A God of love and a world of pain

By Greg Laurie

When a tragedy takes place, the first question that comes to mind is why? Why would God allow such a thing?

Some people are angry with God because something has happened to them or someone they loved, and they just can’t reconcile it. Maybe a loved one died unexpectedly, or their parents divorced, or they were born with a disability, or they’ve been hurt.

Our human intellect and notions of fairness reject the apparent contradiction between a God of love and a world of pain. In the classic statement of the problem, either God is all powerful but is not all good, and therefore he doesn’t stop evil. Or, God is all good but not all powerful, and therefore he can’t stop evil.

The general tendency is to blame God for all the evil and suffering in the world.

In a broad sense, sickness, disabilities and even death, are the result of sin – not personal sin in particular, but sin in general. God’s original plan was not for our bodies to break down and age. Rather, God’s original plan was for us to live forever in a perfect state.

But our first parents, Adam and Eve, ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. As a result, sin, like a virus, spread into the human race, and we have inherited it. For instance, I never had to teach my sons how to be sinful. It came naturally to them, just as it came naturally to you and me.

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Then why didn’t God create us so we wouldn’t sin? If God had done so, then we would be like robots with no will of our own. Have you ever picked up a toy that was preprogrammed to say certain things? When you pushed the button and it says something to you, did you really find that rewarding?

God didn’t make us that way. He gave us the ability to choose.

In Luke’s gospel we read that a group of people came to Jesus with a question about why a tragedy happened. A tower had fallen on a group of Gentiles, and some people were suggesting that it was a result of God’s judgment because they were nonbelievers.

But Jesus told them, “Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too” (Luke 13:4–5 NLT).

Effectively, Jesus was saying, “Bad things happen. People die. It doesn’t always make sense. And we don’t always have to say that it was God’s judgment. However, you’d better get ready, because you suddenly could die too.”

Death will knock at every door. No one is exempt. One out of every one person will die. We can’t escape death. We all have an appointment with it. The Bible says, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 NKJV), and “to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NKJV).

That is why the psalmist David, reflecting on the brevity of life, said, “Man is like a breath; His days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:4 NKJV).

The big question, then, is what happens after we die?

I heard about an inscription on a tombstone that read, “Pause now, stranger, as you pass by. As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you will be. So prepare for death, and follow me.”

Someone reading that inscription was overheard to say, “To follow you is not my intent until I know which way you went.”

What will happen to us after we die? According to the Bible, there are two options: Heaven and Hell. There are no other choices.

Only those who are prepared to die are really ready to live. The apostle Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell” (Philippians 1:21–22 NKJV).

When you hear a statement like that, you might think, “What planet are you living on? What did Paul mean by ‘to die is gain’? And what did he mean by ‘to live is Christ’?”

One of the criticisms leveled against Christians is that we’re so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. However, I think when people are truly heavenly minded, they will be of the greatest earthly good.

Christians can enjoy life more than anyone else. We can enjoy something that God has made and give him the glory. We don’t need drugs or alcohol to enhance the experience, because we know God.

And whenever there is a tragedy somewhere in the world, it is always Christians who are responding with food, housing and everything else we can provide. It doesn’t matter whether those we’re helping embrace a different faith or none at all.

On the other hand, have you ever noticed there are no atheist relief organizations? Yet there are Christian organizations like Samaritan’s Purse and Fred Jordan Missions that are providing relief to those who need it. And it’s because of Jesus Christ.

We recognize as believers that life on Earth is not all there is. We know the greatest experiences we have here are but hints of Heaven. As C. S. Lewis pointed out in “The Problem of Pain,” “All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it – tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear.”

The Bible says that for Christians, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (see 2 Corinthians 5:8 NLT). The moment we take our last breath on Earth, we will take our first breath in Heaven.

And in Heaven all our questions will be answered, because we will be with Jesus Christ.

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