God’s Surprising Response to Agony and Evil

There is probably no greater challenge to the Good News of Jesus Christ and the Gospel than the problem of ongoing evil, agony and suffering. Traditional arguments such as those made by even prominent Christians in our day not only seem conflicting and confusing but many times appear to add insult to injury.

You know the questions: If God is Omnipotent and has all power, how come he doesn’t use it to destroy evil and prevent suffering? and How can we believe in, let alone trust and love a God who seemingly does nothing when one of his ‘children’ gets kidnapped, raped or is going hungry?

And you know some of the answers: God sent trouble and unless you, too, repent, you will likewise perish or God didn’t send those tornadoes it’s just that people foolishly build and live in homes they place directly in the path of destruction!

Not very helpful in my book, and especially when these answers include no indication of Jesus, the Revelation of the Relational God, and Who He is for us as the Gospel, Good News and heart of His Father!

In stark contrast to these comments I hear in the Christian realm regarding the recent tornadoes and destruction in the mid-West, these words I read by Thomas F. Torrance have been better responses to me in thinking out of the Gospel about such horrors (from Ray Anderson’s article “Torrance as a Practical Theologian” in the book The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, pp.172-175). I have broken up the quotes for easier reading:

This movement of God’s holy love into the heart of the world’s evil and agony is not to be understood as a direct act of sheer almighty power, for it is not God’s purpose to shatter and annihilate the agents and embodiments of evil in the world, but rather to pierce into the innermost center of evil power where it is entrenched…

…[God comes] to pierce into the innermost center of evil power where it is entrenched in the piled-up and self-compounding guilt of humanity in order to vanquish it from within and below, by depriving it of the lying structures of half-truth on which it thrives and of the twisted forms of legality behind which it embattles itself and from which it fraudulently gains its power.

… Here we have an entirely different kind of and quality of power, for which we have no analogies in our experience to help us understand it, since it transcends every kind of moral and material power we know.

…only through the cross of Jesus Christ can we see and understand how God deals with evil in this world. The reality of God’s love as enfleshed in the humanity of Jesus is the hermeneutic [interpretation] of God’s power. All questioning from the side of human pain is now “Questioning in Jesus Christ,” the title of a chapter in one of Torrance’s early books.

God is not interested in destroying His creation in its mess. He is interested in untangling the mess from the inside out and at its root. He has accomplished this by entering His creation as a real man in Jesus Christ. In the shared faith of Christ we should now only question evil, agony and suffering in the light of Who Jesus is, where it has been fully and finally dealt with. This power of attacking and getting rid of evil in suffering love, and without annihilating it, blows the minds of us weak and puny humans, and we have nothing to compare it with, which is why we often stumble when addressing the issue.

As Ray Anderson says, because of present evil, agony and suffering in the face of the Good News of God Revealed in Christ, “the challenge to a practical theologian in the face of such agonizing questions is to expand the reality of God’s love and the reality of human suffering without breaking the two apart.”

That is what I am seeking to do in this blog post: face the plain and real suffering we still experience AND the Good News of Jesus at the same time, and hoping to help you and I communicate (NOT prove! Only God can do that!) the tension a little better. Again, quoting the late Thomas F. Torrance from Ray Anderson’s article:

God has taken the sorrow, pain, and agony of the universe into himself in order to resolve it all through his own eternal righteousness, tranquillity, and peace. The center and heart of that incredible movement of God’s love is located in the Cross of Christ, for there we learn that God has refused to hold himself aloof from the violence and suffering of his creatures, but has absorbed and vanquished them in himself, while the resurrection tells us that the outcome of that is so completely successful in victory over decay, decomposition, and death, that all creation with which God allied himself…in the incarnation has been set on the entirely new basis of his saving grace…

…The Cross of Christ tells us unmistakably that all physical evil, not only pain, suffering, disease, corruption, death, and of course cruelty and venom in animal as well as human behavior, but also ‘natural’ calamities, devastations, and monstrosities, are an outrage against the love of God and a contradiction of good order in his creation.

…the cross of Christ makes clear the fact that evil is not only a violation of humanity, but it is also a contradiction to God’s moral order. The incarnation places God’s sovereignty and moral order on the side of humanity in opposition to evil. No longer is there a basis for interpreting the tragic events which threaten human good as somehow linked directly or indirectly to God’s providence as though evil contributes eventually to some divinely ordained good.

