Opinion: Easter and Suffering
The problem of evil is a common objection to Christianity and God’s existence. If God is all-knowing (foresees evil), all-powerful (can prevent evil), all-loving and all-good (hates evil), then why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?
God is omnipotent, so he could have prevented the hijacked planes from crashing on 9/11, the school shootings at Newtown and Columbine, the Holocaust, Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Hurricane Katrina and countless other tragedies throughout history. So why didn’t he?
The whole creation groans under the devastating consequences of sin’s curse (Rom. 8:18-24). But I believe that the historic and biblical doctrine of providence is a fountain of deep comfort and hope for Christians.
The God of the Bible is absolutely sovereign over everything — majestic and mundane, significant and trivial, material and spiritual, good and evil. God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11b).
All things. God has declared “the end from the beginning” (Isa. 46:10), every detail of all life and history: when we are born and when we die (Deut. 32:39; Job 14:5; Jas. 4:15), every breath we take (Isa. 42:5), each day of our lives (Psa. 139:16), faith and salvation for the elect (Eph. 1:4-5; John 6:65), human thoughts and decisions (Prov. 16:9; 20:24; 21:1), the number of hairs on our heads (Matt. 10:30), the number of stars and planets (Psa. 147:4), the path of lightning and hail (148:8), tornadoes and hurricanes (147:18), angelic and demonic activity (103:20; 1 Sam. 16:14), the lives of insects, birds, wild beasts and sea creatures (1 Kings 17:4; Jonah 2:10; Matt. 10:29-30).
God even determines the most seemingly random events, such as the outcome of rolling dice (Prov. 16:33)! Nothing happens by chance, coincidence, luck, randomness or accident. As Reformed Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes … that the creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence — the fall of sere leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.”
God’s providence governs all things “according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:5) — even all sinful actions, natural disasters, tragedies and suffering. “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things” (Isa. 45:7). “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exod. 4:11). “When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?” (Amos 3:6; cf. Gen. 50:20; Exod. 4:21; Isa. 10:5-19; Lam. 3:37-38; Luke 22:22; Rom. 9:18; 1 Pet. 2:8).
In the words of Great Awakening preacher Jonathan Edwards, “God decrees all things, and even all sins … for the sake of the good that he causes to arise from the sinfulness thereof; whereas man decrees them for the sake of the evil that is in them.” God permits evil so that he can demonstrate his wrath, righteousness and glory (Rom. 9:22-23). In a world without wickedness, we would not know the riches of God’s grace, mercy, holiness and hatred of sin.
It is also true that God hates evil (Prov. 15:9) and as humans we are morally responsible for our actions (Rom. 2:5-8). How these two truths (divine sovereignty and human responsibility) intersect is a mystery.
Scripture reassures believers that God has loving purposes for all trials and tribulations. It might be to test the genuineness of our faith (1 Pet. 1:7), to produce endurance and character (Jas. 1:3; Rom. 5:3-5), to discipline us when we need correction (Heb. 12:5-11), to humble us (2 Cor. 12:7) or to remind us that his grace and strength is sufficient in our weakness (12:9-10).
But sometimes our affliction appears to be meaningless and fruitless. And all we have to stand on are the promises of God’s Word: “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
All things. God has orchestrated everything — past, present and future — to ultimately bring about his eternal glory and our eternal good. That’s a breathtaking promise. But it’s not always easy to believe it — especially when tragedy hits home. We’re prone to doubt and despair. Sometimes it’s tempting to think that God is uncaring or distant.
Then I think about Job. He suffered unimaginable agony — the deaths of his children, painful sores and boils, unjust accusations from his friends. Yet amidst his seemingly senseless suffering, Job responded with awe-inspiring conviction: “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him” (Job 13:15).
As finite creatures, we can’t fathom God’s eternal purposes in all of life’s tragedies and evils. God’s revealed will (i.e. commands and teachings in Scripture) is for us to understand, but the overarching purposes of God’s sovereign will (i.e. everything that happens) are hidden (Deut. 29:29).
But perhaps Good Friday is a cosmic display of God’s sovereign use of sin and suffering for his good and loving purposes. Judas’ betrayal, Pilate’s authority, Christ’s trial and execution were decreed “by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, was mocked, flogged and crucified. It’s the most evil day in all of history.
Yet we call it Good Friday because it is also the greatest day in all of history: Jesus triumphed over principalities and powers, bore God’s righteous anger in place of undeserving sinners and atoned for the sins of whosoever believes in him!
From our time-bound perspective things often look bleak and grim, like the hours after the crucifixion. Dark thunderclouds rumble above us, the earth quakes beneath us, lightning flashes on the horizon. Besetting sins, heartaches, anxieties and sorrows afflict us. Yet we know that God used the worst evil (crucifixion of Christ) to result in the greatest good (salvation in Christ). We have hope that the evil and suffering on Good Friday are followed by resurrection and life on Easter.
This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily represent the views of Calvin Chimes, Calvin College or the Christian Reformed Church.