The presence of suffering and evil in the world undoubtedly presents the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith. Henri Blocher, commenting on this challenge, writes, “While it is suffering and evil that tortures human bodies, it is the problem of suffering and evil that torments the human mind.” Even the prophets in the Bible raise the question in various forms. For example, the prophet Habakkuk asked God, ―How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‗Violence!‘ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? (Habakkuk 1:2-3) Jeremiah challenged God by saying, “I would speak with you about your justice: why does the way of the wicked prosper?” (Jeremiah 12:1) The issue of suffering is taken up in the Book of Job where God’s character and moral trustworthiness that are called into question. If scripture is reliable, we may trust the goodness of God, but we will not have explanations. There apparently was never a more faithful and good man than Job, but he suffered without ever knowing why
Dr. Earl West tells of J. W. McGarvey, the greatly admired preacher and teacher of the Restoration Movement, counseling a grieving lady who lost her only son in the Civil War. She was seeking advice from the scholarly McGarvey when she asked, “Where was God when my son was dying?” Like Job’s wife, her grief and doubt led her to blame God for her sorrow. Immediately McGarvey replied, “The same place He was when His Son died.”
Ultimately, the answer to the problem of evil and suffering is not a philosophy, but a Person; not words, but the Word. The value of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is often overlooked at just this point. “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” (John 1:14 New Living Translation) God “tabernacle” among us, or came to earth in a “tent” of flesh and blood, in the person of Jesus Christ. (John 1:14) Most often, in the midst of our pain, we want comfort, not explanations. This is where the presence of Christ in the lives of those who hurt is critical.
John Stott in his classic book, “The Cross of Christ,” addresses the centrality of the cross when it comes to suffering in our world. He writes:
“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. . . . In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? The God of the cross is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering. “The cross of Christ..…is God’s only self justification in such a world as ours.”
God is not indifferent to suffering. God so loved the world that He gave his only Son to experience unimaginable suffering and to die as a victim of evil and cruelty. He endured this to overcome sin, so that we might be reconciled to God and enjoy heaven where there is no suffering and death. (cf. Rev. 21:4) Also, we read all the stories of how compassionate Jesus was when encountering suffering people. He was not aloof. He cared about and shared their pain, just like He cares about your pain and problems now.
That is the God for me! I do not want to give trite or easy answers to these tough questions regarding human suffering. But in the end, when all is said, the answer to all suffering is the cross. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
And for the Christian, despite how difficult life gets, Romans 8:28 promises us that God can bring something good out of even the worst of circumstances, if we turn it over to Him. The promise doesn't say the good will outweigh the bad, or that the purpose of the bad is so there can be good - just that good can come from all situations if our lives are given to the Lord.
As long as there is life on earth, there will be pain and suffering. As long as there is life on earth, there will be injustices. We have no promise of a fair life. What we do have is a promise that God will never leave us or forsake us, that He will always be with us, even to the end of the age (Heb. 13:5; Matt. 28:20). And in our finite understanding, although we cannot fully understand why He does not step in and stop our suffering, we can see that what seems to matter in these few years we spend on earth is the relationship we develop with Him.