I was trying to meet a publisher’s deadline, and I was stuck on a bit of research and needed help. In a moment of inspiration, I grabbed the phone and called a former professor from my university days. He was more than willing to help me, bless him.
But the phone call was painful to hear. His speech was halting, choppy and agonizingly slow.
“Y-you … see… Brad … th-that would take you … back… to the … n-nineteen f-fifties… and … and … if you look…”
My former professor was in the throes of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. His body was slowly shutting down, bit by bit. He struggled for breath – a man with an active mind trapped inside a deteriorating shell. After I hung up the phone I spent the better part of an hour staring out the window.
He was such a beloved man. He was kind and energetic, always reaching out. Why him?
It wasn’t long before he passed away. Around the world, countless numbers of his students mourned.
I recalled the days when I was a youth pastor and spent numerous hours working along the decrepit lanes of a backroads trailer park. There were good people, fine folks who were barely scratching out an existence. Some of the trailers had gaping holes in the floor, most had windows that were duct-taped to keep out the cold. The children were raw-faced and hungry. Some were abused. I would often drive home at night, weeping over what I had witnessed.
Why doesn’t this stop?
Our senior pastor dies of cancer.
A college student loses his wife and four daughters in flood waters.
A humble and generous businessman is stricken with a grotesquely aggressive arthritis that leaves him malformed.
Good people suffering.
Why doesn’t this stop? God, why do You allow this to continue?
Why doesn’t this stop?
The Great Unanswered Question of this age – and ages past.
Or… is it really unanswered?
As a Bible teacher, I am asked this question constantly, and one of the first things I say is that I don’t know. My opinion is of no effect. My intellect cannot grasp this. You’re asking me for a definitive answer? I’m an idiot. 1 Corinthians 13:12 agrees with me when Paul notes “all that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” In other words, until I get to Heaven I cannot grasp the breadth of this subject, so I cannot respond.
But my God can respond.
He tells us that this problem of evil – by both humans and by nature – did not catch Him by surprise. He knew that the floodgates of suffering would open after the failure of mankind to follow Him. Evil in the world is not a surprise to God. When He came to earth in the flesh – we know Him as Jesus – He made the very clear statement about the reality of suffering. He said in John 16:33, “You will have suffering in this world.”
Well, the simple and straightforward question is “Why didn’t God merely create a world where tragedy and suffering didn’t exist?”
The answer is He did.
The opening narrative of the creation of everything (found in the book of Genesis) says “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
The Hebrew word meh-ode means excessively good. Above-and-beyond good. Overflowingly good.
And the capstone on that magnificent creation was that God opened the door to his creation, man, and invited him to participate and enjoy. But He didn’t force him through the door.
Mankind was given a choice. That’s what true love is – a choice. Accept or reject.
Here is the Great Risk.
God, in His infinite power, could have forced us – but denying us a choice eliminates the whole concept of love, doesn’t it? We see ‘forced love’ in such despicable acts like arranged marriages and rape.
God gave us the right to refuse the doorway invitation. Two spiritual mentors of my youth decided to turn away from Him and pursue their own paths. God took The Risk and allowed them the choice, no matter how painful it was to Him.
God saw the rejection and even gave an even louder invitation through salvation offered through Jesus. John 3:16 and Romans 5:8 are just a few of the passages that show us that The Invitation is still good, no matter what shape we’re in. We can make the choice to go toward Him. But mankind wanted their own universe, away from God.
And what a mess man’s universe is. Like a child who imagines that they can create a mansion out of sticks and mud, the comparison is embarrassing. It’s a disaster, in many senses of the word.
There’s much more to say, but for today, I’ll stop. I’ll continue tomorrow after we’ve all digested what’s been discussed so far. It’s a hard subject, this theodicy, and I cringe whenever a writer tries to “sum up” the whole issue in one column. We need time to incubate this.