HAVE YOU WONDERED? The problem of suffering and evil

Russ Whitten
Russ Whitten

“How can an all-powerful, all-loving God allow so much suffering and evil in the world?” In my next few articles, I would like to address this important question from a biblical perspective, culminating with the Christian affirmation that God, Himself, entered into our world in the person of Jesus Christ, experienced our pain, took our punishment, and died on a cross so that we could have forgiveness, new life and access to Heaven — an eternal paradise without any evil, pain or suffering.

1. Suffering can develop our character and lead us to maturity.

Suffering is not always evil. Often, it is a good thing in the human experience and essential for our survival. The pain sensors in our central nervous system serve as necessary warning-signals. Dr. Paul Brand, one of the world’s leading experts on leprosy, discovered that the most dangerous aspect of this disease is actually the absence of pain. The more pain that is muffled in a person’s body, Brand’s research revealed, the more likely that person will destroy it. Pain not only serves to protect the body, but also to strengthen it.

For example, have you ever watched a butterfly struggling to get free from a cocoon? It certainly doesn’t look like it is having a good time. In fact, it looks like it is suffering. However, if we feel sorry for it, intervene and tear the cocoon open to set the butterfly free, it will die. The struggle strengthens the butterfly so it can survive. The same type of thing could be said about a human’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development, as the following New Testament verse points out:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

Someone once asked the great Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo, “How can you take a huge hunk of granite and turn it into David?” He responded, “That hunk of granite is David. I just have to remove everything that does not belong.” How can God take sinful, imperfect, flawed human beings (like us) and make them into mature, complete, holy, blameless, Christ-like people? Answer: God has to remove everything that does not belong. This process, though necessary, is often painful. Joni Eareckson Tada once said, “At times, God uses affliction like a hammer and chisel, chipping and cutting to reveal his image in you. God chooses as his model his Son, Jesus Christ.”

2. Suffering helps us realize that we need God.

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

This famous quote from C. S. Lewis reminds us that sometimes suffering is the only thing that has the potency to jolt us out of our attitude of self-sufficiency and turn us away from a path of destruction. The apostle Paul, no stranger to suffering, often acknowledged this in his writings, as we see in the following verse:

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

Suffering can purify our faith, encourage holiness, promote humility, cause us to repent and bring us closer to God. Paul recognized that the “thorn in his flesh” was to keep him “from becoming conceited” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Peter even goes on to say, “he who has suffered in his body is done with sin” (1 Peter 4:1). The writer of the 119th Psalm would agree, for he admitted, “before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Psalm 119:67).

3. Our suffering can help us understand the suffering of others.

Paul writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

To be continued …

If you would like to hear more about this subject, please join us at the Destin Church of Christ, 150 Beach Drive, this Sunday morning at 9 a.m. as we discuss the Life of Joseph.

Russ Whitten is minister of Destin Church of Christ. He can be reached at