If God is good, then how can He allow suffering? Randy Alcorn reflects on who God is and what His purposes are for Creation. He points to Jesus as the ultimate answer to our toughest questions.
If God is good, then how can He allow suffering? Randy Alcorn reflects on who God is and what His purposes are for Creation. He points to Jesus as the ultimate answer to our toughest questions.
Randy: God does tolerate wrong—for a time—as a virtue that relates to His patience and His longsuffering, giving time for His plan to unfold. This is where faith comes in because God never minimizes the suffering. But what He does say is, “Look at the scars on the hands and feet of my Son, and ask yourself whether these look like the hands of a God who doesn’t care?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, June 14. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Randy Alcorn joins us today to help us understand that the goodness of God and the reality of evil and suffering are not contradictory.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I know what we’re going to talk about is sober stuff today. And I don’t want to get us off on the wrong foot, but I’ve been trying to come up with…well, there are two words that keep rolling around in my mind.
You know, Randy Alcorn wrote the book on Heaven. You’ve seen that, right?
Dennis: That’s right. And he joins us here on FamilyLife Today. Randy, welcome back to the broadcast.
Randy: Thanks, great to be with you guys.
Bob: The book on Heaven is a pretty thick book, right?
Randy: It is a pretty thick book.
Bob: Now you’ve written this book called, If God is Good. It’s thicker, isn’t it?
Randy: Actually, it’s fewer words, but they printed it on paper…
Bob: Bigger print…
Randy: …where it’s actually a little bigger than the Heaven book.
Dennis: You know, that’s going to be one of my key questions for you, Randy. Do you count the words or the weight?
Randy: I generally…
Dennis: Pound for pound, I think you’re the best and most prolific author. There’s a portion of my house we’ve had to dig down deep, and pour some footing because that end of the house is sinking…
Bob: …under the weight of Alcorn books?
Dennis: Under the weight of Alcorn books. Safely Home, one of my favorite books about China, and a guy who graduated from Harvard who became a believer…I’ll not get off on that because that’s not what we’re talking about today.
Bob: See, this gets me back—these two books…I’m trying to go…”comprehensive”? That’s a good word, right?
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Bob: Or, “obsessive”? I can’t decide which…
Dennis: No, no, no, no…
Bob: “Comprehensive” is the word?
Dennis: Well, for those who don’t know Randy Alcorn, he is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries. He is the author of more than 30 books. He and his wife, Nancy, have two married daughters, four grandsons…and he’s also a donor to the ministry here at FamilyLife.
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: And, so right here on the broadcast, I want to just say thanks for being a kindred spirit, radio listener, Randy. I also wanted to say thanks for your faithfulness to the Scripture. And, you know, in a day when there’s a lot of fluff being created (we’re kidding Randy about the size of his books), there’s nothing fluffy about any of your writing. I just appreciate your faithfulness to the Scripture, to God, and to what He’s doing here, and the Gospel. And, also, I’m glad you’re on FamilyLife Today.
Bob: And I’m curious...why this subject for you to tackle in this new book, If God is Good.
After you’d written Heaven, and it was so well received, and tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of copies of that book in print. You’re sitting down, going, “Okay, what’s next?”
Bob: Why this subject?
Randy: Well, I think there’s a logical relationship, in that we talk about the hope of Heaven in the big Heaven book, and there’s about five or six smaller books, devotional books, Heaven for Kids, and all kinds of smaller forms that it’s in to get it out to more people. But what we discovered with the Heaven book is that over 600,000 copies of the big book were sold; that’s because a lot of people really like to see what Scripture has to say about this.
But, okay, that’s about Heaven, but where are we living right now? We’re living right now, between Eden and the New Earth—in this parenthesis of time that is the exception, not the rule. It’s a temporary state of rebellion. It’s the curse, the fall. And, we live in a world of evil and suffering; and, one day, we will no longer. So how do we live now, in light of the evil and suffering, and all the questions it raises?
Dennis: No doubt about it. And, as I was looking at your book, too, Randy, I thought of the title. The title is, “IfGod is Good.” Are you really titling this, “Since God is Good”?
Randy: Well, I deliberately didn’t say, “Since God is Good” because the way the question is worded for many people, and certainly for unbelievers, but also for believers. This is not just aquestion. This is thequestion that people ask.
