God’s Caring and Purpose in the Midst of Pain and Suffering

God is not cold or uncaring or unaware of our pain and suffering. Yet, He has a plan, and He intends to carry it out.


“No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:18 NIV)

John is talking about Jesus, of course. The progression in the beginning of John’s Gospel goes like this: In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God; the Word was God; all things were made through the Word; in Him was life; and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1-4, 9, 14) Then, John makes the statement I have recited above. No one has ever seen God but the one and only Son, who is God.

The Greek word that is translated “one and only Son” in the New International Version of the Bible is monogenés, derived from the world monos, meaning one of a class (one of a kind) and genos, meaning only of its kind. A more literal translation of the word would be “only begotten”.

The beginning of the Nicene Creed[1] captures the idea as follows:

We believe in one God,
      the Father almighty,
      maker of heaven and earth,
      of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
      the only Son of God,
      begotten from the Father before all ages,
           God from God,
           Light from Light,
           true God from true God,
      begotten, not made;
      of the same essence as the Father.
      Through him all things were made.
      For us and for our salvation
           he came down from heaven….

These thoughts arise today in the context of a discussion between the great Anglican scholar, Tom (N.T.) Wright[2], and Justin Brierley[3], the Unbelievable? Podcast and Ask NT Wright Anything host out of the UK. They were talking about the corona virus threat that is plaguing the world.

Among other things, Tom Wright (who is an historian) observed that a pandemic like the corona virus is not unique in the history of the world. The Justinian plague is believed to have killed as many as 25 million people (6th century), the Black Death killed probably double that in the 14th century. The Italian Plague (1629-31), Great Plague of London (1665-66) and Great Plague of Marseilles (1720-22) took millions of lives in Europe, and the Third Plague Pandemic killed about 15 million people, hitting China and India the hardest.[4]

After a discussion of how Christians should respond to the threat (in the same manner as they always have – with compassion and self-sacrifice, helping those in need), Justin prompted Tom by asking him for a five minute response to the hard question: why does God let things like plagues happen?

Tom Wright’s response recalls articles I wrote on March 22, 2020 (Change of Perspective: From the God of Moses to Jesus) and on March 28, 2020 (Perspective in the Reminder of Our Own Mortality). In the first article, I addressed the seeming incongruity between the picture of God we see in the Old Testament compared to the person of Jesus we meet in the New Testament. In the second article, I sought some perspective on the bad things that are happening in light of God’s revealed purpose in creating us and the world in which we live.

Tom Wright’s brief response (focusing on the raising of Lazarus from the dead) sits right in the middle. Right where we live. Let me explain.

Continue reading “God’s Caring and Purpose in the Midst of Pain and Suffering”

Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Postscript)

The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Self Portrait by Joni Eareckson Tada

This is a postscript in a series of blog posts that, frankly, could go on. It follows what was to be the conclusion of a series on the problem of evil – Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Part 4). Why does evil occur and God doesn’t prevent it? If God is God, and He is all-powerful and all-loving, why does He allow evil, pain and suffering?

I do need to bring this to a conclusion, but I have some final thoughts. I also have some experiences to relate: not mine, but of someone who knows pain and suffering better than I.

We have to admit that, if God is God, and if He cares, and assuming He could prevent the pain and suffering in the world, why doesn’t He?! What gives?

Continue reading “Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Postscript)”

Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 4)

God is intimately acquainted with the pain and suffering we experience. The God of the cross who knows and understands our suffering can be trusted.


I have tackled the problem of evil – why is there pain and suffering in the world if God is good and all-powerful? – in a series blog posts, beginning with an introduction, followed by Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. The impetus for the blog posts comes from the explore God discussion that was happening at over 800 churches in the Chicago area over the winter of 2019. The series of blog posts was more specifically inspired by the discussion of The Problem of Evil and Suffering on Veracity Hill between Kurt Jaros, the host, and John Peckham from Andrews University

The problem is easy enough to state, but it’s difficult to resolve, if, indeed, there is a resolution. Although not every religion maintains that God is personal, volitional, all-powerful and all-good, the problem of evil. Not every world religion faces the problem head on. Buddhism, for instance, posits that evil doesn’t really exist; it’s an illusion.

