If God is Good, Why Do I Hurt?
The problem of evil and suffering in the world is perhaps the most difficult objection that Christianity will ever face.
In this short sermon, I survey the Moral Argument, the Problem of Pain, and the Freewill defence of evil, and end on some pastoral thoughts about trusting God in the midst of our suffering.
For a more thorough discussion of these topics, see the links below.
Scroll down to read the entire transcript of the sermon.
For more on the Moral Argument, see here.
For more on the Problem of Pain, see here.
To support this website and podcast, go to www.patreon.com/josiahmeyer
Today, we have a topic which is difficult on two levels. There are issues for us to wrap our minds around — such as the Trinity. And then there are also problems that are hard for us to wrap our hearts around, such as why could God be so wrathful and why can there be sin and hard things in the Old Testament?
And today’s subject is really both.
If God is good then why do I hurt? I think most of us have asked this question at one point or another. And it just seems like the older I get, the more often I ask this question. Because the longer that you live and the better that you love, the more that you hurt. And then the more that this question comes up, God, why did that happen? We can wrestle with it intellectually and say, “If God is good and evil is bad, then why do these two get together?” We also wrestle with it emotionally, “God you could have stopped that. You didn’t, what’s going on?”
I. The Moral Argument
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine who I know is suffering, posted something on Facebook. Now, sometimes people post stuff on Facebook and they just want to poke you or they just want to make you mad but I knew where she was coming from and I knew it came from a place of pain. She posted, “I would rather believe that God did not exist that believe that God did not care.” Then she wrote under that, “Prove me wrong.”
I thought and thought about what I should say, what I could say. There are things, intellectually, I could have said to that. But I finally decided not to say anything because I didn’t think that an intellectual argument would help the situation at that point.
I get what she’s saying — I think that we all do.
A. Can We Get Mad Without God?
But what I wanted to say to her is, “Oh, sister, don’t go there! Don’t go there because don’t you realize that when you give up on God, you also give up on your right to have moral outrage?”
Because if God does not exist then absolute right and wrong do not exist. For an action to be right or wrong, there must be a moral law. For there to be a moral law there needs to be a moral lawgiver and God is the only one that can be that moral lawgiver. So if you give up on God, then you also give up on the possibility of saying that was wrong.
B. Moral Relativism is Unsatisfying
Now, it’s popular to say something like: “There is no such thing as right and wrong and everything is relative. It’s just your perspective, my perspective. There is no right and wrong.”
That’s really exciting when you have all the power! And many people today that think they are victims, when really they have all the power. When you are young and you’re wealthy and you’re healthy and you’re winning and things are going your way, and you have your whole life ahead of you and very few limitations on your freedom, it is exciting to say there are no rules because that means, you can do whatever you want and nobody can hold you accountable.
When you are a real victim and you are weaker and you have no voice and things were done to you that were just not right, then there’s something that cries out for you for justice. There has to be a right and a wrong and there is absolute right and wrong. But God is the only way that we can anchor this. You might say, “Well, let’s argue that. Maybe there are other ways that we can anchor this.”
C. Failed Attempts to Anchor Morality
There are serious academic debates about this, but let’s just talk about three ways that people often try and anchor this moral sense of right and wrong.
1. Conscience as an Anchor
The first way is just conscience. We know that murder and rape are wrong but why do we need God to anchor this for us? There are two problems with trying to use our conscience as an anchor point for ethics. The first is doubtful origins.
Look if there is no God, we came from evolution. If there is no God, we’re basically animals, which means we work and function by instinct. Animals basically work on three different motivations; food, safety, and procreation.
I’ve got some chickens in my yard, they’re fun for the kids. They run around, they squawk. We don’t have roosters this year, last year we had roosters, which brings a lot more character and noise in the yard; we thought we didn’t want that drama this year. Roosters have an opinion and sometimes they come squawking at you when they want to yell at you and give you a piece of their mind, but you don’t look at that rooster and say, “Oh, wow, I better pay attention. I better listen to this rooster.”
The rooster is motivated by one of three things; either he wants food or he feels threatened or he wants to procreate or protect his young or protect the herd or something like that. It’s just instinct! And if we are just animals, then we are just squawking chickens running around, pecking each other and there is nothing that matters about that.
So what if your heart tells you this or that? What is so special about your heart? What is so special about you? If atheism is true, you are just a squawking chicken.
The second, obviously, is conflict. We feel conflict within ourselves. We hit a situation that’s difficult, we feel love, we feel hate, we want to get involved, we want to run away. We have all these motivations within us, so how can our instincts be our guide when our instincts are all jumbled up and confused? And that’s just within us!
Of course, we have conflict within our society. Some people think one thing is right and other people think something else is right. Obviously, our conscience can’t be our guide, it needs to be connected to something else. Our conscience works when it is a signpost for something higher and that’s how we actually talk. We say this was wrong and when we say this is wrong, we mean this is wrong on a higher level, on a higher plane.
