When Brad asked me to write a blog for Shift, my first question was, “what’s the topic?” In true Brad form, he said, “I’ve got you. I have a super simple topic — really light and fun. It’s ‘How can God exist when there is so much evil and suffering in the world?’”
Right. Super simple and light.
In all reality, I chose this topic for myself because it’s the one I’ve struggled myself with God the most.
We’ve all experienced this, right? You turn on the television or your Facebook profile and you see so many things that just make your heart cry. Things like another school shooting, when you think, “God, why would you allow that. They are our babies!”
I’m willing to bet each one of us has had a time in their lives that has caused them to question God. Perhaps, it was the horror of war you experienced first hand. Maybe it was when you watched a beloved family member’s body become ravaged with cancer. Maybe it happened when you suffered through abuse, or gave your heart to another person who trampled it. Maybe you questioned God when a friend took their life.
Maybe you lost a child, and while suffering through one of the most heart-wrenching sufferings any person could endure, you asked God….why?
When you experience or go through these awful tragedies, or you watch others go through them, you may wonder how a God that’s supposed to be loving could allow so much evil and suffering in this world. And when we settle our minds there, it can lead us to believe, ultimately, that there can’t be a God, and if there is, he’s cruel at best.
Most of the topics we have tackled in the skeptical series have been a bit more academic in nature, but this one is a little messier because it hurts. It’s messy and painful and we won’t finish reading and have all the answers — but my hope is that we walk away having at least a little better understanding of these three questions: Why evil exists, what our Christian faith says about it, and why doesn’t God stop it.
Why Evil Exists
David Hume, an 18th century writer, once said, “Is he (God) willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. (meaning he would like to but just can’t) Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent (Just a big bully on an ant hill with a magnifying glass). Is he both able and willing? then why evil? “
Every belief system asks and answers this question — atheists and agnostics and everyone in between:
● Buddhists believe suffering and evil is just a part of life, and by transcending suffering — or detaching yourself from desires — evil will no longer affect you.
● Hinduism teaches that evil and suffering is a result of problems in your former lives — a philosophy known as karma. If you want the next life to be better, you can’t interfere with this karma.
● Predominant Islamic beliefs teach that suffering is the result of a sin or a test, and that only submitting to and enduring this suffering will help you through it.
● Atheists believe there is no free will or control over our lives, just a predetermined path of random suffering with no purpose — you’ll survive, if you’re fit enough to do so.
The Christian answer for why evil exists may sound like a paradox, but bare with me: it’s love. You see, God created us to be in a loving relationship with him, but the thing about love is that it has to be freely chosen. It can’t be forced.
What Christians Say About Evil and Suffering
Ravi Zacharius really said it best when he said: “You cannot have love without the freedom of the will. If you are compelled by some machine, due to a certain decision, you can never love. You can comply, but you will never be choosing to express that sentiment and the reality of love.” We can’t be forced to love. It’s not how God designed us; He doesn’t force us to choose Him because He wanted US to choose a relationship with Him.
We did. For awhile. Christians believe we choose to walk away from God and His love, and at that moment, all kinds of brokenness, evil and suffering entered the world. These things have created a ripple effect that has trickled down to us in both our physical bodies and by the desires of our hearts.
I think the real reason we feel so much anguish when we see terrible things happening in this world is because we know something isn’t right, that life shouldn’t be this way. That’s the imprint of God’s true will on our hearts — a yearning for what should be, yet what isn’t.
Without our choices, we can’t have love; because we have choices, we see beautiful wonderful things AND evil things. If there isn’t a way to turn away from God, there isn’t a way to turn to Him, to choose Him, to love Him.
Why God Doesn’t Stop Evil
This leaves me to wonder: why do we pray? Why do we ask God to change anything if evil and suffering is just the result of choice after choice since the beginning of time? The answer lies in the difference between God’s Will versus God’s Sovereignty.
God’s will is clear in scripture: He wants us to be perfectly in love with Him, to have no separation in our relationship. That’s why Jesus asked us to pray, “Our father in heaven, holy is your name; YOUR kingdom come, YOUR will be done..on earth as it is in heaven.” He didn’t want us to suffer here on earth, but to have a perfect relationship like in heaven. That’s God’s will for us, not evil and suffering, cancer and shootings.
God is a loving God, who gave us human choice, but He is still sovereign over these choices. He’s all powerful, and we see Him interject time and time again. And then again, sometimes He doesn’t. we can trust that God has a plan through it all. I don’t have all the answers to why things happen, but I can share with you my experience with God, His will and His sovereignty.
God’s Will and Sovereignty In My Life
In 2012, two weeks before my 4th child, Wyatt, was born, my husband came home excited and told me he felt like God was telling him to plant a church. Jeff, the lead pastor at our church at the time, had mentioned it to Brad, and Brad said he hadn’t felt this much excitement and passion about something in forever.
In good pastor wife form I told him to never speak of such things again, and that I was going to punch Jeff the next time I see him.
