The world can be a scary, awful, painful, miserable ball of suffering sometimes. Horrible things happen for no rhyme or reason, leaving people, families, and even whole nations destroyed. Terrorists slam hijacked planes full of moms and dads and kids into office buildings while screaming "God is great"! Thousands more moms and dads and children and sisters and brothers die as those buildings collapse, along with hundreds of brave men and women who were trying to save them. They were just doing their job. They were trying to do good in the world. And their lives are snuffed out.
Young Patrick dies in a car crash on the way home for the holidays. He was not doing anything wrong, other than going a little over the speed limit. He had just gotten his life right with God, and now he is suddenly dead. Now, his parents and sister have been given a Christmas gift they will never be able to get out of their heads or their hearts. Did he deserve this? Did they?
Susan went to church all the time. She sang, she prayed, she volunteered. She got brain cancer. The church prayed for her, laid hands on her, had candlelight vigils for her. God did not seem to listen. She died anyway. Now her husband and teenage daughter wonder why.
Kids commit suicide, die in accidents, or kill themselves by over-dosing on drugs. Mothers kill their own babies and blame it on post-partum depression or the voice of God. Sometimes they even hack off their arms and let them bleed to death. Other mothers sell their own daughters into child prostitution to get money for drugs. Millions starve to death in the third world while the first world suffers from obesity. Earthquakes, eruptions, hurricanes, and tornadoes kill thousands of people and destroy lives without warning. Ironically, sometimes the insurance won't pay for the damages because it is labeled as an "act of God"! Is this fair? is this right?
Death, destruction, misery, abuse, abandonment, depression, addiction, suicide, poverty, injustice, helplessness, hopelessness are everywhere we turn. Turn on the news, you see it. Open the paper, you read it. Walk down the city streets, you feel it.
Where are YOU God? Do YOU care at all? Are you even there?
This is the first, greatest, and worst problem we have to deal with if we are going to believe in a God: The problem of pain. The dilemma of destruction. The question of suffering. The mystery of evil.
Permission to get angry
All of this is enough to make us angry... even angry at God. Are you angry with God? Do you hate Him? Do you blame Him? Have you ever cursed Him. yelled at Him, flailed your arms and legs in the air trying to hit Him. Do you want to hurt Him the same way He has let you be hurt? You are in good company. I have been in your shoes. And so have a lot of other people... even people in the Bible like Moses, King David, Job, Elijah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Peter, Paul, and yes, even Jesus.
I want to start this by giving you permission to get angry at God. To yell at Him. To cry to Him. To strike Him. Believe me, God is big enough for you to do that. Not only is He strong enough, but He has enough Love for you to allow you to do that. You may not believe that at this point, and that is OK. But He is big enough and He does have enough Love for you to allow you to do anything to Him- even torture Him, nail Him to a cross, and damn Him to hell. He will take your pain and your anger and your hate and overcome it in a resurrection of hope that you can scarcely imagine. So, give it to Him as hard as you can. He can take it. I dare you.
Do you know that anger at God is part of a Biblical relationship with God? In the pre-Jesus part of the Bible, God's people are called "Israel". This word literally means "wrestles and struggles with God". After Jesus, the Church is called the "true Israel". This must mean that we are the people who REALLY struggle with God. How strange is that, that God Himself would make part of the identity of His people that of STRUGGLING with Him? I think it is because He is our Father, and He knows who we are. He knows that life is struggle... and it is a gut-wrenching, violent, angry, struggle with Him that more often than not includes deep anguish for both God and us.
The people closest to God in the Bible always struggled and wrestled with Him. It is Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God, who used the words of Psalm 22 on the cross. Here is what it says:
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me,
from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not
answer; and by night, but find no rest."
"How long, Lord? Will you
forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must
I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will
my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, Lord my God!" (Psalm
"How long, 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? Destruction and violence
are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds." (Habakkuk 1:2-3)
Have you ever felt like that? I have. These quotes are probably shoved in the closet by those "nice" people who say that we cannot be real with God and get mad at Him. But, I list these quotes to tell you that you CAN and SHOULD get real with God. Struggle with Him. Yell at Him. Cry, weep, and wail. It really is OK. I promise.
I have been following Jesus and in love with God for over a decade now. I still get mad at Him. I still have shouting matches with Him. I still cry and scream and yell because I am so angry off at what I am going through, and I blame God for it... at least for a while. I do this because I am in a relationship with God and I know Him. In relationships, people get mad and then make up. God Loves me enough that every time I get mad, He guides me back to the truth, sometimes in gentile ways, and sometimes by smacking me in the head... but He always guides me. He will guide you to, if you will let Him.
