The Question of Evil, Part 3

Christian Responses to Evil and Suffering

get-involved-angel-treeIn my two previous articles on the common question of why God doesn’t “do something” about evil, the Question so many of us tend to ask ourselves when we go through pain, I addressed some basic theological answers and gave a description of the very real way God has “done something.” Now I am going to address the way the Body of Christ ought to respond to evil and pain, because we are often the only godly answer many people will ever get. We are literally Christ’s Body, the living personification of the love and goodness of God.

When people ask the Question, “Why doesn’t God do something about evil?” others should be able to point them to Christians and say, “There. He is doing something.”

The Power of the Holy Spirit In Suffering

It has been observed in areas where suffering is rampant that the Christian faith has great power to address the suffering of believers. Johann Mostert, a white South African who worked to end apartheid and later worked with African AIDS victims, told me when I interviewed him in 2007 that the Holy Spirit gives Christians in difficult situations the impetus to make them better. Christianity gives a “sense of being able to think the impossible, dream the impossible.” Christians begin to realize that “‘God will help me, I will find a better life, I will make a difference, I will support my family. . . .’”

The God of Christianity often lifts us out of evil circumstances. His work through creation and through the cross widens the imagination and helps people envision what they can do with Him on their side to make their lives and the world around them better. South Africa vividly proved this to the whole world when an evil, oppressive system was overcome without the bloody revolution many expected, because of the dreams and leadership of Christians like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

On other occasions, the circumstances don’t change and the suffering continues. Yet God works there as well. A chaplain who experienced post-traumatic stress after a bomb attack in Iraq said, “God is near even when I don’t sense him. He is not so much interested in keeping us from harm as He is in helping us through it.” African Christians who do not see an end to their suffering, like those Mostert worked with, still know that God is on their side. God works within the world, even in its fallen state, to reach out to those He loves. Many suffering Christians have found that He gives them strength to survive, and peace and joy through their sufferings. And many find that He has a greater purpose in their sufferings, as Joseph found after his own years of suffering in Egypt (Gen. 44:4-7).

Pain, according to C. S. Lewis, can be a megaphone, calling people to God when a life of unbroken bliss could lull them into a complacent dependence upon themselves. Many other belief systems give excellent reasons for the existence of pain, but none of them redeem it as Christ does.

The Christian Response to Suffering

An appropriate response for Christians when confronted with the question of why God allows evil and pain could be, “God has done something about evil through the cross. What are you doing about it? What am I doing about it?” Do the people who demand that God do something, do something themselves?

The Body of Christ can be one of the greatest answers to the Question. “Religion that God our Father accepts as true and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. . . .” (James 1:27a, ESV) Christians can and do help alleviate the pain of those who suffer all over the world. As Matthew 25:31-40 states, God gives His blessing and inheritance to those who feed the hungry and thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the poor, care for the sick, and visit those in prison.

In many cases where it is possible and appropriate, Christians have helped to eliminate social structures that cause pain, as exemplified by William Wilberforce’s struggle to end slavery in England, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s push for peaceful solutions to racial discrimination in America, and the Christian-led fight-without-a-war in South Africa to end apartheid. In other cases, Christians can work on a one-on-one basis, mourning with those who mourn, like Jesus at Lazarus’s tomb, and this will probably do more to convey the truth of a loving God than any theological answers could do.

In the end, answers are probably not going to be enough. C. S. Lewis discovered this. After the death of his wife, he struggled with how God could have allowed it, and he wrote:

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But rather a special sort of “No answer.” It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, “Peace, child; you don’t understand.”
Possibly one of the hardest things for Americans to do is to lay aside our need for answers. And yet many times God asks that we do simply that, accepting that the world is not laid out to our specifications, accepting that our good God is sovereign and does not owe us answers. Many of those who ask the Question will not like this and will reject it. Unfortunately, this is something all Christians must be prepared to encounter. With God’s help, the love He reveals through His Church will convince questioners far better than any argument or answer.

In this Western society, which has often been characterized by an increasing splintering of families and relationships, community and relationship are once again becoming important and valued. A relationship of friendship and trust is more important to answering the Question than any actual answers. And it is the relationship with the God of love that will answer all questions in one way or another. Perhaps those who ask will find the Question of far less importance when Christians express the love of the God who answers something like this:

I have felt your pain, every throb of it, and caught your tears in the palm of My hand and stored them in My heart as something too precious to be wasted, and I have wept your blood when it was spilled, and I will take your pain and your tears and your blood and make something beautiful of them. I will not let them be wasted.*

*From an unpublished manuscript, “Jais, The Pilot,” by the author.

For Further Reading:

Douglas John Hall, “God and Human Suffering: An Exercise in the Theology of the Cross” (Augsburg Publishing House, 1986).

C. S. Lewis, “A Grief Observed” (HarperSanFrancisco, 1961).

C. S. Lewis, “The Problem of Pain” (Collier Books, 1962).

John Swinton, “Raging With Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil” (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007).

Desmond Mpilo Tutu, “No Future Without Forgiveness” (Doubleday, 1999).

N.T. Wright, “Evil and the Justice of God,” (IVP Books, 2006).

Image copyright Angel Tree.

Christy McDougall is a Web developer, writer, and aspiring missionary with bachelor's and master's degrees in Christian theology.

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"What are you doing about it?", is a bad response for the reason that the questioner is neither omnipotent nor is he creator nor is he claiming all-sovereignity.

"God is doing something about it, you just don't see it" is better.