What is Evil and What is the Nature of Suffering?
It is somewhat amusing that Christians from the suburbs who live a relatively safe and prosperous life are the same ones who are bothered the most by the "question of evil". There is an expectation that God of the Bible is also the one who should promise the good life. Christians from these suburban lifestyles expect attendance at school to produce a good career, health to follow eating the right foods and exercising, mental health to follow proper therapy and medication, financial success to follow climbing the corporate ladder properly and saving money for retirement, and relationships to be satisfying since these need no cultivation. Christians in Africa and Latin America associate more closely with the Biblical message that God heard his children crying out in their slavery in Egypt (Exodus 2:24), that God heals those who suffer ill health (Psalm 30:2) , gives strength to the weak(Psalm 10:7) , causes seasons of prosperity and seasons of drought (Genesis 41), and wants use to seek him with all our heart(Jeremiah 29:13). The gospel according to the suburbs is that we simply should not suffer. The world is right, except for these stupid problems that we should not be having. The goal is to understand the causes of suffering and eleminate them all through science and management. The Biblical world view says the world is messed up, broken and we are looking forward to restoration. God is not the author of the evil, but could end it all right now. He could have done it years ago, but has chosen in his wisdom to not do so. We do not know all the consequences of him stopping evil sooner or later, which takes us to the next point. Is this life short or long?
Blades of Grass
When the Bible talks about our length of days on the earth it says they are short. Even scientist who judge the age of the universe see that one or two life spans is really nothing in relationship to time. We tend to have a point of view centered on the normal human life span. The common complaint on the question of evil is the death of infants. This is indeed tragic, but from a Biblical point of view, 80 years is also pretty short. Some breeds of mayflies live their adult life cycle in less than a day. We may think 75 or 80 years is a long time, but in reality, it is just a passing breeze that we enjoy for but a moment.
When Evil Is Used For Good
One of the major themes in the Scripture is that suffering is a part of life. Just read all the stories in the Bible about suffering. Read all the prophets that describe suffering that is going to come upon the ancient Israelites as a consequence of not following God. Just read the Psalms. God used exodus from Egypt as a way of forming a nation with the shared experience of departing in triumph from their captors. When I was in the Army it was common for company commanders to be judged by their superiors on how they brought unit cohesion upon their command. So commanders would sponsor team building activities like cook outs and recreation days. However, a sense of bonding was not established by playing together, but by suffering together when we went on training exercises. Getting stuck in the mud produced a much better story to tell and retell than a good plate of hot dogs and hamburgers.
Suffering is something that is actually good when we...
- Exercise to build stronger bodies
- Show greater character
- Achieve great accomplishments
- Sacrifice for the good of the group
- Express love to relatives and friends by suffering with or for them
- Verify the truth via suffering
- Give our life or health for the sake of our nation
- Provide for our family
- Share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:12-19)
I am not saying that children being the victums cancer is ultimately good. I am not saying that when that happens that somebody is directly at fault, though somebody may be. I am not saying the pain from mental illness is bearable. I am not saying that victums of violence do not have something to be angry about. I am saying God is not the author of evil.