Maybe God is not really there after all...
So, here is the problem: If God is all-powerful, and all-good, then why is there evil and suffering in the world? If He is all-good, then he should not want any of His creation to suffer. If He is all-powerful, then He should be able to stop evil from happening. But evil and suffering DO happen, all the time, in every way. So this must mean that God is not all-powerful, or all-good, or does not even exist at all. In fact, many people who are angry at God over evil and suffering choose the third option.
This is what the band XTC did in their song "Dear God". This is an intense song that reflects on the problem of evil, suffering, and God:
Dear god, hope you got the letter,
And I pray you can make it better down
I don’t mean a big reduction in the price of beer,
But all the
people that you made in your image,
See them starving on their
’cause they don’t get enough to eat...
I can’t believe
Sorry to disturb you,
But I feel that I
should be heard loud and clear.
We all need a big reduction in amount of
And all the people that you made in your image,
See them fighting
in the street,
’cause they can’t make opinions meet,
believe in you.
Did you make disease, and the diamond blue?
you make mankind after we made you?
And the devil too!
Don’t know if you noticed,
But your name is on a lot of quotes in
Us crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look,
And all the
people that you made in your image,
Still believing that junk is
Well I know it ain’t, and so do you,
I can’t believe
I don’t believe in,
I won’t believe in heaven and
No saints, no sinners,
No devil as well.
No pearly gates, no
You’re always letting us humans down.
The wars you bring,
the babes you drown.
Those lost at sea and never found,
And it’s the same
the whole world 'round.
The hurt I see helps to compound,
That the Father,
Son and Holy Ghost,
Is just somebody’s unholy hoax,
And if you’re up there
That my heart’s here upon my sleeve.
If there’s one thing
I don’t believe in...
After all, the easiest way to get out of the problem of pain is to simply say that God does not exist. There is nothing beyond this physical world: so eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. You may try and leave something for future generations, but in the long run that will be forgotten and even the human race will cease to exist after enough time goes by. We are but insignificant parts of an insignificant race that is doomed to be destroyed and forgotten with the passing of time.
You could handle the problem of evil this way, but in the long run, I don't find this satisfying, and I think if you were honest with yourself, neither would you.
We all yearn for an undying, unending source of hope and meaning. If that does not exist, then all our judgments about good and evil are just personal opinions, and ultimately meaningless. Then there is nothing that is ultimately and eternally Good, just pleasant feelings that will pass like the sunset. If I want to hurt you, cause you pain, and even kill you, and I define that as "good", then you have no room to disagree, except to say that you don't like that. You can't really call me evil, because that would be just your opinion.
You might get a group of like-minded people together and declare your own version of right and wrong, and force everybody to follow it from the barrel of your gun, but in the long run it would still just be a group opinion. There would be no ultimate right or wrong, good or bad, without an eternal God as the source of those values.
Evil points to an eternal Source of goodness
In fact, the existence of evil points us toward the fact that there really is Good. There really is God. For instance, take hunger. The fact that we get hungry points to the reality of food. If we were beings who did not have stomachs and never needed food, then we would never get hungry. But our hunger indicates that there is such a thing as food to satisfy our needs, even if we cannot immediately find it. In the same way, our aversion to evil and our hunger for goodness points to a fact that there really is an eternal Good that we are made for. If this were not so, then we would not even register the idea of evil. We would see suffering and death as "just the way things are", like mere animals who are not conscious or rational.
But something inside us will not accept evil as just "the way things are". We rebel against it. We want to stop it and change it. When someone looses this sense, one of three things usually happen: they commit suicide, they become insane, or they turn into an evil monster who's sense of right and wrong is destroyed. In fact, those people who do not think evil is wrong, such as sociopaths, we see as sub-human and dangerous. We know there is evil, and because we know there is evil, we know there must be an undying standard of Good. We just can't shake it, no matter how numb we try to make ourselves. The only undying standard of Good is God.
And so, we are back to our problem: If God is so good and so powerful, then why does He allow suffering? Since we cannot deny that there is God, and it does not work to deny that He is the source of all goodness, then people try one of two other ways of dealing with the problem.
Maybe God is not really all-good or all-powerful...
