Last Christmas was one of those rare perfect days that crop up every so often. There were just the six of us from my family and a guy from church and his girlfriend but it was a time of happiness, laughter, presents, good food and my brother failing to be good at yet another board game. It was one of those memories that are worth treasuring away.
It stands out in particular because in the months that followed I went through some pretty dark times as God and I had a few difficulties to sort out. By that I naturally mean that all the difficulties lay with me and I have quite a number of memories of days when continuing the Christian walk just seemed so pointless, days when I reached out for God and couldn’t find him, dark days, painful days because it felt like my God had forsaken me.
It struck me that this pretty much sums up life. There is so much happiness to be had in this world and so much grief as well. It is hard to meet anyone who is a stranger to suffering, it is hard to meet anyone who has not known times when they hurt more than they thought possible. So we have this dichotomy that runs throughout a man’s life and his very being: such more good, so much evil and pain.
Of course, this demands answers, it requires an explanation, life is not some meaningless plain on which all must struggle on in futility, life is a gift from God, the whole of creation is a gift from God. How then can an all powerful and all loving God create a world which has so much suffering in it? And the flipside of this question: how can an all loving God create a world with so much goodness in it?
In many ways the second question is the more interesting one, not so much the question of evil but the question of good. But I probably won’t get that far this time. Instead I’m going to start with the groundwork. How does the Bible explain a world of such beauty and evil? How does the Bible explain a man’s life filled as it is with such happiness and sorrow?
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
Genesis 1 v 31
Well, we find the answer to the first part of this question in Genesis 1. God created everything and at the end he surveyed it and he saw that it was good. This is hardly a surprise, a good God creates a good creation. And in this verse we have the explanation for every good time you have ever had. Every smile that has ever stretched across your face, every laugh that has rocked your body, every treasured memory, every good thing is because of the abounding goodness of God the Creator.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
James 1 v 17
This really is the most amazing claim. Think on this for a minute, every good thing, that means every good meal, holiday, daytrip, success, friendship, marriage, hobby, book, job you’ve ever had or experienced has its roots in God.
But as life teaches us even in every happiness there is a thorn. This world is profoundly broken, evil, pain and suffering are the experience of all people in all of history. So we have to ask that if all goodness comes from God what about evil? Where does pain and suffering come from?
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned”
Romans 5 v 12
The Bible narrative is clear that although creation started off as very good it fell under the curse of sin because of the actions of Adam and Eve, the perfect representative heads of the human race. Adam deliberately disobeyed God and so all of creation and humanity was put under the curse of sin by God. Sin originates from man and the punishment for sin is death and this fallen world we live in.
So every pain, every suffering, every hurt, every moment of darkness and despair, all that is wrong and bad about this world, all of this tells us one stark message over and over again: sin corrupts everything. All my issues with God were a result of my own sin, I didn’t love him as I should and refused to humble myself before him as I should. Can God be blamed if I suffer the consequences of that?
The thing we so easily forget about evil, pain and suffering is that in the majority of cases we bring it on ourselves. And even if we don’t then it is always a consequence of sin which as we have established is the fault of man.
“remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,”
Isaiah 46 v 9 – 10
As these verses say God is in control of evil, he uses it and restrains it and permits it but it does not come from him, it is a reaction against him.
This can seem quite a bleak line to take that all good things are from God and all bad things are a result of man and his sin. But there is still a huge part of the picture I’ve yet to mention and that is this: God became man and shared in our suffering. To read the gospels is to read of Jesus, the Son of God, suffering at the hands of man.
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Isaiah 53 v 3
Like Isaiah prophesied Jesus lived a hard life, betrayed by a close friend, deserted by his disciples, forsaken by his Father God, hung on the cross for the crime of being perfectly righteous, despised by his home town, rejected by those he came to save, the life of Jesus Christ is a life of suffering.
This surely grants us insight to the overflowing goodness of God that he should come down to earth and partake in the curse of sin. But more, wonderfully more, as a child of God, Jesus becomes my Shepherd who sympathises with my suffering. So when I’m hurt, troubled, in pain, anguish and see nothing but darkness then I can still know that Jesus is there, loving me and protecting me.
“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”
Isaiah 40 v 11
What did I learn during the dark times? I learnt that when all fails Christ will gather me into his arms and carry me close to his heart. Though I lose everything I will still have Christ and therefore be the richest man in all the world.