Is God Cruel?

cruelEven just a few minutes of the evening news would convince anyone that the world we live in is a difficult place. Not only do we regularly hear of wars, robberies, murders, and other acts of violence, but news of natural disasters and tragic accidents are just as common. Everywhere we turn we see and experience tragedy, injustice, and pain.

It is not uncommon to see these tragedies and wonder about God’s role in them. How could God allow them to happen? How could God allow all of this suffering to take place without intervening?  Does He not have the power to stop the pain?  Does He not care? Is He not good?

Not long ago I listened to an atheist in a debate. He suggested a parable that he thought was fitting for the character of the Christian God. He described a little girl who was stricken with a painful disease. She would cry out in agony day and night.  Next door to her was a doctor who was familiar with the disease and knew how to cure it. Yet, everyday he ignored her cries. He heard her, but paid no attention. He just let her suffer.

The atheist suggested that the doctor is like the God that Christians believe in. He intimated that our God has the power to end suffering, but instead, ignores it. Just like anyone would think that the doctor in his parable was a cruel man, the atheist argued that any God who does not relieve suffering is just as cruel  – just as guilty of neglect.

That atheist is not the only person to have reached that conclusion. Many insist that God is cruel because He does not exercise His power to stop the massive suffering in this world. Yet, the Bible paints a different picture of God.  There, He is described as good (Matt. 19:17), merciful (Psalms 116:5), full of kindness (Joel 2:13), and love (1 John 4:8).  Obviously, one cannot be full of goodness and kindness and at the same time be cruel.  Both of these cannot be true at the same time.  So, which is it?  Is God cruel? Or, is He good?

One of the problems with the atheist’s story is that it makes an assumption about suffering which isn’t necessarily true.  The atheist’s parable assumes that all suffering is purposeless and needs to be avoided.  Yet, we know that this is simply untrue.  Most women who desire to have a baby recognize that they must first suffer the terrible pain of childbirth to eventually hold the baby in their arms. Yet, most do it without a second thought.  A lot of men frequent gyms where slogans like “no pain, no gain” are openly displayed. They know that without the pain of exercise they will never achieve the results that they are looking for.  In nearly every discipline of this world no great achievement can be accomplished without an investment of pain and suffering.  Therefore, we recognize that at least some suffering has purpose and is readily accepted. It can be purposeful.

Since we know that some suffering can serve a purpose and can even lead to a desirous end, is it possible that there is a purpose for all suffering – even if we don’t see it?  Isn’t it possible that a good and kind God witnesses your suffering but sees in it a greater good than you may see?

The open-minded person must concede that it in spite of how he or she may feel, the possibility of a purpose behind suffering might exist.  It cannot be assumed – as in the parable – that there is never a purpose to it.  And, the open-minded should recognize, not seeing a purpose does not necessarily mean that a purpose does not exist.

I believe that one of the reasons we struggle with a purpose in suffering is because we don’t view it the same way God does. In the book of Hebrews, we read that Jesus was taught obedience through suffering (Heb. 5:8). That doesn’t mean that He had to be taught it because He didn’t know anything about obedience. Rather, I believe it means that He had to experience obedience first-hand.  The method God chose for that to happen was by suffering.  It is apparently one of the instruments God has at His disposal to bring about some of His purposes. He allows it because it serves a greater purpose to Him.

We are taught in the Scriptures that when one member of the body suffers, the whole body suffers (1 Cor. 12:26).  This means that with Christ as the Head of the body (Col. 1:18), He continues to suffer with us. Yes, that means Christ is still suffering.  God has not insulated Himself from it. He has elected to continue to be part of our suffering.  He participates in it with us. He is beside us in it.

If, then, God voluntarily suffers with us, He must know of a purpose in it. If He suffers with us, then it is not an act of cruelty, but an act of great love.

I will admit that it can be hard to “see” the love of God in the midst of pain. However, if you can understand that He voluntarily suffers with you, then by faith you may be able to realize that you have not fallen into the Hands of a cruel God. Rather, you have come in contact with a God who is touched by your suffering (Heb. 4:15).

Peace,

dane

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, Christian blogger, jail chaplain, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us.

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