One Reason Why a Compassionate God Permits Suffering

Crying on a couch

Why does God’s world contain pain and suffering? If there is a more challenging, painful question in Christian apologetics, I don’t know what it is. It is viscerally compelling for anyone who has ever suffered a loss, or watched another do so (which would be all of us). And it is logically compelling as well; why would an all-knowing, all-powerful, loving deity allow the sort of sadness and pain we see around us?

Ultimately, the best and most complete answer to the problem of pain comes at the cross, where our Father, as he so often does, answers us with a picture rather than a treatise. God may not fully explain why he permits evil to burn through his creation, but two thousand years ago he stepped into those flames with us and gathered the coals into his own arms. The mutilated hands and feet of the Son of God do not explain why suffering is permitted, but they do promise that there is a sufficient reason. And the empty tomb he left behind promises something else as well: an ultimate end for every sort of evil, whatever the reasons for its existence today. Like Job, the Bible’s other great picture-answer for suffering, the cross calls us to trust even when we cannot fully explain.

But our inability to comprehensively explain the problem of evil does not mean we are without any answers at all. In fact, the Bible offers many pieces of an explanation which may be too deep and multifaceted for us to grasp in its totality. Today I want to explore just one of those partial explanations.

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When Trials Are Trying to Tell You Something, and When They Aren’t

Depressed man

Life in a fallen world isn’t easy, and we all know the dark pressure of hard times. The collapse of a relationship, loss of a job, loss of health—they are sad reminders that sin brought all flavors of death and loss into the world and there is no escaping their effects in this life. But sometimes the burden is heavier because we don’t know how to respond. Some suffering is simply a consequence of living in a dying world, but the Bible also makes it clear that our Father may use trials to correct or discipline us. When troubles come, it is easy to feel stuck in the middle, unsure whether God is looking for us to repent of some sin or simply to trust and wait on him.

Proverbs 3:11-12 says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” Sometimes, God uses troubles to shake us awake and confront us with our sins or mistakes. If your girlfriend is breaking up with you, it might be because life can be painful in a fallen world, or it might be because you are kind of a jerk. If you lost your job, it might be because God is giving you a chance to grow in your faith, or it might be because you don’t work very hard. Or you may have some habitual sin which is unrelated to this particular trial, but which God is trying to draw to your attention. Yet, on the other hand, desperately trying to ferret out some unnoticed besetting sin may simply add an unnecessary burden to an already painful situation. What to do? How can we remain open to our Father’s correction while also realizing that some troubles call for endurance rather than repentance?

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A bit of theodicy from alien-invasion sci fi

I went to see Edge of Tomorrow yesterday (that sounds more confusing than I expected) and thought it was one of the better movies I’ve watched recently. The movie is set amid an alien invasion during which, for rather obscure science fiction-y reasons, Tom Cruise’s character finds himself trapped in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over. Every time he is killed, his life resets back to the day before, which he then re-experiences until he’s killed again, because that’s what happens in an alien invasion. (Edge of Tomorrow is basically Groundhog Day if the groundhog was millions of aliens trying to exterminate all human life.)

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