Where is God When the Innocent Suffer?

Every sociological measure agrees that Christianity is rapidly declining in North America. Churches across the theological spectrum are hemorrhaging members and failing to attract and hold onto millennials and Gen-Z. 

Explanations abound, but if you ask those who are not connecting with faith communities, the answers are fairly consistent. They include:

  1. Christians are judgmental.
  2. Christians are homophobic.
  3. Christians deny science.
  4. Christians support war, capital punishment, and institutionalized racism.
  5. A person cannot rationally believe in an all-powerful God of love because of all the evil in the world. 

If we are talking about conservative Catholic and conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants, the first four points are both entirely valid and entirely unbiblical. Biblically founded Christians should never be judgmental, homophobic, support violence and death, or deny the clear realities of science. And, there are many of us who are not. 

It is the last point that is the primary dissuader of faith.

Several points to consider:

When we speak of God being almighty, we do not mean that God is an arbitrary magician. Looking at our universe, we might expect God to be rational and orderly, but not magical. God cannot do anything at all. God can only do what is consistent with God’s nature. God cannot, for example be hateful because God is love.

Much of the evil in the world is moral evil – it is caused by choices humans make. War, school shootings, greed, police brutality, racial discrimination, and environmental destruction are only a few examples. The only way God could stop moral evil would be to suspend free will, which would make us robots.

Some evil is physical. Often the two intersect. Human produced pollutants may cause cancer, for example. Things like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions seem to not be connected to human behavior. The damage they do is physical. They have geological causes. 

So, if God is omnipotent, why doesn’t God step in and prevent physical evil? Could not God have designed a world in which cells don’t mutate into cancer? I suppose so, but if cells did not mutate, life would not evolve. There is freedom in nature as well as freedom in human choice.

God’s universe is dynamic. God is always creating. God is not only at the Alpha and Omega, the Big Bang and the telos; God is also at work all along. That does not imply that God is controlling everything. God doesn’t cause a child to have cancer or tectonic plates to shift and bury cities. Bad stuff is not God’s fault. Bad stuff exists because freedom is designed into the system, including the freedom to evolve and freedom of choice. 

Additionally, there are in the universe intelligent malevolent forces – devils and demons, principalities and powers, spiritual wickedness, angelic creatures who chose to embrace the dark side. 

None of this theodicy helps us when we’re suffering, however. If your loved one is dying of cancer, it’s not a matter of why or who is to blame. Jesus’ response to human suffering was not to assign fault, but to respond in compassion. The questions are how can we help and what do we do now? The problem of pain remains. Debating why an earthquake struck is pointless. Dig out and rescue the victims. 

The beauty of the incarnation is God joining us in our suffering, in our joys, in our hopes, and in our disappointments. Jesus is God with us. God is with us in our suffering, not watching it from the sidelines. God invites us into empathy. God invites us to help. 

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist, Jesus Freak, Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, spiritual director, life coach, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, writer, husband, father, grandfather, dog-sitter

Posted on July 28, 2020, in anabaptist, apologetics, Bible, Bible Teaching, bodily resurrection, Christianity, creation, Jesus, Justice, Kingdom Life, kingdom of God, Peace Shalom Hesed, Spirituality, The Cross, Theodicy, Worship. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Have you been reading Thomas Jay Oord?


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