One way is to say that God is a mixture of good and evil He is a ying-yang, in which light and dark, goodness and evil, co-exist. But this does not work either. How can we say that anything is truly good, beautiful, loving, and righteous, if from Him also flows evil, ugliness, hate, and wickedness? Is He a cruel puppet-master that wants to heal you one moment and cause you to suffer the next moment? Is God like a child with an ant farm that raises His ants and feeds them and cares for them only to take them outside and burn them with a magnifying glass and blow them up with firecrackers? This is not a God, but a demon. God cannot be anything less than utterly, totally good.
The other way out is to say that God is less than all-powerful. God wants to stop evil and suffering, but is just not strong enough to do so. He needs our help. But this, while a better solution, is still no solution at all. If God has any power at all to intervene in creation, and yet does not do so, then He cannot be fully good. Let me explain. Let's say that God cannot do an infinite amount of miracles because He is not all powerful. Let's say that God can only do 1000 miracles per year to help the needy. How would He choose those who will receive His miracles? How would He decide who is "good enough" to save? If He does not do all of His miracles, how could He be truly good? In fact, if He is not able to stop suffering or evil in any large scale sense, how can He really be good in any eternal, large scale sense? He cannot.
You can get out of this by saying that God can do no miracles, He can only function through normal physical laws. He is a God who is always with us, always feeling our pain, but never able to do anything about it. But what is the difference between saying this and saying there is no God to help us in times of trouble? If God is there, but can never show that He is there or do anything outside of the "normal course of events" to help us, then it is as if He is not there at all. This is not a God in any meaningful sense. For God to be meaningful, He must exist, He must be all-good, and He must be all-powerful. And so, we are back to our problem: Why does an all-good, all-powerful God allow the world to be so screwed up?
The answer is found in the Love of God
The answer to this problem is one of the reasons I believe in the God who is revealed in the Bible and in Christianity. Christianity says that God is Love. This gives me a big clue to why God allows suffering.
What does it mean that God is Love? When we usually think of love, we do not think of someone who is in love with themselves. Someone who is in love with themselves is what we call conceited. Love cannot just be one person. Love requires three things: A Love-giver, someone who is Beloved, and the activity of Love flowing between the two people.
In our dimension, one person can only exist in one being. If more than one person inhabits a human being, we call it mental illness or schizophrenia. But God is beyond our dimension. Far beyond. In Him are three equally eternal Persons joined forever in Love as one Being. We call this the Tri-Unity of God, or simply, the Trinity. You may be wondering why I am talking about this right now... but just hold on... I am getting to it.
You see, God is Love because He is three Persons eternally sharing in each other's Love and goodness. The Person we call the Father is the Love-giver. The Person we call the Son, who came to Earth as Jesus Christ, is the Beloved. The Person we call the Spirit is the Love that flows from Father to Son and from the Son back to the Father. Eternally, they freely and whole-heartedly give themselves to each other and share in each other.
Yet, God was not content to allow this Love and this goodness to remain only within Himself. He wanted to share it with other beings, to freely give Himself to others as He has given Himself to Himself. Yet, there was nothing. No other beings. Nothing outside of His eternal existence. Therefore, out of the overflow of His goodness He created an entire universe, filled creatures that He could share Himself with and Love.
Our Father made us free to share His Love
The Father spoke the Word, and His own Son, His own Beloved, became the pattern and purpose for Creation. He created us so that He could share His Love with us just as He shares His Love with His Son. From this Word His Spirit poured forth into chaos and emptiness to form matter and energy and time and space. Light and darkness separated, galaxies formed, life evolved, and the Father guided the entire process toward a very specific goal: the goal was to create persons who were able to bear the image of God, who had reason, and emotion, and consciousness, who could freely choose to accept or deny His Love.
Now, the creation of freedom and choice is essential to both having true Love and solving the problem of evil. For Love to be real, it has to be chosen and given freely. You cannot have Love without that, because it is part of the definition of Love. Love without choice is no longer love, but rape. It is the forcing of one person on another. God is not a rapist. He cannot make us choose Him without destroying the very reason He created everything and going against His own nature.
God also cannot create free beings who are not free and have to choose Him. That is a contradiction, and God does not make contradictions. We cannot be mere robots that God programs to Love Him. Love from a programmed machine is not love, it is barren and meaningless. Likewise, God cannot force us to Love Him by violence or torture. I cannot make you love me by holding a gun to your head. You may say you love me, but in the end it is rape, not Love.
