Here are some notes from what I taught at The Discipleship Program last night on Suffering and Evil. I think it is very important that we give Christians a solid induction into this subject immediately. In other words, this is not a “closet doctrine.” There are too many destructive ways for people to go wrong with this issue.

  • 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith.
  • 176,000 Christians are martyred each year.
  • If the trend continues, 210,000 Christians will be martyred in 2025.
  • Abel was the first Christian martyr in the Bible (Gen. 4:8).
  • James was the last Christian martyr in the Bible (Acts 12:2).
  • The divorce rate among Christians and non-Christians is about the same.
  • The percentage of Christian who get cancer is the same as the percentage of non-Christians
  • The death rate of Christians and non-Christians is the same:
    • 1/1 Christians who tithe die
    • 1/1 Christians who pray regularly die
    • 1/1 Christians who go to church regularly die
    • 1/1 Christians with orthodox theology die
    • 1/1 Christians die
    • 1/1 non-Christians die

The main point: Christians should not expect to be delivered from the problems of this life.

The “Problem” of Suffering and Evil Defined:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist
  • Conclusion: An all-good all-powerful God could not exist sense there is so much suffering and evil in the world. If he did, he would eradicate it.

Wrong Ways to Look at this:

The Sadotheistic response:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and Evil Exist
  • Conclusion: God does not really care whether suffering and evil occur.

Open Theistic Response:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all powerful (omnipotent; God has limited his own power for the sake of free-will)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist
  • Conclusion: God has self-limited his abilities so that he can truly relate to mankind. Therefore God cannot stop all suffering and evil.

The Pantheistic Response:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist
  • Conclusion: Suffering and Evil is an illusion that we create with our own mind. To eradicate it, we must deny its existence.

Christian View:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist
  • Conclusion: God has a reason for allowing suffering and evil to accomplish a greater good, even if we never know what that reason is.

Types of suffering and evil Christians can expect:

  • Physical: pain, cancer, accidents, etc.
  • Emotional: depression, anxiety, etc.
  • Financial: bankruptcy, poverty, etc.
  • Spiritual: personal sin, God’s hiddenness and silence, spiritual depression, etc.
  • “Meaningless”: stubbing my toe, minor irritations, phone dropped in the toilet, flu.
  • Referred: suffering of others, loved ones, world news, Facebook friends

Matt. 5:45

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

My emphasis during this session is that while we experience the evil of this world, while we get discouraged about so many things, don’t ever take God off the throne. He is in charge of the evil and suffering and uses it for his own purposes. Don’t deny his goodness, his power (sovereignty), or the reality of the pain. Hand it over to him. He knows what he is doing.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    16 replies to "An Outline of What I Taught on Suffering and Evil"

    • brandon

      Thanks, this is a topic that too many Christians and non-Christians get all wrong.

    • Sam Hoyle

      Michael, do you have a source for the first three stats?

      # 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith.
      # 176,000 Christians are martyred each year.
      # If the trend continues, 210,000 Christians will be martyred in 2025.

    • Lisa DeLay

      What makes you think Able was a Christian?

      DO you also think God is a Christian?

      • zhansman

        Doesn’t Hebrews 11:4 indicate Abel was a Christian — in the sense that Abel’s faith was commended as righteous. Sounds alot like Romans and how Abraham’s faith was credited as righteousness.

      • Leslie Jebaraj

        What’s the connection between Abel being a Christian and God being one??

    • erik

      Why do we need to bear what Christ bore – sickness, depression, poverty? (Isaiah 53:4-6, Matthew 8:17, 2 Corinthians 8:9) Christ bore our sin, but not these also?

      • cherylu


        I wish we could ask the Apostle Paul how all of that worked out for him. I don’t know about the depression part but it is obvious he had sickness and also a lot of poverty. Or how about Timothy that had frequent illnesses or the others that Paul spoke about that were sick?

        It seems pretty strange to me that if that interpretation of things is correct that someone like Paul would not of known about it and instead had to endure all that he did.

