Why Is There Evil and Suffering?
Raise your hand if you would really prefer to sidestep this question! I confess to feeling that way as I write this blog. Theologian Albert Mohler defines the question of evil as the “greatest theological challenge we face.” So perhaps our intimidation is somewhat justified. However, as parents, we must recognize the potential impact that questions regarding evil and suffering can have on the foundation of our children’s faith in either the existence and/or the goodness of God.
I believe the topic of evil in the context of parenting looks a little different than it might elsewhere, for example in an academic debate. As parents, we need to be sensitive to how and why the question is being raised. For example, many ‘why’ questions may be encountered at a very sensitive and vulnerable time in the child’s life, such as when a family member has passed away or a child is experiencing a serious illness. Times like these may require more hugs, love and reassurances of faith in who God is rather than complicated, philosophical explanations.
Regardless of circumstance, it is important to determine the motivation behind a child’s questions of why evil and suffering exist in order to respond appropriately. A child may be asking these questions on an emotional or intellectual level. The first thing we need to do is to listen. As Alex McFarland encourages, “One of the most effective ways to find the question behind the question is to begin by saying, ‘That’s a great question. What do you think?’ When you ask that question you should remain quiet and allow your child to articulate what he or she is thinking while you listen closely.” He suggests we observe body language and other nonverbal cues, restate our understanding of the question and possibly ask further questions such as “What led you to ask about this?” These steps help to put us in a much better position to give an appropriate and helpful answer.
As we understand the question behind the question, we will see there are many different aspects to the question of evil. The resources at the bottom of this blog will help equip parents to respond to many of them. In this article, I would like to focus on the very popular apparent dilemma: If God is good, wise and all-powerful, then why doesn’t He remove (or at least restrain) the evil in this world?
Timothy Keller discusses how for many this dilemma either calls into question the existence of God or leads a person to determine that they can’t personally trust or believe in such a God. Apologists who address this dilemma point out that it is actually a strong argument for the existence of God. Here’s a chance to teach an introductory logic lesson to our children. Ask them to look at the dilemma and see if they can find the assumption the person is making. Hint: In this dilemma, the person is actually assuming that there is a ‘good’ and an ‘evil’. This leads to the question “What defines good and evil?” Without God, there are no moral absolutes, yet those who pose this dilemma are expressing that things aren’t as they should be. So instead of being an argument against God, it turns out to be anargument for him. If there really is good and evil, then there must be something or Someone that serves as the standard.
“So when your children come to you with questions about pain and suffering, give them praise for understanding and acknowledging that there is a standard, a measuring stick for good versus evil. Reinforce that their desire for a world without evil and suffering, a world that is filled with beauty and the absence of pain, comes from and is shared by the God who created everything to be “very good.” (McFarland)
Finally, we can address the question of evil and suffering with hope. Through God’s Word, we know that both evil and suffering are only temporary. We live in a fallen world, inhabited by sinful people but we will one day live with Jesus eternally in paradise where there will be no mourning, crying or pain (Rev 21). God has a plan to rid the world of all evil. At the perfect time, he will create the perfect New World as described in the book of Revelation. And lastly, though we might not know why God allows evil and suffering, we know what the answer isn’t. It can’t be because He doesn’t love us or doesn’t care about our situation. God cares so much that He was willing to take our suffering on himself when Jesus died on the cross.
There are many other questions that our children can ask on this topic and, fortunately, many resources to help. If a difficult question comes your way, don’t be afraid to respond with ‘I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you in a few days’ and then go seek out an answer. We want to demonstrate that our faith can stand up to tough questions and build confidence that answers can be found.
Family Discussion Starters:
- What kinds of ‘unfair’ things have you noticed at school or in the neighbourhood? Why do you think some people do wrong things?
- The Story of Joseph (Genesis 37-45). The story of Joseph can be used as an illustration of God using suffering for good. “We can see good reasons for at least some of the tragedy and pain that occurs in life. Why couldn’t it be possible that, from God’s vantage point, there are good reasons for all of them?” (Keller)
- The Parable of the Weeds (Matt 13:24-30). This parable can be used in response to “Why doesn’t God wipe out all the wicked people?”
- McFarland, Alex. The 21 toughest questions your kids will ask about Christianity and how to answer them confidently. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2013.
- Strobel, Lee. Case for Faith For Kids. Zonderkidz, 2010.
- Apologetics Canada. “Think for a Minute, What is Evil?” www.youtube.com March 5, 2013.
- Timothy Keller. The Reason for God Belief in an Age of Skepticism. Dutton, 2008.
- J. Warner Wallace. Why Would a Good God Allow Pain and Suffering? www.str.org August 9, 2013.
- Ravi Zacharias. How Can a Good God Allow Evil? www.youtube.com May 27, 2010.
- William Lane Craig. The Problem of Evil. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-problem-of-evil
- C. S. Lewis. Mere Christianity. HarperCollins, 1952.