WOWSA! The One and Only God the Father, Son and Spirit, through the Son Jesus, within creation, transforms rebellion in His Right Relationship, terror in His Tranquility, and perversion in His Peace. There is no God Who stands apart from, or is neutral and distant to, the pain of His creatures. There is only the God Who draws near to His creation and creatures in their agony, evil and suffering to vanquish it. The Resurrection of Jesus is our assurance that this has happened completely in God’s free and saving grace! All physical evil, all pain, suffering, disease, corruption, death, and cruelty and venom in animal as well as human behavior, ‘natural’ calamities, devastations, and monstrosities, are an outrage against the love of God the Trinity and a contradiction of good order in his creation. He is NOT for any of these in any way! God is on our side and against evil, agony and suffering in Christ and we no longer have to try to wonder if there is any “good purpose” of God behind it for us – there isn’t! Really – there isn’t!!! Wow!

This has got me rethinking everything I thought I knew! 🙂 Of course, I immediately think of the stories of Joseph and of Job and other potential objections at how God might have used evil for good. MAYBE those stories are not so much about their transformation as it is the untangling of the evil one…..hmmmmmmm…. God was assured of Job’s response (Job 1:1, 8, 22, 2:10, 13:15) and seems to have set up the trap the evil one ran right into…hmmmmmmm….

Your thoughts??? Does this kind of response give you a better handle on the Gospel? If so, how? If not why not?

~ Timothy J. Brassell

11 comments so far

  1. Jeannine on

    This is incredible, Pastor Tim! This has always been a sticky point for me – and I honestly haven’t examined it since before my paradigms all shifted as I began to understand more about the Triune God. The way I have answered it in my own mind is to believe that there is so much more to life than this life, and that our true life is yet ahead – and that maybe life was an exercise in learning what happens to humanity when it tries to live life without God. What a mess!

    But thanks to your post, of course I see that this hasn’t been right – it was based on the old paradigms that had God distant and Jesus waiting to be invited into our lives – Jesus only loving and helping humanity if we followed Him.

    The conclusion that God allows devastating tragedy into the loves of His children to teach them a lesson or to make them into people more dependent on Him is SO SAD. What loving parent would do that?? I allow my children to branch out and to take risks – this results in the odd scrape, bump, fall and burn – but NO WAY would I stand by and watch as true hurt and true badness came into their lives. And I’m just human – God is so much more than I am, there is no describing Him.

    I also wonder, what good does come of evil in people’s lives the vast majority of the time?? An abused child, a child who loses a parent, a parent who loses a child – on and on we go. For every good thing that appears to come from a tragedy, how many people survive but go on as shells of who they were formerly or might have been? And then the cycle repeats as some of the abused become abusers.

    It brings tears to my eyes to read T.F. Torrance’s and your words above and to experience them as they resonate throughout my soul. It’s yet another piece of the puzzle slipping into place and another reason to relax and rejoice. Tragedy and heartbreak happen – but they are never part of God’s design or will for us, and He HAS made made things right for us in the way that only He could – without meting out judgments and punishments and penalties (the kind we might like to see enacted against those who have hurt us) – in the way that acknowledges the brokenness in those who have then broken others. The Cross really is everything.

    This was my favourite part: “God is on our side and against evil, agony and suffering in Christ and we no longer have to try to wonder if there is any “good purpose” of God behind it for us – there isn’t! Really – there isn’t!!!”

    So wonderful!!!!!!!!!!

  2. tjbrassell on

    Thanks for your insightful and penetrating Gospel comments Jeannine!

    I, too, have been struggling for years with how think about this and address it and I think my journey has been similar to yours because of the similar view of the distant God, I had! Yikes! I’ve also been frustrated with the comments made on it by famous televangelists, recently. It sure reinforces for me that God the Father, Son and Spirit IS a relational being, and GOOD – in whom there is no darkness AT ALL! Unfortunately, because of the present Adamic darkness, this is pretty much impossible to see without a veil but, thankfully, we are getting to “taste and see” how good God is because of the Spirit’s presence and education of the human race IN JESUS. This subject and the awesome suffering love of God given in free grace can be meditated on and experienced forever and it will still blow our minds in its glorious goodness! HaHa!

    I liked what you wrote:

    “The conclusion that God allows devastating tragedy into the loves of His children to teach them a lesson or to make them into people more dependent on Him is SO SAD. What loving parent would do that?? I allow my children to branch out and to take risks – this results in the odd scrape, bump, fall and burn – but NO WAY would I stand by and watch as true hurt and true badness came into their lives. And I’m just human – God is so much more than I am, there is no describing Him.” This is a modern/present echo of God’s own words through Jesus about “If you, being sinners, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so your heavenly Father…”

    You have much good seed of the Gospel to spread everywhere, and with everyone, in your enthusiastic and humble participation with Jesus in His clear-minded and clearly-communicated proclamation of Himself! Continue to be about this my friend! 🙂

    Peace, Love and Blessings and Happy Easter/Resurrection Season!

