The problem of pain and suffering is probably the greatest cause for people losing faith. That makes sense. It does seem like a good God who is also an all-powerful God should snuff out suffering and prevent it from ever happening. Terrible things happen to some really wonderful people, and it doesn’t always make sense. So how can we continue to live by faith and trust in God?
The existence of suffering comes down to these three realities:
- We are not robots. God created us with freewill. Every Christian believes this (not only Arminians). It is incredibly ironic to criticize God for allowing suffering while also shaking your fist at him and telling him to stay out of your life. You can’t have it both ways… God gave us responsibility, and we need to own that.
- We make a train wreck of our lives and of the world. Pointing all the way back to the first humans, Adam and Eve, we have a way of choosing sin over righteousness. We aren’t as sinful as we could be, but we are all sinners and that has effected everything in our world: our relationship with God, with others, with ourselves, and with nature. We know things aren’t “the way they’re supposed to be,” but our efforts often make things worse, not better. God must intervene somehow.
- God has a greater dream for our lives than we could imagine for ourselves. While we try to define a successful life by our bank account, or family, or power, or influence, or whatever… God has a greater dream for us. The truth is, our dream is not too big for God, but too small! Because of sin, there will be a day of judgment to make things right, and suffering is often God’s warning light calling us to repentance now before it’s too late.
Here is a question I was recently asked by a teenager in my ministry (many of the most difficult theological questions I’ve been asked came from Middle Schooler students). Since it’s such a good question, I can only assume many other would benefit from looking to Scripture for an answer. Here’s the question:
Does God love everyone, or only “his children?”
Christianity is built on the announcement of grace: that by the life, death, resurrection, and coming return of Jesus Christ our freedom from sin and death has been secured, and that our only hope comes by trusting in God’s provision rather than in our own good works. The gospel proclaims salvation as a free gift of faith. It is a message of the love of God for sinners, and yet it also implies that not all will be saved. The gospel is good news because there is bad news: we are all sinners who have heaped up judgment on ourselves. God is not fair – and that’s a good thing… because if God was fair, we’d all receive judgment for our sin.
With this in mind, the above question is perfectly natural because it seems like God must love Christians and hate “sinners.” But is this what the Bible teaches?
Fairness has become one of the gold-standards of American culture. Everyone is equal. For anyone to receive preference is akin to discrimination and will surely bring a lawsuit. In many ways, this is good and entirely appropriate for any free society.
Fairness doesn’t mean everyone gets the same thing. It means you get what you deserve. This is our default theology. For those of us who are more melancholy, we live with guilt and gloom we cannot escape, because we have a more negative view of ourselves and the world. Others have a go-get-’em mentality and always see the positive side of things, and they live with the expectation that since they’ve never been arrested they’re all-good in God’s eyes.
But there are some ways in which fairness is unhealthy. Because love isn’t fair: it prefers the beloved over and above all others. I think my kids are cuter than your kids are. I’m sorry, but I just do. And I assume you think your kids are cuter than mine. Because that’s what love does. It’s not fair, but it’s good.
God is love. And God is not fair. But he is good, and he is just.