There was a Barna poll where people were asked the question, “If you could ask one thing of God, what would you ask?” And, the question from believers and unbelievers alike, was the same, which is, “Why all the evil and suffering?”
So the unbeliever asked the question, and comes to the conclusion, “Well, if there was an all-good God, who was all-powerful, obviously he wouldn’t permit all this evil and suffering. Therefore, I don’t believe in God.”
For the believer it’s, “Lord, I believe You. I want to trust You; but, I don’t understand—why given Your goodness, and given Your power—why did you let our daughter die of leukemia?”
Dennis: You know, you and I talked before we came in here, into the studio. And you talked about how, early on, when you were a high school student, you were drinking deeply from C.S. Lewis, Schaeffer—from the great authors of history, from the classic works of the Christian faith.
Was there ever a time in your life, Randy, as you began to experience life, where you questioned God’s goodness?
Randy: I certainly questioned what I would call His wisdom. Which is presumptuous in the extreme, and it reminds me of Job questioning God. And, then the last five chapters of the book of Job—God just saying, “Okay, here’s what I’m like,” and “Where were you when I created the earth?”
Randy: Surely you know, for you have lived for so many years, where God’s being sarcastic with Job, and all.
But, I certainly, as a brand new Christian—I’d only known Christ for a year—when one of my closest friends had a terrible accident. He was literally impaled on a metal fence post, as he was swinging over—a tree limb broke. And, he was dying, and I was certain it was God’s will to heal Greg.
I was positive I had as much faith as you could have, because I couldn’t imagine—this guy was sold out to Jesus, and Greg and I were growing in our walk with God. And, I was shocked when Greg died, even though they said he was going to die. I was just amazed. I was saying, “Lord, why? I don’t understand this.”
You know how there are questions you ask, not where your faith is in jeopardy; but, instead, your faith is being refined and almost redefined. Because you realize, you know what, I am losing a certain faith, but the faith I’m losing was a false faith. It’s a faith that I’d be better off without because it wasn’t true to God’s word.
Because had I really come to grips with what God’s Word said, I would have realized there was no promise of God to heal my friend, Greg; except, ultimately, in the resurrection—where there will be healing for all of us.
Dennis: The reason I asked that question is…I think a lot of people can take a step back from a book like this, that is so comprehensive, and they can go, “Yes, Randy Alcorn has always been in the fold. He’s always believed. Kind of grew up in a “Christian womb” of sorts, and was surrounded by people who believed and, has never struggled in his own faith. But, you have faced those moments.
Randy: Absolutely. I grew up in a non-Christian home. I had no faith in God, at all. Never went to church. Didn’t read Bible storybooks—anything like that. I was exposed to the Gospel when I was a teenager. I was skeptical, at first, but I thought, “These are pretty nice people,” you know.
There was one Bible in our home that I had gotten when I was in third grade. My mom took me to a local Methodist church one Sunday; and, it was the Sunday they gave out Bibles to third graders. And we had that, it was on the shelf, it had been unread all those years.
So, I’m at home and because they’re talking about things from the Bible at this church’s youth group I’m going to; I start reading it through. At first I’m reading it like it’s…it’s science fiction, or something. I mean it’s just a story, or Greek mythology.
Dennis: Where did you start? Did you just…
Randy: In Genesis, you know, there it was, right at the beginning. So I started, and I did, you know, flip around different places, didn’t understand numbers of things.
But then I got to the Gospels, and I looked at Jesus. And, something resonated inside of me. It was a work of the Holy Spirit, drawing me to Himself. When I read the Gospels, they had the ring of truth.
I saw in Jesus, someone who was not just part of a story. I realized there was something in me that testified to this being real. He was a real person. He said these real things. He dies on the cross. He rises from the dead, and I’m realizing—I’m believing this, now. And I came to faith through reading the Scriptures.
So I came from a non-Christian and skeptical background. And there was a lot of resistance when I came to faith in Christ. My father, in particular, was not happy.
Dennis: There was a time here, on FamilyLife Today, over a number of months, and it was because of some things that were taking place in my life—some challenges to my faith, that I quoted Tozer. I quoted the same statement. Bob knows what it is, even before I say it. But, it’s something that you came to grips with, early in your Christian faith, and you’ve continued to noodle on this, and chew on this, until ultimately, you’ve penned a book about this. And what Tozer said, he said, “The most important thing about you…” Can you finish the rest of it?
