Life throws us many curveballs, perhaps none as difficult as reconciling the existence of an all-good God with the reality of suffering and evil in the world.
I remember reading a news article about a terrorist group in the Middle East that was raiding Christian homes. They were raping and killing Christians who would not convert to Islam. A friend shared the article on social media and was begging everyone for prayers. In a moment of anger and pain at what was happening, I looked at the crucifix on my wall and shouted, “Do I really need to ask you to do something?”
There are a few ways of looking at the existence of suffering and evil in the world. Some people thank and praise God for all the good that happens, and curse Satan for all the bad. Others praise God for all the good in their lives, yet curse Him when things go wrong. Lastly, some believe that God is lovingly in control of everything that happens. They praise God for the good that happens and praise Him for the “apparent” evils that occur, trusting that He will work all things together for good for those who love Him (Rom 8:28).
Regretfully I slip into the second example far too often. Because I believe and know that God is all-powerful and all good, I get angry at Him when I hear of tragedies that occur that he has not prevented. I am constantly listening to people share their stories of broken relationships, sexual addiction, post-abortive grief, divorce, rape or sexual abuse. Sometimes I really struggle to praise God in the midst of these stories, and question where He was when this was happening. It is times like these, when I struggle to praise God, that God’s Word helps me enormously.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:16-18).
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
We are called to trust God in all circumstances, no matter what evil surrounds us. By praising God we are demonstrating our faith in Him who works all things for good. We don’t need to be able to understand why he allows certain things. We don’t even need to ever see the good He will bring out of a situation. All we need is faith in God’s ability to redeem every moment of suffering and bring about a greater good.
In the story of Job, we read that He is “blameless and upright, one who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:1). Satan asks permission to afflict Job because he believed that if God took away the many blessings Job had received from God, he would “cure him to his face” (Job 1:11). Job suffers terribly, losing his livestock, home and even his wife and children. He never curses God throughout his time of trial though, and God blesses him with twice the wealth he had before he was tested. God allowed Satan to afflict him, only to deepen his trust and faith in God.
What about Joseph, son of Jacob from Genesis? He is sold into slavery by his brothers and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. But God raises him up to be the right-hand man of Pharoah and in charge of food distribution throughout the famine. From this position, he ends up saving the lives of so many in Egypt. Joseph himself says, “Don’t be angry with yourself that you did this to me (talking to his brothers who sold me into slavery), for God did this” (Gen 45:5). Joseph acknowledges that God permitted those evils to bring about a greater good.
What about St Paul, the greatest evangelist for Christ who ever lived? Surely he was spared suffering because of his great mission? On the contrary, St Paul suffered terribly for the sake of the Gospel. The Lord gave him a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to keep him from being too elated. Three times he asked the Lord to remove it, but God did not. (2 Cor 12:7-9).
Are we to believe that God abandoned Job, Joseph or St Paul? Far from it. God was ever-present in the midst of their sufferings and working through them powerfully. He never let them alone. The Lord always brings good in the end. Job was blessed with more than he had, Joseph saved his family and many others, and St Paul, well his sufferings are still bearing much fruit! God was working every tragedy, every suffering for their good, as part of his perfect plan of his love for them and others.
Praise God in the midst of suffering and evil, and we will overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21). Although I am an infant on this journey, I have experienced God moving in powerful ways since I began praising him in the midst of my sufferings rather than blaming him in anger. To praise God shows I accept His divine plan for my life, even when I don’t understand it and can see no logical explanation for it.
God is the director of the movie of life, and he will bring all things to a marvellous end.