  3. Jeannine on

    It’s like an abused wife who insists, “he loves me; I know he does.” Or an abused child who begins to interpret pain as love. How is it that we ever came to view God in that way? – insisting that He loves us as we wait for the next cruel trial or test from His Hand that is supposed to make us into *better* people.

    And then, we begin to treat each other in this way too – “I love you, but you know, sometimes love hurts.” No it doesn’t!!

    This post came at the perfect time for me, Pastor Tim. I have made a decision that could make me fearful – but because of what you have written here, I am not any more – not at all. I know there are still no guarantees of the outcome – but I can trust that, chances are, it’ll be great – and that God is not going to to use it as an opportunity to pounce and “teach me a life lesson.” Quite the contrary – the Triune God is on my side – His will for me is for good – never bad, and never for sadness.

  4. tjbrassell on

    Again, I continue to learn even from your comments Jeannine – thanks!

    It seems so obvious now in the Light of Jesus, but, the only way evil could be good for us is if God Himself were evil and evil was good. Since God is not evil and is only good, and there is no darkness in Him at all, neither is He the Father of lies, agony and suffering, THEN, it is impossible that evil could be good for us in any way. God would either be it or have created it and that is anathema!

    Though this sounds philosophical, it is actually what has been revealed by the Triune God in the Person of His Son made flesh, Jesus Christ, and in how He has addressed these issues fully and finally in His Life, Crucifixion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, as this blog post is pointing out!

    It’s starting to become way clear – NO questioning of anything outside of Jesus Christ and ONLY questioning in Jesus Christ! Wowsa! We’re going to “get it” – because He has made sure of it in His own shared humanity! HaHa! 🙂

  5. Jeannine on

    It’s so true – a friend said to me recently that love was just part of who God is (the other part being wrath). I was able to confidently say that I no longer believed that was true – that love is all God is – as someone said it, His very *DNA* is love. It’s so strange that for so long, I really believed He was part love and part hate (ie: wrath). I know His wrath is real – but it’s so different from human wrath – God’s wrath seeks always to protect us from harm – never to punish.

    Hope you’re enjoying a wonderful Resurrection Sunday, Pastor Tim!

    • tjbrassell on

      Jeannine, Yes, you are in agreement with God and the scriptures to say that God IS Love and not that He is love and wrath or part love and part wrath. Because His wrath flows from His love, I think that Dr. Baxter Kruger is right in saying that God’s wrath is God’s love in fiery opposition to our sin and destruction, or as you add “seeking to protect us from harm – never to punish”. 🙂

      Had a great Resurrection Day and hope you did too!

      Thanks Again!

  6. clyde on

    NOT VERY HELPFUL.As one who struggles with depression there are very few good days for me.The only relief i invision is when this mortal physical life is over with.

    • tjbrassell on

      Hello Clyde,

      I can appreciate your very honest comments in the light of how discouraging and depressing life can really be in this world and in this humanity beat up by sin!

      I only want to say to you that Jesus knows how you feel – REALLY – and especially as one who was acquainted with grief and sorrows, so you are not suffering alone – He will not allow it, and suffers with you. I believe your sorrows and longing to be a participation in Jesus’ sorrow and longing. Your relief has been answered in the Resurrection of Christ and it is His hope I hear in your cry for it!

      “Our Father, you have sent Your one and only Son Jesus to adopt and include us in Your life and love by encountering us in our exact humanity, including the brokenness. Thank You for knowing Clyde in the depth of his darkness and depression and for untangling it in your own human life in our place and on our behalf. Send Your Spirit to Clyde in such a way, and in the very faith of Jesus, that he may taste and see your present victory, healing, restoration and continued hope even as you suffer with him. In Jesus name’ I pray, amen!”

      I discovered this thought today and it helped me. Maybe it will help you:

      “We discovered that faith is not expecting that the Lord will miraculously give us whatever we ask, or feeling that we will not be killed and that everything will turn out as we want. We learned that faith is putting ourselves in [God’s] hands, whatever happens, good or bad. [God] will help us somehow.”

      – Felipe and Mary Barreda from, Common Prayer – A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

      Every Blessing to You in Him! He doesn’t know how not to bless and be with you!