I have been exploring a Christian response to the problem, but it’s all pretty academic unless and until we are overwhelmed by evil, pain and suffering in our own lives. At the point of real evil, pain and suffering, an academic response doesn’t seem to satisfy.

Just last week, in the midst of thinking through the issues and writing the blog series, a tragedy of overwhelming proportions happened right in the city where all my kids went to school. An apparently disgruntled employee on the cusp of being fired from his 15-year position at a local manufacturing plant in Aurora, IL, opened fire on employees in the plant, killing five of them and wounding six other people, including six police officers responding to the alarm that went out. The youngest victim was a 21-year old college intern who started his internship in the HR department that day.

When a person is reeling from pain and suffering that hits close to home, especially from such a senseless, intentional and indiscriminate act of violence, the academic answers ring hollow and fall flat.

Without letting go of any of the attributes of God that are revealed in the Bible, we can work through the problem intellectually and logically to a solution, as I have tried to do in the summary that is contained in the previous blog posts. In some ways this solution is like the theory of gravity for Christianity. We can understand it, but knowing the cold, “scientific” facts are no consolation after falling off a cliff.

What remains, after we have worked through an intellectual solution to the problem, is the emotional, existential weight of the problem of evil. This is where we live. The weight of the problem of evil is hard to shake, quite frankly, when the pain and suffering becomes personal. When we come face to face with evil, pain and suffering in the world in our personal lives, an intellectual response isn’t enough.

This is exactly when people turn to religion and to God for comfort and answers…, or turn away. If all that Christianity has to offer is an academic response, what is the use?

Continue reading “Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 4)”

Sinners and the Struggle against Sin – Taking Insult away from Injury

When we are told that we have not yet resisted in our struggle against sin to the point of shedding blood, the writer of Hebrews may be getting at something much closer to our own experiences than we might think.


In Hebrews 12:3-4, the writer says, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

When I read these words this morning, I saw for the first time the connection between these phrases: “endured from sinners such hostility” and “your struggle against sin”. There seems to be a link between enduring hostility from sinners and struggling against (resisting) sin.

When I think of sin, I think of my own sin that is within me. I don’t think of struggling to endure hostility from sinners as struggling against sin, but that seems to be what this passage is suggesting. The last phrase sheds some light on this connection: “You have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

I have been thinking about the strong encouragement to resist sin in these verses for many days now. I have been thinking of the metaphorical point of resisting sin to the point of shedding blood. But I had not seen the more direct connection between the hostility of sinners and my own struggle to resist sin.

Continue reading “Sinners and the Struggle against Sin – Taking Insult away from Injury”

Suffering, Hope Deferred and Desire Fulfilled

For most of us, we fight disappointment throughout our lives. Our dreams never seem to come to fruition. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick….”

depositphotos Image ID: 27797997 Copyright: xura

“[U]unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies[1], it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses[2] it, and whoever hates[3] his life[4] in this world will keep it for eternal life[5]. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”[6]

Things aren’t necessarily as they seem. Our lives seem vibrant, filled with import and purpose when we are children. Everything is fresh. Summer days, puffy white clouds and blue skies seem to last forever. The older we get, the faster the days seem to go, the less the sun seems to shine. The more fleeting becomes the clouds and the blue skis. The polish of our lives, which seemed so fresh once, begins to dull.

For most of us, we fight disappointment throughout our lives. Our dreams never seem to come to fruition. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick….”[7]

We learn to carry on. We have nowhere to go but forward. Those of us who don’t spend our time thinking of what could have been, might have been, make an awkward peace with the past. We try to make the most of the present and adjust hope for our future.

We learn to dream less. We learn to rein our hopes in, tethering them closer to the ground. Disappointment lowers our expectations. We cling to what we can hold onto, and we risk, thereby, losing it all.

Continue reading “Suffering, Hope Deferred and Desire Fulfilled”