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How Can a God of Love Allow All the Suffering in the World?

And what does that have to do with skunks?

I was surfing through the channels one Saturday afternoon and landed on a documentary where professional pest control experts were asked to eliminate an infestation of skunks from small island community just off America’s eastern coast. Skunks were everywhere. They lived under porches, in sewer drains, in garages, and in crawlspaces. Dogs and people were being sprayed constantly.

The pest control company was called out of desperation. Their objective was to save both the community and the skunks. People were killing them with guns, cars and lethal traps and the whole island smelled like skunk—perpetually. But the skunks kept multiplying just the same.

The company set dozens of cage traps around the town. As you might expect, they had to be careful because, skunks spray whenever they feel threatened. And they had a right to feel that way because the human population of the island had not communicated love and tolerance for their smaller black and white co-inhabitants.

So trappers tried to sneak up on the trapped critters and put hoods over the cages to keep the skunks from spraying—or if they did spray, keep the spray from hitting them directly. But the methodology wasn’t foolproof. Inevitably, a trapper would get sprayed from time to time. The reason for this was; the skunks didn’t understand. They perceived the traps and all the efforts of the trappers to be a threat in spite of how careful they tried to be. The skunks couldn’t grasp that these men really had their best interests in mind. So the skunks hissed and snarled and sprayed. I know this may be difficult because skunks are not mankind’s most loveable friends. But just for now let’s imagine that the skunks are the good guys and they represent us humans.

God has been accused of being un-loving because of His seeming lack of intervention to eliminate the massive amount of suffering in the world for us humans. People reason, if He is truly a God of love, He would come to mankind’s rescue. He would stop the plagues—He would end the atrocities. We humans, like the skunks, hiss, snarl and spray when we think God doesn’t have our best interests in mind.

With that fixed in our heads, there is a parable in Matthew 13 that sheds a great amount of light on why God allows suffering to continue.

In this parable Jesus says that a man planted wheat in his field. However, secretively one night, his spiteful neighbor threw weed bearing seeds out over the whole field. When all the plants began to come up, the servants noticed the weeds and asked their master if he knew where the weeds came from, and if they should pull them up? The owner told them, “They were from an evil enemy and not to pull them up because if they are pulled up now, the good crop will be pulled up as well.” (Matthew 13:24-30) Most farmers know this is standard wisdom with many crops.

I think we would all agree that evil and suffering are one. All of us include them with each other in most every discussion we have about suffering. So, let’s assume in the parable, the weeds represent both. The servants asking the master if they should pull up the weeds, is the same as someone asking the popular question today, “If God is love, why doesn’t He eliminate all suffering? Why doesn’t He pull up the weeds? If He is truly a God of love, why doesn’t He pluck evil and the suffering it brings, out of the world?”

The answer to this question is the same as the farm owner’s answer to his servants. The farm owner said, “No, because if you uproot the weeds you will uproot the good crop as well; and we can’t afford to lose a single stalk of wheat. His solution was, “Don’t uproot the weeds now. Let them both grow and at harvest time we will separate the weeds from the wheat.”

Here is another hard question. If God eliminated all evil at noon today, where would all of us be at 12:01? I think most of us would agree—we would all be toast. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not saying we are as evil as some others we know. But I am not talking about levels of evil. I’m talking about evil. And I think if we are honest we would have to admit, at very least, we all have a streak of mischief running through our veins. None of us are perfectly pristine morally. And if God eliminated all suffering He would have to eliminate its source, which is evil, or what would be the point? If He didn’t eliminate the evil, suffering would be back in a flash. So if God eliminated all suffering, evil would have to go too. And that would include each of us.

That is why the master/owner in the parable (who if you haven’t figured out yet, is God) says, “No, if you pull out the weeds you will have to pull up the good crop too. And every stalk, every person, is important. Let them grow until harvest and we will separate them then. We will have to wait until then to destroy evil and suffering.”

So the conclusion of the matter is: there is a time designated by God for eliminating all evil and suffering; and in His vast and sovereign understanding it is the only time that would be truly merciful to mankind. If God wiped out suffering which would include evil, before then, He would also have to wipe out all of us because there is evil in us too.

Now let’s get back to the skunks. The difference between a human and a skunk is pretty big—physically, mentally, intellectually, and in every other way.

However, the difference between the heavenly Father and us humans is considerably greater. He is All Wise. We’re just wise guys. He is eternal. We are finite. He is almighty. We throw our backs out trying to tie our shoes. And I don’t think it is a stretch to assume that we finite humans may misunderstand the actions of an infinite God, just as the skunks couldn’t understand the intentions of trappers attempting to save their lives.

God’s actions to eliminate suffering at the harvest, which is code language for the end of the world, may seem like He doesn’t have our best interest in mind. But He does. We may consider His intentions a threat, unloving, uncaring and purposed to harm us (like the skunks did); when in fact, it is the only way to rescue us from suffering and evil for all eternity. It is truly, the only loving thing to do.

In the meantime, He gives each of us grace to endure the suffering that does come our way.

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