Why does God allow suffering?
Howard Coles, Coleford, England
Why does God allow suffering?
This is one of the most difficult of questions. Often atheists will confront Christians with this question or a variation of it and particularly when the suffering involves those who are apparently the most innocent.
The atheist starts from the ground that God does not exist and that the fact that suffering exists proves it. However, the thinking person will realize that atheism’s viewpoint is not an answer to the problem, for while there is a lot of suffering and evil in the world, there is more good than evil. Also the whole of humanity instinctively recognizes that good is of a higher moral order than evil - their conscience tells them so – and where did conscience come if not from the Creator.
The atheist queries how a God of love can permit such things as wars, earthquakes, sickness, pain, etc., etc? They argue that God, if He were to exist, would put a stop to such things, particularly if He were the God of love and ultimate authority presented to us in the Bible. The Christian would answer this type of question on the basis of their faith in a living and loving God who does indeed care for His creation and has a purpose in all things. But the whole issue desires a far more reasoned answer than I have yet provided. The Christian might suggest that his answer lies in the following declarations of their faith.
1 God is not unjust. ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ asks Genesis 18 verse 25. This at least means that He never permits anything that is without purpose.
2 We of the human race have limited minds - we do not see the overall plan – and so if God allows something it is utterly presumptuous for us to question Him and His motives. As we are merely created beings we are unable to decipher the reasons behind all events. To be able to do so would make us equal with God Himself. The Bible says, ‘Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?’ Rom. 9. 20. Christians would therefore, whether they understood or not, start from the premise that whatever God does is, by definition, right. Having settled this by faith, they would then seek for ways in which lessons or benefits can be gained even from the sufferings in life as well as when circumstances bring joy into their lives.
3 As Christians we must raise the question as to whether there is really any such thing as ‘the innocent’ suffering. The Bible clearly states that, ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’, Rom. 3. 23. We are sinners by nature and thus will inevitably become sinners by choice as soon as we are able to do so. Our circumstances that relate to suffering are often the result of our own sinful actions and reactions. (For a discussion on the situation regarding infants see Question and Answer: ‘What happens to an infant that dies?’ Precious Seed Vol. 54, No. 4 - November 1999.)
4 The biblical revelation that Christians accept is that the world is now under God’s curse because of man’s rebellion against His will and word, Gen. 3. 17. This ‘bondage of corruption’, which involves the ‘whole world groaning and travailing together in pain’, is universal, affecting all mankind, Rom. 8. 21, 22. God did not create the world this way; it is the result of sin entering the world. One day God will set all things right again for all who trust Christ as Saviour. They will in the future experience what He has promised to His redeemed for, ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain’, Rev. 21. 4.
5 The Christian believes that the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the only truly ‘innocent’, ‘righteous’ man in all history, has suffered more than any person who ever lived, and this He did for us, for ‘Christ died for our sins’, 1 Cor. 5. 33. He did so in order that He might ultimately deliver the world from the curse of sin. Even now, He can deliver from sin and its bondage anyone who will receive Him by faith as their personal Lord and Saviour.
6 With faith in God’s goodness and plan through Christ to resolve all the suffering in the world, the Christian recognizes that present sufferings can be turned to God’s glory and the good of men. For example, the sufferings of men are often used by the Holy Spirit to cause them to realize their need of salvation and to turn to Christ for help and deliverance. When it comes to the sufferings of Christians, these they see as the means God uses to develop stronger dependence on Him and to produce Christ-like character as they deal with each situation, Heb. 12. 11.
So God is still loving and merciful even when He allows trials and sufferings to come into our lives. Finally it is worth quoting that whatever happens to us, even when the weavings of the Lord’s tapestry of our lives involve dark as well as light strands, the design and purpose of God is that ‘all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’, Rom. 8. 28.