So, for the Father to make beings in the image and pattern of His Son, whom He can Love like His Son, He must give them true freedom to accept or deny Him. This freedom is seen from the very bottom or reality to the very top of reality. At the bottom of reality, we see sub-atomic particles that suddenly change directions for no apparent reason. Those who do not believe in God may call this "indeterminacy" or "chance", but we call it freedom. Moving up the chain of reality, we find animals that act with freedom to eat and sleep and do what they want. Has anyone ever been able to fully train a cat? Moving up the chain some more, we find humans who not only make choices to do good and evil, to love and to hate, but who are self-aware of their choices. As we move up the chain another step, the Bible as well as other religions tell us that there is a whole extra-dimensional reality filled with spirits and angels, some of whom have chosen to love and serve God, and others who have rebelled and fallen. All of this freedom comes from the very Top of reality, from the God who IS freely given Love from Himself to all created things.
So, from the very bottom of reality to the very top of reality, we have freedom. It is the freedom to Love or hate, the freedom to destroy or create. This freedom necessarily has consequences on others around us. We cannot make a choice and it affect only us, no matter how secret we think it is. As the old proverb goes: "Sow a thought, reap an action; Sow an action, reap a habit; Sow a habit, reap a destiny". Our freely chosen actions have consequences... on everything. All of creation is a tightly interconnected web, a system in which each part matters because God created each part. Our actions either benefit ourselves and others around us, or they harm them. All because of the love and freedom that God built into all things He has made.
God cannot make un-free freedom
At this point, someone may jump in and say: "Well, if God is all powerful, couldn't He just put a force-field around everyone that would allow only the positive choices to affect others and stop the negative choices from hurting others?" I suppose He could, but this would render meaningless every choice, and destroy our freedom as well. To be free to choose to do something is to be able to actually DO it, to act on it, to bring it to fulfillment and experience its consequences... for good or for bad. Without action and consequences, choice is meaningless. God cannot just put a "good-choice-only" bubble around us to make sure everyone plays nice.
Well then, could God give us "do overs" until we choose the right thing? Could He re-wind the timeline every time we choose badly, and re-run it until we chose right? We would never know what happened, and we would still be free, right? No one gets hurt and everyone does good! Not so fast. Part of real love and real goodness is that it must be knowingly chosen. Our Father created us in His image, and that means being self aware of all we think, and feel, and choose. That is why we are able to engage in a true, intimate, fulfilling relationship with God, unlike dogs or insects or plants, who are at best only partially aware of themselves as living beings. To take away our self-awareness and conscience about what we choose is to make us less than human and no longer bearers of God's image.
The point is that, in order for us to enter into the Love of the Father, we have to be fully free, fully conscious beings. That freedom can love or hate, destroy or create, accept or deny. The consequences of that freedom brings unspeakable beauty and love into the universe. But it also brings unspeakable ugliness and suffering. And the more powerful and conscious the being is who is free, the more good AND the more evil it can be.
Collections of atoms and molecules in rocks cannot really be good or bad, except when used in human hands. A dog or a cat can be somewhat good or bad, and much of that is determined by how humans raise them. And even when they are bad we do not blame them for their badness in the same way blame their owners for training them to be mean or neglecting them. An ignorant person can do a lot that is either good or bad, but is still very limited. A genius can rally people behind him and do truly great things (like Martin Luther King) or truly horrible things (like Adolf Hitler). A super-human, super-dimensional spirit-being with unspeakable power and intelligence can be a mastermind behind the rebellion against God (like Satan), or a mastermind in protecting God's people (like Michael). The level of goodness or evil is determined directly by the amount which each being chooses to participate in the Love and goodness that flows from God alone.
Evil just doesn't make sense
And one more thing is important to remember about evil choices made by free beings: They DO NOT MAKE SENSE. When truly horrible things happen, we often try to make sense out of it. But here's the deal: EVIL DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. Evil never, in the long run, brings about the benefits that selfish people desire. Evil may seem to work in the short run, but in the long run it doesn't. And anyone who sat around and thought about it long enough would figure it out. The most reasonable, beneficial, helpful thing in the world is to Love God above all, and Love your neighbor as yourself. If everyone did this, the world would literally be perfect. But they don't. They think they can find happiness by denying God or hurting others or both. Evil choices are just stupid. They don't work. They don't make sense. They are destined to destroy the lives of those who make those choices and the lives of those who are hurt by those choices.
