EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an extract from Suffering and the Goodness of God, edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. This chapter is authored by Robert W. Yarbrough (Crossway).

Chapter One:  Christ and the Crocodiles: Suffering and the Goodness of God in Contemporary Perspective

Even newspaper brevity could not hide the harrowing nature of what happened in Costa Rica in early May 2007.1 A thirteen-year-old boy was wading in a placid lagoon. Suddenly he screamed. A crocodile’s jaws had closed on his leg. Like a rag doll he was whisked beneath the water. He surfaced just once. Witnesses say he called to his older brother, “Adios, Pablito.” He blurted out to horrified onlookers never to swim there again. Then there were only ripples.

One report observed that crocodiles do not normally chase and assault their prey. They just lie motionless until something blunders within their kill zone. Another report stated that crocodile attacks are fairly common in Central America and Mexico. An Internet search will readily turn up reports of fatal incidents in Africa, Australia, and elsewhere.

Hardly less unnerving, particularly if you happen to be a parent, is a June 2007 report from North America.2 A family of four was asleep in their tent in a Utah campground: dad, mom, and two brothers, ages eleven and six. In the dark of night the eleven-year-old was heard to scream, “Something’s dragging me!” The frantic parents suspected a violent abduction. Only hours later did they realize that a black bear had slit an opening in the tent with a claw or tooth, sunk its fangs into the nearest occupant, and fled with its flailing booty still in the sleeping bag. The boy’s lifeless body was eventually found a quarter-mile away.

The victim’s grandfather, according to news reports, agonized: “We’re trying to make sense of this. . . . It’s something that just doesn’t make sense. . . . Some things you’re prepared for, but we weren’t prepared for news that our grandson and child was killed by a bear. That’s one of the hardest things we’re struggling with—the nonsensical nature of this tragedy.”3

In this age of Internet connectivity we are aware of life’s incomprehensible cruelties like never before. Sometimes we hear such shocking news within minutes of its occurrence. We even glimpse it live if a videocam or camera phone is at the scene. Most of us have images of the December 2004 tsunami, caught on film under blue skies amid white beaches and palm trees during Christmas holidays, seared in our memories. About 230,000 souls departed this earth within scant hours. TerribleTh Yet more people died of AIDS in a single nation (South Africa) in the next year (2005) than in the tsunami.4 The world is full of the wails of the suffering and perishing to an extent humans can hardly quantify, let alone comprehend. Like the stunned grandfather above, at times all we can do is stop, ponder the ailing and dead, and wrestle with the question, why?

This points to the contemporary significance of the issue of suffering: we cannot escape the fact that it nips at humanity’s flanks in all locales and at all hours. Too frequently the nip is a vicious bite that finds the jugular. And natural disaster, whether a tsunami or a wild animal, is just a small part of the picture. All too much suffering has a direct connection to human intention or negligence: beatings and murders, skirmishes and wars, robberies and riots, tortures and rapes, displacements and bombings, plagues and famines and genocides resulting from human malice. Or take just a single disease: on the day you read this, about 2,500 people will die of malaria, “most of them under age five, the vast majority living in Africa. That’s more than twice the annual toll of a generation ago.”5 Each year one million people die of malaria, and the number is rising. As world population increases, so does suffering.