How can we make sense of this crazy, godless world?

Dave Farcas

How are we to understanding all of the suffering and evil in the world in relation to God's will? Is God the omnipotent sovereign of the universe who micromanages everything that happens? If God is love why do his creatures (human and non-human) suffer in so many horrible ways? I have no definitive answer or explanation for this. I believe only at the parousia, when we see Him face to face, will the full counsel of God's will be made known to us.

However, I have struggled with this for a long time. Not only as a theological problem, but as a reality problem. How can we make sense of this crazy, godless world? I do have some thoughts about this that I would like to share. But please bear with me on this. I am only able to approach this subject tentatively and certainly not dogmatically.

It seems to me that God's presence or involvement in the world has been very specific and localized to certain situations and events (e.g. the Exodus; the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ). Although these events, and especially the Christ event, have universal implications, those universal effects have not yet been fully realized. God is not yet All in all. So in the case referred to by Acts: 4:26-28 ("the rulers were gathered together Against the LORD and against His Christ ... to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done"), this is an instance were God is directing events and persons to accomplish His will: the salvation of all through the sacrifice of Christ. But God's direct involvement is restricted to specific events in salvation history - His intervention is the exception and not the rule. I don't believe this extends to the innumerable events that occur in every day life. For example, I don't believe that God wills that a child be born with spina-bifida - virtually no brain - or that billions of people live in abject poverty and lack even the barest of necessities and have barely enough to eat, while others have an abundance of food and can afford many luxuries. Certainly, sin explains to an extent the cause of the injustice and suffering in the world. But I don't think it fully explains the suffering of the innocent (especially children). I know, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom.3:23), but I think the doctrine of "original sin" is fundamentally unbiblical and emphasizes the negative of man's sin rather than the positive of God's "original blessing" when He created the universe and called it Good. It seems that Jesus thought that little children were innocent: "Let the little children be coming to Me, and do not forbid them, for such is the kingdom of the heavens" (Matt.19:14), and that a person's misfortune and suffering (John 9:1-4) was not the result of their sin.

I believe its not a matter of whether or not God wills or permits evil and suffering in the world. It not that God causes suffering or even allows it. What the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ shows is that God acts to overcome all suffering, at great cost to Himself. There is a verse in Matthew that blew me away when I read an English translation faithful to the original Greek:

Jesus said, "Are not two sparrows selling for a penny? And not one of them will be falling (dying) on the earth without your Father." (CLT.Matt.10:29-30). Most English translation add the word will: "And not one them will fall to the ground without your Father's will." (RSV). By adding the word will an entirely different meaning is given to what Jesus is saying. This meaning is more in line with a theistic concept of God who is all powerful and all knowing: a God who micromanages everything from a distance with almighty power. This is a concept of God that is more akin to the Islamic Allah: the omnipotent, cosmic, potentate, who fatalistically predetermines everything - "It is written." In such a universe there is no freedom, because there is no love - only the unrelenting determinism of almighty power.

On the other hand, the translation that is faithful to the Greek and simply says "....without your father" conveys an entirely different understanding of God. God does not micromanage events and lives. He is not the distant, cosmic, potentate pulling the strings. To the contrary, He literally experiences the death of the sparrow; He suffers it's death empathetically. I would like to quote Jacques Ellul's comments on this, "In other words, death comes according to natural laws, but God lets nothing in his creation die without being there, without being the comfort and strength and hope and support of that which dies. At issue is the presence of God, not his will."

I think that is a great insight. Because our hope, the hope of all creation, is for the parousia - the coming of the full presence of God, when God's will is fulfilled and He becomes All in all.