Many people reject Christianity on the basis of the pain, sorrow, and tragedies they have suffered through and have seen others suffer through as well. Likewise Skeptics are always quick to point out the evils of the world. The questions are well known: What kind of God would allow this? If God is all-powerful, why doesn’t he just get rid of evil?
To people who have undergone serious emotional and physical hurt, these kinds of things are unforgivable. They doubt God exists, and if He does exist but does not stop these things from happening, they want no part of Him.
And yet evil, suffering, death and pain are not subjects the Bible shrinks from. Within four chapters, people are already killing one another, and from there the reader sees a non-stop epic of wickedness, slavery, and suffering.
As the Bible begins, it sets the first man and woman in a garden. They are told they may eat of any fruit in the garden except for one: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Interestingly, they were not forbade from eating of the Tree of Eternal Life. Imagine for a moment that they had. The story would have ended and they would have spent eternity in union with their Creator. There would be no struggle, no pain, and no triumph of good over evil, because there would be no evil at all.
Instead, however, they chose to eat of the forbidden fruit, and bring corruption into the world. Then comes the interesting bit: God curses each of them. To the man, He says that the ground is cursed, and that only through hard work and sweat will it grow food. To the woman He says that she will experience tremendous pain in child-birth.
These two curses are of the same nature: reward only comes through hardship and pain. The man will reap what he sows, but he has to work the soil. The woman will bring forth new life, but she will do so only with great pain.
But the Bible is not the story of man or woman. It is not the story of humanity. The Bible is the story of God in Jesus Christ.
When humans rebelled against God, it created a seeming paradox in God’s nature: on the one hand, God is loving, merciful and kind. On the other, He is entirely pure, holy, and just. His purity, holiness, and justice cannot allow any rebellion, wickedness, or evil to go unpunished. But his love and mercy demands that he be gracious and forgiving.
There is a resolution to this conflict, but it requires Him to take on a human form, be betrayed by a friend, rejected by his people, and killed in the most painful way possible. Much like the woman, he must suffer great pain in order to bring forth new life. Much like the man, he must do the hard work in order to bring forth the harvest. And throughout the Bible, the Kingdom of God is compared to a harvest that must be planted, tended, and gathered in. And the coming of God’s Kingdom is compared to a woman in labor.
God does not require anything of humans that he does not take upon Himself. Jesus never told his followers they would have painless, happy lives. In fact, he said quite the opposite. He told his followers that they would be hated just like he was hated. He told them that they must take up their cross just as he took up his cross. He told them that in this world, they would experience trouble.
But there are three things that Jesus did give his followers. The first is that he feels what his people feel. Christ told his followers that he was with them in suffering. When Saul was torturing and killing Christians, Jesus appeared to him and said “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me.” In the judgment, Jesus tells those he is judging that when they were caring to those in need, they were caring to him, and when they ignored those in need, they were ignoring him.
The second thing Jesus gave his people is comfort. When Jesus was about to ascend to heaven, he told his followers that he would send a comforter in the Holy Spirit. He said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” He also said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Christians are told that God will “wipe away every tear from their eye.” Notice this verse does not say there will be no tears, but rather that God will provide comfort for those who have experienced sorrow.
Finally, Jesus gave his followers hope. He said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world.” Christianity promises its believers the hope of eternal life: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” And Paul tells his readers: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
As stated before, the story of the Bible is the story of Jesus, and no one has suffered more than Jesus himself as he satisfied the demands of both God’s holy justice and of God’s loving mercy. The book of Hebrews says: “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Only Christianity and the God of the Bible provide this kind of comfort and hope in the face of suffering. As stated before, many turn an angry back to God when they experience pain, but only that God can give an answer to the problem of evil.
When the truths that Jesus taught his followers became unpleasant, many of them abandoned him, but when he asked the twelve disciples if they would also leave him, Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Or, as G.K. Chesterton put it: “When belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from him. But in heaven's name to what?”
Any story worth reading starts out at a point of status quo which is challenged by some seemingly insurmountable problem. The hero struggles and finally triumphs over this challenge, despite the odds. This is exactly what we see in the grand story of creation. The fact of the matter is that the world does include evil, pain, and suffering. But it also includes a God who has triumphed over these things despite a seeming conflict in His own nature and despite human ignorance and willfulness. He is willing and able to bring anyone who chooses into this triumph with Him.