        Or try asking Christians in third world countries that have the same Bible we do and read the same words. Or Christians that endured Hitler’s concentration camps or the concentration camps that some were in under communist regimes in the past. How about the Christians in China that are to this day imprisoned for their faith?

        In all reality, it simply does not work out this way “where the rubber meets the road” a large share of the time. For those reasons alone (if I had no others) I would have to believe there is something wrong with this understanding of Scripture.

        • erik

          We don’t or should not try and make the bible fit into our experience, we should try and make our experience come in line with the bible. Either Jesus died to redeem us from sickness and sin or he didn’t. I can’t believe that God would put sin or sickness on us when Jesus bore it. The Bible refers to sickness as satanic oppression, and that Jesus went about healing and freeing those under that type of hard control. (Acts 10:38, Luke 13)

          I have no doubt the disciples suffered poverty, hunger and beatings, but that is for the sake of getting the message out for the gospel. It doesn’t say anything about the disciples suffering from sickness or sin that God was using for his own mysterious purpose. I find it funny that where these persecuted disciples went, they were relieving those suffering from these “mysterious purposes of God”.

    • bethyada

      I am in general agreement with your post, and I think the topic of suffering as a Christian is an important but neglected topic.

      I dispute your divorce comment, comparisons need to be made appropriately, though this can be difficult.

      The Christian response needs to be nuanced by the fact that suffering was caused by men, not God; and that God will put an end to it, but in his time.

      I also think there is a difference between suffering that comes upon us and suffering we bring on ourselves (though all suffering may have an element of both). Consequences of foolish choices are hardly a complaint against God.

    • Leslie Jebaraj


      Got three words for you: Concise; Crisp; Clear.

    • Brian


      I’m just wanting to make sure I understand correctly. From my limited reading on the Open Theism debate, it was my understanding that they don’t deny God’s omnipotence. Their argument (at least what I’ve seen from Boyd) is more along the lines that God doesn’t know everything in the future (specifically human decisions) because it hasn’t happened yet. They say God knows all there is to know, but the future is “open” because people have not made the decisions that determine it. They would still say that God is omnipotent, because regardless of the decisions taken by man, He can still influence events and actions to attain His ultimate goal.

      At least that’s what I understand from my limited reading on the topic. Just trying to make sure we’re all working off the same definitions.

    • Mike

      Thanks so much for posting this! I found it as an encouragement. I have been witnessing to a friend who brings these issues up regularly. I’m glad to see that I’m not completely missing the point when I talk to him about this. Another encouraging thing lies in the sorrow itself. The very fact that we, as humans are even still able to care about the crappy things in life are a testimony to the fact that God exists.
      Why else would human beings lament death and suffering after thousands of years of seeing it everyday, if we didn’t have something inside of us telling us it’s NOT fair, and it WASN’T supposed to be this way? I personally think that’s why Jesus was upset at the tomb of Lazarus…

    • […] At Parchment & Pen, Michael Patton shares a brief overview of his teaching on suffering and evil. Lisa Robinson also shares a post with her own personal story and relates it to the question of how […]

    • Glenn Shrom

      The greater good seems to me to be the free will of Satan and mankind. It is an expression of love to allow free will to others, and not insist on getting your own way.

    • Donnie

      Whether Open Theists claim to question Gods omnipotence is not relevant. When ones confession contradicts ones practice, I tend to believe his actions. How can one claim to agree God is all knowing yet be limited in His knowledge of something? This claim would actually be a redefintion of God not Open Theism.
      I understand why they go there. I have a friend who adheres to Openness. He has had to deal with suffering. He says quote, “I just can’t believe God is like that”. Life is tough. We never know what trouble will face us. We do though have a God who knows. He can and has related to our pain. He is the only constant we have in a world of inconsistancy. We CAN NOT bring Him to us, we must go to Him! If we do, we will find He is already where we are, waiting on us.

    • April Carter

      It’s a matter of lack of faith for some people. They function under “seeing is believing’ and they doubt God has/is/will take care of everything. For others, it’s lack of endurance. They want everything to be fixed now. For the rest, it’s their will. They want what they want, when they want it. Evil is as evil does, and evil does as evil is. We sometimes forget that evil is evil.

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