Summary: Everyday people face hardship. But we believe in a good God who has made a good creation, so why is there so much suffering and evil?
We live in a world where the answer to nearly every question is right at our fingertips. All we have to do is log on to Google, type a question, and in a matter of milliseconds, we have hundreds and sometimes even hundreds of millions of answers to our query. Or, if it’s a little too inconvenient to get to the computer, turn it on, and navigate to the search engine, we can just press the “Home” button on our smart phones and ask Siri our question. It’s quite nice, really. Except for that fact that we are now conditioned to expect a definite answer to all of our questions, and the simple fact of the matter is that there are some questions for which no good answer exists. This question before us today is perhaps the best example of such a question, “Why is there suffering and evil?”
The funny thing is; this is not a new question. Humans have been asking this same question for thousands upon thousands of years; probably as long as we have existed! It is to some degree the question that is asked by the disciples in this morning’s gospel reading, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” They are in essence asking, “Why is this man suffering?” What’s interesting is that Jesus doesn’t really give them a direct answer. But maybe that’s because as I mentioned a few moments ago, there’s really no one good answer to the question of suffering and evil in the world.
As we seek greater clarity to this question, “Why is there suffering and evil?” I think it best for us to begin by considering why we ask this question in the first place. And for the answer to that question, we have to go all the way back to creation. Genesis tells us that as God created the universe and each part of it, God called it “good”; this includes the light, the seas, the land, the plants and vegetation, the animals and creatures, and even humans. So throughout history, faithful God-followers have looked at this story of the “good” creation, and leaned upon their faith in a “good God”, but that knowledge cannot be reconciled with the fact that there is indeed a great deal of “bad” in the world around us. So we ask, “Why?” And for a long time, humanity had a pretty straightforward answer to this question, which was basically that suffering happened because God was punishing a person or group of people for some specific reason.
This answer begins with Adam and Eve, the first humans who, the Bible tells us, defied God’s instructions and ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Their sin broke the relationship of all humanity with God, and subjected us to temptation and sin. We call this original sin. So throughout the Old Testament, we see this sort of cause and effect relationship between humans and God. The humans sin, defy God’s law and mandates, God punishes the humans. God sent ten plagues upon the Egyptians because Pharaoh would not release the Israelites from enslavement. When the Israelites didn’t trust God and built idols in the wilderness, God made them wait 40 years before entering the Promised Land. The Israelites were exiled to Babylon according to the prophets because they had not been following God’s commands and God’s law. So it was for thousands of years. Every earthquake, every disease, every disaster humans explained, was the doing of God, a response to the sin of the people.