By Tom M. Roberts
In debate, atheists are prone to use as an argument against belief in God the fact of suffering. “If God is good and merciful,” they say, “where does all the evil in the world come from and why does man have to suffer?” If atheists could sustain their contention that there is no God, all they would have proved is that pain and suffering is in the world without reason, purpose or solution! Terrible thought – man is alone in this life with nothing better to look forward to but a cessation of suffering in non-existence. If atheists have nothing better to offer me than what I have, they might as well keep quiet. Let me keep my hope (vain as they assert it to be), for it does keep me going. I doubt seriously that I could face life and its troubles without this hope. If one can’t replace hope with something as good, no purpose is served in taking away what I have. Atheism, a bankrupt philosophy, has no hope to offer and its thrust is totally negative: it takes away what you have and offers nothing in return. Belief in atheism is like belief in an empty pocket (with a hole in itl).
However, the fact of suffering does not disprove the existence of God or argue against His benevolent nature. Properly understood, suffering indicts man as a wayward creature and God is seen as using suffering to bring man back to a right relationship with Himself. What man has brought upon himself through poor choice of free will in sin should not cause us to charge God with cruelty. It does not logically in S, follow that we deny the existence of God because we fan to use wisdom in our actions. Technically, such reasoning is a non sequitur. “it does not follow. ” Do we kick the cat because the dog bites us? Do we deny the existence of Jack Nicklaus because we double bogey a hole in golf ?. Do we blame the U.S. Treasury Dept. because we lose a ten-dollar bill? Then why blame God for problems brought on us by our own sins? Man did not suffer in Eden before sin. Man did not die before he sinned. There were no thorns or thistles before the punishment for sin. What does logically follow is that there was no pain or suffering before Adam sinned; there is afterward. Man has polluted his environment, not God. We need to be clear in our facts lest we draw hasty conclusions.
God Is Good
The beauty and goodness of God is seen in many things. The original creation declares “the glory of God” (Psa. 19:1). When Jehovah created, it was said to be “good” (Gen. 1:10); the finished creation was said to be “very good” (1:31). “Good” is known by its fruits ~nd the fruits of creation prepared a home for man that was beneficial in every aspect. The Garden of Eden supplied every need of man (physical and spiritual); there was no ugliness nor illness, a place of pristine purity, peace and tranquility. Yes, man was made a free will creature, knowing right from wrong (moral). In this, man is unique and distinctly different from trees, animals, planets, etc. But note: there is nothing inherently sinful in free will. God could have made man a creature without it, but he would have been indeed only a “naked ape.” By creating man with choice, God established the possibility of sin along with the possibility of doing right. One cannot have free choice without these alternatives. But it nowhere decreed that man must sin. In fact, God provided man with every reason and provision so that he had no need to sin. Whether or not a free-will creature win freely choose to do right, reflecting the image of his Maker, is the theme of Job 1:6-12. Personally, I feel that the test Job experienced, the charge of Satan against Job (Job only serves God because he is “paid” to do so), and the consequent suffering is an embryonic picture of man’s creation and test. Will Job (i.e., man) choose to do right because it is right? Is it possible for man to properly exercise free will? Will man reflect the beauty of God in his actions or will he always choose evil? Job vindicates the beauty and goodness of God in that he loves and practices righteousness. We also vindicate God’s trust in man when we make the same good choice. God is good and His creation reflects it.
The Fact of Suffering
That pain and suffering exist in the world only a fool would deny. This same fool would charge God with creating pain and suffering. Once again, however, let us press the point that if it could be proved that God did not exist, one must face a world of suffering alone, having no help nor hope from the Lord. Denying God does not change the facts of our environment. But is there no reason, purpose or solution to suffering? Are these things that afflict us only the random results of chemical interactions (as the evolutionists claim for all of life)? Why does man suffer?
The Reason For Suffering
The reason for all suffering is sin, originally. Man did not suffer before the fall in the Garden. When Adam introduced sin, he introduced death (Rom. 5:12). Whatever else we might say, this basically says it all. We suffer because of sin. Did you ever pierce your skin with a thorn? There were no thorns before sin. Are there storms, earthquakes and various rampages of nature? These did not exist before Adam and Eve chose the evil instead of the good. Whatever punishment and consequences for sin that have occurred, we have brought on ourselves. The Pandora’s Box of mythology is no exaggeration of the truth. Man lived in a Garden and he turned it into a wilderness; he snatched defeat from the jaws of success. That we are still doing it after all these millennia is a testimony to our arrogant refusal to follow God’s way.
The Purpose of Suffering
Is this really such a mystery? Punishment for sin has never been simply for punishment alone with God. Punishment for sin has always had rehabilitation as its goal. God wants us to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9). To that end, He sent His Son who suffered in our place (Isa. 53). The suffering of Jesus was to pay our price for sin (death) so that we might be redeemed. This is substitutionary suffering. The beauty of God is declared by Jesus on the cross – because I should be there and He took my place. Will a man lay down his life for a friend? Will God give His son for His enemies? “Behold then the goodness and severity of God . . . ” (Rom. 11:22). God will punish the evil-doer but provides a way of escape for those who love Him. Sufferings make us aware of our need for repentance. If man, with all his suffering, is as arrogant as he is, what would he be without sufferings? Has any parent who loves his child failed to punish? And what was the purpose of such punishment? Simply to inflict pain? Or was it to cause correction and improvement? Is our Heavenly Father any less aware of the rehabilitative purpose of punishment than we? Surely, to ask it is to answer it. In this world, we cannot escape physical suffering. But Jesus gave His life as a substitute for mine so that I might escape eternal punishment for sin.
The Solution for Suffering
The solution for suffering is to allow it to achieve its purpose in our lives – bring about penitence and the desire to serve God. “Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold temptations: knowing that the proving of your faith worketh patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing” (James 1:24). As I become aware of the reason and purpose of suffering, yes, and its cause, I learn to cope with it and use it for a good cause. I learn to endure it with a view to making me humble and penitent. One man suffers and dies cursing God, having learned nothing. Another suffers and dies, committing his life to God’s keeping. Which one has learned from life and its tribulations?
Also, let me point out something significant. The atheist cannot stop us from suffering, nor can he explain it or find a reason for it. He rails at it; he falsely accuses God; he sneers at those of us who suffer along with him, believing in God. But we understand the reason for it; we see its purpose and we turn its anguish into glory. This is only possible through faith in God. Which is the fool: the believer or the unbeliever?
The Beauty of Righteousness
Righteousness is a reflection in us of our righteous God. That righteousness is beautiful may be seen by comparison. Compare the good woman of Proverbs 31 with a drunken whore. Which is beautiful? Compare the godly elder with the “godfather” drug pusher, alcoholic, thief, murderer. Which is beautiful? Compare the teenager who attempts to worship God and live an upright life to the rebellious punk rocker who thumbs his nose at every decent emotion. Which is more beautiful? I tell you that a simple observation of life around us declares the beauty of God even as a view of the heavens declares His glory. Without God, life is horrible beyond description. Would you try to describe life without God? Read Romans 1. These people “gave up the knowledge of God” and God gave them up to a “reprobate mind.” They perverted every emotion and relationship in life into something unholy and dirty. Open your eyes to all that is good and you will see that it has its origin with God. This is true of the home, the church and every right relationship.
Let us never tire of telling people of our great and good God. Let us point disillusioned and disheartened people to God who cares. Tell people who suffer in body and soul that there is a solution. Tell them about Jesus. Tell them the gospel story, for “therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17).
Guardian of Truth XXX: 19, pp. 579-580
October 2, 1986