Does the Bible Teach Us How to Pray?
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Does the Bible Teach Us How to Pray?
Top Question

How Can God Be Good and Allow Evil and Suffering?

How can God be good and sovereign and yet allow evil and suffering? This has been a frequent and urgent question for believers and unbelievers alike. It’s not just an intellectual exercise—it hits close to home. What happens when suffering strikes? How do we respond to God in these situations? Can Christianity still be true, and does it have anything to offer?

Atheism Doesn’t Help

One possible response is to conclude that God is evil, weak, or just doesn’t exist. This may appear helpful on the surface because it relieves the tension we feel between God’s goodness and the horrors we can’t imagine he’d allow, but it has a heavy cost. God’s goodness allows us to identify evil, cry out against it, and hope for a remedy. Otherwise, evil is just a normal part of life. This may numb our pain, but it provides no satisfying explanation for why we long for things to be set right.

Christianity Makes Space for Lament

Christianity offers no philosophical explanation for evil, but it invites us to face honestly the tension and pain of a broken world and to bring our suffering and tears before God. He calls us to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15) and to pour out our hearts before him (Ps. 62:8). The Bible is full of expressions of grief, pain, and even anger over all that’s wrong with the world. The Psalms of lament contain cries such as “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Ps. 13:1), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1), and “Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (Ps. 77:9). The Bible doesn’t shy away from talking about suffering (Lamentations and Job, for example, are starkly honest about it), nor does God ask us to minimize it.

On the contrary, it’s an act of trust to bring before God our grief and pain, and even our frustration and questions, and then we discover that he shares our grief and anger over evil. He hears the cry of the suffering and oppressed. If we pull away from God in difficulty, we’ll be left not only suffering but alone. But if, like Lazarus’s sister Mary, we come to Jesus in tears, crying out, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” we find him troubled and grieved for us (John 11:33). God heard the cry of the blood of Abel, murdered unjustly by his brother Cain, as well as the poor and needy who were oppressed in Sodom (Gen 4:10; Gen. 18:21; Ezek. 16:49). Even when he disciplined Israel for their sin, he was quick to turn to compassion (Hos. 11:8; Lam. 3:31-32). We can find comfort that “he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men” (Lam. 3:33).

The Story: Where Evil Came From

Christianity offers more than the opportunity to lament to our compassionate God. It also offers a history that explains where evil and suffering came from, what God has done about them, and how he will bring them to an end.

The Bible tells us that when God first created the world, it was very good (Gen. 1:31). Further, he created Adam and Eve with a noble nature and task. He made them a little like himself (in his image), and put them in his world to rule, care for, and protect it (Gen. 1:26–28). He put them in a lush garden, where the tree of life pictured the abundant life God intended for them (Gen. 2:9).

But Adam and Eve failed to protect God’s world. Instead, they believed the lie of his enemy that he wasn’t good and didn’t intend good for them (Gen. 3:1–7). They rebelled against God’s command and became estranged from him, and the result was sin, evil, suffering, and death (Gen. 3:8–19).

This means that evil isn’t a necessary part of the world. God is good and so is everything he creates (1 John 1:5). Evil isn’t something that just is. It’s something that happened when people rebelled against God.

The Story: What God Did about Evil

Because of this, we have hope that God can do something about evil and suffering. According to the Bible, he did. God’s Son entered our world as the man Jesus. He experienced the evil and suffering that we know, to the point of a torturous death for us. This means several things:

First, he redeemed us from our sins. The tragedy of evil is that our sins rupture our relationship with God and subject us to his righteous anger. By bearing that wrath in our place, Jesus made a way for us to be forgiven and reconciled to God.

Second, he became able to sympathize with us (Heb. 4:15). Sometimes, when we suffer, our greatest need is simply to grieve, to feel the pain of what is broken and to affirm the goodness of what we’ve lost. Knowing that God himself has shared those sorrows and knows our pain is a great comfort.

Third, God brought justice in the face of evil. He won’t sweep sin under the rug. It corrupts his creation, leads his people astray, and results in oppression of the vulnerable. God must judge sin. But he does so in a way that saved his people from sin and its consequences, so they could be restored to righteousness.

Fourth, God turned the worst evil to a redemptive purpose. Part of the sting of suffering is its injustice when others hurt us without cause. Jesus, as truly innocent, suffered the worst injustice of all. And yet, he did so in love, to bring God’s mercy to the nations. We who believe in Christ can be assured that as we suffer with Christ, God turns this also to good, even when we can’t see how (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28–30; 1 Peter 4:12–13).

The Story: How God Will Bring Evil to an End

Christianity offers hope not only that God has taken decisive action against evil and suffering, but that in time he will bring them fully to an end. As Timothy Keller puts it, many religions offer consolation in the form of another, better life, but Christianity offers not only consolation but hope of restoration in a new creation.

The first evidence and manifestation of this new reality came when death could not hold Jesus and he rose again to indestructible life (1 Cor. 15:42; Heb. 7:15-16, 23–25). This confirmed his victory over sin, evil, and death, and showed there’s hope beyond the grave (1 Cor. 15:54–57).

But this was just the beginning. Those who belong to Christ by faith have the promise that they too will rise from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20–23; John 11:25–26). Even now, while we continue to suffer, that resurrection is at work in us, producing a new way of life (Rom. 6:4; Eph. 2:4-6; Col. 2:12–13). But in the end, God promises not only that we will rise again, but that the whole creation will be made new (Rev. 21:1, 5). In this world, evil and suffering will be gone completely and forever (Rev. 21:4).

What Does the Bible Say?

  • Lament and suffering: Rom. 12:15; Ps. 13, 22, 62, 77, 88; Job; Lam.; John 11; Heb. 4:15–16
  • Origins of evil: Gen. 1–3
  • God’s response to evil: Gen. 50:20; Rom. 5, 6:1–11, 8:18–39; Eph. 2:1–10; Col. 2:13–15; 1 Pet. 4:12–13
  • Hope for resurrection and new creation: 1 Cor. 15; Rev. 21–22

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