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How is God loving if He allows suffering?

Ray Comfort
Christian evangelist and author, Ray Comfort. |

It was early in the morning, late in 2004. I was flying back from New York to Los Angeles, waiting to board a plane, when a tall man asked me, “What rows did they call?” I answered, “First class ... the rich folks.” He smiled and said, “Yeah, the ones who should be going on their own Learjet.” I handed him a Million Dollar Bill tract and said, “Here’s the down payment on your Learjet.”

When he smiled, I passed him a Department of Annoyance tract and said, “And here’s my card.” He turned it over and, to my horror, began to read out loud the Gospel message on the back — despite the fact that the text was printed in reverse to give me getaway time. When I quickly added, “It’s a Gospel tract,” he mumbled, “I’m an atheist.”

The intellectual dilemma of Christianity

While atheism is the ultimate intellectual suicide, I can understand why some people are tempted to believe that there’s no God. The Christian message can feel confusing at times.

The night before this conversation had happened, I had listened to a CNN report moments after a giant tsunami in Southeast Asia killed multitudes. Yes, there is plenty of evidence to conclude that a God of love who is all-powerful and wants to better the life of humanity doesn’t exist. If He did, He would immediately get a supply of food to the starving in Africa so that their lives may be better. Or he would at least provide some rain to grow their crops. During that same day the tsunami hit, 150,000 other people died around the world — about 40,000 of starvation.

Ironically, while watching TV in my hotel room the night before, I saw a well-known pastor talk about his book, which has sold a phenomenal 20 million copies. He said that God’s agenda for humanity was to “make our lives better.” That was a summation of his message.

Tell that to those who were burying tens of thousands of human corpses after the tsunami hit. Tell that to the fathers who hold the dead bodies of their beloved children in their arms or to the relatives of those who died of horrific diseases.

It doesn’t take much intelligence to realize that if there is a God who created all things, He must be all-powerful. Nothing is impossible for Him. He, therefore, could have easily prevented unspeakable agony by simply lifting His finger off the earthquake button. But He didn’t.

The intellectual solution to our problem

So, this presents quite a dilemma. A quick look at Jeremiah 9:21-24 gives the answer. How could God be loving and yet allow suffering? The Bible tells us that He is in control and that He does send judgments to this earth. God is love, but He’s also just and holy, and if He gave us what we deserve, the tsunami of His holiness would sweep us all into Hell.

Imagine you have knowledge that a bridge has been washed out by a terrible storm on a dark and moonless night. You stop all approaching cars and say, “The bridge that spans a thousand-foot chasm has been washed away! Please turn your vehicle around.” The violence of the storm itself is enough to convince any thinking driver that you are speaking the truth, and those who have the sense to believe you do turn around.

Tsunamis, terrible diseases, agonizing cancers, massive earthquakes, killer hurricanes, awful suffering, and death itself are very real and violent storms that should be enough to convince any thinking person that our warning is true. The message of Christianity isn’t that God wants to better this life for humanity. It is one of warning of a terrible fate in store for those who continue on the road of sin. We are told by God’s Word that there are two deaths on the highway to Hell. The first death is when we leave the storms of this life and pass into timeless eternity. The second death is the chasm of eternal damnation. It is the terrifying justice of a holy God.

My friend, the atheist

So, with the confusion about the message of Christianity, I could sympathize with my atheist friend in the airport. When he professed atheism, it gave me the opportunity to humbly cite my atheist credentials. I said, “I wrote a book called God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists: Proof the Atheist Doesn’t Exist.” Then I told him that I was a platform speaker at the American Atheists’ national convention in 2001. I claimed, “It’s really easy to prove God’s existence.” He replied, “It’s not healthy for me to talk about God.” I said that I could understand that, and then I added, “But you are a reasonable and open-minded person, so you can listen to me for two minutes.”

He gave me the okay, so I told him how he could know for sure that God existed. God had given him a conscience, and if he even lusted after a woman, Jesus said that he had committed adultery already with her in his heart. I also mentioned that if a criminal was given a death sentence and said to the judge, “But I don’t believe in the electric chair,” it didn’t change reality.

He politely listened and then said, “Well, I’d better board the plane.” He reached out his hand, shook mine, and said, “My name is Pat.” I told him my name, watched him board, and prayed that he would read the literature that he still held in his hand ... and that he would have the intelligence to believe the words of warning. Do you?

Ray Comfort is the Founder and CEO of Living Waters and the bestselling author of more than 80 books, including God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life, How to Know God Exists, and The Evidence Bible. He cohosts the award-winning television program "Way of the Master," seen in almost 200 countries, and is the Executive Producer of "180," "Evolution vs. God," "Audacity," and other films. He is married to Sue and has three grown children, and hasn't left the house without gospel tracts for decades. You can learn more about his ministry at LivingWaters.com.

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