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)”

Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 3)

The Bible describes an ongoing cosmic conflict. Why the conflict of beings opposing God if He is all-powerful?


I have been blogging on the problem of pain. (See the Introduction, Part 1 and Part 2). This is “the” problem, with a capital “P” for the Christian who maintains, based on biblical revelation, that God is all-powerful and all-good. If God is so powerful, why can’t He stop the evil? If God is so good, why doesn’t He stop the evil? Either God isn’t all-powerful, or He isn’t good, or (ultimately) the God of the Bible doesn’t exist.

I am working my way through the puzzle, putting the pieces in place. You will have to read through the previous posts to catch up (if you want to). The piece of the puzzle I want to explore next is the cosmic drama that is evident in the Scripture.

Jesus refers to the Devil as the ruler of this world. So the Devil most have some authority and jurisdiction over the world. If God is really God, the authority of the Devil to do what he does must have give by God. But why?! If the question isn’t simply rhetorical, there must be a purpose? Why would an all-powerful God allow restraints on His power to allow the rejection, opposition and counter-activity of being He created?

Before I try to answer that question, I want to dive into the evidence of this conflict that we see in the Scripture and look for clues as to why it would be allowed by an all-powerful God.

Continue reading “Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 3)”

Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 2)

The issue at stake in the problem of evil isn’t God’s power, but His goodness, His character.


I have taken a prompt from the explore God discussion series going on simultaneously in over 800 churches in the Chicago area to write up a summary of the problem of evil. More specifically, I was spurred on by the discussion of The Problem of Evil and Suffering on Veracity Hill between Kurt Jaros, the host, and John Peckham from Andrews University.

I think this is the most difficult problem to deal with in the modern western world for the theist, and specifically the Christian who maintains, as Scripture reveals, that God is both all-powerful and all-good.

  • If God is all-powerful, why did He create a world in which evil, pain and suffering exist?
  • Does that mean He really isn’t all-powerful?
  • Or maybe God isn’t good?
  • Or maybe the God of the Bible doesn’t really exist?

Many people who can’t resolve this problem in their minds (or maybe their hearts) end up rejecting the idea of God altogether.

I began the discussion in an introductory blog, and I laid some groundwork to address the problem in Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Part 1). I can’t rehash it all here, other than to emphasize that we should not be lazy in our approach to the challenge. As with science, we need to work through, if indeed there is a resolution to be had.

If there is a resolution the problem, we can’t do it justice by abandoning the premises we are given. We need to work through it.

For the Christian, those premises don’t just include the omnipotence and omni-benevolence of God. We need to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. I have come to believe that, if we hold on to and expand the premises we are given, and fill out the picture, some clarity begins to emerge.

One of the additional puzzle pieces is that God isn’t just good; God is love. In fact, God is love in His very nature.

Some people have trouble with the idea of the Trinity, three in one. We can understand God’s triunal (communal) nature in the context of love. As three in Person and one in Being, God’s very character is love from before time even began. (See The Plurality of God) God has community and relationship (love) within Himself.

And, Scripture says that He made us in His image. If we are made in His image, we are made to reflect His love. This is another of the puzzle pieces.

Love requires freedom. Coercion has no place in a loving relationship. Thus, for us to know love and to love God, we need to be free, and that includes freedom to reject God and what is good.

The Christian, who accepts the premise that God is good, rejects the idea that God is evil or caused evil to exist. Evil is not in the nature of God because God is who He is. Evil, then, must be a byproduct of the freedom God gave His creation. Evil is the rejection of God and what is good.

Pain and suffering aren’t, per se, evil, though evil produces pain and suffering. God created a world in which pain and suffering exist from the beginning. (see Part 1).

Finally, we find that God’s grand plan and purpose is that His creation would enter into a loving relationship with Him, not because it must, but because His created beings want to.

These are the basic puzzle pieces. (If you want to examine these premises more closely, you will have to read the previous posts and do some research of your own.) From here, we will go back to the premise of God’s power (sovereignty) and examine more fully how it can be that an all-powerful God (who is also good) can allow evil to exist.

Continue reading “Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 2)”