That is why the Bible calls evil "the mystery of lawlessness". Because God's "law", that is, His "law of Love", is the most rational, sensible, positive, helpful thing that anyone could ever do. It is a mystery- something that makes no sense and has no reason- for someone to deny this law. Yet, in selfishness and greed we break it all the time, and individual lives, families, societies, and even the world is destroyed in big and small ways because of it. It is a mystery. Evil doesn't make sense. God makes sense. So, don't torture yourself when something truly awful happens, saying "Why did this happen?" "Why did God do this?" "What is the reason for this?" God did not do it (though He did allow it), and He probably cannot make much more sense out of it than you can. And, as your Father, He is hurt and angered by it even more than you are.
The Father suffers for us
When evil and suffering happen in any part of creation, our Father FEELS it because He chooses to be intimately involved with the whole created order and present at all times in all places. Our evil and suffering grieves God and pierces His heart. God the Father truly suffers for us, because He chooses to as our Dad. And while it is good to know that the Father cares for us deeply and suffers for us, it does us no good if He does not act to do something. And since our Father cannot manipulate our freedom, I believe He is limited to two options in dealing with the evil and suffering that hurts us, and Him, so badly. He can either destroy things to stop their evil, or He can redeem them.
Why destruction doesn't work
Let's look at the option of destruction first. Would this option really accomplish what God desires in sharing His Love? The first and most obvious problem with destruction is that it annihilates very people that God LOVES. Again, God is not the kid with the magnifying glass killing his ants. He is not a sadistic video game player enjoying it while His creation suffers. He cares for all He has made and does not want even one to perish. Every created thing comes from the overflow of His Love and he longs for it to return to Him freely. He wants to destroy nothing.
Yet, there comes a time when people become so evil and hardened that the best thing to do, to save the rest of creation from more suffering, is to take them out so they can no longer corrupt and destroy the others. This "taking out" is death and what we call "hell". Hell is not a place where devils dressed in red spandex poke you with pitchforks. It is separation from God's Love and from all of creation so that a person's evil and denial of God can no longer corrupt and harm creation. The Bible describes hell in symbolic terms as utter isolation, total darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth, fire and judgment. It uses these symbols because the reality is so horrible that it cannot be described in literal language, just as Heaven is so beautiful and joyful that it cannot be described in literal language.
Hell is eternal self-imposed exile from God and all of creation. God has to allow Hell, because, like I said, He cannot make us choose Him. He cannot force people to spend eternity with Him, in His presence, if they do not choose to Love Him. That would rape, not just for an instant, but for an eternity. Yet, away from God is utter darkness, total isolation, alone with oneself forever, with no one else to be with, burning with regret and bitterness. Hell is simply the natural outgrowth of what was already begun on Earth for those who deny God and hurt others, just as Heaven is the natural outgrowth of what was begun on Earth for those who Love God and others.
Someone may at this point object and say "I can be a very nice person without God, thank you very much". And that may be true for a while. You see, if God is the source of all goodness and love, then the only way we can really be good or loving is to share in what God is. The more we actively deny God, the more we will drift into darkness. Maybe imperceptibly. Maybe over a lifetime. But we will drift. In fact, one of the things that shows how good God really is, is the fact that people who deny Him still have any Love or goodness in them at all. This shows that God shares Himself even with those who hate Him, although He does it in ways they are often not aware of. Yet, the more we accept God's Love and actively join ourselves to Him, the better and more loving we will be. Anything less is to drift toward hell.
But hell, in the long run, does not work. It does not give what God wants. So, maybe what God can do is eliminate and destroy all of humanity except for the most righteous and good family He can find, and then re-build the world with them alone. That would stop the world from getting worse, and allow a new race of people to fill the Earth who will choose to Love God, right? That will un-do all that evil has done, right? No, it doesn't work. The story of Noah and the Ark, a story which is witnessed to in most ancient civilizations across the world, shows us that this does not work. Noah was picked as a righteous man to re-build the Earth. His response, after the flood, was to get drunk and naked. And the earth was filled with violence and suffering again.
So, then maybe what God can do is pick a chosen people out of all the earth, and give them a special land that is their own, to become a kind of "homeland" for those who love God. Maybe that land can be a shining light for the world and serve as a place for all people who truly seek God to go. Of course, to have such a land, all evil inhabitants of the land will have to be pushed out or killed in order to make it a pure land for a pure people. Everyone who denies God, who does wickedness, and who spreads violence, will have to be eliminated. But, this has been tried as well. Remember Moses, leading Israel into the promised land? Remember Joshua, who conquered the promised land and pushed out the "evil" people who lived there? It didn't work. The land of Israel became as evil, violent, and unjust as any nation before them.
