FAIRFAX, Va. – The most difficult thing for people to believe about the Christian faith is simply the idea that God is good because there are so many people in pain, says an attorney from a highly visible human rights agency.
With families in slavery, children abandoned, girls forced into prostitution, and many jailed without charge, Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission asks, "How are these people supposed to believe that God is good?"
Haugen, who was addressing thousands of church and business leaders at Willow Creek Association's Leadership Summit in South Barrington, Ill., on Thursday, touched on a notion that has been a stumbling block for many around the world when exploring the Christian faith.
As many theologians have identified, it's one of the biggest objections people have about Christianity – why God would allow so much suffering in the world if He is good and all powerful.
But God does have a plan "for making it believable that He is good" amid the widespread suffering, according to Haugen.
"Turns out that we're the plan," he said. "And God doesn't have another plan."
For over a decade now, Haugen has headed International Justice Mission to fight injustice in the form of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression, mainly overseas.
While suffering exists across the globe, Haugen places victims of injustice, or intentional abuse, in another category.
He defines injustice as it is described in the Bible – the abuse of power; the taking from other people the good things that God intended for them; the taking of other people's life, liberty, dignity and the fruit of their love and labor; and the stronger abusing their power to take from those who are weaker.
"Experts tell us there are about 27 million people in our world who live literally in slavery," Haugen informed the tens of thousands of leaders listening in South Barrington and in cities across North America via satellite. "Question is 'How are they supposed to believe that God is good?'"
"UNICEF says about 2 million children are held in forced prostitution ... How are they supposed to believe that God is good?"
Having passionately taken up the mission of justice for years, Haugen believes God wants the people in pain to know that He is good. And His plan for revealing His goodness and the work of justice are those whom God has called.
"We're the plan," he told attendees at Leadership Summit.
Executing the plan, however, isn't easy. With 14 field offices overseas, International Justice Mission staff often endure death threats and assaults when fighting injustice.
Meanwhile, Haugen finds many Christians today comfortable in mediocrity and in "staying safe."
"Effective leadership comes from choosing not to be safe," Haugen said. He urged leaders to take their congregations or staff on a more "demanding climb where it's unsafe without God."
"On that journey, people you are leading will run to God, or they'll stop pretending," he poignantly said.
"My prayer for us is in a world with so much suffering that God would ... rescue us from all things petty ... and lead us with courage into a world that's yearning to know the goodness of God through us."
Thursday marked the first day of this year's highly prominent Willow Creek Leadership Summit which will feature a world-class line-up of guests and speakers, including Chuck Colson, chairman and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; Craig Groeschel, senior pastor of LifeChurch.tv; Brad Anderson, vice-chairman and CEO of Best Buy, Inc.; and Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, where the summit is being broadcast live over the course of two days to more than 140 locations across America.
The annual gathering, one of the world's most premier leadership training events, is now in its 13th year.
On the Web:
List of Summit Sites at willowcreek.com