Why do appalling things happen? Why was flight MH17 shot down? We all want answers.
The reality of pain and suffering is probably one of the biggest reasons some philosophers and people generally, use to argue that a good and loving God cannot exist.
The line of argument goes like this: A God who is all powerful and all loving would use his vast resources to end suffering and pain for his creatures. BUT, suffering and pain exist. Therefore a God who is all-powerful and all loving does not exist.
Simple logic. At first sight this reasoning makes sense. However, consider the response by philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga who conclude, not that God does not exist, but that a God who is all powerful and all loving has a bigger plan.
It’s a good response, but it begs another question: Is there any evidence of a bigger plan and, if so, what is it? To answer this we need to explore themes we find in the New Testament.
Colossians 2:13-15 reads:
You, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.
Captives. The Bible sees history as divided into two great eras. Before Jesus came there was the present age— the world. Now that Jesus has come a new era has begun—the age to come. For the present this stands alongside the first era. Yes, God has always been in control but the first era is in bondage to sin and evil. In it we are captive to moral laws we can’t keep. Even when God’s written law was revealed, we couldn’t keep it.
Satan, our accuser, has power over us because he holds a catalogue of our failures to present to God’s court of justice. God, being the perfect and just God he is, has no other choice but to condemn us to death because sin – treachery against him – is a capital offense.
C.S. Lewis captures these elements in his Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Edmund had betrayed Peter, Susan and Lucy, and Aslan himself. The white witch demanded Edmund’s life saying he had broken ‘the laws of the deep’. “His life is forfeit,” she shrieked.
This is our natural condition. Alienated from God we are in the power of spiritual forces we cannot defeat and we are en route to a grave we can’t avoid. And so we are captive to the pain, suffering and evil that we have brought upon ourselves.
But then came Jesus. At a single stroke he smashed the bars of this spiritual prison of the first age. He wiped out the moral debt of the laws we couldn’t obey and disarmed the demonic powers we couldn’t overcome. He also abolished death whose clutches we couldn’t escape.
How is this extraordinary freedom achieved? Paul tells us twice: By the cross. For Paul, the first era has given way to the world to come. The cross is where Jesus Christ has potentially turned our captivity into a glorious liberty.
Having created us, not as robots but in his image, God gave us the capacity of choice and with it the potential to turn from him and experience the consequential suffering. However, God’s bigger plan has been to use his vast resources to destroy the enmity – our hostility towards him and towards one another, and the suffering and pain that follows – without destroying the enemy – you and me.
It’s a plan we would never have dreamt of – God himself providing the means of our restoration as the glory of his creation. No wonder Paul the Apostle wrote,
The sufferings of this present age cannot be compared with the glory that is to be revealed (Romans 8:18).