“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
The Bible is clear about the fact that God is good. Period. No qualifications or exceptions. God is good all the time (see Psalm 145:8-9). Most of us who are believers accept this by faith, even when life’s circumstances seem to deal us a blow. While we may not understand all the “hows and whys”, most of us have learned not to accuse God of being unjust when we are visited by sorrow.
However, for many in the world, the issue is still open to debate. The question continues to be asked, “How could a loving God allow such suffering in the world?” Others are more direct, saying that God is to blame for the suffering, since as an omniscient and omnipotent Being, He could stop it if He were truly loving.
In some cases the Church has not helped, trying to rationalize suffering by saying that God must have a reason for suffering if He allows it. Others go even further, implying, or outright stating, that perhaps suffering is His tool to somehow perfect His saints in patience or piety. Others are more philosophical about exactly how to find real meaning in suffering, explaining that though we may not understand, God’s ways are ultimately right, even if we cannot grasp them.
I’ll agree with the part about God’s ways being above our understanding, but for the rest of it, I disagree. I have great respect for those still wrestling with these questions, and it is important to understand that many are merely trying to make sense of the contrasting ideas of an all-knowing, all-powerful, good God and the reality of human suffering. But my point is that in trying to reconcile God’s sovereignty and the reality of suffering, many end up making Him complicit in that suffering, when nothing, and I mean NOTHING, could be further from the truth. In fact, the argument makes no sense. By any definition of “good” that we understand, God can not be complicit in suffering, and be good. In fact, when you bring it down to a more practical, every day illustration, the idea is absurd.
Even in our broken world, we would lock a father up and throw away the key for inflicting suffering, or even allowing it, because he thought he could somehow teach his son not to touch the burning stove in the future by holding his hand to it. The ends do not justify the means, and our understandings of right and wrong and morality cannot go out the window just because we’re talking about God. Is He not is the author of all that is just, holy, and good, and is He exempt from the same standards or definition of good and evil He set for us, merely because He holds the position of Creator? No. God is good, and does not need to justify Himself, because He is the NOT the source of suffering and evil, but of all that is good (see James 1:18), even if we get confused about the role He plays in it all.
Let me qualify my statement only enough to acknowledge that in any disciplining of children, there is some element of suffering, which is for our good (see Hebrews 12:5-11). That is understood, but our comments are in reference to the evils in our world we struggle to understand, and that leave us, even in our fallen state, confused and horrified.
The fact is, God is not responsible for, or complicit in, that kind of suffering at all. The starvation and malnutrition that claim the lives of innocent children, and the pestilences that wipe out entire communities, are not His handiwork. The tyranny and oppression that hold entire nations under horrible bondage to the will of a few wicked men in power is not God’s will. He is not the author of pain or sorrow, nor does He commission the suffering of the innocent to bring about an ultimately good end. God is good, and a good God does not arbitrarily inflict pain merely to prove that good men can hold up even under the worst life has to offer. Even a cursory glance at the story of Job shows that it was the devil, and not God, who inflicted the calamity that brought Job so low for a season in his life. Rather, it was God who ultimately healed and restored Job and gave him twice as much as he had before his sufferings began.
God may judge and pass sentence on sin, as we often see in scripture, but that is a manifestation of His justice, not cruelty, and if the hand of righteousness does not subdue evil, then the innocent suffer. So, even in judgment, God is good, because He rewards and protects that which is good and punishes the wicked. His blessing may be withheld from a people who reject Him, not because He is tyrannical, but because at our insistence He steps back to let man be filled with the fruit of his own ways. When God delays judgment, again it is because He is good, giving opportunity for the guilty to repent and escape the consequences of their own deeds (see Revelation 2:20-21).
There is suffering because we live in a broken world. The whole of creation was plunged into darkness because of man’s original sin and rebellion against God (see Romans 5:12). That sin alienated us from our benevolent Creator and even brought about the degeneration of God’s creation. The choking heat and drought that destroy crops, and the destructive storms that take lives and lay waste to homes, were not part of God’s original plan for man. Such catastrophe is in our world because even the creation itself was subject to the curse of man’s fall (see Romans 8:19-22). There is suffering because man is a sinful being. If you’re one of those who hold to the notion that man is inherently good, you need to get out more, or at least turn on the news. Man is a fallen being, and the world he has made for himself is burning down around him.
Terrorism, financial crisis, starvation, injustice, suffering, and the rest, are all a result of man’s choice to turn from the God of light and pursue his own way. And lest we too quickly judge our original parents who took this detour to destruction on behalf of us all, the fact is every one of us are born with the same inclination to put self and self-interest before God’s interests or the interests of others. The extreme expression of the fallen nature is murder, and while the threat of punishment may keep men from fully expressing their capacity for selfishness, there are a thousand ways in which men push against one another each and every day to get the advantage and further their own cause at the expense of their brother. According to the Word of God, we share the same spiritual “DNA” as the devil (see John 8:44), who authored sin in the first place and was the first to exalt himself and his interests over the right and holy ways of God. Only one generation out from the paradise we lost, brother was killing brother, and not much has changed in the world since.
But God did not forget us. Rather than being the problem, He is the light that stepped into our darkness in the person of Jesus Christ. He came revealing the Kingdom of God and the nature of the Father, not in cold stone tablets containing laws we could not keep, but in a love so deep it swallowed up our sin in a singularly selfless act that rolled the stone away from the tomb in which we were all hopelessly buried. He paid our incalculable debt by an act of grace and mercy so great it will be the theme song of the redeemed for all eternity. The cross stands as an eternal symbol of that moment in time when God’s grace intersected with man’s sin and triumphed on our behalf.
The world is still dark, but in it shines a light so bright that by it even the most wayward soul can still be guided home. No sermon has comprehended, no song has sung in full, the amazing love story that continues to be told of a sinless Savior who gave His life to save the sin-sick soul of man. If our God is responsible, it is for our salvation. If He is complicit, it is in sacrificing His only Son to rescue us. If He could be held to account, it would be for the hope man now has of knowing eternal joy in the life He freely gives. That is our God. Our Savior. Our Light in the darkness.