Epicurus, one of the founding fathers of modern atheism, is quite famous for coming up with a logical statement about the existence of God. Known as the Epicurean Paradox, it is still largely used today as a strong argument in the debate of the existence of the Christian God:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then He is not omnipotent.
Is He able, but not willing?
Then He is malevolent.
Is He both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is He neither able nor willing?
Then why call Him God?
Whenever I meet someone who doesn’t believe in God, I’m always interested in their views as to why. I mean, we’re all looking at the same evidence (or what each of us perceive as evidence at least), but we somehow reach different conclusions. After a few points about the lack of evidence or the age of the earth or questions about the validity of the Bible, all of which have interesting points on both sides of the argument, I find the discussion always tends towards this question:
If God is a God of love, then why do people suffer?
It’s not just people who would call themselves agnostic or atheist who experience this question. It is also people of faith. And usually for them it’s an even greater struggle. Christians usually have a set of beliefs they feel they always have to believe. And when the realities of life and the challenges and disappointments come their way and they find themselves wrestling with the challenge of this question, they can really be destroyed by what they believe they should believe and what they’re feeling at the moment. They feel bad, guilty, even dirty for even feeling like maybe God doesn’t care for them the way they need it.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that this is a question that affects all of us.
What I want to do here isn’t to start a debate about the existence or the evidence of God. There’s plenty of material around about that, and usually I’ve found that it is actually the answer to this question that people wrestle with the most even within that discussion. What I do want to do though is to address this hard question by looking at some of the things the Bible says about God, as well as just some of the thoughts I’ve come to when addressing this question myself.
So, does God really care? Here are some thoughts:
What you’re going through sucks
I don’t know exactly what you’re going through right now. But I do know that a lot of the difficult challenges people face absolutely suck. It’s terrible and heartbreaking to think of the pain that exists in our world. It’s even more challenging when the pain is actually in your own life, or in the lives of those close to you.
Who can truly fathom the experience of losing a loved one? Of people being lost to war? Of the heartbreak of divorce? Of terminal illness?
And even things that are less “extreme” than that can be almost just as devastating for people – a sudden change in your family, a failure in the corporate arena, a bad breakup, a hurtful word addressed in your direction, even just loneliness.
I think a starting point with this question is not to minimize the suffering that you might be going through. If you are reading this with some stuff going on in your world, my thoughts and prayers are definitely with you, dear friend. If you find yourself there today, I hope that these thoughts are able to help you get through things in some way.
God doesn’t enjoy seeing anyone suffer
Epicurus makes the case that if God is able but not willing to help, then He is malevolent. This is the way a lot of people see God. This portrayal of deity is probably most made famous by the Greek god Zeus, hurling lightning bolts down from the Pantheon and destroying all beneath his terrible wrath.
There are also pictures of a judging God in the Old Testament (and again in the New Testament, but people seem to always go for the older ones). The God who afflicts people with leprosy, or kills all the firstborn, or wipes out the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah overnight.
Because of this imagery, and the destruction that still afflicts our world today, God is often seen to be a cruel God with destructive tenancies. Yet for some reason at the same time, the message of Jesus is one of redemption and grace and salvation, which seem to be at the opposite ends of the spectrum.
In Biblical history, the Israelites at one point levelled these questions at the prophet Ezekiel. In those days, the prophet was a representative for God on the earth, often respected for being an oracle, one who spoke on God’s behalf. So in the people’s gestures towards Ezekiel, they were actually essentially directing their concerns straight to God.
Their rant begins by questioning the justice of God, asking Him why He promised protection when there is still destruction. Questioning His justice.
To this first point, God responds to them with an indignant rant, with some fairly powerful points. “I’m unjust? You are the ones who are unjust”. Now this isn’t the end of His argument, but this is a good point to take into consideration. If we look at our world, and if we’re really honest, sometimes even in our own lives, our sense of morality and justice is quite tainted, and is highly changeable. We judge others by their actions, and ourselves by our motives. We have reasons to justify piracy, pornography, adultery, slander. We are quick to defend a lot of the choices we are making, even when they are volatile and destructive. So this is a fair point to keep in mind – if God is an omnipotent being, who is the original definer of the term “justice”, then we are not at a very wise position to lay such severe claims against Him.