  7. Karen Harris on

    Pastor Tim,
    You continue to turn the lights on in my brain. Lol. I LOVE THIS. AMAZING and ENLIGHTENING. I have been battling with this for years. We grew up learning that God is love. But then we were told that he allows tragedies to make us stronger or to make us depend on him…to make us come to him. I have been so angry at that for so long because I keep saying that the pain in NOT making me stronger. Yes, I may learn something but I keep thinking that this pain is just making me more angry. This pain leaves me a shell of the person I was. It is NOT making me a better person. It is actually doing the opposite. So what is the good in the evil.

    And it does seem like a cycle, I go through one horrible thing telling myself that God loves me so much that he is allowing this pain so I will grow to the person he wants….then the next thing comes….and I start wondering, is this really love. Because it would seem that God’s love means I would first have to be punished with pain. No loving parent would do that. I love my kids and I would not allow them to go through hurt. God is so much more than I am. Even my own dad would always leap to help me when I get myself in trouble. I have been making this comparison for so long.

    This is so freeing. So earth shattering. All I can say is WOW. This is so refreshing. This too is my favorite part….”God is on our side and against evil, agony and suffering in Christ and we no longer have to try to wonder if there is any “good purpose” of God behind it for us -there isn’t! Really there isn’t!!!”:………….THERE REALLY ISN’T…..YEAH!!!!! Thank you!!!!

    God is good….allllll goooood….and love isn’t supposed to hurt…..so there is no way evil could be good for us. His will for us is his goodness and not to punish us constantly. HALLELUJAH!!!

    I have shared this link on my Facebook page because this is so freeing and yesssss it does give me a better handle on the gospel.

    • tjbrassell on

      Greetings Karen!

      Thanks for your positive feedback on Who God has revealed and willed Himself to be for us in Christ! I can appreciate your battle with receiving His love as love considering the tragic experiences we face right in the middle of God’s embrace.

      To clarify my post just a little, I don’t think I am going so far as to say that love isn’t supposed to hurt since it is in loving hurt and as Love that God often encounters us necessarily in our sin and brokenness, and that in loving, suffering hurt He redeemed us in the Person of Christ.

      I think that the Church is actually called to suffer with Christ, and in its accompanying pain, as the Lord uses it to be formed as a lens through which the world can hear the Gospel which is FOR them proclaimed clearly and see and know it better. Of course, to repent and believe it also brings quite a bit of pain considering our blindness. There is certainly discipline from the Lord that is “not joyful, but sorrowful” at first but that “afterwards yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” – Hebrews 12:10-11 NASB

      I think one main point of this post is that God does not use, or need to use, evil to cause us agony and suffering so that we will learn and grow and become what He wants of us, and that is a HUGE revelation seen particularly in the Cross of Christ! He is against evil at every turn and, in Christ, comes in and destroys/untangles it at its roots, redeeming it.

      As Jonathan Stepp wrote in a recent email conversation we were in:

      “[We] can’t always discern whether pain is the result of the fall, the result of God’s discipline, God using the pain of the fall for disciplinary purposes, or simply a natural result of existence in communion (in other words, a pain that would exist whether the world was fallen or not – such as straining a muscle through over-exercise.)

      I’m of the opinion, though, that untimely death is a result of the fall. In such situations I tell people that it is not God’s will and that he grieves with us. Instead of preventing these consequences of the fall he has chosen to reverse them in Jesus – so our hope is not a hope that nothing will ever go wrong but a hope that everything that goes wrong will be undone and turned into something new and glorious in the new heaven and the new earth.

      In the meantime, while we wait to see the full revelation of this, we are free in Christ to grieve, vent our anger towards the Father, and call evil out by its name. The death of a child is evil. It grieves us and it grieves the Father. Through the Son the Father grieves with us and through the Son he has already undone that death and, in the Spirit, he has given us a vision of what it will look like when that undoing is finally revealed in all its fullness.”

      I hope this helps, and I sure am enjoying growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus with you Karen! You are “On Fiya!” HaHa!

      Peace, Love and Blessings!

  8. Boyd Merriman on

    Here in Colorado, there has been several tragedies. One nationally announced was the theater shooting just three miles away. They are rebuilding that theater (redesigning the sign) and a 10 year old girl was kidnapped and slaughtered into pieces (17 year old was caught). We see these tragedies and wonder…will that happen to me and my child? Will God protect us from these tragedies?
    As I was reading where God does not destroy his creation in order to destroy evil, reminded me of Matthew 13:29-30 where the field hands were advised to let the wheat and tares grow together until harvest, lest they destroy the wheat in the process of removing the tares. Good advice.

    Boyd


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