And on top of all of this, if God were truly going to follow a program of destroying all who did evil, He would have to destroy ALL of us. Every person does evil, denies God, and hurts others in big and small ways. We all, in our own ways, contribute to the degradation of the world, and we know it. The infection of evil has gotten into all of us, even the best of us... and the best of us are the first to admit how often they are cruel and unkind. So what does that say for the rest of us? We deserve destruction. We deserve separation and quarantine to stop the spread of our infection. We deserve hell. But hell does not give us what we need, nor does it give God what He deserves: which is people to share Love with.
God the Son suffers with us and redeems us
So, we are left with one option: Redemption. Salvation. Taking the evil and somehow turning it to good. But how?
God did not just sit up in heaven feeling sorry for us. He did something. He became one of us. To be more specific, God the Son chose to enter into life as a human being and become the Son of God. God Himself entered into history and became a human and felt every pain and every joy that we face. God Himself took on a human face in Jesus Christ.
He went through the pain of birth. He went through the pain of growing up, of becoming a child, then a teen, then a young man. He suffered temptation in every way we are tempted, and He was not just tempted by society and humans. He was tempted by the Tempter Himself, the evil mastermind. Yet, during all of this He never chose evil He never chose to deny God. He never chose to hurt others, unless it was to turn them from a far more harmful path in life. He taught the way to God, and taught that He Himself IS the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He showed, by His teaching and His life, what it meant to really love God and love those God has made.
For all of this, He was tortured and killed. All of His friends left Him. He was taken before several judges to judge Him. All were unjust, and all were cruel. His own Father, God the Father, abandoned and allowed Him to die. God the Son died, and He tasted hell in utter abandonment and isolation from the Father. He descended into the very hell where those who hate God go. Then, just as in the very first act of Creation, the Father sent forth His Spirit and re-created His Son, resurrected Him, and gave Him victory over death, evil, and suffering.
You see, God the Father suffers FOR us, and for His Son. But God the Son suffers WITH us, along side us, bearing our pain and suffering in Himself. That is what God does on our behalf. But, what does the death and resurrection of Christ mean for us in a suffering world?
The meaning of the cross and the empty tomb
First, it means that God took our suffering and death into Himself and overcame it. We are all VICTIMS of evil and suffering in this world caused by evil. In "normal life" (whatever that is), we know that when we buy a defective product and are harmed by it, we expect the manufacturer to pay for the damage that the product caused. Well, in one sense, all of creation is a huge defective product. Like we said above, it could not have been made any other way if God wanted to have free beings to share His Love with. It is the only way that such a creation could be made, but making this world in this way is filled with huge risk and huge danger because of freedom. In one sense it is a good creation, a great creation, because it allows true freedom and Love. But in another sense it is a horrible, defective, painful creation.
We somehow feel that God should pay for that. We feel that God should have to go through what we go through, to the utter extremes of the worst that humans can experience! We get angry and curse Him. We hate Him. We want Him to die. We want Him to be destroyed. We want Him to go to hell to pay for all the hell that we have to go through. We want Him to go through the pain of loosing the Person He cares for the most. Well, you know what? He did. In Jesus, He did all of that and more. The Father lost His one and only Son to evil, suffering, injustice, and death. The creator paid the debt that His creation created, and He took inside Himself all of the horror and evil and pain that creation could dish out. That is amazing enough, to think that God bore our curses for us. But even more amazing is that He overcame it by rising from the dead. He transformed evil, suffering, and death, by going through them and taking them captive to His undying Love. In Jesus, God confronts and overcomes our greatest pain (loosing someone we care for) and our greatest fear (undergoing death), and He conquers them. His resurrection proves that His Love can never die and can overcome anything.
Second, the death and resurrection of Jesus means that God took our evil and infection into Himself and defeated it. You see, we are not just victims, we are also VILLAINS. We enter into the conspiracy of pain and suffering against God. Like I said, we all choose, in big and small ways, to be part of the problem. We all do what we know is wrong. We all choose hate, bitterness, and hurt over love, forgiveness, and healing. We all are part of the very world system that crucified Christ, and we are all guilty, in our own way, of killing God and damning Him to hell. Do you realize that you do things to hurt God? I do. You do. We all do. We not only are hurt by the world, but we owe a debt ourselves, and it is a debt we can never repay. We are all guilty before God. We are all infected and corrupted and headed for destruction and death.
