Can God Allow
Suffering and Hell?”
on Habakkuk 3:16-19 and Selected Texts
on March 6 & 7, 2010
David J. Claassen
2010 by David J. Claassen
live in a messed-up, broken world. Man's inhumanity against man was
made shockingly real on 9/11. It has happened many other times in
the past, with the Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia, and the
genocide in Rwanda. There are natural disasters like the earthquake
in Haiti and the hurricane in New Orleans. There's cancer, strokes,
heart attacks, birth defects, and much more that goes wrong when it
comes to human health.
in the last week I've been made vividly aware of the pain and
suffering we face with the six people we've had in the hospitals.
I've also been following the trial in Iowa in which Mark Becker of my
home town of Parkersburg, Iowa was convicted of killing the
well-known, much-loved football coach of Parkersburg. The coach had
prayed for that young man in a Sunday school class at the request of
his parents just three days before he was murdered by him. Diann and
I have also been praying this week for both of our children, who are
facing serious, challenging issues.
a fallen, broken, messed-up, evil world. Given the fact that God
created the world, this poses a problem. Someone has put it this
way: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not
omnipotent [all-powerful]. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is
malevolent [evil]. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh
evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
This isn’t a new question. The question as I just quoted it was
posed by Epicurus, who lived from 341-270 BC!
is this such a broken, messed-up world if God, whom we believe to be
all good, made it? We'll try to address the question by first going
back to when the world broke.
the World Broke
the account in the Bible we find that every once in a while during
creation God stepped back, considered what He made, and declared it
good. The text states that after making everything, having created
the whole world and everything in it, “God
saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
(Genesis 1:31) What God made was good — very good. So what
first human made a bad choice, and so did his wife. Adam and Eve
disobeyed God. It was a cataclysmic event that we can't fully
understand, though we can more fully grasp its ramifications.
Because Adam and Eve were the first humans from whom we all descend,
we not only possess their physical DNA but also the DNA of their
hearts and souls, which no longer was perfect. We have inherited
their tendency to sin; it's called original sin. We aren’t sinful
because we sin; we sin because we’re sinful.
ramifications of the fall of the first humans also resulted in the
world’s being broken down into a fallen world. Somehow, in a way
we can't fully comprehend, it's all connected.
itemized a few of the general ramifications of the wrong choice that
the first man and woman made. First, there will be physical pain,
starting with childbirth. “With
pain you will give birth to your children.”
(Genesis 3:16) There will also be pain in relationships. God
mentions the most intimate of relationships, that of husband and
desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
(Genesis 3:16) We could study this in detail, but suffice it to say
that because of sin, the marital relationship — and all human
relationships — will now be different: no longer perfect, no longer
ideal. There will be struggles to make a living, with work being
hard and frustrating: “Cursed
is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for
you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your
brow you will eat your food.”
(Genesis 3:19) And life on earth will now be limited: there will
come a time to die.
often wondered how much of the natural violence on the Earth is the
result of its being a broken world. I wonder about violent weather
such as floods and droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes, high winds and
lightning. I wonder about tectonic plates that shift suddenly,
resulting in earthquakes, and ruptures in the earth's surface like
boils on skin that erupt in volcanic fury and destruction. Is all of
this supposed to be, or is it just the “new normal” that's part
of a broken world? I suspect that it could all be the result of an
ecosystem and infrastructure that’s not the way it originally was
made to be.
we do know for sure is that God made this world a good world.
Because of human choice, it’s a good world gone bad. Why did God
let it happen?
Price of Freedom
giving our first ancestors the gift of life, God gave them the gift
of freedom. He made them free moral agents, able to decide things
for themselves. He did that because He wanted a relationship with
the special creatures that He made in His own image. Having a
relationship requires that both parties involved voluntarily choose
to have the relationship. Loving requires the freedom to not love.
The freedom to be good and do good requires the freedom to be bad and
do bad. Evil is good that has gone bad.
God had made us so we could do nothing but what’s good and loving,
it wouldn’t be goodness and love. We would have been created as
robots or puppets. As many of you know, I have a little
ventriloquist buddy named Ricky. We look like we have an interesting
relationship: I’m patient and he has an attitude. Actually, we
have no relationship! (Did you know that or did I just ruin your
day?) I once wrote a fictional story about a lonely man named
Malcolm who bought a vent figure and learned ventriloquism so that he
would no longer be alone — but it didn’t work.
