How Could God Allow this to Happen?
I recently became aware of a tragic automobile accident which claimed the life of a young man and seriously injured a fellow passenger. I don’t know any of the people directly affected by this tragedy personally, but I am aware of many people who do. This death, as all deaths are, will be devastating for a huge network of people connected in a variety of different ways.
I don’t know how those directly affected will react to this event; I suspect there is no “right” way to respond to these kinds of things. I expect that in the coming weeks there will be a coming-together of family and friends, a celebration of a life cut short and the impact he had on others. The tragic nature of the accident will be lamented, prayers for those closest to the victims will be offered, and God will be implored to speak amidst the pain and confusion that this event has caused.
And some will undoubtedly wonder how God could allow something like this to happen.
I wonder the same thing every time I hear about a story such as this, and with every such reaction it strikes me as odd that these things have to hit relatively close to home before we think about them. I have thus far been spared having to navigate a horrible situation such as the one this family is in the middle of right now, but in a sense it shouldn’t require something awful directly happening to me to spur reflection upon the problem of evil and suffering.
The thing is, “something like this” is always happening to someone somewhere. The problem of evil undoubtedly becomes more acute when we have to face it in our own lives, but suffering is as universal a feature of human experience as you could hope to find. When we are faced with incomprehensible tragedy such as this one, the problem of evil moves from the shadowy background of our lives, where we know that it exists but can avoid it at a personal level, to the foreground where it screams belligerently and mercilessly in our faces, refusing to be ignored any longer.
Simply put, Christians have to reconcile belief in a good and sovereign God with the fact that this same God is always allowing incomprehensible suffering to happen. Over the last few days alone, God has
- allowed 23 South Korean Christians to be captured by Taliban militants in Afghanistan who are threatening to kill them unless Korea’s troops are immediately withdrawn
- allowed one of these hostages, Rev. Bae Hyung-kyu, to be the first of these victims to lose his life in brutal fashion
- allowed 50 ordinary Iraqi citizens, guilty of nothing more than publicly celebrating their nation’s appearance in the final of a major soccer tournament, to die at the hands of yet another suicide bomber in Baghdad
- allowed an elderly couple in southwestern Ontario to be murdered in their farmhouse
- allowed 70 young Peruvian children to die from pneumonia due to a combination of high altitude and unusually cold weather
- allowed the ongoing conflict in Pakistan to claim nine more lives due to rocket fire in a northwestern city
I found these stories in five minutes of browsing the internet—I’m sure that anyone who is reading this could think of, or is in the midst of struggling through others. In each of the stories mentioned above there are grief-stricken family members forced to comfort loved-ones, explain to little children why mommy or daddy isn’t coming home, plan funerals, pick up the pieces, and somehow summon the strength to go on living. Our distance from these events does not make them any less tragic, any less evil. The point, again, is that God is always allowing awful things to happen. It might sound disrespectful to say it so bluntly, so bereft of necessary qualifications, but a quick look at the world around us combined with even the most general view of divine providence can yield no other conclusion.
To be honest, it can sometimes be a scary thing to affirm faith and confidence in a God who has set things up in such a way that devastating things routinely happen to his children. Yet this is precisely what, as a follower of Christ, I must do. I cannot simply affirm that God is good as long as terrible things are not happening to me, as long as they remain half a world away, a few paragraphs on a screen which can be clicked away in as much time as it takes to blink an eye or change the channel. As a Christian, I claim that Jesus Christ is God’s answer to the problem of a world reeling under the weight of sin and evil in the full knowledge and expectation that evil will continue to be a prominent feature of human experience—quite probably my own experience at some point—until God finally judges the world and restores it to what it was intended to be.
And so we do our best to place our faith and confidence in God and his plan for the world. Sometimes God’s providential care for the world seems so obvious that it barely warrants mentioning; other times it seems so ridiculously implausible—even immoral—that it takes nothing less than a herculean effort of faith to affirm that God is lovingly watching over his creation. I’m not sure which way the family who lost their son/brother/husband/uncle/father is leaning right now, but I hope and pray that they find comfort and healing in their pain. And I pray that God will grant them, and all of us, the strength and the faith to cling to the promise of a better day when “He will wipe every tear from their eyes” and when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)