The Search We All Share
YOU MAY BE READING this booklet because you long to make sense of the evil and suffering in this world. You might be seeking answers to a philosophical problem, or perhaps you’ve lived long enough to recognize that suffering is inevitable, and you want to be prepared to face it.
Or, if abuse, desertion, debilitating disease, or the loss of a loved one has devastated you, then your suffering isn’t theoretical or philosophical. It’s deeply personal; you need comfort, not intellectual answers.
Three weeks after his thirty-three-year-old son Christopher died in a car crash, pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie addressed a crowd of twenty-nine thousand at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California: “I’ve talked about Heaven my whole life, and I’ve given many messages on life after death. I’ve counseled many people who have lost a loved one … But I have to say that when it happens to you, it’s a whole new world.” The day his son died, he told them, was “the hardest day of my life.”1
When I spoke with Greg ten months later, his faith was strong, but his profound sense of loss remained. Pain is always local. It has a face and a name—in Greg’s case, Christopher. You and I can fill in our own names.
The way we view such suffering will radically affect how we see God and the world around us. The problem of evil and suffering is the most common reason people give for not believing in God. A Barna Research poll asked, “If you could ask God only one question and you knew he would give you an answer, what would you ask?” The most common response was, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?”2 This isn’t merely a
problem; it’s the
problem. And for the culture at large, it appears to pose a greater difficulty now than ever.
I’m a fellow traveler with you on this road of suffering: As a teenager, I watched my friend Greg die from a horrible accident. I had to tell my mother that her brother had been murdered. My mom and my best friend both died from cancer, and an unjust lawsuit cost me a ministry I loved. I held my wife’s and daughters’ hands as we watched my shriveled father die. For twenty-five years now I’ve battled a disease that daily affects my body and mind, and will probably shorten my life.
But all in all, if I’ve suffered a little more than some people, I’ve suffered a great deal less than many others.
This booklet offers some of what I consider the most helpful perspectives discussed in my larger work entitled If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil.
During the two years it took me to research and write that book, I read books by atheists and Holocaust survivors, and interviewed dozens of men and women who’ve endured extreme evil and suffering.
Along the way I’ve asked God to give me wisdom—and discovered that wisdom begins with the humility to say: there’s a great deal about this I don’t understand.
In my own personal search for answers, I’ve beheld the God who says, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people.… I have heard them crying out…, and I am concerned about their suffering” (Exodus 3:7). I revel in God’s emphatic promise in the Bible that he will make a New Earth where he’ll come down to live with his people, “he will wipe every tear from their eyes,” and “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).
Often, as I’ve contemplated potentially faith-jarring situations and sought his truth, God has wiped away my own tears. While my journey hasn’t unearthed easy answers, I’m astonished at how much insight Scripture offers. And after much wrestling with the issues, instead of being disheartened, I have hope. I’m encouraged—especially from seeing more of God’s goodness, love, holiness, justice, patience, grace, and mercy.
That’s why I frequently quote Scripture in these pages. As you read along, I urge you not to let your feelings—real as they are—invalidate your need to let the truth of God’s words guide your thinking. Remember that the path to your heart travels through your mind. Truth matters.
So as you deal with suffering, by all means speak with a friend or pastor or counselor, or join a support group. Do not, however, ignore God’s revealed truth about evil and suffering, or his character, purposes, and plans. Quick-fix feeling adjustments will never sustain you over the long haul. But deeply rooted beliefs—grounded in Scripture and empowered by God’s Spirit—will afford you mental and emotional strength to persevere and hold on to a faith built on the solid rock of God’s truth, no matter how fierce the storms of suffering.