In Christ, God also took our evil and infection into Himself, and put it to death. It is called forgiveness. Forgiveness is not just pretending that something didn't happen, and allowing evil to happen again. That is not forgiveness, it is injustice. No, forgiveness is taking the consequences of someone else's actions into yourself and not making them pay for it. If you steal $20 from me and I forgive you, then I take the $20 debt on myself and do not make you pay. If you gossip about me behind my back and hurt me, and then I forgive you, that means I take the hurt you caused me and I do not try and dish it back out to you. That is forgiveness.
For God to forgive us, He must take the death, destruction, and suffering that we cause for ourselves and for others into Himself. He does not do this in secret, but He does it for all the Universe to see. He does this by dying for us on a cross, on a God-forsaken hill, at a certain place and a certain historical time. He does this by becoming one of us, in every way, from the womb to the tomb. Then He defeated the tomb, and He defeated all our evil deeds and destructive consequences, by coming back from the dead. He put death to death and destroyed destruction by His resurrection.
Third, Jesus death and resurrection means that there is a guarantee that there is hope and healing beyond all that we are going through. The worst thing that happens to anyone in this life is that eventually they are cut off from life altogether. They die. They cease to breathe, their heart stops, and they decompose. And it seems like the end, forever. But it is not, and we have proof... Real, demonstrated, historical proof. Jesus rose from the dead in front of over 500 people in groups, alone, in daytime, at night, outdoors, and indoors. He even cooked food and ate it! For those who are held captive by the fear of death, Jesus has shown publicly, for all time, that death is not the end. There is hope. There is a God who redeems.
God the Spirit suffers in us
Well, now we know that God the Father deals with our suffering by suffering FOR us, and we know that God the Son deals with it by suffering WITH us, but that was 2000 years ago. What about right now, today, where I am suffering? What does God do now? This is where the Holy Spirit comes in.
The Holy Spirit is God who suffers IN us, inside us, and through us. You see, if you accept Jesus for yourself, as your own Lord and your own co-sufferer, then you have accepted His Love and chosen to unite yourself with His Love. If you remember above where we talked about the Trinity, you will remember that the Holy Spirit is the Love of God that flows from the Father to the Son, and through the Son He flows out into all of creation to join us to God. When we accept Jesus, the Love of the Holy Spirit begins to live in us and heal us and join us to the eternal life of God.
The Bible describes the Spirit as our Counselor, our Comforter, our Friend, and our Strength-giver in times of trouble. The Holy Spirit goes through everything we go through WITHIN us. He feels our pain, undergoes our heartache, and grieves with us. He never leaves us and never forsakes us, because He is the very Spirit of Jesus who suffers with us and the Father who suffers for us.
The work of the Holy Spirit within
While inside us, He does a few things. First, He guides us and gives us wisdom and helps us understand why things happen (if we are ready to understand). He helps everything make sense, and gives us God's perspective on the struggles we face. Second, He prays with us and for us, and helps us communicate with God. When we do not know what to say, He intercedes for us with groans and anguish that words cannot express.
Third, He gives us power and strength to make it through any challenge and any pain. We can do all things through Him who gives us strength. Fourth, He fills us with peace that passes understanding. He is able to calm our hearts and give rest to our souls even when the world rages around us. But, I must remind you, that in order to receive this Spirit, we must accept God's Love through Jesus Christ. Jesus is like the "plug" through which we get connected to God so that the power of the Spirit can flow through us.
The Spirit is also constantly at work in all things and through all things to redeem them and transform them into good. He is the one who transformed the evil of Christ's death into the glory of His resurrection when He brought Jesus back from the grave. The Bible promises us that "all things work together for the good of those who Love God and are called according to His purpose" (see Romans 8:28-39). The Holy Spirit is who is at work in doing this, but in order to receive it we must "plug ourselves in" to God and truly accept His Love.
God's Plan A and Plan B
You see, God has two wills, or two plans, for creation. One is His perfect will. It is His perfect will that all His creatures accept His Love and live in perfect harmony and caring for one another, forever. But we didn't choose that. His perfect will is shot, and like I said above, it would not do for God to destroy it all and start over because that would change nothing ultimately. So, God has a second will, and that is His redemptive will. His redemptive will is that which redeems and transforms evil into good through Jesus Christ, by the power and working of the Spirit.
