How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?

If you or someone you love has questions on this issue (as most of us do!), I would encourage you to read Pastor Tim Keller’s New York Times Bestseller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough.

In this post, I’d like to summarize what Keller says about this important question: how could a good God allow suffering?

Whether you are a believer or unbeliever, it’s a question you’ve likely asked at some point in your life, maybe often.

Keller says that there are two ways we can ask this question. The first is intellectual. How can we logically say that a good God could allow evil? The second is emotional. We get angry at a God who would allow such evil.

Let’s consider what Keller says about each in turn.

The Intellectual Issue
In regard to the intellectual question, Keller begins with the objection of a philosopher who states essentially: “because there is much unjustifiable, pointless evil in the world, the traditional good and powerful God could not exist” (23). Continue reading “How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?”

Basic Life Rules Applied to the Time of Coronavirus

In March, it began to become clear that the novel coronavirus was going to hit our shores. It was going to cause major disruption. I felt pretty overwhelmed as I contemplated the changes that might take place. Eventually, I started applying the basic rules of life that I have applied to other difficulties. It made a difference. Over time, I was able to adjust and keep going with less anxiety. But people, including me, continue to struggle. So, I find myself needing to go back to my basic life rules in order to keep moving forward in joy and service.

Here are nine rules that I have applied to this time to help me live well. I continue to need them, and so I thought it would be useful for me, and hopefully to others, to reproduce what I wrote back in March.

  1. Don’t take responsibility for things you can’t change. You can’t solve every problem in the world. Let go of as much as you can.
  2. Do take responsibility in your area of responsibility. What are the things that am I most directly responsible for such as loving my wife, caring for my children, being a good neighbor, and being a good church member? Focus on these things. Continue reading “Basic Life Rules Applied to the Time of Coronavirus”

Why So Little Joy and Peace in Believers?

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

What a beautiful vision of the Christian life, a life filled with all joy and peace as we trust in Him. It’s a great aspiration.

In a series of talks John Ortberg did with Dallas Willard just before Willard’s death, he recounted a conversation that he had with Dallas about churches:

During one of the first times Dallas and I talked, I asked about the churches. Some churches are great at music and worship. Some churches are effective at evangelism or reaching folks outside of them. Other churches are teaching factories. Others are great at assimilating people. And still others are good at acts of justice and compassion. But, I asked Dallas, where are the churches that are producing abnormally loving and joyful, patient, courageous people in inexplicably high percentages?

It’s a great question. Why don’t we see more joyful, hopeful, and patient Christians? Is it even possible to see Christians who are “abnormally loving and joyful”? Continue reading “Why So Little Joy and Peace in Believers?”

Philosophical Resources for Suffering Well

It is not only Christians who have seen the value of suffering and suffering well. Philosophers and teachers throughout the world have provided us with a variety of helpful ways of processing suffering. Here are a few that I have studied over the past year.

I want to present two lists of quotes from two different philosophers. The first list is from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (read more here).

  • Misfortune gives us opportunity to grow in and exercise good character, which is a great reward in itself. “Remember, too, on every occasion that leads you to vexation to apply this principle: not that this is a misfortune, but that to bear it nobly is good fortune” (4.49).
  • If people do us wrong, we can preserve ourselves by not responding in kind. “The best way of avenging yourself is not to become like the wrongdoer” (6.6).
  • If we get our way, that’s good. If we don’t, we have an opportunity to learn to be content when we don’t. Learning that is a great good. “Let us try to persuade men. But act even against their will when the principles of justice lead the way. If, however, any man by using force stands in your way, have recourse to contentment and tranquility, employing this hindrance as a spur to the exercise of some other virtue; and remember that thy attempt was limited, that you did not desire to do impossibilities” (6.51).
  • It is our mindset not necessarily the thing itself that makes things so bad. “But I unless I think that what has happened is an evil, am not injured. And it is in my power not to think so” (7.14).

The second list is from the Roman philosopher Seneca’s letters to his student Lucilius.

  • We don’t really know what we are made of until we have had to undergo many trials. “For our powers can never inspire in us implicit faith in ourselves except when many difficulties have confronted us on this side and on that, and have occasionally even come to close quarters with us” (25). He goes on to compare those who struggle in life with those who fight in the arena: “The only contestant who can confidently enter the lists [i.e., engage in the conflict] is the man who has seen his own blood, who has felt his teeth rattle beneath his opponent’s fist, who has been tripped and felt the full force of his adversary’s charge, who has been downed in body but not in spirit, one who, as often as he falls, rises again with greater defiance than ever” (Ibid., 26).
  • Things are often worse in our fears than they are in reality. “There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than they are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality” (Ibid.).
  • There is no reason to reject present happiness because of the possibility of future unhappiness. “Why, indeed, is it necessary to summon trouble–which must be endured soon enough when it has once arrived, or to anticipate trouble and ruin the present through fear of the future? It is indeed foolish to be unhappy now because you may be unhappy at some future time” (XXIV, 57).
  • Recognize that all relationships are temporary and prepare accordingly. “Let not the eyes be dry when we have lost a friend, nor let them overflow. We may weep but we most not wail” (LXIII, 148). How are we able to do this? “For I have had them as if I should one day lose them: I have lost them as if I have them still” (LXIII, 149).
  • Past unhappiness does not necessitate present unhappiness: “What benefit is there in reviewing past sufferings and in being unhappy, just because you were once unhappy?” (LXXVIII, 220).
  • Whoever does wrong to someone else does more evil to themselves than to their neighbor. “When we do wrong, only the least and lightest portion of it flows back upon our neighbour; the worst and, if I may use the term, the densest portion of it stays at home and troubles the owner. My master Attalus used to say: ‘Evil herself drinks the largest portion of her own poison” (LXXX, 234).
  • Losing things does not mean that we cannot continue to enjoy them. “What resource do we find, then, in the face of these losses? Simply this–to keep in memory the things we have lost, and not to suffer the enjoyment we have derived from them to pass away along with them. To have may be taken away from us, to have had, never” (XCVIII, 353).
  • Don’t worry about what you don’t have. Enjoy what you do. “To have whatsoever he wishes is in no man’s power; it is in his power not to wish for what he has not, but cheerfully to employ what comes to him” (CXXIII, 455).

Both of these books provide numerous other thoughts that contain resources for suffering well. Seneca and Marcus Aurelius suggest that the way we think about suffering is a large part of our suffering. This is something we can change, and many thinkers, like these two, can help us do so.