Randy: Uh, what you think of God?
Dennis: Yes. It’s what you think about God.
Dennis: Are your thoughts about who God is? His character?
Dennis: What He’s like? Is He a sovereign King?
Dennis: Does He rule in the affairs of men and women, and nations? Does He care about the little stuff?
Randy: Exactly. And, Tozer’s book, The Knowledge of the Holy, where he begins by talking about the most important thing about us is what we, at any given moment, think about God.
And, compared to that, our creeds about Him are really unimportant. Because we can say, “We believe this…,” we can check off the box in the doctrinal statement; but when it comes down to it, who do you believe God is? And who you do believe God is, is tested as we face evil and suffering in life. It’s not really tested when things are going our way. It’s when things aren’t going our way.
Dennis: Got to get to the question, because our listeners are wondering, “If God is good, then why evil?” Why doesn’t He just pull out a giant, God-sized eraser, and just go, “No, let’s eliminate that from the equation.”
Randy: You know, that’s a great question. And when you turn to Ephesians 1, you see God’s promises about the things that He has purposed. He talks about the things that will be put into effect when the times have realized their fulfillment to bring all things in Heaven on Earth, together, under One Head, even Christ.
That God had a plan where He took into account, what would be the very best thing He could do to bring glory to Himself, and to bring good to His children. And when He took that into account, He gave this gift of choice. Fully knowing that people would make the wrong choice; that Adam would sin, that we then would have this inherited sin; we would all sin in Adam.
That death and destruction, and suffering and evil would come into the world.
But, that He knew that as part of His redemptive plan (not as an afterthought)…
He (the second member of the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the Son would become a man. Become a child, to grow up to be a man. Live this perfect life. Atone for our sins on the cross.
And then, through His resurrection, would purchase something which has not yet been fully realized, but will be. And that is ultimate redemption—a new Heaven, a new Earth. So that, the people of God, in eternity future, will be able to look back, and say, “Yes! All that evil and suffering, truly was worth it. Because God brought so much of a greater good out of it, than there would have been if it just would have been restricted to the goodness of an innocent Adam and Eve, in Eden.
Now that’s difficult for us to understand because we think, “Well, I’d rather just have gone with the innocent Adam and Eve. And then God just keep people from sinning.”
Right. Okay…so, try that with your wife.
If you could keep your…make it so that your wife always loves you, and always thinks you’re the wisest, the funniest person—in other words, if you could have a Stepford wife. Snap your fingers and you could make it so that she always responded to you in this positive way.
Well, wouldn’t you do that? And of course, somebody might be tempted to do that for an hour…or a day…and then they would start going, this isn’t real. Because she has no choice, except to love me. She’s not really loving me and she’s not really a human being.
Because intrinsic to being a human being, is the ability to make a meaningful choice.
And meaningful choice does not exist unless we could make a wrong choice. And a wrong choice is not really a wrong choice if it does not have bad consequences. Just like a right choice isn’t a right choice without consequences.
Dennis: Okay, so there’s a big picture. A big story taking place here that is all about what God’s trying to display, here in the universe.
But, I know I’m speaking for a listener right now, who isn’t married to a Stepford husband.
Her husband is anything but that. He’s maybe unfaithful; he’s been off into pornography; maybe has a problem with drugs or alcohol.
And she’s going, “You know, I don’t want a robot, but this life that I’m looking at here, this is pretty grim. This is pretty tough. And, I’m having a hard time. I’m losing heart in believing the truth about God, because life is just kicking the daylights out of me.” What would you say to her?
Randy: Well, first of all, this is something I think we really have to emphasize…and I do in
If God is Good, and the smaller spinoffs from it. But, this woman is absolutely right to have a broken heart. And we would be absolutely wrong to minimize her pain by giving little theological, philosophical explanations in such a way that it would minimize that. What I love about God’s Word is that it tells us the things it tells us, without minimizing our pain. In fact, it emphasizes our pain.
Exodus 3, God says, “I have seen the misery of my people. I have heard them crying out. I am concerned about their suffering.” And, so what does he do? He comes down. You say, “Well, okay, but why hasn’t He come down for this woman, yet?” Well, He is going to, but when we call upon God, as Habakkuk did, saying, “Lord, how long are you going to tolerate this wrong? Why don’t you end it right now?”
