A fascinating book to read and ponder is The Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens. Peter Hitchens is the brother of the late Christopher Hitchens, a noted journalist and outspoken atheist. In this book Hitchens describes his journey to faith in Christ from a background in staunch atheism. As the title indicates, he also deals with the anger so many atheists exhibit against God and religion. He makes an interesting point. Why are the atheists so angry? If we believe in God, and they don’t, so be it. Why not just let each person have his own beliefs? Why be so enraged about the whole thing?
If you read atheist literature, websites, and the like, you will see this anger very prominently. And one of the main things that really ticks them off is the presence of evil, suffering and wrong in the world. They raise this objection constantly: If God exists, and He is good, why does He allow so much suffering in the world? Good question. Indeed, it is probably one of the most frequently asked questions that I come across. For many people the idea of a good God and an evil world seem incompatible. Why are things this way?
We have dealt with this question in a previous post: “Why Does God Allow Evil?” You can check that out to get some insight on the question. However, in this post I would like to take a stab at it again.
One thing that helps me deal with this issue is developing a clearer understanding of God, and seeing a bigger picture of who He is. I accept as a basic proposition that God is good (Psalm 25:1, 34:8, 100:5, Lamentations 3:25, 1Peter 2:3). To do good is basic to His nature. And what He does is good. So when He created mankind with free will, and a world in which evil could possibly exist as a result of free will, then that was a good thing. He cannot do otherwise. Evil was not his original intent, nor His desire for the world He made. But He allowed it because His love necessitated that we exist as free moral agents, with true choice.
Further, understanding God’s goodness, along with His wisdom and omnipotence, also helps me to accept that God is able to take even the most evil thing and incorporate it into His sovereign (and good) plan for mankind. He didn’t ordain evil. But He can use it. He doesn’t approve of sin. But He can turn it to good. He doesn’t like to see His children suffer. But He is big enough and wise enough to transform even our pain into something glorious (cf. Romans 8:18, 2 Corinthians 4:18). As Rick Warren says, “God never wastes a hurt.” That is how wonderfully great, wise and powerful our Lord truly is.
Let me illustrate by using an analogy. Of course, as with any analogy, there are limitations to how useful this is. And it can only give a brief glimpse into a larger reality. But maybe it will help us to understand a little bit about both His sovereignty and His goodness.
Imagine a great painter, someone on par with a Raphael or a Da Vinci. He is a true master of his art. He can do things with a brush that awe and inspire anyone who sees his work. His works have deservedly earned him worldwide fame.
Now imagine the painter in his studio working on his latest painting. His hope is that when finished this work will be his greatest triumph. It will truly be his magnum opus. The painter has a vision for a true masterpiece that will exceed anything he has done before. As he works he can see with his mind’s eye the awesome beauty of the finished painting. It is with joy and anticipation that he carefully places each brushstroke on the canvas.
After working many hours he decides to take a break. He leaves the studio for a bit. While he is gone, his very young son creeps into the studio. He creeps because he has been repeatedly told not to enter here without an adult being with him. He has also been warned not to play with his father’s paints and the brushes. The child shyly approaches the unfinished masterpiece. Young though he is, he admires his father, and wants to be like him. So he decides to assume his father’s role and try his hand at painting. He grabs a brush and plunges it into the paint on his father’s palette. With a gleam in his eye he liberally creates streaks of color across his father’s work. Again and again he loads the brush in order to daub and smear the painting with his own creative efforts. And he is very pleased with his work. To him it is beautiful. He cannot comprehend the ugliness of what he has done.
What do you think will happen when the painter returns? Will he be justly angered? Certainly. Will he be upset with what his own son has done? Yes. Does he now hate his child. Of course not. He loves him, even though the son has apparently ruined a master work.
After dealing appropriately with his son, the father returns to gaze at his deformed painting. What does he do now? Does he try to scrape away all the paint the child smeared on the canvas? But that would only make things worse. Does he destroy the painting? Start over? The painter decides he will do none of these things. Being a master artist, a true maestro in his craft, the painter decides that instead of destroying what his son has done he will actually use it. He will incorporate the streaks and smears and splotches that are his son’s handiwork and make them a part of his masterpiece. This will mean altering his original vision for the painting. But he now visualizes new vision for a master work that will still be beautiful.
And so he works. Some of the paint the child applied to the canvas is still wet. The master artist adds color to this in some places. In other places he changes, molds and transforms it. What was unattractive and unpleasant is now part of his new vision. In some places, the paint has dried. So the artist works around it, or paints over it, or comes up with a creative touch near it. He does this in such a way that the ugly smudges of the child’s wayward efforts are now a beautiful portion of the overall work. Indeed, in some places what the artist had painted earlier now has a fresh look—an even more glorious appearance—and all because of their contrast with the sections of the painting the child messed up. The painter is able to transform the child’s work into something good and beautiful.
Does this mean that what his son did was okay? No. What the child did was not good. It was ugly. It was done in rebellious disobedience. It is not what the father/painter initially planned or desired. But the master painter, being the great artist that he is, was able to take the errors and wrongs of his child and turn them into something good. The artist was still able to create a true masterpiece, despite the harm done by the son.
Child of God, please understand that though this is only a feeble portrayal of what our heavenly Father does, it does illustrate in some small measure a genuine truth. Evil is real. Sin is bad. Suffering is real, and horrible. And God abhors all these. But He is so powerful, wise, creative and capable that He can take anything, even sin, even evil, and make something good come out of it. For the child of God, Romans 8:28 is still true. And one day we will see the ultimate fulfillment of this verse in all its majesty and glory.
So what do we do when we are in pain, when we suffer, when evil is shouting its presence in our lives? One thing we can do is remember, our Lord and Father, the Heavenly Artist is creating a masterpiece out of our lives. We need to see the bigger picture. This is what God always does in the lives of His children.