, you will immediately enter the arms of The Lord.

“Lord, I know I’m a sinner. I have broken your laws many times and I’m very sorry. I believe that you sent Jesus Christ to save me from my sins by dying on the cross. I believe that Jesus died for my sins and that on the third day; you raised Him from the dead. I accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior and make Him Lord of my life. Please save me from my sins by regenerating me by The Holy Spirit’s power, and forgive me for all that I’ve done. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.”


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Footnotes 

1: Alvin Plantinga, “Self-Profile,” Alvin Plantinga, ed. Jas. Tomberlin (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1985), p. 36.

2: Lee Strobel, from the article "Why Does God Allow Tragedy And Suffering", July 25th 2012, http://www.apologetics315.com/2012/07/why-does-god-allow-tragedy-and-suffering.html