One of the biggest questions that we all must face in life is the meaning of suffering, if any meaning even exists at all. No one can escape the clutches of suffering. It is a mutual enemy we all must face in one form or another at one time or another. The presence of evil and suffering remains one of the primary philosophical reasons people reject Christianity. Theism doesn’t necessarily have to be rejected, because in Deism, God is not personal, so it is likely he could create a world of chaos and step back to let it destroy itself. This just wouldn’t be a god anyone would want to know.
In my conversations with non-Christian friends, particularly millennials, I am more and more hearing things like this: “Sure, God may exist, but if he creates a world where such horrible suffering is possible, then I want no part of him.” So, adopting Christian presuppositions, they are saying they don’t want God on his terms. Of course, the problem is they are only seeing half of the story.
We can all admit there is something horribly wrong with this world. But many of us fail to see that much of what is wrong with the world is found within our own hearts. So when we sneer at God for not just eliminating suffering and evil once and for all, we fail to see two things.
First, we fail to see that in order for God to completely wipe out suffering and evil, he would have to wipe all of us out! The sad and scary truth is that we are naïve if we think we are not capable of committing horrible atrocities.
Second, we fail to see that God in fact has acted to completely wipe out suffering and evil through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. In fact, he used suffering and evil to eliminate suffering and evil. But no, he goes even further. God doesn’t just use suffering and evil. God absorbs suffering and evil in order to eliminate suffering and evil. A God who suffers for you is a God you can trust in the mystery of suffering and evil.
There is something horribly wrong with the world. How can we reconcile the existence of a personal, good, and sovereign God with senseless evil and suffering? The Christian worldview, otherwise known as the gospel, teaches that God comes into this messed up world and suffers at the hands of evil men in order to set things right.
There is a great scene in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic novel The Brothers Karamazov in which two of the characters are talking about the dreaded and pervasive reality of suffering. Dostoyevsky was a Christian, and he uses this conversation and the words of Ivan specifically to communicate how Christianity speaks to suffering:
I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.
Only the Christian worldview can communicate such real, vivid, and existential hope in the face of great suffering. Suffering is only justifiable if, in the words of Tolkien, “every sad thing comes untrue.” Because of Christ, every sad thing will come untrue. Every evil will be swallowed up in the goodness of Christ. Every suffering will be eclipsed by the satisfaction of Christ.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.