The Problem of Suffering and Evil

from The Fingerprint of God by Hugh Ross, PhD
Promise Publishing Company, Orange CA
(Used by permission)

Chapter 15

Summary. To many cosmologists, including Einstein, Hoyle, and Davies, the existence of suffering, evil, and death seems incompatible with a reality of an all-powerful, all-loving Creator. These "scourges," they say, make sense only if an impersonal force or intelligence initiated the universe and established the mechanisms for biological evolution. The point they have missed is that God's plan, according to the Bible, is to develop eternally perfect people without disturbing free-will. This plan can only be achieved by the operation of God's perfect mercy and justice through pain, suffering, and death, and, most significantly, through the temptations offered by the most powerful created being.

Typical reaction to creation evidence. While many prominent cosmologists have been pushed by compelling physical evidence to concede the necessity of a Creator for the universe, few have embraced the Creator-God of the Bible. The list of rejecters includes such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Fred Hoyle, Paul Davies, and George Greenstein. Their stumbling block is an issue of concern not only to cosmologists but to people from all backgrounds and walks of life, including theologians. It is the question, "How can we explain evil and suffering?"

The explanation proffered by these famed scientists and many others is simple: God is impersonal' and, therefore, uncaring. The evil, suffering, and death are merely a consequence of evolutionary processes, in particular, of survival of the fittest, that the creator set in motion.

The failure of clerics. Albert Einstein, for one, posed the question of evil and suffering to many rabbis and priests during most of his life without ever receiving a satisfactory answer. Typically, these religious leaders responded by saying that God has not revealed the answer to us yet. They encouraged patient endurance and blind trust in the All-knowing One.

Regrettably, Einstein and many others lacked the patience and persistence to pursue an answer further. They took for granted the biblical knowledge of these religious professionals and assumed that the scriptures failed to address this crucially important issue. Of what value, then, could such a "revelation" be?

Biblical solution to the problem. How sad that in all their studies, so many clerics could have missed the answer. It is not a simple one, of course. In fact, it is sufficiently involved to warrant book-length treatment. Neither is it possible, in this brief space, to address the deep emotional impact that suffering and evil makes upon an individual life. What I present here is merely an outline of key points in the biblical solution to the problem:

1.

People are not robots.

● Man was sinless when God created him. – GENESIS 2-3

● If God had forcibly prevented man from sinning, man's will would not be free

● Without free choice, real love is impossible.

2.

God's ultimate plan is to perfect those who choose to be perfected.

● In the new creation man will retain his free will, but there will be no sin, no suffering, no death, no evil. – REVELATION 21:4

● Only and all those who overcome sin and evil by choosing to worship Christ, rather than to live for self, can enter into this perfect state. – REVELATION 21:7-8

● The perfecting process takes place via the interaction of our will and Christ's in opposition to Satan's will. – ACTS 8:23, PHILIPPIANS 2:13, 2thessalonians 3:5, 2Timothy 2:26

3.

All people now sin. All enter life in a state of spiritual incapacitation.

● Through Adam's trespass, sin has been imputed to each human. – ROMANS 5:12-21

● We are sinners, by nature, from conception. – PSALM 51:5

● Without God's restraint and influence we would be totally depraved. – JEREMIAH 17:9, JOHN 16:8-11

● On our own, nothing we do is righteous by God's standard. – ISAIAH 64:6, JOHN 15:5

4.

What is spiritual is eternal.

● All spiritual beings are created to exist forever. They cannot be annihilated. – DANIEL 12:2, MATTHEW 25:46

● Man's conscience confirms that his existence continues after physical death. – ECCLESIASTES 3:11

● Spiritual death refers to man's incapacity to do good and, unless he entrusts himself to the goodness of Christ, results in his eternal separation from God. – ROMANS 5:12- 21

5.

Life on earth has an eternal purpose.

● This life is roughly analogous to a school course with a final examination

● This life is intended to prepare us for the eternity that lies ahead. – 1CORINTHIANS 6:2-3, 1PETER 2:9

● Only one chance and only so much time is needed for an individual to choose (or reject) God's offer and to choose (or reject) God's training. – LUKE 16:19-31, HEBREWS 9:27

● Neither too much nor too little time would be good for us. – ISAIAH 38-39, ISAIAH 57:1-2, ACTS 5:1-10

6.

Physical death has a good purpose.

● God gave us physical death so that we might have the possibility of being rescued from spiritual death. – Genesis 3:22-24

● Death seals and protects the righteousness of the one who chooses God. – 1Kings 14:12-13, Isaiah 57:1-2

● Death limits the degradation and punishment of the one who rejects God. – Romans 1:32

● Death limits the spread of wickedness in society. – Genesis 19

7.

Suffering has a purpose.

● Suffering alerts us to potentially destructive problems. – physical, emotional, and spiritual. – 2Corinthians 7:8-13

● Suffering restrains us, keeping us from committing evil. – Hebrews 12:5-13

● Suffering humbles us, reminding us of our weakness. – 2Corinthians 12:7-10

● Suffering teaches us about ourselves, our values, our choices. – Matthew 13:20-23

● Suffering teaches us about God. – the magnitude of His love for us in His willingness to suffer and die in our place. – Hebrews 12:2

8.

