“If God is good, why does He allow suffering?” Better yet, HOW can a GOOD God allow suffering in the world? Why doesn’t He just stop it? How can a sinless being, God, allow sin to continue?
Before we begin to attempt to understand these questions and their answers, I think that it is necessary to lay a groundwork of common understanding. The first layer being that the perspective from which I will be discussing this subject is one that is rooted in the Judeo-Christian understanding of who God is.
To get to the second layer of foundation, we first must dispel a common misconception about God to which many like to cling. One of the quotes I hear quite often is that “My God is a God without boundaries,” or, “I love how wild my God is.” I understand what is meant by these statements, and at first glance, they seem absolutely true. I mean, how can an infinite being, namely God, be hemmed in by anything? Even in the Bible, the common rhetoric states that nothing is too hard for God. Is there anything He cannot do? Anything He does not know? Any place He cannot be or see? He is omnipotent. Omniscient. Omnipresent. He is God! How can He have boundaries!?
What I would like to suggest is that rather than viewing God as without boundaries, I would like to suggest that God, in fact, has absolute boundaries. For example, how would you feel if I said, “God is whatever you think He is,” or, “God is whatever your experience tells you He is.” Would you agree with me? Why not? What I have just described for you is a god without boundaries. He has no structure; no lines he won’t cross. He is malleable and pliable; moldable and wild. He will fit inside any box…or outside of it if you don’t particularly like said box. He will change with a whim. The god I have just described actually does not exist. The god I have just described is a conjuring of the mind of man designed to conveniently take the place of G-d, YHWH, LORD. The god I have just described is comfortable and friendly, but he is NOT God.
Let’s reassess the premise by asking the question, “What makes God…God?” Most would agree that the Judeo-Christian God is perfect. This would also mean that by default He IS NOT and CANNOT therefore be imperfect. We have our first agreed upon boundary: God cannot be imperfect. He will not ever cross this line and move from perfection to imperfection. Most will also agree that God is always truthful. Again, by default, He will therefore never lie. We have our second agreed upon factual boundary. God cannot and will not ever lie. In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet states that God condemns the Hebrews for making their children “pass through the fire” referring to their sin of child sacrifice. Jeremiah goes on to prophesy that this kind of sacrifice had “never entered [God’s] mind.” This tells me that there are certain things, namely sin, that don’t even cross God’s mind. Remember our first parameter: He is perfect. This also means that He is sinless. I would even suggest based on the reference in Jeremiah that God can’t even come up with sins to commit. He is completely other than human. He has the God nature.
Now that we have a bit of a foundation, let’s tackle tough questions. A recurring claim by many is that “God is unjust! He must be unjust to allow suffering to exist. Who wants to trust a God that allows bad things to happen to good people when He, omnipotent as He is, could stop it if He wanted to. God is nothing more than a stubborn, selfish kid with a mean streak and a magnifying glass, smiting we lowly ants below on our anthill that is the Earth to get His kicks, and if that is who God is, I don’t want any part of him. I would rather spend eternity in Hell than two seconds with a God like that.” This is the picture they see. This is their understanding of God’s nature.
The challenge, therefore, is to find the truth in the answers to these questions, valid as they are. First, from the rant above, is God unjust? Let’s assume, based on our previously laid groundwork, that if God is perfect and therefore also just, then He cannot also be unjust at the same time. He cannot cross the boundary to injustice. There must be a way to reconcile both concepts: that God is just, and that injustice exists apart from God. The question is, “How can they both be true?”
Second, how can a good God allow bad to happen? Again, these two concepts seem to be irreconcilable. The dissonance with such questions has caused many to altogether swear off God. The question remains, “Can God be good and He still allow bad things to happen? Can God be sinless, and still let sin run riot?”
My answer to this in its simplest form is that God has to let sin run its course.
I know. I can hear the dissenters screaming. To answer them, no, God is not sadistic. God is still not unjust.
