Earlier this week a friend and I were talking about the tragic earthquake in Haiti, and he asked me how God could allow suffering of this magnitude to take place. In the face of the tremendous pain and loss we see going on there, any attempt to answer that question feels hollow. Yet the question persists: if God is good, how can he allow such suffering and evil in the world? My answer went something like this . . .
The world is not as God intended it to be. When God created the world it was perfect, and suffering was not an issue. The world was terribly stained though when we introduced sin into God’s creation. In Adam and Eve’s choice, evil and suffering were unleashed into the world, and the world “came under the control of the evil one.” Everything has been affected by this, from human nature to the animal kingdom to the forces of nature. Consequently, we have to deal with the suffering inflicted on us by others (and that we inflict on others), and with the disastrous effects of nature gone bad, as we have seen this week. I don’t know if it is possible to answer with precision the question of why this disaster happened, but I think we can say in part that the choice that brought evil into the world set in motion a chain of events that stretches through history and that led up to this particular tragedy.
Why did God make the world this way? Couldn’t he have made a world where suffering wouldn’t occur? In his classic The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis notes that we can imagine a world where a two-by-four would suddenly turn soft as grass if I chose to swing it as a weapon, and where the air waves would refuse to carry your words if you chose to use them for lies or insults.
But the problem with such a world, Lewis notes, is that in doing away with suffering God would also be doing away with free, authentic choice. And that would defeat the purpose of creating humans in the first place, wouldn’t it? We are created for relationship with him, and beings without a free will wouldn’t be capable of love – they would be glorified robots. Lewis concludes: “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”
It seems that God’s desire to have a love relationship with us is such that he chose to create us, even knowing that along with this joy we would inflict terrible suffering on one another, on this earth, and even curse the God who made us.
So why doesn’t God do something to stop it? The truth is that often he does, and eventually he will altogether. Often we do see God intervene. Most of us can give testimony to God’s specific intervention in our lives. And even in a tragedy like Haiti we hear many stories of God saving specific individuals who should not have survived. Why are some saved from disasters and not others? I wish I knew, but I know that God doesn’t let any tragedy go wasted – even these tragedies are used in people’s lives (if they are willing) to draw them close to Christ.
And eventually God will stop suffering altogether. At the end of time when Christ returns, the Fall will be reversed, sin and death will be done away with, and the guilty will be judged for the suffering they caused others. Until that time, suffering will continue, because to end it now would also put an end to people’s chance of responding to God’s grace in salvation (2 Pet. 3:9).
As C.S. Lewis put it, the author doesn’t walk onto the stage until the final curtain. Suffering will continue until Christ returns and that final curtain falls. Until that time, we, as Christ’s body, pray and act as healing agents of God’s good kingdom. And all the while we pray, “Come Lord Jesus, come.”
Tim Morey (D.Min., Fuller Theological Seminary) is founding and lead pastor at Life Covenant Church in Torrance, California, and the author of Embodying Our Faith (InterVarsity Press).