It’s like when you come around a turn on the highway and maybe you’re going a little bit too fast and you see a white car parked in a little pull out and right away your heart jumps. Maybe you slow down just a little bit and then you realize, oh, that’s not a police car, it’s a car for sale. Because the white car doesn’t mean anything; what means something is the police force and all that that represents.
Our conscience means something if it’s attached to something else. If our conscience is attached to the moral law, then it means something and we all believe that it means something. But on atheism, you have no right, no intellectual honest right to say that was wrong if God does not exist because you’re again, just a squawking chicken.
2. The Government
So then, people will say something like, “Well, look, we have laws against this. We have laws against murder. We have laws against rape. We have laws against hate speech. We don’t need God to be the foundation of our religion.”
When people say this, seriously, it honestly just makes my blood run cold. This is a terrifying place to go because there needs to be something higher than the government. You cannot put the government in the place of God – we can have a lot of talking about this – If you look at the nations of the world, there are plenty of places you could say by the statistics, whether they’re secular nations in the world but their laws are still based on Judeo Christian values.
Look at some of the countries in the world that are explicitly based on atheism, have a look at how they treat humans and you’ll notice a marked difference between how Nations that are founded on Christian values treat humans. (And that’s all I want to say about that.) There needs to be something over the Government. The Government is just power and you need something guiding that power.
Now, they’ll ask, “What about majority vote? What about democracy?” Yeah, but what if you’re a minority? What if somebody else, again, has more power than you, a stronger voice? They can convince everybody else that what they did was just fine, but you’re sitting there saying, “No, it wasn’t fine. It wasn’t okay. What happened was wrong, it hurt.”
Popular vote, what about the minorities? In life, we hit these situations, again, where we say:
“What happened was wrong. You should have done this, you didn’t do that, you did this to me. There was no need for you to do this to me or to somebody that I love. You have sinned. And it’s not just my opinion, my conscience is attached to something higher and what you did was wrong. It was wrong.”
D. The Moral Argument
Pascal says Le coeur a ses raisons qui la raison ne connaît point. ”The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” What he’s saying is, we can’t just only intellectually prove things, there are some things that our heart knows and maybe you can’t argue it out, maybe you can’t defend it, but you just know.
Also, one of the things that we just know is that there is such a thing as right and wrong, end of story, period, that’s it. This is what has been used to develop, what’s called, the moral argument.
- If God does not exist, there are no objective right and wrong but
- objective right and wrong do exist so therefore,
- God exists.
This is why Voltaire has said, kind of in a humorous way,
Si Dieu n’existait pas,
Il faudrait l’inventer
”If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” That’s how strong this argument is. God must exist because how else could we anchor this? We know that right and wrong exist. If you think about it long enough, you realize that that proves that God exists.
II.The Problem of Pain
So we all know that evil exists, we all know that right and wrong exist and if we think about it, we can realize how that proves God. But that doesn’t end the conversation; oh no, we’re just getting started. If God exists and if evil exists, then how are these two fit together?
We can look at and this is a problem even older than Christianity. Epicurious -340 270 before Christ, these are the silent years between the Testaments – came up with this argument:
“If God were all loving, he would want to eliminate evil.
If God were all powerful, he could eliminate evil but evil exists.
Therefore no such God exists.”
It’s a pretty strong argument, isn’t it? If God was loving he would want to remove evil. If he was all-powerful, he could remove evil but there’s evil so I guess God doesn’t exist. I’d like to question this idea of if God was all-powerful, he could eliminate people.
A. Can God Do “Anything?”
Sometimes, in our talk, we’re a little bit cautious and we say things like, ‘God can do anything.’ There’s a worship song we repeat, ‘All things are possible, all things are possible.’
What do we mean when we say God can do anything? Anything? But there isn’t a verse, by the way, that says that God is all-powerful but it does say that God can do anything.
You have before you a coffee cup and this coffee cup exists in space and time and matter at this location. In this four-dimensional place, there is a coffee cup. There is not a bouquet of roses right here, there’s a coffee cup. God had a choice; either there could be a coffee cup on this pedestal thing, at this time in history, in this place, or there could be a bouquet of roses or there could be nothing. But there couldn’t be both a coffee cup and a bouquet at the same place, at the same time.
The very act of creating in space, time and matter is an active decision and God had to decide what he was going to make. God can not create things that are logically inconsistent. God could not create, for example, a square circle. God can create a circle, a dandelion, nice circle there or he can make a triangle. There are not many triangles in nature, but he can make a triangle. He couldn’t make a circle that is a triangle because those two are mutually exclusive. He could make a bachelor, he could make a married man, but he couldn’t make them both at the same time because, by definition, it doesn’t make sense.
B. The Free Will Defence for the Problem of Evil
This leads to what is known as the Free Will defense for the problem of evil.
- God created only good things.
