Why is there evil and suffering?
I asked these very questions and went through a period of atheism during my search for answers, this is how I left the faith, found the answers I sought and returned to Jesus Christ.
The Christian life within the Body of Christ progresses through three stages: 1) Purification, 2) Illumination, and 3) Union. These stages overlap with each other, and do not always happen in a specific order. Many times they are all happening at the same time within a person.
Let’s take a look at each stage:
Stage One: Purification is when one repents and Jesus Christ cleanses one’s soul of sin. It is also a period of cleansing one’s thoughts, of learning to be a moral being. In this stage we kick bad habits and learn to live a Godly life.
When I went through this period, I was obsessively praying and reading Scripture and religious books. It was a very monastic life, I had no real possessions beyond a few books and some clothes. I was freshly reborn and full of the Holy Spirit. I had an almost fanatical devotion to God, I would tell everyone and anyone about Jesus, strangers on the street, drug addicts, co-workers, anyone. I became so full of the Spirit that I would become physically ill when I watched sinful things on TV. But despite all of that I still continued in sin. I was horrified at the overt sins of the world but blind to my own. Then I entered Stage Two and things really changed for me.
Stage Two: Illumination, the stage where one begins to learn about God, can be a very difficult time for some and it was for me.
If you think about these stages as a church service, Stage One would be the set up. making sure everything is ready, the chairs are all out, the floor and bathroom clean, the instruments tuned and ready to go. Then, in the second stage, comes the sermon, which can be an uplifting period or boring to the point of painful.
For me it was a very painful experience. I was surrounded by people who preached God’s love, but never pointed out or called me on my sinful behaviour. I was smoking pot, drinking and using the Bible to justify it. I was preaching a socialist hippie Jesus and nobody said anything to me about my errors. I knew something was wrong, I felt God moving further and further away each day, but could not figure out why. Everyone at my church filled me with anger, I hated being around them and eventually I just said, “To heck with it all,” and walked away from the church, from God and became a militant atheist.
Even after witnessing the might and power of God, after experiencing His love, after being filled with the Holy Spirit and being baptized, I walked away from it all after just three years of being a Christian.
I could find no answers to the big WHY questions we all struggle with: why is God so good, yet He allows evil? Why is there pain? What is the point of living?
Well this period was the way the Holy Spirit chose to teach me. He placed me on a path where I would find the answers, or at least answers that are satisfying enough for me. From my militant atheist attitude it let me get down into the guts of theology, morality and really change the way I thought about a lot of things.
Why is there evil when God is supposed to be good? I have come to understand that evil exists so that we can identify what is good and it provides a means of survival. By seeking the good, we strive to eliminate evil, which is the vocation of love when you think about it. If we really love someone or something, we seek only good for that person(s) and seek to keep evil from them. That is a why there is evil, so we can seek the good.
Why is there pain? This I have come to understand is a misinterpretation of life, which is struggle. All life is struggle–from the pull of gravity to the fight to survive, everything is created to struggle. We interpret this struggle as pain. Think of it this way, God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it.
Genesis 2:15, 3:17-19, says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it., after the fall, man was cursed … And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The only real difference is the way one views the purpose of our life, the struggle to live. Before and after the fall man had to work. After being freed from sin by the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, has anything really changed? We still need to sleep, work, live the same old lives as usual. The only thing that has changed is our point of view and how we look at the struggle to survive. Through Jesus Christ, are we able to transcend the struggle and become the living embodiment of struggle itself, so that the day-to-day struggle becomes joy. Weakness becomes strength, strength becomes power of the Holy Spirit manifest, which gives us the endurance to keep running the race.
2 Timothy 4:5-8 says, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
What I found on my quest for illumination has strengthened my faith in ways that defy description. I can only put it like this: Before I had an emotional faith, now I have an intellectual faith, that is grounded in the understanding that pain is an illusion, it is only a misinterpretation of struggle. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Struggle is God’s way of teaching us love through the destruction of evil.
The final stage, that of Union is being in perfect union with the Holy Spirit, being totally obedient to the Spirit without question and becoming a pure instrument of God’s will on earth. That is something few can achieve and only happens either when we die and enter fully into God’s presence or at the will of God do we achieve such heights of spiritual union.
Where do you find yourself in the course of spiritual growth?