Look around you. Turn on the TV. Read the tweets.
It’s rather evident that something is not right in our world. In fact, something must be broken.
The earthquakes, the hurricanes, the tsunamis, the Twin Towers. Hunger, pollution, threats of nuclear war, terrorism, mass shootings, greed, genocide. You can’t escape the pressing reality that this is not a perfect world.
We are far from experiencing James Cameron’s vision of Pandora in his film “Avatar.” No. We are far from that utopia.
Some people have asked me where God is at horrible times like these and how I can continue to believe in God when there is so much evidence to the contrary. But I think both questions can be turned around:
Do we look for God when times are going well? And honestly, in light of all the evil and tragedy, how can I not believe in God?
I’ve seen devastation. I’m an eye-witness to extreme poverty in Egypt where, while walking in Cairo, I saw a horrendous sight that still shakes me. At first I didn’t believe that the beggar I saw across the street was really human. I gasped when I realized that sitting amid the garbage and wood scraps, missing limbs and barely covered with soiled rags, was a child.
I’ve seen the ravages of the tsunami in Southeast Asia, where I found an open book among the bent rebar, broken bookcases, and roofless rooms where people used to sleep. While helping a Thai family rebuild their humble home after the loss and death in their farming village, we found their wall clock on the ground near a picnic table. It stopped at the time the killer tidal waves devastated their house.
Where was God? Does God care?
I have wept with people who shared horrible stories of abuse, rape and betrayal. I sat in silence with numb, shell-shocked students in the hours following the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech. Tragedy, suffering and genocide on a global scale are overwhelming. Personal pain is sobering.
So, where was God? Does God care?
I think that’s the cry of the soul. We look around us and think, “This isn’t right.” Something within cries, “It isn’t supposed to be this way!” I think it’s interesting that our default view of the world is that everything is supposed to be good. It’s as though we were made for another world.
I view life through my Christian belief system. Because of that, I can say yes, we were made for another world. Yes, God is present in the midst of our suffering, and yes, He does care. But let me back up a little bit.
When God created the world, He had a choice to make.
He could either create a perfect, pristine world populated by automatons that had no choice but to obey and therefore no ability for relationship or real love, or He could create a perfect, pristine world and fill it with moral agents who have the freedom to choose to love and enjoy Him.
But by creating free, moral people, He could not prevent them from using their choice for evil in the good universe He made. By doing so, God would act in a contradictory way, creating us with the freedom to love Him but then taking that freedom away when we would choose against Him. God cannot contradict Himself. He must be true to His character and nature.
Like in a strong, enduring marriage, God wants us to love Him and trust Him, even when we don’t know everything. He is good and all-powerful. One of my church leaders used to say, “God is sovereign [powerful and in control], and you can trust Him.”
In God’s original design for the world, there was a blessed alliance between men and women.
I think that brings us to one of the underlying concerns. To be worthy of worship, God must be good and all-powerful. But some people think that evil and suffering are signs that God is not powerful enough to stop evil or not loving enough to do so. I disagree. I think that God is all-powerful and more loving than we can understand. Let me continue.
In God’s original design for the world, there was a blessed alliance between men and women.
Humankind was entrusted with the care of the earth. Literally, we were to be in a “cooperative enhancement” effort of caring for the garden God gave. God called this “good.”
Somewhere along the way, we separated ourselves from God, making choice after choice to disregard God, doubt His character, mistrust Him and hide from Him. We thought we knew better than God, our source of life, and that He was holding out on us, so we ignored the guidelines He gave for living in the world He created. We used our moral freedom to not choose God, and so we turned away from life. We met brokenness and death for the first time.
What God originally created to be a blessed alliance between all men and women has disintegrated into varying levels of abuse. We use each other for our own purposes to fulfill selfish desires rather than living in a trusting compatibility with each other. Our relationships are characterized by mistrust, self- protection, selfishness and control. We grab and claw at each other, trying to fill something inside, but we are leaky and broken. We are self-destructive.
Even the earth is experiencing the consequences of our decision. No longer do we give it attention and gentle concern. Over-farming, over-mining, senseless animal brutality and careless drilling are commonplace. We are irresponsible with the earth entrusted to our care.
“Life’s greatest mystery was revealed in love’s greatest act.”
Although we betrayed God, He didn’t abandon us. God promised to send a savior, Jesus, who would rescue us from the consequences of our rebellion. God’s Son became like one of us so that all could see what God was really like. He lived His brief life without fault. He spoke the truth to us. He displayed real love. He restored broken people. He offered life in all its fullness.
A friend of mine says, “Life’s greatest mystery was revealed in love’s greatest act. Jesus, the author of life, died for us, paying the penalty for all our wrongdoing.”
