Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
We all live on this side of the Fall (Genesis 3). This has implications for all of life in this fallen world. One of the great questions/problems of humanity since the Fall is the question of evil and suffering. Many excellent responses have been given over the years, but the question persists.
All will experience trials, tribulations and sufferings at one point or another in their life. No one is exempt. That is a certainty. There are also two different times to discuss this question: one is as a theoretical question in a classroom; another is in the crucible of life in the midst of a present experience of suffering, or when someone we love is suffering.
The time to teach about suffering is not in the midst of suffering (because we live in a fallen world, there will never be a time at which there will not be some form of suffering, one is experiencing either directly or indirectly). It ought to be part and parcel of faithful teaching of the Bible. Then when, not if, one does experience suffering, there is a solid and firm foundation undergirding the person. And it is important to know that foundation is a Person, the Trinitarian God who is good and has a good plan.
D. A. Carson has written one of the most theologically and pastorally helpful books on this topic: How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Recently Carson lectured on this subject, “Going Beyond Clichés: Christian Reflection on Suffering and Evil,” and after distinguishing between evil that is natural, malicious and accidental, he identified six pillars of a Christian view of suffering.
Carson concludes with this reminder:
A robust theology of suffering is necessary but not sufficient, Carson insists, for at least two additional attitudes characterize mature Christians: (1) they admit their guilt before God and cry to him for renewal and revival (see, for example, Neh. 8-9), and (2) they are quick to talk about the sheer goodness of God.
Resting in the goodness of God and His good plan, we can cry with Job, “though he slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). And we look to the cross, and we have a sure and certain hope!