I’ve had some fairly intense discussions with nonbelievers and doubters lately who have indicated how silly Christians appear when disasters strike. The TV reporter is interviewing a survivor of a tornado, for example, and the person being interviewed gives God credit for saving her life (or the life of her dog) when, just up the street, eight children died when the school building came crashing down. Instead of thanking God, the nonbeliever states, the person should look around her and wave her fist at God for letting the disaster and deaths happen in the first place. Having faith in the middle of a disaster does not seem logical, so the question is “How can this supposedly loving God let bad things happen to good people?”
This is the question of the ages. Theologians have discussed the paradoxical issue of suffering for centuries. In this little blog I have no theologically seamless answers, but I will make these brief observations:
- Nowhere in the Bible is there any indication at all that belief protects the believer from all difficulties, suffering, or death. In fact, God’s greatest spokespeople suffered the most. Most of the Old Testament prophets were ostracized, abused, and/or killed. All of the closest disciples of Jesus were mistreated, most were tortured, and all but one suffered a martyr’s death. And Jesus, God’s son, suffered the most cruel death imaginable, and he was totally innocent of any sin.
- The entire book of Job in the Old Testament is all about the issue of suffering, and Job never got an answer from God as to why God let him suffer so much. Even so, in the end, after God reveals his majesty to Job, Job remains loyal to God and honors God instead of cursing him.
- The message of the Bible is abundantly clear regarding the big picture of life, and Jesus sums it up when he predicted/commanded “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, ESV)
Jesus, the Overcomer, will help us in this life as we look to the next. In the light of this encouragement, we should strive to have an attitude of gratitude when troubles happen…not only when we stub our toes, but even when we or our loved ones suffer or even die. Paul encourages us:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV)
“All circumstances” means just that…we are to have a thankful attitude no matter what happens. Is it easy? NO! But consider the alternative. We could wave our fist at God for the losses and heartaches we experience. But what good would that do? It’s an attitude that reveals a lack of faith in our Creator. Maybe it is cynical for me to say this, but nonbelievers typically give credit for our current existence to the mechanisms of evolution. The “history” of evolution is full of heartless, brutal, and blindly indifferent suffering. An evolutionist should also give thanks in all circumstances because, hey, it’s the way we evolve! Even though I think the atheistic evolutionary worldview is bankrupt, my atheist friends would be happier and more consistent if even they could find a way to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Thank God, as believers, our hope is in a loving God who “works all things together for our good.” (Romans 8:28)