Man's short life span and suffering bring spiritual protection.

● Long life spans promote the wicked, not the righteous. – Genesis 6:3-8

● Absence of suffering promotes the wicked, not the righteous. – Genesis 5:16-19

9.

Innocence is available in Christ alone.

● Man's conscience speaks to him of a God whose standard is perfection. – perfection in love, perfection in obedience to His moral code, obedience in action, word, and thought. – 1Samuel 6:20, Isaiah 59:2-14, Habakkuk 1:12-13

● Only a perfect being can meet that standard. – Deuteronomy 32:4, 1Samuel 2:2

● Through His life, death, and bodily resurrection, Jesus Christ proved Himself to be the perfect one, the one and only redeemer of sinful man. – HEBREWS 2:9-15

10.

Human solutions fail to solve our problem.

● Even with the best possible government, worldwide peace and justice, unparalleled prosperity, unprecedented good health, and life spans in the hundreds of years, most people, when the chance arises, will choose rebellion and evil. – Revelation 20:1-10

● Minimizing the consequences of sin fails to check its spread. – Genesis 4:11-13, Hebrews 12:5-13

● Punishment for sin is necessary for restraint and correction, but it is insufficient to eliminate sin

● Only God has the power to conquer Satan, sin, and death. – Isaiah 43:10-11 & 59:15-16

11.

It is good that Satan initiated evil and is the tempter.

● Because Satan is the most powerful created being, and because the circumstances in which he is tempting us are the most severe, there exists no possibility of our facing any greater test than the one we undergo in our brief physical life on earth. – Isaiah 14:11-17, Ezekiel 28:12-19, Jude 9

● If we pass this test, choosing God's rescue in Christ, the way is opened for God to deliver us eternally from all sin, death, suffering, and evil without taking away our free-will, and without losing the possibility to love

● In order for our rescue to be eternally secure, everyone must be subjected to the ultimate test. – Rev. 20:7-10

12.

The test is not too difficult.

● God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear. – 1Corinthians 10:13

● God's help and comfort are always available to those who depend upon Him. – Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5

13.

Suffering that aligns with God's will shows the power of the gospel.

● Those who exchange their guilt for Christ's innocence gain, through the trials in their lives, perseverance, maturity, and God's perfect joy James 1:2-4

● Suffering within God's will purifies the soul and communicates to the world the surpassing value of the spiritual over the physical, the eternal over the temporal. – Hebrews 12:16, 1Peter 2:19-25 Br. 4:1-2

● Skeptics watch Christians' response to suffering and persecution to see whether or not the faith of such people is true, reliable, and secure, to see whether or not God is miraculously at work within them. – 1Peter 3:13-18

● The severest, often unacknowledged, test to which doubters subject believers is persecution Job. – Acts 7:55-8:3 & 9:1-19

● One of the greatest joys of this life comes through suffering for "righteousness' sake". – Matthew 5:10, 1Peter 4:14

14.

Our time of suffering is brief.

● Our life span is like a whiff of smoke compared to eternity Job 7:6-10, Psalm 103:15-16, James 4:14

● We can barely begin to fathom God's time frame. – 2Timothy 1:9, 1:2, 2Peter 3:8, Revelation 21:1

15.

God has a purpose in blessing the wicked.

● God always reaches to us first through His mercy and grace and then through His rebukes.   John 3:16-18, 2Peter 3:9

● God first blesses those going astray so that they may acknowledge Him as the source of their blessing and then repent. – Psalm 73

● If people refuse to acknowledge God as the source of their blessing, God removes the blessing and thus prepares them to listen to the message of those who have chosen Him. – Proverbs 24:15-20

● If the wicked persist in wickedness, they receive only what they have chosen. – eternal torment and separation from God. – Psalm 73

16.

Both heaven and hell are expressions of God's perfect love.

● Nobody dies without having the clear, understood opportunity to receive or reject God's offer of forgiveness for sin and of life with Him John 3:16-21

● Just as it is impossible, from a human perspective, to imagine how awful the torment in hell could be and how anyone could possibly deserve the punishment, it is equally impossible to imagine how wonderful heaven could be and how anyone could possibly deserve the blessing. – 1Corinthians 2:9

● Those who go to hell are those who prefer eternal torment to obedience to God and fellowship with Him. – Luke 12:8-10, Hebrews 6:4-6, Hebrews 10:26-29

● Scripture tells of differing degrees of torment in hell– the greater the wickedness, the greater it will be (Revelation 20:11-15)and of differing rewards in heaven, depending on one's degree of submission to the work of God's Spirit in building Christlikeness. – 1Corinthians 3:12-15

● If God imposed no torment in hell, the residents there would vex one another to an unthinkable degree (Jeremiah 17:9). One purpose of the torment is to restrain the expression of evil. Some need more restraint than others.