But God goes on for several pages of the Biblical text to address the heart of the Israelites. He notes their hearts of stone. He notes their challenges. He’s also brutally honest about their disobedience. One statement in particular really highlights for me the reality of the heart of God:
‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’ – Ezekiel 33:11
God doesn’t even enjoy seeing His worst enemies destroyed. Perish the thought that He would ever take pleasure in seeing you go through the things you do.
It is important to understand then that from God’s perspective, this God of love, He means it when He says He cares about you.
So the question then becomes, why does my experience not line up with that? Hopefully the next few thoughts can give us somewhere to go from here.
God promises comfort and companionship
Scripture is full of promises made by God to His people. Promises repeated throughout the Old Testament and then again by Jesus Christ that “I am with you”. Promises that His eye is on the sparrow – and how much more valuable are you than they are!
Promises to prosper you, and not to harm you. To give you a future and a hope.
But Scripture is also very real about the challenges that we face. Jesus Christ, who is the New Covenant teacher of grace, even said as one of His key messages, “In this world, you will have troubles”. And also that God causes the rain to fall “on the just and the unjust”. The lives of the earliest Christians even reinforce the reality of the challenges of life.
But in the face of these challenges, God promises to be an ever present help in time of need.
NB. I haven’t included references in the above portion to increase readability, but if you search for some of those key statements you will find the Scriptures I was referring to.
So what then? How do you balance these promises with the struggle of what we face?
Ask for help
Have you ever seen a child get hurt? They may cut their leg or hit their head on something. They’ll scream and cry and run around.
And then a parent will try to get involved in helping. And they will do their best.
Their love is without question.
Their ability to heal and to comfort is there.
But if the child refuses to be consoled, if the child runs away from the parent, they will not be able to help them to the fullest extent of who they are.
And that’s a picture of how a lot of us can be. When we go through hard times, sometimes our first reaction is to ditch God and to run away. We then may proceed to blame God for the things going on, all the while bleeding out in pain.
Maybe it’s time to stop running, to stop fighting. To truly experience the care that God promises, you need to let Him.
Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you’ll find. Knock, and the door will be answered to you.
Be honest with God
You’re allowed to be honest about how you’re feeling. If you read through the Psalms, which are included in Scripture as model prayers for us, you don’t find fairy tales and rainbows all throughout these songs and prayers.
You find a lot of complaining, a lot of reality. Statements like “God, my eyes fail looking for you”. “I have soaked my bed with tears”. “I despair of life itself”. “Smash the heads of their babies against the rocks” – Psalm 137, such vivid imagery. “Why have You forsaken me?” – a psalm that even Jesus repeated many centuries later.
On the subject of Jesus, we find Him in the Garden of Gethsename, about to die, ready to fulfill the calling He knew He had on His life since He was a boy.
And this same Jesus says to God, “TAKE THIS CUP AWAY FROM ME!!”. In other words, “I DON’T WANT TO DO IT!”
How refreshingly honest. God doesn’t get offended or snub us when we bring the reality of how we’re feeling to Him. He promises a listening ear and always helps us reason through what’s going on.
So just some thoughts on the big question of whether or not God really cares. By no means will this be a comprehensive list about every single possible answer you’ll ever need to whatever you may be facing, but I hope in some way this has been helpful for you to think about, or interesting for you at least to see what part of the Christian perspective on the question is.
I hope you find the rest you’re looking for, dear soul. I hope you see that there is love in your life when it feels like there’s not. And I hope you see your situations turn around and the sun to start to shine where there has been darkness and confusion.
If you have any other thoughts on the question, feel free to comment below. Don’t forget to give this a share if you’ve found it helpful, and you can subscribe via Facebook, email, WordPress, RSS… lots of options.