What we have to remember is, if God ended right now, all that was wrong, if he just kept her husband from doing what he’s doing. Or, brought judgment upon him for doing it, right now, where would all of us be? Our lives would all end, right now. God does tolerate wrong for a time—as a virtue that relates to His patience and His longsuffering; giving time for His plan to unfold.
This is where faith comes in, because God never minimizes this woman’s suffering, but what He does say is, “Look at the scars on the hands and feet of my Son, and ask yourself whether these look like the hands of a God who doesn’t care?”
No, He does care. And if nothing else gets through, in this whole question of wrestling with evil and suffering—to me, as I say in the book, Jesus is the One Answer, who is bigger than all the questions.
Dennis: And on behalf of that woman, I want to say thanks for not minimizing her pain;
because we have any number of listeners who are tuning in on this broadcast, who they’re facing difficult issues. Maybe it’s not a wayward husband; maybe it’s a health issue with a child, a spouse, or yourself, or a loved one.
Life doesn’t always make sense. But, the thing I’ve found is—and I’ve faced a couple of these key points in my life, Randy. One was when Barbara nearly died in 1976—when we started FamiliyLife. Her heart rate raced to 300 beats a minute, and I just wondered, “What are You up to, God?” And one year, my dad died, my son had surgery, I was rushed to the hospital, and Barbara nearly died. All of what had been stable in my life, had been shaken.
But, ultimately where I ended up on that afternoon, back in 1976—actually, it was a summer in 1977 when I opened my Bible. I looked at it, and I go, “You know what…either what this promises and says about God is true—100 percent true—or, it’s not true at all. And I can’t trust it, and I can’t trust God. And, you know what? I don’t know where else to turn, other than to the Scriptures and to God and place my faith.
And that’s the other thing I wanted to thank you for, on behalf of the woman…that you called her to faith. Because ultimately, that is our responsibility. To believe the truth about God, about life, about circumstances, and to lean into God on a day-to-day basis.
Bob: And you’re not trying to suggest that— if someone will just get a copy of your book, and read it, and understand more about what the Bible has to say about God’s goodness and His power, and the reality of evil— that all of a sudden they won’t suffer as much. Because the suffering may continue but to understand that God is at work in it.
And, to respond by faith, as you were talking about and saying, “God, I trust You, and I believe that You know what you’re doing, even when I can’t see it.” That’s the response we are called to. And the promise of Scripture is that God’s goodness and His power will be vindicated; and will be on display in the end.
Let me just mention to our listeners that we’ve got copies of Randy’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. The book is called, If God is Good. And, if this is an issue that you’ve wrestled with, or if you want to be ready to talk to people in our culture today—really, if you want to be ready to engage someone around the Gospel, you need to have considered this question; and be ready with a gracious and kind response, based on what the Bible teaches about the goodness of God, and the reality of evil.
Again, the book is called, If God is Good. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how to get a copy of the book. Again, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com. Or call toll free, 1-800-FLToday (1-800-358-6329). That’s 1-800, F as in “Family,” L as in “Life,” and then the word TODAY. And we’ll let you know how you can get a copy of Randy’s book sent to you.
You know, Father’s Day is coming up this weekend. And, from time to time, we’ll have folks who’ll contact us, and say, “I’d like to make a donation. Is there a way to do that in honor of my mother, or my father, or a grandfather? Is there a way to acknowledge them somehow?”
And, as a matter of fact, our team has arranged for that. If you’d like to make a donation to FamilyLife, in honor of or in memory of a loved one, your dad, your grandfather , a member of your family…go to FamilyLifeToday.com, click on the link to make a donation, and you’ll find it there.
And, this month, if you make a donation of any amount to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we’d love to send you, as a thank you gift, a copy of Truett Cathy’s book, It’s Better to Build Boys, Than to Mend Men. The book is our thank you gift to you, when you make a donation of any amount in support of FamilyLife Today. All you have to do is type the word “BOYS” in the Key Code Box on the online donation form, and we’ll know to send you a copy of the book.
And, let me just say thanks for your support of this ministry. We do appreciate your financial partnership. We’re listener-supported, and without your donations, this program could not continue on this station and on our network of stations across the country. So, thanks, in advance, for whatever you’re able to do in making a donation.
And we hope you can be back with us tomorrow, when Randy Alcorn is going to join us again. We’re going to continue to look at how we understand the goodness and the power of God in a world where there is evil and suffering. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Hope you can be back for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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