- Free Will is a good thing and
- through our Free Will, which is good, we have created evil.
So that’s again fairly intellectual. How does that connect? What does that mean to our hearts?
C. Why Didn’t God Just Buy a Puppy?
God had exactly the same sort of decision before him when he was creating the world, as a lot of young couples have before them when they’re just starting off in life.
We have each other, it’s great, married, have a house, should we get a puppy? Would that be a nice next step? Maybe a houseplant, a cat, a goldfish or should we have a child? What’s next for us? We know we’ve had those conversations, what’s next for us? Let’s face it, a puppy is a safe option. A puppy is going to love you unconditionally. A puppy is never going to break your heart. A puppy is never going to betray you. A puppy is never going to post embarrassing pictures about you on Instagram. A puppy is never going to say, “I hate you” and leave or make devastating life choices. But a human being, a child, can make all those sorts of decisions.
So it’s a terrifying thing to think about bringing a child into the world. But a puppy can also never sin and then repent and come back and say, “Dad, I’m sorry.” A puppy can never grow emotionally, spiritually, into becoming a man of God or woman of God that you’re proud of and you say, “That’s my boy. That’s my girl.” A puppy can never learn through the suffering and the tragedy and the devastation of life to become a wounded, yet compassionate and strong and limping warrior as we hope that our children become.
What would it be like for God to have created humans without Free Will? We would be humans. Being a human means having Free Will. So that’s the intellectual explanation of why God allows suffering. But when we hit suffering, there’s going to be a point, a moment in our lives when we say, “Yes, but…you could have stopped that.”
III. Forgiving God
A. If You Had Been There…
There’s a story in the Bible of Mary and Martha whose brother Lazarus died and he was sick for a while and Jesus could have come to heal him as he had done many times before but he didn’t. So, Jesus waited and then he came and Mary and Martha said, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
We have those moments when we say, “God, why? Why didn’t you come? Why didn’t you break through for me? Why did you let this happen?” At a certain point, even though it’s humans that sin, it’s humans that bring evil in our world, yes, but God allowed it. Why does God allow this sort of pain into our lives?
B. A Good, Good Father?
Is it God’s Fault?
And with what we have seen, it can make sense that God exists and that evil exists. We can see that God could have had good reasons for allowing evil. But from the Bible we also see that God breaks the rules from time to time. God does miracles. God is not far off — He still intervenes.
And so, “God, why didn’t you intervene for me?”
God is a Good Father
Romans 8:28 says, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” That sounds great when you’re not suffering but when you are suffering that’s hard to think, God let this happen, why? What good could possibly come out of this? What good could possibly come out of this?
Hebrews 12:6-7 says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
I preached on this a few years ago. And I found that to be one of the hardest sermons I have ever preached. Because it seems to be saying that behind every pain and sorrow and heartache, there is God. God may not be causing the pain — no, it is sinful humanity that causes the pain — but God allows it. And why does He allow it? Because He is a good father, and He wants your best.
That is hard. I won’t lie to you: that is really really hard.
When you are suffering, and it seems like there can be no good reason for this, and nothing good could ever come of this…and to be told that God is behind it, and He allowed it on purpose.
But I want to say two things about this.
First, it makes sense. Hebrews is not saying anything we don’t already know. If God is there, and is all-powerful, then He allows everything that happens. And if He is good, He must have some good reason for it, even if we cannot see it.
Second, I know that this is hard. I know it. But what is the alternative? If there is a God, then I hurt for a reason. Maybe it’s my sins, maybe it’s someone else’s sins, maybe it’s just life in this messed up world — but that God is going to somehow make good come out of that.
If there is a God, I hurt for a reason.
Maybe this is too hard to accept. Maybe we want to say, “There is no way. I can’t believe in a God that would let people suffer like that.”
If there is a God, you hurt for a reason. If there is no God, you just hurt. And you do not even have the right to be angry about it. Moral outrage doesn’There is only pain, silence, and the dark black emptiness of the cosmos staring back at you.
C. Closed Fists
God brought this image to my mind of a closed fist. And if you wouldn’t mind, you don’t have to do this, but if you would like to, you can just close a fist in front of you.
Now, if you can think inside this fist of every time that God has let you down, where you thought God was going to do something and he didn’t or God should have done something and he didn’t or something happened to you that was not right; yes, it was a human being that did it but God let it happen, every time that you said, “God, I don’t think I could trust you again,” I’d encourage you to think about whether you want to forgive God for that.
You might say, “Well, how can you forgive God? God is perfect.” I think forgiving God is the same as trusting God again. Now, if you want to and if you feel that it’s right, I encourage you to think through those things and when you’re ready to open your hand, say, “God, I’m giving this to you. I believe in you and I believe and I decide to trust you again with my life.”
Hosea 6, 1 to 2 says:
“Come let us return to the Lord for he has torn us but he will heal us. He has wounded us but he will bandage us. He will revive us after two days. He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before him.”