This is one of the most difficult questions for Christians to answer.
The “problem of pain,” as the well-known Christian scholar, C.S. Lewis, once called it, is atheism’s most potent weapon against the Christian faith.
All true science and history, if rightly understood, support the fact of God. This evidence is so strong that, as the Bible says: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1).
Most atheists, therefore, without any objective evidence on which to base their faith in “no God”, must resort finally to philosophical objections. And this problem of suffering is the greatest of these.
That is, they say, how can a God of love permit such things in His world as war, sickness, pain, and death, especially when their effects often are felt most keenly by those who are apparently innocent? Either He is not a God of love and is indifferent to human suffering, or else He is not a God of power and is therefore helpless to do anything about it. In either case, the Biblical God who is supposedly one of both absolute power and perfect love becomes an impossible anachronism. Or so they claim!
This is a real difficulty, but atheism is certainly not the answer, and neither is agnosticism. While there is much evil in the world, there is even more that is good. This is proved by the mere fact that people normally try to hang on to life as long as they can. Furthermore, everyone instinctively recognizes that “good” is a higher order of truth than “bad”.
We need also to recognize that our very minds were created by God. We can only use these minds to the extent that He allows, and it is, therefore, utterly presumptuous for us to use them to question Him and His motives.
“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25).
“Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, why hast Thou made me thus?” (Romans 9:20).
We ourselves do not establish the standards of what is right. Only the Creator of all reality can do that. We need to settle it, in our minds and hearts, whether we understand it or not, that whatever God does is, by definition, right.
Having settled this by faith, we are then free to seek for ways in which we can profit spiritually from the sufferings in life as well as the blessings. As we consider such matters, it is helpful to keep the following great truths continually in our minds.
There is really no such thing as the “innocent” suffering.
Since “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), there is no one who has the right to freedom from God’s wrath on the basis of his own innocence.
As far as babies are concerned, and others who may be incompetent mentally to distinguish right and wrong, it is clear from both Scripture and universal experience that they are sinners by nature and thus will inevitably become sinners by choice as soon as they are able to do so.
The world is now under God’s Curse (Genesis 3:17) because of man’s rebellion against God’s Word.
This “bondage of corruption,” with the “whole world groaning and travailing together in pain” (Romans 8:21-22), is universal, affecting all men and women and children everywhere. God did not create the world this way, and one day will set all things right again. In that day, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Revelation 21:4).
The Lord Jesus Christ, who was the only truly “innocent” and “righteous” man in all history, nevertheless has suffered more than anyone else who ever lived.
And this He did for us! “Christ died for our sins” (I Corinthians 15:3). He suffered and died, in order that ultimately He might deliver the world from the Curse, and that, even now, He can deliver from sin and its bondage anyone who will receive Him in faith as personal Lord and Savior. This great deliverance from the penalty of inherent sin, as well as of overt sins, very possibly also assures the salvation of those who have died before reaching an age of conscious choice of wrong over right.
With our full faith in God’s goodness and in Christ’s redemption, we can recognize that our present sufferings can be turned to His glory and our good.
The sufferings of unsaved men are often used by the Holy Spirit to cause them to realize their needs of salvation and to turn to Christ in repentance and faith. The sufferings of Christians should always be the means of developing a stronger dependence on God and a more Christ-like character, if they are properly “exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11).
Thus, God is loving and merciful even when, “for the present,” He allows trials and sufferings to come in our lives.
“For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Adapted from The Bible Has the Answer, by Henry Morris and Martin Clark,
published by Master Books, 1987