By Dr. Donald Whitchard
One of the questions that are asked by an atheist, agnostic, or general skeptic is one that tends to put some Christians off track and leave themselves wondering, “If there is a God, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?” It’s a fair question and is not something to be brushed aside with philosophical words or defenses of God’s will by those who have really have no idea of what real suffering is all about.
I’m a pastor and I also serve as a chaplain in a local hospital here in Muskogee, Oklahoma, who has seen his fair share of death, suffering, and questions of “why?” Whenever I enter the room of someone who is dying of old age or a disease, it’s not so much a question of “why”?, but “are you prepared”? Let me give you some examples from my life that may be a source of comfort and information, especially with what I have gone through as a minister and human being who shares this world with skeptic and saint.
My mother-in-law, who was a jewel of a person and one of the godliest women I ever knew was diagnosed with lung cancer in January of 2012. She had never smoked a day in her life, yet was stricken with what would become a terminal disease. She was gone by May. My wife, a godly woman in her own right, asked, “Why?” There were so many other people out there who were heavy smokers yet lived a long life and had no symptoms of anything.
My wife’s faith came into play, as shaken as it was, and she had a sense of peace overall, realizing that her mother was in the presence of the God who loved and cared for her in her last days. There is a Scripture that says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) The remembrance of what Jesus told His disciples in John 14:27 is even now a source of comfort.
My mother-in-law, my father-in-law, my mother and father all died of symptoms such as COPD, strokes, liver disease, and, as I have pointed out, cancer. If I were an unbeliever, I would have shaken my fist at God’s face and dared Him to do something about it. However, each one of them died with the promise that this life was not all there was, but a new life in which they were all prepared to meet with and live with the God of the universe for eternity. They were all Christians and died with a great expectation that their lives did not end in a grave.
Let me share a story that hit closer to home for me and my wife several years ago. In July of 1989, a tragedy hit us that I wouldn’t wish on anybody. We lost a child. She died at birth. We had plans for that baby, but she was snatched away from us, dying of a birth defect. I must be honest. I was mad at God and in my distress I called out to Him, saying that it wasn’t fair and how He could do this to us. We faithfully followed Him, and now this? We were both torn to shreds emotionally and it was a low point in my relationship with Him.
In the midst of our tears and anger, we asked, “Is there anything on this Earth that can bring us comfort?” My parents were sympathetic and cried with us, but it still hurt. The base fact is that God was all to Whom we could cling to and hold on to for any sense of sanity and support. Nothing in this world could have gotten us through that dark night of the soul. After my initial anger had somewhat subsided, I felt a Presence that said, “Trust Me”. How could I do that? A part of our lives had been ripped from us.
I wrestled with my shaky faith and sorrow over the next few months, but it still hurt. Then, as if God were telling us “You’re not alone”, a young lady came into our lives who had gone through the same thing. We became friends and we shared our mutual griefs and questions. Because of this encounter, we gained support and comfort, plus we started a ministry with her that specialized in pastoral care and counsel to women and families who had suffered baby deaths, miscarriages, or women who had abortions and were now coping with guilt and shame. We found a common bond in the knowledge that the LORD was in the midst of our grief and was starting to heal the hurt and give me a sense of empathy with people that I had not had before. It would play out in my future career and calling as a minister.
In 1991, we moved to New Orleans so I could go to seminary. A year later, my wife and I were expecting a new arrival. Our daughter, who had been born a few years earlier, was going to get a little brother or sister. In March of 1993, we welcomed our son to the family. However, two years later at his checkup, the doctor diagnosed him with high-functioning autism. He has been a challenge to rear and educate, but even in the midst of this, he turned out to be a brilliant student and is now in college. My daughter, who took upon herself the role of protector as he was growing up, now manages an office in west Oklahoma and they are very close to one another.
A few years after I graduated from seminary, I got a position as a chaplain in a hospital in the suburbs of New Orleans. My areas of responsibility were the Emergency Room, the Women’s Unit, and the Neo-Natal ICU. No day there was ordinary. We never knew what was going to happen that day. Some of the situations I encountered were comforting a young man whose girl friend had been killed in a car wreck just before Christmas, comforting a new born baby who had been born addicted to meth, being at the bedsides of people who did and didn’t believe (and there was a difference), and bringing comfort to a young couple whose newborn had died at birth. My experience gave me a real sense of empathy and pastoral care and comfort to them in their time of sorrow. I saw death up close all the time. I wondered at times why these things were so, but I believe I can help the skeptical reader here with some observations.
The question that I have come to ask is, “Is this world in which we live supposed to be this way?” I am convinced through the Scriptures and my own experiences that this world is in the shape it’s in not because God either doesn’t exist or that He doesn’t care, but is due to our own actions and words and that the world, as originally created, did not have these problems (Romans 8:20-22). You have to admit that something is terribly wrong and that there has to be a credible solution. Tragedies often happen because we don’t take care of ourselves, or we don’t watch what we’re doing, or we get careless with products or harmful things, or just plain freak accidents that no one saw coming. It’s interesting that some people who criticize God for alleged inactivity usually don’t turn to Him for the answers when things do go wrong. I don’t want to offend skeptical inquiry, but you have to admit that I’ve brought out some points to ponder.
I’m going to present the Christian point of view from this point on. Tragedy will happen in the days to come and will only get worse as we grow continually more evil. Our evil is the consequence of free will that started in Eden and that has continued to this day. You have to admit that people are not as civil as they used to be and the situation won’t get better. The Scriptures tell of these times (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, 2 Timothy 3:1-9). It would be in your best interest to get a Bible and check out these things for yourselves. I’m not some “Bible-thumper” who doesn’t live in the real world. I’ve had my share of hard times, and the only solution I see as someone who is thinking clearly and rationally is that we need to turn to God and ask His forgiveness for our words and actions that have offended Him.
God has His share of tragic things to happen, and the most heart-wrenching thing He’s had to encounter is what we did to His Son who came to this Earth to redeem us from our sins. We put Him on a horrid cross and left Him there to die. However, He did not stay dead. Scripture and history, along with testimony and evidence, show that the resurrection was a fact and that because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, our sins are now forgiven and we can have eternal life with Him.
God will bring justice to everyone who has gone through a tragic or evil episode in their lives. The guilty will be punished for all eternity in a place called hell (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:11-15). The trouble is that all who reject Christ’s offer of forgiveness will join the criminal and evil beings in the same hell. Do you really want that for yourself? The righteous will be rewarded (2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 21:1-7) and the rejecters will suffer eternally. Think about where you stand. Lay aside the skepticism you cling to and embrace the God who loves you and cares for you. You’re not alone. He will wipe away your tears and we can ask Him “why?” when we see Him face to face. By then, it really won’t matter.
Don was born and raised in the true Cajun Country of Louisiana. He holds a Bachelors Degree in History from Louisiana College, a Masters Degree in Christian Education from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry degree in Pastoral Theology from Andersonville Baptist Seminary in Georgia. Don has served as a pastor, interim pastor, high school teacher, and hospital chaplain over the past thirty years. He currently serves as a volunteer chaplain (2008-present) with St. Francis Hospital and also served as the pastor/teacher from 2013-2016 at the Gospel Rescue Mission, both of which are here in Muskogee. He was called to Meadowbrook in February 0f 2017 and began his ministry in March of that year. He has also served as President of the Muskogee Baptist Association’s Pastors Conference, which is a weekly meeting that presents speakers and ministry ideas and concepts to church leaders in the greater Muskogee area.
Don’s top priority is to see that the good news of Jesus Christ is shared with our lost and hurting world and that the people of God are taught sound doctrine and preparation for our Lord’s soon return.