If God is so good, why do people suffer?

Mary Baker Eddy started a movement called Christian Science.  She spent her life in nineteenth-century America struggling with poor health.  Traditional methods of healing failed her and so she explored alternatives.

Along the way, Mary Eddy wrestled with the ancient question of how God can be all-powerful and all-good if evil exists in the world.  Her answer was to conclude that all evil is an illusion and that pain and suffering are not real.  According to Eddy, people only hurt because they are deceived.

Most people have experienced enough pain and suffering to be skeptical of the notion that their sorrow is only imaginary.  But if pain and suffering are real and evil is real, then what about God?  Is he truly all-powerful?  Or is he too weak to stop evil?  Is he truly all-good?  Or is there a dark side to God’s personality?

The Bible clearly reveals that God’s goodness is flawless and his strength is unmatched.  So what is the answer?

Some people believe that they can solve the apparent riddle about suffering by suggesting that God does not create evil, he only allows it.  But even so, the Lord of heaven and earth would still be responsible for standing idly by and allowing horrible acts of violence.  There must be more to the answer.

The Bible says that God works all things together for good (Romans 8:28).  God can and does use evil to bring about good, but when we see and experience the deep sorrows in this age our souls are easily overwhelmed by the cost of such a good.  And when the pain is personal we are especially tempted to doubt that any goodness can result from suffering.

Our quest to find some satisfaction and understanding about the dark valleys in this age cries out for something more than words.  To gain real insight we must know about a place and an event.  The place is a barren hill outside Jerusalem and the event is a cruel execution: Jesus’ death at Calvary.

Jesus’ voluntary sacrifice on a Roman cross, despite his innocence, is the ultimate example of God’s ability to bring good from evil.  Jesus died to save God’s people from sin.

But Jesus’ death is more.  Jesus came not only to defeat evil but to expose it.  The Lord could have defeated evil without our knowledge, but then we might be curious about evil.  Like Adam and Eve, we might think that God is hiding something good from us.  But Jesus’ death on the cross shows how dark and dangerous evil truly is.

And there is still more.  Jesus’ sacrificial death not only exposed and defeated evil; Jesus dying on the cross is God joining with humanity in the experience of pain and agony.  Never can we say to God, “You just don’t understand.”  The Lord understands suffering better than we do, because he endured the full measure of punishment for all our sin.

The picture is still incomplete.  Jesus’ suffering at Calvary was not the end of his story.  God raised him up from his temporary tomb.  Death no longer has power over the Lord Jesus.  His pain and suffering came to an end and gave way to eternal glory.  As a result, our pain and suffering, although real, is temporary, if we belong to Christ.

The entire thought from Romans 8:28 is this: “And we know that for those who love God, he works all things together for good, for those called according to his purpose.”  When we love the Lord, even the difficult times in our lives have meaning and purpose.

So it turns out that Eddy’s Christian Science is neither Christian nor science.  To deny the existence of suffering is not very scientific.  To take away the very real meaning of Jesus’ suffering is certainly not Christianity.

But to say that God brings good results out of bad circumstances is not an appeal to rush out and actively pursue pain and suffering.  God may allow suffering but he also pours out abundant blessings that are meant to be received with joy and gratitude.

Enjoy the times of blessing in your life.  Jesus did.  Avoid unnecessary suffering and pain whenever you can.  Jesus did that, too.  But when pain and suffering cannot be escaped, you can find the good if you love the God who makes all things work.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church, September 2012 –

Printed 9-14-12 by Camden News under title “If God is so good, why do people suffer?”

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