Two weeks after Wyatt was born, Brad brought up his dream again, but this time I was ready to listen. He told me God had spoken to him in a dream and told us to come here, to Gainesville. After lots of prayer, we arrived in Gainesville in July 2012 and began to talk to people about this dream…And it turns out that many of you had that same dream: to find a church for the rest of us, to create a paradigm “shift” in the way people view the Church in Gainesville. We launched Shift in February 2014.
In April 2014 two days after our First ever Easter service at Shift, our son Wyatt walked out of house for just a moment and drowned in our pool.
We began to perform CPR immediately, and 3 minutes after calling 911, the ambulance arrived. Once we arrived at the hospital, the doctors rushed Wyatt off and I was put in the waiting room. An agonizingly long time later, a nurse came in told me that my son was not doing well, and that I should prepare to say goodbye.
What I didn’t know at the time is that the doctor working on Wyatt had just stopped working on him because after 40 minutes of intensive care, they were still unable to bring Wyatt back. The doctor ordered his team to stop chest compressions when I walked into the room so I wouldn’t have to witness it. I walked in, saw my blue baby — my fiesty Wyatt laying lifeless on the table.
“Do NOT stop working on my baby!”, I begged.
Instead, they stood quietly, allowing me to grieve. They had seen this same scene play out too many times before. Then I cried out, not in this amazing strength of a faith, but in utter despair, a mother’s despair. Grasping on the only name that I knew had the power to do something.
“ Jesus, save my baby. Please Jesus!”
The doctor said “let’s look at his heart one more time”. See they had already seen his heart stop on the echo machine — as if seeing it with my own eyes would help me accept he was gone.
When they put the monitor on, it showed a beating heart. Jesus’ name brought my son back to life.
This is why I know without a doubt that God is not impotent. When science and medicine said it was impossible, God said it was possible. The professionals called it, and his heart began beating at the name of Jesus.
The PICU physician who was treating Wyatt, a leader in the hospital for almost 20 years (and a nonbeliever to boot) said he’s seen hundreds of children go through the same situation, but had never seen something like this happen. He didn’t have an answer, but I did. I know God is all powerful, because He can bring the dead back to life.
I praised God for that miracle, but Wyatt didn’t just wake up and shake off his drowning. Brain damage caused his body to struggle daily, and we all worked tirelessly on his road to recovery. He made gains slowly, but progressively. However, through all the miracles, I began to become indifferent to God.
I knew God was using Wyatt’s story to strengthen so many other’s faith. He was a miracle, an inspiration to so many, but we were suffering watching our beautiful son have to fight for every movement he had. I knew God existed because I called on His powerful name and He showed up, but I couldn’t stop wondering: Are we a small pawn in a big picture? Do our lives really matter to God, or are we just disposable entities who in the big scheme of things won’t really matter?
I couldn’t live with that. I needed to know that God was all good, even in the small things, like my short life here and now.
During this time I would pray for others, and mean those prayers, but lacked my own conversation with God about how I was feeling. I would beg God to heal Wyatt. but felt like I was knocking on a door that was shut. I felt a cloud come over me, an emptiness. I began to sleep a lot, sometimes 13 or 15 hours a night. You may think “How could a mom of 5 do this?” It’s because my husband is a rockstar and took care of everything — including me — in this time.
But enough was finally enough. Brad told me he couldn’t do this alone, and together we decided I would go away to the beach, alone, for two days in a desperate plea to seek God.
I screamed at God. I cried to God. I told God it wasn’t fair — a phrase I scold my kids for using constantly. Then over time, He reminded me of a few things. He started to show me a small glimpse of the picture He was weaving together.
I don’t believe for ONE second that God WILLED my son to drown. But in His sovereignty He knows what will happen, and promises to take all the evil and suffering the world throws at us, and finds a way to make good out of it.
We can trust Him in that, always. In Jeremiah 29:11 he says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future”. In my mind, I kept hearing lies, and I’d forgotten God’s promises to me.
My head was down and I couldn’t see clearly. And then I heard him: “Baby, look up.” So I looked up and remembered a few things.
I can’t tell you how many people came to Christ because of Wyatt’s story. A doctor who saw Wyatt come to life at the hospital professed for the first time that Jesus is God and was baptized that summer. Nurse after nurse who helped care for Wyatt have seen God’s power in him and our family, and have given their lives to Christ. which has in turn reached many people in their lives, who have in return trusted in God for the first time. Person after person told me they prayed to God that they would follow Him and do whatever He asked, if He would just help Wyatt. His life has touched thousands and thousands of people.
You see God’s will isn’t for our babies to get hurt, or for people to die suddenly, or for us to suffer needlessly just to prove ourselves to Him. God’s will is healing and reconciliation and redemption, and that is why we can pray for those things. But in this world full of free will God is STILL sovereign. He will make good out of all things for those who love Him.
I will never know all the good that God was able to pull out of this awful tragedy that we have gone through. And me in my limits would have never chosen this path. But I also know there would be many people who would not be here today had we hadn’t gone through this experience with our son. So in God’s wisdom and sovereignty, He took on all pain and suffering at the cross.
You see, we don’t always get an answer, but we do always get redemption.