The breach of a large dam in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil shocked the country at the end of January this year. The resulting sea of mud caused the destruction of homes and the loss of hundreds of lives, and it represented yet another environmental disaster in the country. Faced with this catastrophe, many Christians have been led to think about the presence of evil, suffering, and injustice in the world and how these things can be reconciled with the Christian belief that there is an omnipotent and infinitely good God.
No matter how we try to understand suffering, we cannot forget to take into consideration three components of biblical teachings: (1) the reality of the moral and spiritual fall of man; (2) the holy and just character of God; and (3) the suffering of Christ Jesus for us. Genesis 3 tells us how Adam and Eve disobeyed God and fell from the state of innocence, righteousness, and purity in which they had been created. This fall also brought terrible consequences to all their descendants. God imputed their guilt to their children, and the corruption of their nature was transmitted to all their descendants born by ordinary generation. Therefore, apart from grace, all of fallen humanity is subject to the just punishment of God, which includes temporal evils (like disasters) and spiritual afflictions, both in this world and in the world to come.
The fall of man also affected all of creation. God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you . . . thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” (Gen. 3:17–19). Catastrophes, whether natural or the outcome of human error, are the result of God’s cursing the earth because of the sin of man. God allows these miseries to wake up the human race, to bring us to repentance, to restrain our sin, to instill in us the fear of God, to detach us from the love of things in this life, and to lead us to reflect on things that are yet to come.
Disasters are not necessarily God’s punishment for a specific and particular sin someone has committed. God would not have committed an injustice even if those who died in the Minas Gerais dam breach were the best men and women who ever lived. Except for Christ, there are no innocent people before God. Think of that before becoming indignant toward God when faced with human suffering. The question is not, Why is there so much suffering in the world? but, Why is there still so much happiness in the world? in light of what we are.
The just God is also the God who entered into human suffering in the person of Christ. God the Son became man by His incarnation in Mary’s womb and experienced suffering that ended with His death on the cross. The suffering He carried was not from sin, for in Him there was no sin. He carried our pain and experienced our suffering so that we may be forgiven of our sins, justified, and accepted by God as His sons, and that He might rid us of eternal suffering and give us eternal life. Because of this, we may find in Him answers and comfort in times of pain.