Some years ago, I was flying home from visiting a dear Christian friend whose four-year-old son was dying from cancer. My heart felt heavy for her and her husband. A man in the seat next to me, when he learned of the situation and of my faith in Christ angrily erupted with, “How can you believe in God when He lets a child die?!” As we talked, I learned that his wife had died several years earlier and he was still furious about it.
They may not know it, but children who have been abused or experienced tragedies are grappling with the same quandary. How can there be a God if bad things happen? Even if there is a God, if bad things happen to me does it make sense to trust Him?
To help a child examine the issue, we might break the propositions into three points. (These didn’t originate with me, but I don’t remember where I obtained them.)
1. God is completely good.
2. God is completely powerful.
3. Evil exists (and happens).
What is the logical conclusion? Since evil exists, God is either not good (because He won’t stop evil) or not powerful so He can’t stop it.
What results from this conclusion? The man on the plane clung to unending grief and an abiding anger. He adamantly declared himself an atheist. When God is painted out, life is a bleak, black canvas. In contrast, my friend who was in the horrible process of losing her child drew closer into God’s embrace. She refused to react sinfully. She has continued to grow in the beauty of grace. How could she do so? The Christian incorporates one more proposition beyond the original three.
4. God has a morally good reason for the evil which exists.
God works everything to the praise of His glory, which is the greatest good. And for those who love Him, He also works everything for their welfare. (Eph. 1; Rom 8:28)
The emotions and behaviors of the difficult or alienated child demonstrate his answer to the problem of evil. God is neither good nor powerful. Therefore, He can’t be trusted. Therefore, the child must take control of his world to gain safety or justice or pleasure or whatever he deems to be good for himself. He is a practicing atheist.
We want to help him see his trials more in accord with reality by learning and rightly responding to the fourth proposition. Rather than red slashes on a canvas of black, they are multicolored brush strokes layered among the glorious hues and shades of God’s sovereignty, goodness, wisdom, and power, and can enhance the creation of a great portrait. These four points might serve as a simple framework for helping your child change his perceptions and perspective on past, present, and future difficulties. Here are some ideas for implementing them in conversations:
- To prepare yourself, study what the Bible says about adversities and evil in light of God’s sovereignty, goodness, wisdom, and power. (Perhaps start with Genesis 3:16-19; 1 Timothy 6:15; Psalm 119:67-68; Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 4:7-18; James 1; Romans 5:1-5; and 1 Peter 4:12-19.)
- Take the initiative to ask the hard questions. “How can there be a God if evil exists? When bad things happen, does it make sense to trust God?” Place these questions in open view on the table of a conversation.
- Teach each of the points separately. Discuss how they interrelate.
- Read about people in the Bible who experienced mistreatment. Relate the four points. How did those people respond and what consequences resulted? What difference did (or would have) belief in the fourth proposition make? (Some well-known examples include Esau, Joseph, David, Job, Daniel, Jesus, and Paul.)
- Apply these truths to the child’s past and present difficulties. How might his attitude and feelings change if he accepts and applies the fourth proposition?
- Discuss the future. Difficulties will come. How might an adoption of God’s perspective make it easier to respond rightly to them?