Why Does God Allow Suffering?

May 09, 2023

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In this episode, host Elizabeth Urbanowicz dives into a deeply important question: how can a good and loving God allow suffering? This is a question that has been asked throughout history, and Elizabeth explores how to best teach our children to have a healthy theology of suffering. With practical advice and valuable resources, this episode will help you prepare your children to navigate a world full of suffering with a solid biblical foundation.


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today. Today's question says "hello. I am a first year teacher at a Christian school and my husband and I want to start having children soon. However, I notice that there are many children having the same questions my generation had, which is how can a good and loving God allow suffering? What is the best way to teach our children to have a healthy theology of suffering?" Such a great question and a really important one for us to think through because we know that our children will face suffering in this world, and so how can we prepare them for that?

Now, before we dive into this question, I would just want to remind you that if you found the content of this podcast beneficial, ask that you would consider liking and subscribing so that you never miss a future episode, and also ask that you would consider writing a review and sharing this content with those within your sphere of influence so that we can equip as many adults as possible to get the kids in our care carefully evaluating every idea they encounter.

Now with this question about preparing our children for suffering, the questioner said that she's noticed that the kids in her school are wondering this question that she and those within her sphere of influence growing up wondered about how a good and loving God can allow suffering. And the really good news about this is that this is a question that humans have asked since the beginning of time that the first book of the Bible to be written was the Book of Job.

And the book of Job is all about the question, how can a good loving and all powerful God allow such suffering in this world? And so we know that this is a question that God is not afraid of, that God has actually addressed in his word that it was addressed in the first book of the Bible that was ever written. And so when we're thinking through, okay, how do we prepare these children that God has placed in our care to have a biblical theology of suffering, there's a few things that I think we need to think through.

And the first is, if our child has already thought through this question, they're already wondering this question and bringing it to us. I think that the wisest starting point is to begin with questions so that we can better understand where this child is coming from. And so I always encourage parents or teachers or who's ever working with children when questions like this come up, the first thing that we do is to affirm the question because we want our children to be good questioners.

Well, it might be easier to have our children just blindly follow us and believe everything we say. That's a really dangerous thing because if our children blindly follow us when we are the primary influencers in their life, it means that they're going to blindly follow others once those others become primary influencers in their lives. So we want to make sure that we're always encouraging our children to ask questions and that we're affirming them when they do ask those questions.

So when a child brings up a question like, how could God be good and allows suffering, I think what we should start off with is, oh, this is such an important question. I am so glad that you brought that up. I'm so proud of you for thinking of this question. So the child knows that this is a good question to bring up that questions are safe to ask, that God wants us to ask questions and seek out answers.

And then the next question that I think is really important for us to follow up with is what has led you to think about this question? What has caused you to think about this question? And more often than not, it will be a very specific situation that someone is wondering whether it's an adult or a child, is wondering, why did God allow such and such to happen to so and so? Why is it that God has allowed this specific thing to happen to this person? Now, if this person, this child is wondering why has God allowed something bad to happen in his or her life, our first response should not be some long theological and philosophical answer. Our first response should be comforting that child or comforting that person and walking with them through the process of grieving.

Early on in my teaching experience, I had a little girl in my class whose parents were walking through just a really terrible, terrible divorce that her mom had actually had an affair and had decided to leave her husband and all of her children for this man that she had had the affair with. And so you can just imagine that this was just wrecking this little girl's life, and she would come to me all the time with questions about why God had let this happen, and we would talk through why God allows evil and suffering. But most of the time what this little girl needed from me was not the same old answers about why God allows us, but most of the time what she needed is she needed me to just let her cry and to give her a hug while she was crying. She was missing her mom and she wasn't understanding why God had allowed her mom to do this. And so what she needed most in that situation was she needed comfort. She needed someone to represent God's fatherly heart and care toward her.

So that's the first thing that we need to remember. Know that if our child is coming to us with a question about evil and suffering based on a specific form of suffering that they're facing in their life, that our immediate response doesn't need to be along theological and philosophical answer, but really pastoral care for them, that we're reflecting the heart of God as a father in the way that we're interacting with them.

Now, when our children come to us with these questions and we dig a little deeper to find out why they're wondering about this, if they're wondering about some general evil in the world, maybe they're wondering about a natural disaster that they heard about that happened on the other side of the world, or maybe they're just wondering, why does God allow people to treat one another terribly? Then again, we can follow up with more specific questions because a lot of times when people are wondering, how could God be all good, they're not really thinking through what would it mean for God to be good and also to run the world in the way in which I want him, or I think he should run the world so we can follow up with either even more questions.

I think a great thing to say, "it seems like you're wondering if God is really good since he has allowed evil. So let's think about that for a while. So let's think about if God were truly good, what kind of world would you have expected him to have created?" And talk through that with them. They probably expect God to have created a good world, a world that was peaceful, a world that was comforting, a world that was full of joy. And then to ask them, do we see those things in our world? Do we see peace? Do we see comfort? Do we see joy? Do we see pleasure? Do we see laughter? Yeah, we actually see a lot of those things. We actually kind of usually experience those things more than we experience pain and suffering. But then to talk with them about, okay, so we know from scripture, we know from Genesis chapter three that the reason that there is suffering in the world is because of the decision that Adam and Eve made, because God did create the world good God did create us good, and then our first parents chose to rebel.

And that's usually when a child or an adult will pop in with, "well, God shouldn't have done that. God shouldn't have let Adam and Eve make a choice. God shouldn't have let there be a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God shouldn't have let the serpent come in the garden." And so then we can follow up with a question and ask, okay, so how would you think that God should have created the world to make this impossible? And the interesting thing is when you ask this question is it is virtually impossible with someone to come up with a logically coherent explanation for how God should have created the world that doesn't take away human freedom and the ability to choose. That virtually any situation that we could come up with in which it would be impossible for humans to sin would mean that humans also did not have the ability to choose that humans would have to be pre-programmed with just doing what God wanted them to do.

