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Conventional Thinking: The problem of pain

A senseless shooting leads to the death of a young man. A beloved child is diagnosed with cancer. An automobile accident leaves four dead. With each passing week, the problem of pain, as C.S. Lewis called it, rears its ugly head again and again, leaving the community asking the question, “Why?”

The “Why” question boils down to this: If there is an all-knowing, all-powerful God Who loves us, why does He not stop evil from happening to us?

Lewis devoted an entire work to wrestle with this question. The great Christian writer believed the problem of pain represented the greatest challenge to Christianity. In other words, if people disbelieve Christianity because of the heartache and pain seen in life, we can understand where they are coming from. 

Though you should read Lewis’ book, The Problem of Pain, Professor Louis Markos of Houston Baptist University answered the “Why” question in one phrase—“free will.” In other words, God could have created a universe in which men only acted out His wishes in favorable conditions, but in the Garden, He gave us the ability to choose the good or choose evil. From that, man (Adam) chose evil and sin, and destruction entered the world in a moment we call “The Fall” (Gen. 3).

While not all Christians agree with Lewis’ notion of free will, we certainly all agree the creation is suffering from the effects of the Fall. This is not to say that people’s specific sins are why they suffer. To the contrary, Jesus repudiated that very notion. When the Tower of Slioam fell on 18 people and killed them, He said, “Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!” (Luke 13:4-5).

When tragedy strikes, however, we must resist the temptation to offer a cold, theological analysis of the situation. That is the very trap into which Job’s “friends” fell. They were convinced of sharing that Job was harboring a sin, in place of offering prayer and real support.

Instead, it is always best to turn people’s “Why?” into a focus on “Who?” Jesus Himself did this. In John 11, people were weeping (including Jesus) over the death of Lazarus and asking “why?” Martha went so far to say, Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). How many times have we asked amid tragedy, “God, where were You?”

Jesus, prior to performing the miracle of raising Lazarus, then uttered famous words that speak to us today. “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). Jesus did not explain why suffering happened, but He turned attention to God. Jesus knew best.

Regardless of how far science and technology advance, this side of Heaven, we will not fully know or comprehend the “Why?” We will only learn to trust His will. For only God can resurrect us and right all wrongs. Only Jesus Christ lived the sinless life. In Him alone, we have life and hope amid the darkest days of evil and pain. He, Himself, is the answer to life’s greatest questions, including the problem of pain.

Brian Hobbs

Author: Brian Hobbs

Brian is editor of The Baptist Messenger.

View more articles by Brian Hobbs.

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