Following the recent disaster in Asia the existence of God and His goodness, if He does exist, were called into question by many. There is nothing new in this. Over the centuries the problem of human grief and pain, often suffered by children and those who seem to be innocent, has challenged Christian faith in a God who, according to 1 John 4.8 is love. Do we have any answers?
Why evil exists has no final and complete explanation that we can give. All we can say is that God has created beings with the ability to make choices. If these are to be real and not imaginary then the possibility of a wrong choice must be present. Satan, followed by our first parents, made wrong choices. According to Romans 8 their choice brought the whole creation, not only mankind, into "bondage". This explains a world that brings pain on its inhabitants.
The key question
But why does God not intervene? He can, and there are examples showing that He sometimes does. The Flood, and the calamity that befell Sodom and Gomorrah show that at times God brings the forces of nature to bear on men in judgment. On the other hand, the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus and the calming of the storm in Luke 8 demonstrate that the same power has been used for the preservation of life. But normally it appears that neither does God intervene nor are tragedies due to the specific sin of the individual who suffers. The experience of Job, the comments on the blind man in John 9.3, and those described in Luke 13.1-3 all serve to illustrate that we cannot say that those who suffer do so because they have been particularly sinful.
What must not be forgotten about God?
What do we know about God that helps us? First, we can remember that He knows the end from the beginning and can, therefore, in His wisdom, use events that cause pain to bring blessing. Joseph says to his brethren in Genesis 50.20, "Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good". At the time he was sold Joseph did not understand this; his brothers recall, "We saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us" (Gen 42.21). Only at the end can Joseph understand. Although God does act to bring good, it does not lessen the fact that Josephs brothers sinned in selling him and lying to their father.
Second, we have an assurance that God is righteous and will do right. In the experience of Job we learn that the evil that came on him was from Satan. Job, certainly at the beginning, did not know this. Among the calamities described is the "great wind from the wilderness" that led to the destruction of his family. It was to all appearance a "natural disaster". It was not judgment for Jobs sins. Before the book closes Jobs faith receives its reward in the double blessings granted him by God. In fact Job was being put to the test to prove that Gods estimate of him was true. The events that tested him demonstrated that he had faith in the Lord. He says, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13.15). Gods righteousness is demonstrated in the vindication Job receives from Him. Of course it is not always the case that faith is justified in this present life. The blood of martyrs is shed in hope and in the belief that God will vindicate them in His own time.
Job is taught that to challenge Gods judgments and seek to put Him in the wrong is folly. In the final analysis, only God can and does bring down the proud and tread down the wicked (see Job 40.1-14). As Abraham said, "the Judge of all the earth" will do right (Gen 18.25). That will only be seen to be fulfilled and true after this life is over and all that men have done can be brought before the Lord. At the final judgment of the "great white throne" men are judged "according to their works".
Bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows
But the Christian is all too aware that "all have sinned". If God is only a God of righteousness and justice there is no hope for mankind. Yet Scripture teaches that God is indeed love. The evidence that should stop all questions is found at the Cross: "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5.8). It has been pointed out by others that each of us truly feels only our own grief and pain. We may sympathise with and share to a small degree the suffering of others. Only the Lord can "bear our griefs and carry our sorrows". If anyone can feel "all the suffering in the world" it is He. At the Cross He bore all that was due on account of our sin. The anguish of Gethsemane illustrates the degree to which He suffered at Calvary. The Cross is a statement that God cares, that He loves, and that He has been moved by compassion to action.
It may be worth adding here a comment on children. If children die what becomes of them? David certainly is sure in the case of the child born to Bathsheba that "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (2 Sam 12.23). Remember that this is the David who expects to "dwell in the house of the Lord for ever" (Ps 23.6). I have no doubt but that children who die enjoy Gods favour. [Davids attitude at news of Absoloms death stands in stark contrast: "Would God I had died for thee" (2 Sam 18.33).] I consider that Gods treatment of the children who left Egypt in the Exodus points, in picture, to the same conclusion: see, for example, Numbers 14.26-32 and Hebrews 3.17-19.
One has said, and I agree,
"The infant dead are never lost;
But had they lived they might have been."
In the light of the love of God the response of the believer must first be compassion, a compassion that moves into action to relieve suffering and to bring the story of the Cross to those who may doubt Gods love and who need Gods salvation.
In summary, Gods Wisdom knows the end from the beginning, and He alone can see the whole and understand the "Why?". His Righteousness will be demonstrated and every mouth will be stopped. And beyond these two stands His Love surpassing measure, seen in its greatness at the Cross.