GCengage: Do Pain and Evil Disprove God? (A New Testament Perspective)

Scripture never assumes that God must explain to us why He brings about or permits the things  He does (read Job, for example). However, the New Testament writers spend quite a bit of time talking with the early church about how to understand how God uses the presence of pain and suffering in the world to bring about good in His Kingdom.

 Paul writes a lot about the intersection of life with God in the midst of suffering. He was certainly qualified:

“To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless.  And we labor, working with our own hands.  Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat.  We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now” (1 Corinthians 4:11-13).

As we read Paul's letters in the New Testament, we see a number of principles unfold. Paul does not ask, "Why?!" Paul simply assumes that in this world we will have trouble; he was looking for they ways in which Christ helps us to overcome the worst the world can throw our way. 

God uses pain to build our character.

  • “…tribulations work patience, and patience experience, and experience hope” (Romans 5:3-4).  
  • God used Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12), to fight pride and self-sufficiency,
  • Peter talked about the “genuineness of faith” as it is “tested by fire” (1 Peter 1:7)

Suffering molds us more into the image of God. In order for us to experience patience, compassion, mercy, grace, and sacrificial love—both to see them in God and develop them in ourselves—don’t we have to experience evil and suffering? How could it be otherwise? These attributes, once developed, can last forever—long after evil has disappeared. 

 God uses pain to develop a desire for relationships with God and others.  

  • Jesus “withdrew to a lonely place” to mourn a loss (John 11:34), was filled with anguish (Matthew 26:38), and was acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).  Perhaps that is why Psalm 34:18 says he is “near to the brokenhearted.”  He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7) because he has been there.
  • Paul said his suffering was “for the sake of the body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).  They enabled him to “comfort those who are in trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
  • Our suffering enables us to more fully “bear another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).  

 Phillip Yancey has noted that asking  “Where is God?” is not as important as asking, “Where is the church when it hurts?” This is a great question. If the church carried out its mission effectively, people would probably not be asking this question of God quite so much. Our pain in broken world should be met with the comfort of Christ and His people.

 God uses pain to help us focus on the life to come.  

  • “Do not lose heart,” said Paul, “for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but the things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
  • “Our present suffering are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

 Suffering reminds us of life’s brevity and our closing window of opportunity to get right with our Creator.  Hardship can help us to trust God  in ways we are not prone to do when life is smooth and easy. One day, God will wipe all tears from our eyes; one day, there will be no more sickness, sorrow, or death. One day, we can experience life in its fullness. When creation groans, we long for redemption.

God uses pain to “make known the riches of His glory” (Romans 9:23; 2 Corinthians 4:7).  

  • After Joseph was sold into slavery, he told his brothers years later, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:19-20).
  • Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  

 This is not saying that God makes bad things happens so he can show up and be amazing. As both Joseph and Paul note, God's glory is seen when He is able to bring beauty from the ashes of our circumstances. 

Jesus’ Death and Resurrection show His love and power (Romans 9:23; 2 Corinthians 4:7).  

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn, the world, but to save it.” (John 3:16-17).

We see in two verses the response to those who questions God's love, power or knowledge.  Because God is love, He is willing to endure the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the world.  Because He's omnipotent, he can save the entire world, offering a total and complete redemption. Because He is omniscient, He knows what it will take to give us new life now and eternal life in the future.

Though God has revealed a tremendous amount of His character and wisdom, by no means can we expect to grasp the depth or immensity of the ways of God on this side of Heaven.  The potential goodness of specific instances of pain may not seem easily matched to the reasons listed above, and one should not expect them all to be.  However, we have hope that one day they will be understood.   

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part, then I will know fully” (1 Corinthians 13:12).


Recommended Resources:

Intellectuals Don’t Need God, by Alister McGrath

The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis.

Evidence for God, edited by William Dembski and Michael Licona.

Where Is God When It Hurts? Phillip Yancey

“A Good Reason for Evil,” by Greg Koukl.

“No Other Name: A Middle Knowledge Perspective on the Exclusivity of Salvation Through Christ,” by William Lane Craig.

“Do Evil and Suffering Disprove the Existence of God?” by Michael Horner.