The answers that the Bible gives to what we call ‘the problem of evil’ are hugely diverse. But hugely diverse does not necessarily mean mutually contradictory. It is a subtle set of answers. Let me give some examples.
When a tower fell on a group of people – a natural disaster in our terms – Jesus asked the question “Do you really think they are worse than the people who never had a tower fall on their heads?” His answer is “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The assumption behind that kind of logic is that we really do deserve judgment from God; and it is rather surprising that more of us do not face it. But sooner or later, all of us will face judgment of one sort or another. So do not pat yourself on the back if you have not had a tower fall on your head, or if you have not suffered the ravages of a Haiti disaster.
On the other hand, the same Bible can address directly the question of what we call ‘innocent suffering’. The book of Job, for example, openly says that what happened to Job was not because of some evil he had done. There was a background going on between God and Satan himself. The whole book of Job revolves around the question, “Does God remain sovereign even over innocent evil?” Part of the answer in the book of Job is “You are not going to understand it all. There are some things that remain a mystery.” It openly answers the question that way. For three chapters, God goes on and says “Where were you when I invented snowflakes? Have you ever cast a constellation across the heavens? Do you really think you are in the place to understand it all?” This is not God ducking; rather it is facing the problem of human limitation.
In other passages, sometimes suffering becomes what C.S. Lewis calls “God’s megaphone.” We are so blind, so hard, so quasi-independent that suffering is sometimes used in a world that is broken and fallen to make us examine ourselves again and start looking at things in the light of eternity. At times, suffering is actually depicted – granted that it is a fallen world – in terms of the display of God‟s love for us. The same way a little bit of punishment from a loving parent may bring a child to the straight-and-narrow again, so God openly depicts himself as one who loves us so much he is not going to let us get away with things endlessly.
These are only four different examples of what the Bible says. In fact, the Bible says a lot of different things about the reasons behind suffering. What is at issue is an entire storyline that has to be understood.