Why does God allow suffering and evil?
American author, priest, and public speaker Brennan Manning was quoted as saying “Anyone God uses significantly is always deeply wounded… On the last day, Jesus will look us over not for medals, diplomas, or honors, but for scars.”
I found this statement incredibly powerful as it pertains to my faith… that our Lord and Savior sees all of our trails and wounds in a powerful way. But, I’ve thought “…isn’t God associated with love and all aspects of life that are good?” If so, why does God allow pain to occur? I believe the answer lies in our understanding of pain and how we process it as it relates to life as a Christian.
I contend that, as Christians, we don’t fully understand pain… that our perspective of pain is skewed. In fact, we go to great lengths to avoid pain. When our distress is bad enough, it shatters our feeling of control, even if that feeling was misleading all along. Pain has a way of pulling our sense of authority out from under us, leaving us broken, vulnerable, and very often, shaking our faith. How often have we heard that it’s during the trails that our faith is tested?
Too often, we associate pain with God separating Himself from us… even going to the place of convincing ourselves that the pain we’re experiencing is God’s punishment on us. In 1 Peter 2, it is clear that according to God’s plan, we’re called to live life in a way that is pure… to be “done with every trace of wickedness, deceit, and insincerity and grudges, slander, and evil speaking of every kind.” So, as much as we try to honor that standard for our lives, does that mean that bad things, suffering, and even evil will not happen?
As Christians, we cannot control cancer, evil, natural disasters, or ridicule for our faith. Even so, there is light within suffering for those who hold on to the one control we never have to give up… what we do with our faith in the midst of the trails. Although it’s one of the classic human question; why God allows us to hurt; we can deal with suffering in positive ways.
“Really?” you’re thinking… How does someone watch loved ones tortured during a genocide, or lose a child, or endure betrayal and find anything worthwhile in their agony? The Bible’s encouragement to shine God’s glory despite inhumane treatment or overwhelming pressure can feel trite in the face of unspeakable atrocities and loss.
The apostle Paul feared pain. He denied Jesus three times before Jesus’ crucifixion because he didn’t want to suffer for loyalty. However, later, as Peter’s faith matured, Peter’s attitude toward suffering changed for Jesus’ sake. Suffering filters out fear and the distractions of sin. Later in scripture, Peter wrote, “If you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin. You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2).
The bottom line is this… life includes headaches and heartaches. But, the very trails that bring us to the brink are opportunities to reflect God’s character to magnified degrees. We will suffer here… how we respond to suffering is up to us.
Heavenly Father… I don’t understand this pain… but please don’t let it go unused for Your glory… Amen.
Greg Stefanelli (gstefanelli)