Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On Sin and Suffering

I've spent a lot of time talking with people about Jesus and sharing the Gospel with them. If the person with whom I'm speaking is a bit resistant to the Word, one of the arguments that invariably comes up is the problem of evil, as in, "Yeah, well if God is so good, then why is there so much evil in the world?" They mean "Why did my grandmother get sick and die, why is there illness, sickness, warfare, divorce, murder, adultery, death, and things like these?"

This is the question which every person deeply feels down the core of who they are. Every one of us, of every type of religion and none at all, intuitively knows the the world as it is is not the world as it should be. And for our Gospel to be coherent at all, it must include answers to this, the most penetrating of all questions. Consequently, I have thought about it a great deal. Here are the best answers I have:
  1. Jesus. God not only knows what it is like to lose those you love to death (John 11), he also knows what it is like to be betrayed, abandoned, forgotten, and rejected. He knows what it's like to suffer agonizing torture and death when you are innocent of any crime. There is no type of human suffering with which God is personally unfamiliar. It's true that God allows suffering, but it's also not as if He doesn't know what it's like or does not promise to be with us in it.
  2. Sin. Since we're sharing the Gospel, what do you think I've been talking about when I mention sin? Do you really think that sin has only personalized and individual results? No, sin has permeated all of creation (cf. Romans 8:19-25), and all of human life and relationships (Gen. 3:14-16).
  3. Patience. To paraphrase Solzhenitsyn, most people think that all God would have to do to eliminate evil from the world is to get rid of all the bad people. But the line of good and evil cuts through every human heart. And who is willing to destroy his own heart? To put it another way, there are not any good people, only people tainted by sin and evil. The snarky version of this is to ask, "What if God decided to eliminate all the evil in the world, beginning with you?" More biblical, and less sarcastic, is Peter's statements that "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some count slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance," (2 Pet. 3:9) and later, that "our Lord's patience means salvation" (2 Pet. 3:15). God is saving a people, and He is not willing to rush the cadence and lose any of the elect whom He has chosen. When the last of the elect enter the Kingdom by grace through faith, then God's judgment will come on all kinds of evil (2 Pet. 3:10-13), destroying wicked people and everything tainted by wickedness utterly, and re-creating the universe (Rev. 20-22).
  4. Mercy. We object to suffering and death because we think that our sins are outweighed by our sufferings when in fact the opposite is true. If the Christian doctrine of Hell is true (and it is), then we deserve an eternity of conscious punishment not later, but now. Yet God does not judge that way immediately, not because He doesn't see us suffering, but because He wants that suffering to produce repentance instead of Hell.

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