Why is there pain in the world?

by Jeff McInnis (Contributing author to The Poached Egg)

painWe hear the statement, in one form or another, many times from non-believers: “I don’t want anything to do with a God who would…” do this or that. They may be railing against God’s allowing pain in the world, barring adherents to other religions from heaven, or any of the other God-like functions that may raise eyebrows. When this sentiment is brought up, the thought that crosses my mind is “too late.” You already have everything to do with God. You live in His world. You take the benefit that He has provided, now you don’t want anything to do with him? How does that work? We all marvel at the military person who takes the benefits of joining the army, such as going to college or learning a trade, getting paid, etc., but decides they have a problem with the military ideal once it is time to go to war. I find the same mindset with the typical worldly unbeliever. They accept this beautiful world to live in but want to have a problem with God once He begins to act like God.

Many have trouble with there being pain and sickness in the world. Their limited view of what a God must be like does not allow a God that would bring about pain. Their thinking, revealed by their questions, starts with the assumption that if God exists then he will necessarily conform to the idea of God that they have in their head. For instance, if the question is “Why does God not heal all the sick,” the underlying assumption behind that question is that sickness is bad and that God cannot be accomplishing anything by making someone sick.

This line of reasoning is, first and foremost, arrogant. It assumes that the person posing the question understands what God should be, if in fact he exists, better than God himself. Secondly, it is immature. It assumes that our good feelings are the most important thing in the universe. But what if something good, generally, can be brought about by the bad things that happen? The shootings in Columbine, Colorado come to mind. Far be it from me to attempt to determine all of God’s ways and reasons – I am not qualified for a job such as this. Still, looking from the outside, it seems that while the shootings were horrible, many began to see their life in a new light and many others decided to drop their foolish unbelief and follow Christ, incited to do so because they began to understand that they may not have as many tomorrows as they expect.

Ultimately, of course, God chooses to do what He wants when He wants. He does not conform to our view of Him quite simply because He is God and we are not. As James 4:14 says, we are a mist that appears for a while and then is gone. In Romans God further says that as God, He can choose to make some [people] for noble purposes and some for common use. While those words seem pretty harsh, they are nothing more than God being God.

I am not espousing some type of hateful theism where God enjoys people’s sickness so long as it’s some atheist. I don’t believe that. But the belief that sickness has no value is immature. An analogy for this is the inoculation of our children. As we raise children, we love and nurture them and make sure that we are doing the best for them that we can. At some point, we will bring them to the doctor, who will insert a big needle into their backsides. Shots for various diseases are a part of every baby’s upbringing. From the baby’s perspective, this is not very loving. It hurts. A baby can see no advantage whatever to having a long steel rod shoved into the flesh of their backsides. But as a parent we know that it is for their own good. A shot is much better than contracting measles, mumps, rubella, or any other of the diseases we have controlled thanks to the inoculation.

Likewise, we as the children of God begin to believe that we should live in comfort and happiness at all times. We begin to see any discomfort as evidence that God may not exist or may not be interested in our happiness. We willfully forget that for most of us life is full of much happiness and little pain. However, many times a relatively small amount of pain is the best way to grow. We realize the value of pain in our kids’ life to help them avoid sickness or to learn a specific lesson, but can no longer see the value of it in our own life.

The bible is clear that there is sin in the world. Bad things, in fact even death it says, are the result of sin in the world. God can use that sin to bring about our repentance. He can put us in a situation where another’s sin is the source of our discipline. He can even put us in a situation where the virtuous acts of another person bring about our discipline, repentance and spiritual growth. It is immature to expect that God must fit into our small little box by bringing us only good feelings at all times. The very idea of God means he does not fit within our conception of Him: He is the creator and we are the creature.

Another question often asked is can God really damn some to hell just because they refused the free offer of Christ? The bible is clear on this issue. Accepting the gift provided by God through His son Jesus Christ is not a difficult task. It is about as difficult as a drowning man choosing to accept the offer of a life preserver. The only way this can be considered difficult is if the drowning man fails to see that he is drowning. If he finds himself in this condition, he will arrogantly dismiss the life preserver as being meant for someone else and will confidently declare that he needs no life preserver. A declaration like this comes from those who refuse to see the predicament in which they find themselves.

