I was reflecting last night on a story that was shared at The Gathering that illustrated the lengths to which God will go to stop suffering and evil. Before I share that story, let me highlight some of the beliefs people have about this issue
Many people believe that God is indifferent to the pain and suffering that we go through. After all, if God is all-powerful and if He opposes evil and suffering, then why does He allow them to happen?
It seems only logical that if He allows them to happen He must approve of them, and if God approves of suffering and evil then He cannot be good. This reasoning about the nature of God developed as a response to teaching from the church that God is in control of everything and that everything that happens is His will, including suffering and evil.
The idea that suffering and evil are the will of God is an ancient philosophy that was given new life during the Protestant reformation. Drawing on a few passages from scripture like Romans chapter nine, men like John Calvin developed a view of God that has Him in control of everything. Romans nine states that God has predestined some to be saved and others to be objects of wrath. This chapter essentially teaches that all the outcomes of life are predetermined by God and we cannot change any of them. This teaching completely ignores the fact than man has a responsibility to exercise his free will.
Is God in Control of Everything?
I've thought about this question for years and here's how I finally settled it:
The bible views life from two perspectives; ours and God's. Most of the passages of scripture view life from man's perspective and teach that we have choices to make. (If we can make choices then God cannot be controlling us, and He cannot be in control of everything.) When the Bible says, "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life," it is obviously speaking from man's perspective. Romans nine, which sees God in control of our choices views life from His perspective.
The view that God is in control is a valid perspective to live from, but only under one condition: It is a valid if you happen to be God, and if you happen to know all these things. While I can accept the fact that God's perspective is valid for Him, I can only view life from that perspective if I happen to be God. Since I'm not God and I don't know who has been predestined to be saved or healed, I must operate from the perspective that I have free will and I must make choices.
The Reality of Free Will
God could have made us in such a way that we would always do His perfect will. In such a world everyone would always do what was just, right and fair. If that were the case, there would be no evil or suffering. But if we always did what was right, we would not have the ability to choose to do evil. And without the ability to choose between good and evil, we would be nothing more than robots, devoid of free will.
We would also not have the capacity to love, because love is a choice. In order for us to be able to choose to love, we must be able to choose not to love. We must be able to choose to hate and to hurt others. Suffering and evil are permitted, not because God wants them, but because their very existence gives us the freedom to love others.
God wants us to have the freedom to make choices; whether for good or for evil. Evil is a necessary consequence of allowing us to have free will, and allowing us to have free will is God's top priority. But the fact that He allows evil and suffering to exists does not mean He is not actively opposing them. It's just that He cannot force people to refrain from doing evil without removing their free will.
God will never over-ride a person's free will, so He won't force an abusive father to stop beating his son. If He did, he would remove their ability to choose and negate their free will. So He must oppose evil and suffering in another way. Rather than directly negating the free will of those who want to do violence, He opposes them by recruiting people who are willing use their free will to accomplish His divine purpose.
How God Opposes Suffering Through Us
We've been given the ability to partner with God as He enforces His will in the earth. By bringing healing to those who suffer illness and injury, deliverance to those who are tormented by demons and by interceding for those who suffer violence, we are God's hands that do the work that accomplishes His will. If we refuse to partner with God, we are to blame for the continuation of suffering and violence. God opposes tyranny, injustice, abuse and violence through us when we submit our will to accomplishing His work.
At The Gathering a man told me of an experience he had one night after drifting off to sleep. He was taken in the spirit to a place in the heavens where he met about six other people. Gauging by how they were dressed, he had to assume the others had come from different time periods spanning thousands of years, including one person who looked as if he had come from the future. They had all been brought there to interceded for a boy who was being beaten by his father. The group spent time praying for the boy and when their prayer time was done, they departed. The man who had this experience found himself back in his bed.
To answer the question I asked at the beginning of this message: "How far will God go to stop evil?" He is so interested in stopping evil that He'll find people scatted over different time periods in history and bring them together in one place in eternity to pray in agreement for one boy to be spared the beatings of an abusive father. That's how much He loves each one of us.