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Does God have a purpose for evil and suffering?

We will be the first to admit that we don't have some kind of special insight into the mind of God and know why he allows evil and suffering. We just believe that as a holy, loving, all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing God, he does have his reasons for allowing evil--both human and natural evil--to exist in our world and inflict the suffering it does. Here are some possible purposes God may have for allowing evil and the suffering it produces. See if you identify with one of more of these.

Suffering Can Make Us Stronger

You've no doubt heard the expression, "No pain, no gain." We're not trying to trivialize the nature of pain and suffering, but there's truth in that slogan. Something about hardship, difficulty and pain can sometimes strengthen us. Suffering and setbacks can also bring us closer as families, friend and communities. Dare we say, in the wake of the earthquake in Haite and its horrible aftermath, the global community has come together in extraordianary ways to provide relief on a massive scale. There's an incredible amount of work yet to do, but there is hope that Haiti and its people will one day be stronger.

Some Evil Helps Bring About Greater Good

There are many examples of this principle at work in Scripture. In one of his letters to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul recounts the pain and suffering in his life, including a nagging "thorn" in his flesh, yet he knows that his troubles have made him stronger.

That's why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10).

Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers and then suffered in prison after being falsely accused. But eventually he was elevated to a position of power and influence, and when he was finally reunited with his brothers, he uttered these immortal words:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people (Gen. 50:20).

And in the greatest example of pain and suffering bringing about greater good, Jesus suffered on the cross and died so that all who believe in him can have eternal life (John 3:16).

Suffering Can Point Us to God

Have you ever noticed that when things are going well, you have a tendency to drift away from God, and when things are going badly, you get closer to God? You would think that pain and suffering would drive us away from God--and for some people this happens. But most people, even hardened cynics, seem to seek God like never before when they are going through terrible suffering and unbearable grief. C.S. Lewis expresses this concept eloquently when he writes, "God whispters to us in our pleasures...but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

God Knows What It's Like to Suffer

We may feel like shaking our fists at God when something extraordinarily painful happens to the world or to us. The most natural question to ask is, where is God in all of it? On a global level, you want to know where God is in the Haiti earthquake. On a very personal level, you want to know where God is in your cancer, or your father's stroke, or your baby's birth defect. Or maybe you're going through a painful divorce, or you are at the end of your financial rope. Where is God when it hurts? Does God even care?

Yes, God cares, and he demonstrated just how much he cares when he sent Jesus to enter our world in the form of a human. Here is the text of a hymn sung by the early church that tells why Jesus came:

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal's death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).

When we ask, Where is God when we suffer? we need only look to Christ, who suffered for us so that ultimately, in the life that follows this temporal existence, we won't have to suffer. Meanwhile, we live imperfectly in an imperfect and sometimes cruel world. And when we suffer, we can take comfort in knowing that we are "partners with Christ" in his suffering (1 Peter 4:13).

--Bruce & Stan

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Christianity 101 is a collection of books and digital resources by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz that talk about God in a way that encourages people to grow in their faith.