Likewise, many turn down the offer of Christ because they fail to realize the predicament they are in. They do not see that there is trouble brewing for them. They proceed steadily toward the judgment seat of Christ, all the while believing they were put on the earth to make money, have fun, etc. They ignore the problem and, therefore, ignore the multiple offers of help.

God is kind and loving. No matter how you feel about your temporary circumstances on earth, He has provided a way out of your temporary pain and into the eternal bliss of heaven. That way is Jesus Christ. His gift of eternal life is free. If you choose to ignore the gift, you really cannot attribute the eternal misery to God. You were provided a choice and you chose pain and misery.

Here in Washington State, those who were older than 10 or so in 1980 may remember a character named Harry Truman. Harry, who was named after the 33rd president of the United States, lived on Mt. St. Helens at a lodge he ran on the beautiful shores of Spirit Lake. He had lived there all his life at a point up the mountain where, when the mountain blew, experts could see that he would certainly be killed.

Harry was told many times to leave the area. He was perfectly mobile and could have left under his own power. Even so, he had been offered helicopter rides away from his home, including one on the morning of the big eruption, May 18, 1980. He declined. There was no way, he felt, which the mountain could reach him. The experts told him that he was wrong, but he wouldn’t listen to them. The mountain blew on May 18, 1980. The predictions of the experts came true – the mountain did reach Harry Truman and beautiful Spirit Lake where he lived and annihilated them both. Spirit Lake is experiencing a revival today. No one has heard from Harry.

Afterwards, no one said how unfair it was. In fact, the whole incident was, if anything, a bit too fair. He had been told of the dangers and had been offered many opportunities to escape, but had turned them all down. He appeared to be very heroic; the nightly news would show him confidently declaring that he was safe and that the mountain would never reach him. He was a bit of a local hero. There was just one problem. Harry was wrong. In the end he should have accepted the helicopter ride. Was it fair? It was not a matter of fairness. It was simply a matter of Harry being in the way of the blast. It was a matter of one force being much bigger than the other and of Harry consistently declining the help that was offered to him and even disbelieving that he needed help.

The matter of God versus the sinner is much like the matter of the mountain versus Harry Truman with several exceptions. One important exception bears mentioning here: God is much more powerful than the mountain and we are much weaker, in comparison, than Harry Truman. We will not win the confrontation. We must, instead, take hold of the one who lived a perfect life – Jesus Christ. The bible is plain that God’s anger burns against the sin of this world. You can choose to pay the price for sin yourself, a choice I would not suggest you make. Alternatively, you can choose to have your account credited with the payment already made by Jesus Christ. Accept the helicopter ride that Harry should have taken.

Perhaps, though, the reader does not understand why we speak of man winning a battle against God? Why are we talking of God versus us. Isn’t God our loving father who wants the best for us? Why do we then speak of God versus man?

The idea of God being all-loving is scriptural. It is true that God is spoken of as a loving Creator in scripture. This is one of the ways that God is described in the bible. We have taken some of what the bible says about God and adopted it. We love to think of God as a loving, benevolent heavenly Father. But if we stop there we are guilty of a half-truth. God, while being a loving Father, also demands perfect holiness. The scripture is clear on that point, too. It describes that God requires perfect holiness of his people and that where there is sin, or a lack of holiness, there must be a penalty paid. There must be discipline and penance for wrong-doing. The bible makes it clear that there will be judgment and wrath for those who are found guilty at the judgment seat of Christ.

That is why we speak of the conflict between God and man. Man owes God a debt he cannot pay. If he is found wanting at the time of judgment, God’s wrath will be poured out on him. But there is an alternative. In fact, there is only one option. It is possible to take the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the only sinless person, onto yourself. Your sin, likewise, is transferred to Jesus. He paid the price for that sin on the cross. Accept His gift and worry no longer about the pain in the world.

The Poached Egg

Recommended Resources: The Problem of Pain (C.S. Lewis) | Unspeakable: Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil | Is God a Moral Monster?