It’s funny what can occupy a person’s attention. People who should be concerned with driving their cars often pay more attention to a phone conversation… okay that’s the pot calling kettle whatever… People who should be concerned for their child’s character are more preoccupied with if their kid is a good athlete or musician. And the list goes on and on. It’s the whole smoke and mirrors routine your typical magician uses. They make some big spectacle during a trick, or move a hand one way, or do some dramatic gesture to keep you from seeing how they pull off the astonishment that is the trick… here’s a “good” example from a favorite television show…
Satan has done that to so many of us when it comes to belief in a loving and perfect God. The old story goes if God were really so loving then He wouldn’t allow people to go through pain. If God were really so powerful then He’d be able to do what he wants. So either God doesn’t care, or He really isn’t an all-powerful God. This is essentially the crux of the argument for most atheists, and C.S. Lewis outlined this problem in his book, The Problem of Pain. The fact is that even for most Christians this is where our faith hits a road block… and even full-time professional Christians, like yours truly can stumble on this topic. But let’s take a minute or two and think about it, should this really be seen as a problem for us as Christians?
The first thing we need to understand is that evil is not something created, not something tangible, not something God could have made because God made all things good. Look at Genesis 1, after everything God did he called it “good”. And from John 1, we see that every created thing has its ultimate origin in God. Second, we need to differentiate evil from pain. A lot of times we get hung up because we think that anything that causes pain is evil, and anything that doesn’t make us happy has some level of pain associated with it. But think about that garbage for a second. When I go out and run 6 or 7 miles, there is certainly pain there, but it is far from evil… in fact it is actually good. When a doctor prescribes medication or physical therapy there is a level of pain, or at least unhappiness, but the treatment is good. Even emotionally, a lot of times we watch heart-wrenching movies or read terribly sad books, which may cause us pain, but the result is cathartic. On the flip side of that is the fact that not everything that causes happiness is necessarily good. I can think of a number of examples such as drug use, skipping work to relax, going to the beach without sunscreen, eating McDonald’s french fries every day (it’s lunch time sorry)… all those things may cause happiness in the short term but they are not good because the long term effect is bad.
That’s one of the things that we need to understand with this problem of pain and evil… God is always in control, and He does work out all things for the good (Romans 8:28), but it may be that the good is not totally revealed to us except in the long term. And by long term, I mean God’s eternal long term, not our finite long term. But over and over again, throughout the Bible, God is taking what is evil, painful, and even sinful and using it for His greater good. From Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery thousands of people are fed during a time of famine (Genesis 37-50). From David’s murderous affair with Bathsheba the next king of Israel is born with Solomon, and he leads directly to Jesus Christ (2 Samuel 11-12, Matthew 1). One of the most heinous persecutors of the church, Saul/Paul, became the first and greatest church planter and writer of the majority of the New Testament. Sometimes we do see the purpose of a given painful situation, other times we don’t. But that doesn’t mean God’s greater purpose isn’t working.
I have more to say about this, but I want to get to a bottom line… Pain does exist in the world, and whether you’re an atheist or a Christian you cannot escape bad things from happening. But with God there is hope. With God pain is not merely pain, and evil not merely evil. With God those things don’t have the final word. With God there is purpose beyond the problem.