God could stop all the pain in the world but chooses not to do so —
or could have not created the world at all, knowing how it would turn
out — He must have reasons for letting it be a broken world. He
must have His purposes in it all.
Purpose of Pain
of the first questions people ask when they’re confronted by pain
and suffering isn't why it happens, but why it happens to good
people. People who seek to center their lives around God still have
troubles and tragedies in life — sometimes, it seems, more than
their share. Wouldn't it be great if when you turned to God, life
was sort of like playing a country and western song backwards: the
wayward mate returns home, the dog comes back to life, and the old
pick-up truck starts working again. Why doesn't it happen that way?
think about it. If people who turn to God had no illnesses and
accidents and always had perfect children, good jobs, new cars, and
big houses, everyone would want to turn to God — but not for God's
sake! They'd do it for their own sake, for their own
self-betterment. It would be a form of coercion on God's part, to
get people to turn to Him.
study of the Bible and an honest reflection on past pain in our own
lives also brings us to realize that amazingly, God uses the pain in
this broken world to further His plans and purposes — and because
His intentions for us are nothing but good, that means those things
are for our ultimate good, as well! The apostle Paul's famous
affirmation is good to keep in mind: “And
we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love
him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
(Romans 8:28) If you and I truly desire to align our purposes with
those of God, He’s fully capable of using anything and everything
that happens to us for good.
often happens that in the midst of the pain of whatever we're facing,
God becomes more real to us and we become more dependent on Him, more
like Him, and of greater use to Him. The apostle Paul asked God to
heal him of something that he called a “thorn
in my flesh.”
(2 Corinthians 12:7) God said no, and Paul heard the Lord say to
grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in
(2 Corinthians 12:9) Paul responded, “Therefore
I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that
Christ's power may rest on me.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9)
has His purposes for our pain — and as long as we know there’s a
purpose, we can handle it. Prisoners of war who were ordered to
carry heavy rocks from one end of the prison camp and back again for
no reason were driven mad. They weren’t driven mad by the work,
but by the absolute meaninglessness of the work. Because God is a
good God with the best of intentions for us, we can know that He has
a purpose for allowing the pain and suffering that we face!
Loving God and Hell?
like to make a short observation on why a good God would allow a
place like hell to exist. First, let me give you the best reason to
believe that hell does exist: Jesus said that it does! I believe
that Jesus was, among other things, a good teacher, and one of the
things He taught was the existence of hell.
fact is that a loving God who wants people to spend eternity with Him
has to also provide a place where people can be apart from Him. If
God forced everyone to go to heaven, it wouldn’t be an act of love.
S. Lewis said about what we call God's divine judgment, “There will
be two kinds of people in the end: Those that will say to God, 'Thy
will be done' and those to whom God will say 'Thy will be done.'”
God won’t force people to spend an eternity with Him. Those who
have chosen not to organize their lives around Him will have their
wishes granted forever. However, existence without God and without
all the good gifts that He gives — and that only come from Him —
is a hellish existence. A place away from God — hell — is the
loving response of God to let people have their own way, to make
their own free choice.
do well to affirm what the prophet Habakkuk stated at the end of his
book in the Bible. Habakkuk, a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah,
spoke on behalf of
God just before the Babylonians were to come
and conquer Judah, destroying Jerusalem. In his short book Habakkuk
complained to God about the injustice in Judah. “Why
do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?”
(Habakkuk 1:3) Then God answered: He would
do something! He would judge Judah by allowing them to be conquered
by Babylon. “Look
at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed. . . . I am
raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, . .
(Habakkuk 1:5-6) Now Habakkuk complained to God that the Babylonians
were worse than Judah, yet God was going to use them
to punish Judah? “Why
then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you so silent while
the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”
(Habakkuk 1:13) God's reply was that the Babylonians, too, would be
you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will
as a righteous man of God, had been grieved when his own people of
Judah turned from God. Then he was grieved that an even worse people
would take over their land — but eventually, he was told, someone
else would come along and conquer the conquerors. There would be so
much pain! But this was the conclusion of it all for Habakkuk: first
he stated, “I
heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay
crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently
for the day of calamity.”
(Habakkuk 3:16) He was willing to accept what God would allow to
happen. Then he gave this grand conclusion to his book — a
conclusion we should reach, too. It's a marvelous statement of
having profound trust and confidence in God through it all!
the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though
there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will
rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The
Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a
deer, he enables me to go on the heights.”
(Habakkuk 3:17-19) I want to face my broken world with that kind of
confidence and faith in God! You, too?
of the Week