The pivotal point and great paradox of Christianity is the death and resurrection of Jesus. God sent Jesus to bring us back to Him. Jesus died so that we could live. When people were mad, the powerful elite unjustly tried Jesus in court and sentenced Him to a horrific death. He suffered cruelty, abuse, shame and humiliation. He endured all this, knowing that He came to rescue us.
Through His death God transferred all our wrongdoing and guilt onto Jesus, who had lived a faultless life of love. God switched the accounts and credited us with Jesus’ perfection and love while crediting our faults and selfishness to Jesus. Jesus paid our death penalty, taking our punishment for rebellion and removing the offense that kept us from God and God from us.
Three days later, God raised Jesus from the dead to prove that He was the promised rescuer. Jesus spent time with His friends, and hundreds of eyewitnesses saw Him, touched Him and talked with Him. This was no holy apparition or sorrow-induced vision. This was Jesus, in the flesh, walking, talking and even making breakfast!
So now, with the penalty paid, God invites us to return to Him, our source of life and wholeness. The wild thing is that God offers to forgive and restore us not because of anything we’ve done to prove ourselves but because of what Jesus did. His forgiveness is free. It’s undeserved. And we receive it only through real faith in Jesus, which opens the door to the life we were designed to experience in all its fullness.
Because of Jesus, God can be true to His character and nature by declaring the guilty blameless. He isn’t contradicting Himself and ignoring or overlooking our rebellion. He actually offers forgiveness! To those who turn to God through faith in Jesus’ payment for their faults, God gives His Spirit to give them power to change and live a new life.
The end of God’s story is coming soon.
Our connection with God is restored and we can grow in our trust of Him, learning to trust Him even when life doesn’t make sense from our perspective. With this power to change, we’re able to love God, love people, offer forgiveness to others, experience peace within, and look forward to complete restoration.
The end of God’s story is coming soon. Jesus will come back to make all things right. Our hero and rescuer will restore what was lost and damaged by our betrayal. All people will be judged with perfect justice. The guilty will be sentenced and their lives of separation from God will culminate in endless anguish as they continue on their path of self-absorption and self-centeredness, on and on forever.
He’s right here, too. God is suffering, too.
But the forgiven, who accepted the gift through faith in Jesus and who switched accounts with Jesus, have been declared right with God. They will enjoy life as God designed it, without selfishness, greed, hatred, pain, sorrow, abuse, suffering and death, and He will satisfy their deepest longings. He will make everything good and right again. And it will be that way forever.
This is God’s story. This is what I believe.
You ask, “Where is God when there’s all this suffering in the world?” and I say, He’s right here, too. God is suffering, too. He did not make us to endure life like this. We were made for something entirely different and entirely good.
Have you ever seen the TV show “Intervention”? It’s a series documenting stories of addiction and how addiction affects the people in the life of the abuser. One episode tells Vinnie’s story. He had been using crack for eight years. He lived with his mom, who did his laundry, made him breakfast and gave him money. High one night, he sold his truck for $300, which he spent on crack and a hotel room.
He made one bad choice after another. He didn’t think about the consequences to himself or to others. His sister talks about her outrage at watching Vinnie self-destruct. She loves her brother, and she is angry. She knows life could be better for Vinnie and everyone else in the family. She suffers as she watches him refuse help, live life on his own terms and continue to make bad choices.
Does God care? Yes. God is angry at our self-destruction, and that anger is not irrational. Vinnie’s sister’s anger is evidence of her love for Vinnie. She knows, just as God does, that life can be better. Anger isn’t the opposite of love, hate is, and taken to its end, hate becomes indifference.
God allows suffering for a greater purpose. Sometimes it takes a deep hurt to find a deep need for God.
I like how one person described God’s anger like a “settled opposition to the cancer ... which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being.”* God is angry at this cancer of selfishness, rebellion and self-destruction, and He weeps over this evil, though He tolerates it for a time.
God allows suffering — even seemingly senseless suffering — for a greater purpose, but He doesn’t create suffering. Sometimes it takes a deep hurt to find a deep need for God, and He’s willing to use hurts and pain to lead us to Him.
As I think about the suffering and pain in the world, I take comfort knowing that God will make every wrong right.
I don’t need to take matters into my own hands and enact vigilante justice. I am not the final judge or authority. I can live freely loving and freely forgiving.
The day will come when evil will be avenged, when brokenness will be healed, and justice will reign. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4, New Living Translation).
Sarah Evers is on staff with Cru and has lead a wide variety of ministry initiatives. Sarah is also a popular writer and conference speaker.
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*Quoted from Timothy Keller, “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism” (New York: Penguin, 2008).
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