Horrifying news of terrorist attacks electrified Christian communities around the world in 2016, and the opening days of 2017 have brought more of the same. While this year promises to be worse than last year, many question: Where is God in all of this? If God is an almighty, all-powerful, all-loving, all-merciful Being and if He really does love His creation, why does He not stop the violence?
Could it be that God has left humanity alone?
Heiner Koch, the Catholic archbishop of Berlin, was asked that exact question by German newspaper Die Welt after Berlin was hit by the terrorist attack in December. His answer: “The Christian message says that God is especially with us during the times of suffering and darkness” (Trumpet translation throughout).
The newspaper then asked, if God loves us, why does He allow such suffering? Koch admitted (emphasis added):
I can’t explain this; I ask Him the same question. As Christians, we firmly believe that God is greater than our thinking and knowledge. We cannot understand God. A God whom we can understand, one that we believe to be able to explain, is no longer the infinite God. Surely I will die with the question of why God allows suffering. But the one thing I know is that the Son of God did not descend from the cross but remained and did not leave us alone. I firmly believe that God does not leave us alone in this terrible situation. This is the nail test of our faith and trust.
What a paradox: If the God of love and light is with us when we suffer and are left in darkness, why do Christians feel further away from Him when such horror happens? The archbishop said that He endures with those who feel abandoned, and none in the world can explain it to them.
A telegram from the Vatican addressed to Archbishop Koch dated December 20 read: “Pope Francis unites all men and women of goodwill who commit so that the homicidal madness of terrorism no longer finds space in our world. In this sense, his holiness implores God the merciful Father for consolation, protection and His comforting blessing.”
It became clear that the pope’s prayer for protection remained unheard, as just a few days later 39 people were killed in the Istanbul shooting while celebrating the New Year.
New Year’s Day is meant to be a day of “good wishes and hope,” but hardly anyone today has any good wishes or hope left for the coming year. More and more Christians now believe that they have to live with terrorism.
In a general address on January 4, Pope Francis singled out mothers who have lost their children and admitted that he too doesn’t know why God allows such suffering to happen. But instead of trying to find an answer to this question, he encouraged silence and joint mourning:
In order to speak of hope to those in despair, you have to share in his or her despair. In order to wipe a tear from the face of the suffering, we must unite our tears to hers. Only then can our words really begin to give a bit of hope. If one cannot say words like that, or share in the painful tears, it is best to be silent, to offer a caress or a gesture without words.
But what reason is there for such suffering? Why does God not hear the pleas of those who suffer violence? Where is God’s comfort in today’s world?
Why didn’t God save the 5,000 migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean in 2016? Or the almost 17,000 civilians who died in Syria? What about the nearly 4,000 children among them—didn’t they have a right to live? If Christ is really trying to save the world today, as Christianity claims, why doesn’t He give those people a chance to come to Him, rather than letting them die before they’ve had the opportunity?
So-called Christianity does not have the answer. Archbishop Koch and many Catholics conclude that God is so great that we cannot understand Him. But is it true that no man can or ever will understand God? The Bible says otherwise: All those with God’s Spirit understand what God is doing—“for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10). The same verse says that God has given this Spirit to His disciples. So what is God doing? Why is He a mystery to this world?
Will the suffering of this world ever end? Will humanity see light? The highest religious offices of this world say they don’t know.
Jesus Christ did prophesy about suffering, darkness and tribulation—but He also prophesied about His return with power and great glory to put an end to all the suffering of this world (Matthew 24). Sadly, today’s Christianity is not focusing on these prophecies, which are the only source of hope; but rather it is caught up in trying to change and comfort a world that has been prophesied to go into much tribulation.
But why does God allow such temporary suffering today?
For eternity, God dwelled in peace, joy and happiness. He wanted to share His joy, so He created angels. But one of the angels, Lucifer, rebelled against God’s way. He led a third of the angels into rebellion with him (Revelation 12:4), and they brought darkness, suffering and destruction to the Earth and the universe. Lucifer’s name was changed to Satan, and he is now the temporary god of this world (Revelation 12:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4). But this rebellion did not destroy God’s ultimate goal. God had a backup plan.
After the angelic rebellion, God created mankind—and He gave man the ability to choose between Satan’s way of suffering and death or God’s way of joy and life. Adam, and with him mankind as a whole, chose Satan’s way of rebellion against God. This has led to terrorism and all the other types of suffering mankind endures today. Adam’s rebellion also prompted God to “shut off” access to His way—typed by the tree of life—for the majority of mankind. Herbert W. Armstrong explained in his masterpiece Mystery of the Ages what happened after Adam made his choice:
And so a world—a civilization—developed from the original Adam and Eve. When God shut off the tree of life, that act marked the foundation of the world. It was founded on rejection of God, on disobedience to God’s law, which defines God’s way of life. And all the evils, sorrows, pain and suffering in 6,000 years of human civilization have resulted.
[But] God had designed a 7,000-year master plan for accomplishing his tremendous purpose. The first 6,000 years were allotted to allow Satan to remain on Earth’s throne, and for humanity to learn the bitter lesson, through experience, that Satan’s way of self-centeredness in opposition to God’s law leads only to pain, suffering, anguish and death.
The temporary suffering of today serves an eternal purpose. Most everyone who lives through it will see the need for man to rely on God, instead of thinking humanity—under Satan’s deception—has the answers. After 6,000 years of suffering, followed by 1,000 years under God’s government, ruled by Christ, the dead will be resurrected to life and taught God’s way. They will be given 100 years to choose God’s way. After all mankind who has ever lived has been given their opportunity for salvation, God the Father will come dwell with His children—not in darkness, but in light! He will wipe away all tears from their faces—not with tears of His own, but with His all-encompassing presence. Then “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
That is the hope we have!
The suffering of this world is not a sign that we are closer to God than ever before. But it is a sign that we are closer than ever to Christ’s return when we will learn—by divine intervention—that we have lived apart from God because of our sins (Isaiah 59:2). Christ will soon return and turn darkness to light (2 Peter 1:19). People at that future time will be able to reflect back on this current age of suffering, and they will be able to compare it to the peace they will then be experiencing. The comparison will be stark, and the vast majority will choose God’s way of life.
The truth of why God allows such suffering today, and why the religions of this world don’t understand it, is thoroughly explained in our booklet Why ‘Natural’ Disasters? ▪