To further explain what I mean, let us take an example from the common subject of mathematics. Take the number “1”. It is only a representative of an actual value: a single item. Take the number “0”. What does it represent? Nothing. “0” is only a placeholder meaning nothing is there. It is actually not even a number. It enumerates nothing; vacancy. To illustrate my point, would you know what “0” was unless “1” was there first? The only reason to have the number “0” is to represent the absence of “1” as it were. “1” can never be “0” and “0” can never be “1.” They can never be equal to one another and can never cross paths with one another. They are separate, yet they are inseparable. Think also of matter and space. Space is what we call non-matter, yet the only reason we know of space is because matter exists. The two are separate, but inseparable. Cold is the absence of Heat. Darkness is the absence of Light. Again, the two examples speak to a similar relationship.
In the same way, God’s very existence also requires that there be a non-God. There is God (the number “1”) and there is non-God (the number “0”). The two cannot coexist, yet they cannot cease existing together. To further explain, let’s look at the general understanding of the angel Lucifer. He was the highest created being both in wisdom and splendor, but he was not God. Lucifer saw the very face of God and ministered in His perfect presence, second only to God himself. He was created perfectly by God--but any created being cannot itself be God. God cannot create God. It would cease to be God because God can’t be created. (We found another parameter). Lucifer failed. The closest creature to God became filled with pride and rebellion and became perfect no longer. Sin entered. God’s perfect creation became imperfect. Why? The answer is that Lucifer wasn’t God. Only God himself can be perfect and remain perfect. God remained God. Lucifer became Satan, the non-God. Lucifer became the placeholder “0.” God is “1.” Lucifer is “0.” Evil did not come from God, but from His creation. Why? Creation is not God, and anything less than God is not bound by the parameters of perfection as God Himself is bound. Only God can ever act like God all the time. It is His nature: the God nature. Lucifer’s nature is the sin nature.
The question that springs from this is, “Why did God create Lucifer if He (God), being omniscient, knew that Lucifer would rebel?” I think the answer to this is that God’s goal from the beginning of time was to put an end to sin. God wanted to eradicate sin. How, though, can a perfect God who cannot even invent a single sin to commit do away with it? How can God destroy something that doesn’t even exist (before creation)? This is why Lucifer was necessary. God could have easily made no creation and been completely satisfied in Himself, but that is not His nature. The God-nature loves, blesses, shares, etc. God, from the beginning, wanted to share His glory, but how could he do so since anything He created would inevitably fail if left to its own devices, and thus be separated from Him? The number “1,” remember, can’t ever cross boundaries with the number “0.” Perfect God could never cross boundaries with inevitably sinful creation. He had to allow sin to exist, first in Lucifer, while God Himself remained free and separate from sin, so that He could destroy sin once and for all. How else could He share His eternal glory and perfection with creation? Creation would fail without fail. God had to let sin run its course in order to destroy it forever.
How could He accomplish this task? Only perfect God could be strong enough to destroy sin. How, though, could he destroy something He couldn’t touch? As darkness flees the light, so also sin flees the presence of God. As silence is silenced with sound, so is sin silenced by God. I believe this is why Jesus, the God-man, was necessary. God had to bridle himself with our weakness, with created flesh, so that He could touch sinful creation, whom he loved, without destroying sinful creation in the process. Perfect God divined a way to coexist with sinful creation without necessarily destroying it. What’s more, He absorbed the sin nature of creation in Himself, and He scandalously crossed the boundary, effectively dividing by “0,” destroying the nothingness that is the sinful nature, the non-God, the anti-God in Jesus. The Bible is clear that it pleased God to crush Jesus. I believe that it pleased Him because in crushing Jesus, the sinful nature was also crushed…forever. Eternal life was made free to all who wanted it. God was free to share His glory with (formerly) sinful creation—without inevitably destroying it. Sinful creation could now coexist with sinless God without One naturally destroying the other. This was the only way it could have been done. This was the most magnificent way it could have been done.
I believe that this was the plan from before the beginning of time (if there is such a thing as before time): that all of humanity, creation, time, and space were created as a means of completely destroying sin, something God couldn’t create, so that God’s righteous and holy nature could be fully expressed by sharing Himself forever with His creation that He, Himself, has purified and redeemed. This is why God allows sin: so he can destroy sin without destroying you in the process.