Why would a loving God allow evil in the world? This is a common (and necessary) question often asked of Christians, often called the “problem of evil”. R.C. Sproul briefly explores this topic in his expositional commentary of Romans 8:18-27.

The following is an abridged excerpt from Sproul’s St. Andrews Expositional Commentary.

Subjected in Hope | Romans 8:18-27

Now Paul considers once more the afflictions, trials, tribulation, pain, and suffering that are such an integral part of the veil of tears through which we walk in this world. Through too much television exposure we have become jaded by scenes of upheaval and violence all around the world; yet the news leaves us asking, has the world gone crazy? Violence, hostility, suffering, blood, and death all around us—when we look at the reality of all that and see the suffering that comes in its wake, we pause and wonder, where is God in all this?

Present Suffering, Future Glory

A philosopher, John Stuart Mill, considered the manifest presence in the world of pain, suffering, violence, and wickedness; he concluded that what we encounter on a daily basis belies any hope of a good and loving God. In skepticism he said that if God is a God of love yet He allows such pain and suffering, then He is powerless to prevent it and is nothing more than a divine weakling incapable of administering peace and justice. If, on the other hand, He has the power to prevent evil but chooses not to, standing by and allowing it, then He may be powerful but He is not good or loving. According to Mill, either God is good but not all powerful, or He is all powerful but not good.

A Counterpoint

What is missing from Mill’s oversimplified equation concerning the economy of grief and pain in the world is the reality of sin. God not only tolerates violence and suffering, but He also—even more so—actually ordains it, yet we cannot leave sin out of the equation. It is not that God lacks in goodness; it is that we lack in goodness. The entrance of human sin into the world plunged all creation into ruin, including people, animals, and the land itself; the earth mourns because of us. When the transgression came in paradise, the curse of God extended beyond Adam and Eve and even beyond the serpent; the land itself was cursed.

Throughout the prophetic oracles of the Old Testament, we see God chastening His people Israel for their hard-necked disobedience, and He tells them through the prophets that because they do not listen to His word, violence follows upon violence. The land mourns; the ground suffers. When the Bible rehearses the repercussions of the fall, it does so in cosmic terms. The effects of the fall on the human species and the ruination of the whole creation are laid at our doorstep. This reflects God’s judgment upon us, which spills over into the domain in which we were created to be God’s vice-regents in exercising dominion over the earth, the animals, and the ground. When we were ruined, everything under our dominion was affected by it.

Future glory outweighs today’s struggles

That is what Paul intends to reflect in the passage before us, but first he sets a contrast between present sufferings and the future glory that God has prepared for His people. Paul quickly points out that this isn’t a simple formula of ratio and proportionality. There is no analogy between the present pain and the future blessedness. The comparative here is how much more. The usually-articulate Paul cannot seem to find words, even under the inspiration of the Spirit, to describe the radical difference between now and then. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (v.18). The difference between the present pain we experience and the blessedness God has appointed to His people is so immensely different that there is no way to compare them. Any comparison of ours falls short.

Notice that Paul considers the sufferings of this present time; in other words, suffering is real, not just an illusion. Paul was not a practitioner of Christian Science. He understood in a visceral way, in a way few of us have experienced, the stark reality of human suffering. One of the most persecuted, afflicted men ever to grace this fallen planet was the apostle Paul. Indeed, his Savior was even more acquainted with grief and sorrow; nevertheless, there are few who have approached Paul’s personal experience of suffering. He shook off that suffering in light of the hope God has given in Jesus Christ. He said that it is not even worthy to talk about the suffering in comparison to what God has laid up for us in the future.

Are we foolish for holding onto Hope?

Christians have been ridiculed for their hope of heaven and future redemption. We are told that this is pie in the sky. Karl Marx believed that religion was invented for economic reasons. He said that in a society dominated by class, the owners are always in the minority to the workers, and if ever the majority—the laborers—understood the strength inherent in their number they would rise up in revolt against the owners. Therefore, the owners gave the workers religion and the promise of a future benefit. In the meantime, workers lived in chains and in sweat and toil while the owners, according to Marx, laughed all the way to the bank.

I don’t believe what Marx said. I believe that God’s promises are eternal, immutable, and unbreakable. Again and again God says to His people, “Yes, the pain now is real, but wait. We aren’t finished yet. I have a plan for My people, and that plan is glorious. I have established My Son upon His throne, and I have called a people to Myself that I have given as a gift to My Son, and together with Him they will reign forever.” That redemption will extend far beyond humanity; the whole world, which has plunged into ruin, will be redeemed. There will be a renovation—a new heaven and a new earth. This is our Father’s world. It is His property, and He may dispose of it however He sees fit. But He has seen fit to appoint it for glory for those who love His coming.

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St Andrew's expositional commentary Romans 8:18-27

We wish we could include Sproul’s entire discourse on Romans 8 (or even the rest of 8:18-27) in this blog, but alas. If you appreciate a good discourse commentary, the St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary is a beautiful blend of didactic insight and scholarly discussion. Add it to your library today!

How have you been encouraged to hold on through the sufferings of this life?

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