Ever since the ancient revolt, suffering has been woven, with perplexity and pain, into the fabric of human experience. We all live and move and have our being amid Eden’s wreckage. Affliction and evil—universal as they are real—haunt us, stalk us, plague us.
In a recent lecture delivered at Houston’s Lanier Theological Library titled “Going Beyond Clichés: Christian Reflection on Suffering and Evil” [video below], Don Carson proposes six pillars to support a Christian worldview for stability through suffering. “A Christian worldview rests on huge, biblically established, theological frameworks—all of which have to be accepted all of the time,” the research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and author of How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil explains. “And this massive structure is stable and comprehensive enough to give you a great deal of stablility when you go through your darkest hours.” His proposed pillars aren’t cute musings, in other words, but crucial bulwarks.
After differentiating “natural” evil (e.g., tornados), “malicious” evil (e.g., sexual assault), and “accidental” evil (e.g., a bridge collapse)—and observing that this isn’t a uniquely Christian challenge (“No matter your worldview, you must face the reality of suffering and evil”)—Carson proceeds to reveal the six pillars.
1. Insights from the beginning of the Bible’s storyline.
The scriptural narrative opens with God crafting a world of breathtaking beauty and unfathomable goodness. Paradise pulsates with order, harmony, wholeness, and life. But this garden scene is short-lived. Indeed, in contrast to other worldviews such as Hinduism and dualism, the Bible insists we are now dwelling in a Genesis 3 world marked by sin, suffering, death, and decay. Concerning Jesus’ reflection on suffering in Luke 13, Carson observes: “What Jesus seems to presuppose is that all the sufferings of the world—whether caused by malice [as in Luke 13:1-3] or by accident [as in Luke 13:4-5]—are not peculiar examples of judgment falling on the distinctively evil, but rather examples of the bare, stark fact that we are all under sentence of death.”
2. Insights from the end of the Bible’s storyline.
The believer’s ultimate hope is that the created order—now so disordered by the effects of sin—will one day be set right (Rom. 8:18-25). In Christ the King, everything sad will become gloriously untrue. Properly understanding and anticipating the story’s end, then, helps us to eschew a naïve (and ultimately crushing) utopianism now. As Carson reminds us, “We have just come through the bloodiest century in human history. This is a damned world. Human life has never been, is not, and will never be ‘perfectable-so-long-as-we-get-our-politics-right.’”