What Every Christian Needs to Know about Evil and Suffering

It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. (Psalm 119:71)

God does use trials to draw us closer to him and sometimes uses them as disciplines, to correct us as a good Father does the children he loves. But we can’t know in a given trial what exactly God is up to. Romans 8:28 reminds us that “God works all things together for good” for his people. It doesn’t say that all things are good or that trials are always disciplinary. It just says that whatever befalls us, God has a plan and has already figured out how he will weave the darker threads into a beautiful tapestry. 

Many things that happen to us—like sickness, disease, prolonged battles of various kinds—are just the result of living in a fallen world. But these aren’t just random accidents. God never allows any trial that he hasn’t already figured out how to turn to our profit. Our ultimate good that Romans 8:28 is talking about is our salvation.

In my own trials, I can say that there was no way I could have figured out what God was doing. I would have been wrong to conclude that God sent them to punish me or because I didn’t have enough faith. But I also would have been wrong to have thought that they were just accidents. Looking back, I can see at least in some cases how God used them to make me cling to him more. But not always.

There is no promise in Scripture that believers will be protected from the common evils that go with living in a fallen, sinful world. The promise that we have again and again in Scripture is that “God works all things together for good” for his people (Rom 8:28). That’s our ultimate salvation, not our health and happiness here and now. We might contract a lethal disease, just like anyone else. But the difference is that we have a greater hope: not of prolonging our life as children of the flesh, but of the resurrection of the dead at Christ’s bodily return. 

Think of the horrific massacre in a Charleston church in 2015. White supremacist Dylann Roof killed 9 believers in the middle of a Bible study. But Christians have been killed for various reasons throughout history. Then there’s the stuff that we all go through, believer and unbeliever alike, just because we live in a fallen world.

You probably know people who’ve heard the frightening words from a doctor, “You have cancer.” Look, this is not as good as it gets. This present age is dominated by sin and death. But Jesus Christ has conquered, as the beginning of the new creation.

As it turns out, the protection and security that God promises us now are far greater than anything that the Department of Homeland Security or insurance companies or our doctors can offer us. Regardless of what happens to us in this life, we have the promise that this life is just a vapor, a mist that fades quickly in any case. We have a home with the Triune God forever, in a joyful feast that never ends. 

Romans 5:1–5 says,

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

We have two major takeaways here:

First, God has a purpose for every trial that comes your way and he will make sure that somehow it serves your salvation.

Second, neither you nor anybody else can figure out what that purpose is in the moment—and maybe never. Isn’t it good to know that we have a Father who is powerful enough to control every circumstance and good enough to turn tragedies into triumphs of his grace?

I hope that this gives you comfort even though you still cry out with the Psalmist, “How long O Lord” (Ps 13:1). God is delaying Christ’ return to make all things new until all of his chosen people, from every nation and language, are brought into the safety of his kingdom.

Aren’t you glad that he’s given a space for you to come to Christ? Until the last of his sheep are brought into his fold, we’ll be enduring this present evil age. But we have his promise that, in him, we will rule and reign on the earth forever without pain, suffering or death.

Photo of Michael Horton

Michael Horton

Michael Horton (@MichaelHorton_) is the Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. The author of many books, including Core Christianity, he is also the host of the new Core Christianity radio show, a daily Bible question-and-answer show broadcasting nationwide. He lives with his wife Lisa and four children in Escondido, California. 

Related Resources

Card image cap Life

Can Christians Celebrate Halloween?

Can Christians participate in Halloween? I think Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 8 can be a helpful guide for us.

Card image cap Life

4 Things God Wants Us to Know about Sex

What has God got to say about sex and our sexuality? ‚Äč

Card image cap Life

8 Sins You Commit Whenever You Look at Porn

When you open your browser and begin to look at those images and videos, you are sinning in ways that go far beyond lust. Here...