The Holocaust and the attack on the World Trade Center are just two of many atrocities which have been witnessed in history. Car accidents, murder, AIDS and genocide, all can be found by scanning one day’s news. “Why?” is the most-frequently asked question. In fact, when the pollster George Barna asked Americans, “If you could ask God one question and knew He would give you an answer, what would you ask?”—the top response (17%) was, “Why is there so much pain and suffering?” The answer to this question is found at two levels of human experience.
The first level is the intellectual. C.S. Lewis framed the underlying logic in this area: “If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both” (The Problem of Pain [New York: Macmillan, 1962], p. 26). Some go even further than Lewis to suggest that the Christian God does not exist at all, and cite all the evil in the world as evidence.
The answer to this difficult question is found in the subject of human free will. The fact that God is all-powerful does not mean He can do anything, particularly things that would be a self-contradiction. For example, God cannot create colorless color or a round square. Likewise, God cannot create people to have genuine freedom and yet have no potential for sin—the ability of choosing evil. Creating people with free will opens the door to the overwhelming majority of pain in the world—people choosing evil over God.
Could God have created a world without human freedom? Yes, if He had stopped after the animals and plants there would have been no hate or suffering. But the ultimate value in the universe would also be missing—love. Without choice there can be no love. God knows that the value of love in both the temporal and eternal realms far exceeds the downside of suffering for a time. C.S. Lewis referred to pain as the megaphone of God. He meant that it is often the way God gets our attention, awakens us out of our stupor of independence from Him, and calls us into relationship with Him. Besides, for those who love God, He promises that He is bringing good into our lives, such as character development, even in the midst of our suffering (Romans 8:28). The bottom line here is that God’s perspective for us is eternal, “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
The second level of the problem of evil is personal. We suffer, and we want to know whether God cares. Yes, He does care. He said that He loves us so much that He came Himself to die on the cross so we can have a new quality of life here and forever (John 3:16). We suffer, and we want to know whether God understands. Yes, He understands. He said that He has experienced all our pain and temptation as well, so that He desires to provide grace and mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16). We suffer, and we want to feel His touch and silent, comforting presence. Yes, He promised never to leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6) and that He would give rest to all who are weary and heavy-laden (Matthew 11:28-29).
Finally, we wonder if there is an ultimate solution to pain and suffering. Yes, Jesus said the day is coming when those who believe in Him will be placed on a new heaven and earth where “there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain…” (Revelation 21:4).
Therefore, though everything around us may not be making sense and there are still unanswered questions, we have to ask honestly whether anyone besides Christians has an answer to the problem of evil at all, much less an answer with such a wonderful future and hope.