And so then we can follow up by asking, so it sounds like what you're saying is you think it would've been more loving for God to create us as robots. Do you think that's true? Do you think it's true? And you can ask that as a parent, do you think it would be more loving for me to make you do what I want you to do in every situation, even if what I want you to do is best and talk through some real life practical situations? Because we humans, we highly value freedom. And I think the reason for that is because God highly values freedom that leads to flourishing. He does, and he has given us the ability to choose.

Now, you may be thinking, Elizabeth, you haven't really answered the question about giving a biblical theology of suffering. So how do we do this? And what I would really recommend if your children are coming to you with this question, you know, first need to determine is what they need mostly pastoral care as they're walking through suffering, or do they need some more questions for them to think through? But what I would recommend is actually talking to our kids about a biblical theology of evil and suffering before they are in a position of intense suffering. That I think it's really important that we make sure that we do this on the front end. And one of the best ways to do this is to teach our children the whole story of scripture. Because you know when you understand the narrative of Genesis 1:1 all the way through to Revelation 22,:21, when you know that narrative backwards and forwards, it's pretty easy to understand why there is evil and suffering in our world because it's clear throughout the biblical narrative that God has given us the freedom to choose and that the whole biblical narrative is about God calling his fallen children back to himself.

And so that's the first thing that I would encourage you to do. Take your children through the entire narrative of scripture so that they're getting that Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21 understanding of evil and suffering. Another thing that's really important to take our kids through is understanding God's good plan in the midst of suffering. One of the famous verses that we really like to clinging to is Romans 8:28, which says, and we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who are called according to his purpose. And so we like to quote that verse, God's working all things together for good, God's working all things together for good. And it is true. God is working all things together for good, for those who love him and who have been a call according to his purpose. But what we often missed out on when we just pull that verse out of context is we miss the instruction in how God is doing that.

And when you read Romans 8:28 in context, Romans 8:29 explains that God is using these things to conform us more into the image of the Son. God is using all of the difficult things in our life to make us more like Jesus. And so if we can teach our children that truth that in every difficulty they face, every moment of evil and suffering, that God is using it to conform them more into the image of Christ, just think of how differently they will view the suffering that they face in this life.

And we can apply this in small moments and in big moments. Suffering with a child can include when Mom makes something for dinner that I don't like, it's getting something that you don't want, that's suffering. And so we can remind them, okay, how could God be using this situation, this dinner that you don't want to eat? How could God be using this to conform you more into the image of Jesus? Now, asking him or her that in the moment when they're feeling upset about what's placed in front of them, might not be the best moment to ask that question, but later on as they're getting a bath, as they're getting tucked in for bed, you can talk through that. How do you think God can use these little things that you don't like in your life to conform you more into the image of Jesus? And in bigger situations when they're bullied at school or when someone says something really mean to them, God has promised that he's going to work this out for good. How do you think that this situation could be conforming you more into the image of Jesus?

Another thing that I highly recommend is that we teach our children the biblical grace of lament, that as Christians, we understand that we are not to be controlled by our emotions. We live by a culture that just says, let it go. Let it all hang out. You do you. What I feel is the most authentic part of me. But as Christians, we understand that that's not so, that our feelings are not the most reliable guide to truth. But sometimes then we jump to the opposite end of the spectrum and we think that our emotions should just be stuffed and that we should just ignore them. Well, that's not the biblical model at all. When we look at the Psalms and when we look at the Book of Lamentations, we see the people of God pouring out their hearts before God expressing deep grief and anguish, being honest about exactly what they're thinking or feeling, and then circling back to the truth of who God is. So highly recommend that we teach our children this biblical grace of lament, of teaching them to honestly come before the Lord with how they're feeling and what they're thinking at the moment and what it seems like God is doing in the moment and in everything that's going on inside of them. And then ultimately turning to truth of, "but I will remember Lord this truth, that you are good, that you are sovereign, that you are in control."

If you've never actually gone through the process of lamenting, highly recommend that you check out the book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy. That was a book we recommended a while back in the Foundation Worldview Book Club, but it's a really great guide just in taking Christians through the biblical grace of lament.

Then a few other resources that I think are really helpful as we're thinking about this topic of why God allows evil and suffering the book, Why Does God Allow Evil? by Dr. Clay Jones. It's a fabulous resource just looking at biblically, why has God allowed evil and suffering in our world? And then we have a resource actually based off of that for kids at FoundationWorldview.com. We have a blog series called Mommy, Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen? And that's actually a blog series that I wrote when I was a student of Dr. Clay Jones at Biola University. He let me write my final for his class on why God allows evil in the form of answers for kids on why God allows evil and suffering. So if you just look in the show notes, we'll put links to that blog series and you can actually print that off and read through it with the children that God has placed in your care to help them think through why is it that God has allowed evil and suffering?

As I said in the beginning of this time, this is an age old question. It's one that's been asked since almost the beginning of human existence post Genesis 3, why God allows evil if He is a good God? And it's one that's so important for us to cover with our children. Again, if we haven't covered this yet and our kids are asking questions first, we want to find out is someone suffering emotionally with the problem of evil? And why did God allow this to happen to me and they need mostly pastoral care? Or is this just a general question that does need more of a theological answer? And then if our kids aren't at a place yet where they're asking this question, it's so important for us to make sure that we're diving down deep in developing this biblical theology of suffering.

Well, that's a wrap for today's episode. As always, my prayer for you as we leave this time together is that God would richly bless you as you continue to faithfully disciple the children that He's placed in your care. I'll see you next time.

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