Two analogies serve to explain redemptive will. One is an analogy that I heard a preacher use one time. He said that he hated leftovers, and his children hated leftovers. But His wife cooked really good, really large meals, and they could never eat all of them. So she would store the leftovers, but nobody would eat them. They just sat in the fridge. It made mom unhappy. It made the dad and the kids unhappy too. But then mom would do something amazing: she would take all of the leftovers, re-prepare them and mix some of them together, and she would create a delicious meatloaf that everyone loved. God's redemptive will is like that. He takes our leftovers, our hurts, and our pain, and makes something amazing out of it. He takes a mess and makes a meatloaf.
Another analogy is a needlepoint picture . My wife creates beautiful arts and crafts, including an occasional needlepoint. My favorite is her picture of teacups. But there is just one problem with needlepoint. Have you ever looked at them from underneath? They look horrible. It is nothing but a mess of threads and knots going every which way and hanging down. But on top is a beautiful picture. God's redemptive will is like that. He will take the knots of misery and pain, and all the hanging threads of evil and injustice, and will weave them together into a beautiful picture. He can take a tangle and make a tapestry. I do not know how, but He will. And again, here's the catch: if you want to eventually see the picture and taste the meatloaf, you need to be in relationship with Him.
God's Spirit heals our pain
So, here is the way that God deals with evil and suffering: He heals it, either in this dimension or beyond. God cannot stop evil choices or suffering without destroying Love and the whole purpose of creation, as we discussed above. But, once evil has happened He does heal it if we open ourselves to His healing Love and His comforting Spirit.
This healing may be in this life. The Spirit can and does often heal people in many ways. He frequently heals people physically, along with healing memories and emotions, as well as healing relationships and sometimes whole nations. God still heals today, often by what we would consider miracles. This does not mean that God is a miracle vending machine that will magically fix everything when we deposit the right faith-token or say the right magic words in prayer. He does not work that way. But, sometimes, He finds it best to intervene in our lives in truly miraculous ways. I have seen it.
But, He does not always heal in outward ways we can see. I cannot tell you exactly why. Maybe it is because someone still has more to learn from the pain they are going through. Maybe their pain will enable them to help and comfort others who they will meet in the future. Maybe God is allowing people to learn from their suffering, and their heroic example of endurance in pain inspires others. Often God allows a time of suffering and trial to teach us how to Love more deeply. Ask any parent of a newborn or toddler or teenager, and they will tell you that trials, tribulations, and suffering with their children have taught them how to love deeper. Parenthood is painful, but fulfilling, for everyone, God the Father included!
Another reason that God does not heal is that maybe He is calling someone home for the ultimate healing. At death, those who know and Love God go to be in His presence, and are healed by His Love forever. With Him, there is no more weeping or evil or crying or pain, but total fulfillment and Love forever (see Revelation 21-22). Our Father longs to be with His children, face to face, in relationship, forever. He puts us on Earth for a short time to learn how to Love and trust, and then He takes us to Himself. Because of freedom, and evil choices, some get taken sooner than others. But when they are taken, they undergo the ultimate healing and are perfected in Christ's presence. And if we know and Love God, we will be with them again, forever, as one family under God.
The final healing of the Universe
This brings me to the final healing of all the Universe as well. One day, God will call a stop to all evil and suffering everywhere, not just in the lives of those who Love Him. Christ will return to Earth again, not to save the world, but to judge it. When you are watching a play, and you see the director walk on stage, you know that the play is over. It is time for applause and then for the lights to go out. When Jesus Christ walks back on stage, the play is over. He will raise to life all who have ever lived. Those who have hardened themselves against Him forever will be cast into exile and separation forever. Those who have accepted His Love will live forever with Him.
Heaven and Earth will be re-created without any stain of evil or suffering in it. On that Day, God will truly wipe every tear from our eyes, He will be our God and we will be His people. We will live eternally in community and self-giving enjoyment of one another, just as the Trinity forever lives in self-giving community. We will be drawn into the life of the Trinity and the Trinity will fully share in us. This is the final healing of all things, and the final banishing of evil and suffering.
So, this is what God does with all of the awful things that happen to us, and that we do to each other. That does not stop this life from being hard. Very hard. There are times that life is great, joyful, exciting, and fulfilling. There are people who love us and who we love deeply. But every person will fail us in big and small ways, and every life will have times of gut-wrenching agony. We cannot escape it. God Himself, when He came as Christ, could not escape it. But we do have a choice about what to do about it. Will we allow God to walk with us down the road of life, giving us His strength and love and healing in our times of weakness? Or will we do it on our own and blame God and harden ourselves to Him? Will we suffer alone, or will we allow God to suffer for us, with us, and in us? The choice is yours.