Why does God allow suffering?

You don’t have to live long before you experience intense pain. For me, I have given up trying to identify the most painful experiences in life… a friend killing himself, another dying from a painful disease, another being raped, marriages breaking up, violence, loneliness… I could go on, but the real tragedy is that I am describing normal life on planet earth. After 40 years my conclusion is this:

Life is both messy and painful, and there is something in all of us that cries out… why? Good question.

Intellectual types who scoff at Christianity say that God is either good and powerless, or powerful but not good. They say he cannot be both or else he would stop all the suffering. We believe that God is both good and powerful, so why does He allow suffering? There are no easy answers but the Bible does tell us some things.

No one is innocent. I guess we should start here. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Each of us know that’s true, our conscience confirms it. That means the world is made up of fallen, guilty people, and a perfect God. Those don’t go together easily and so humanity is under a curse, feeling the weight of its choices (Genesis 3:17).

In other words, the consequence of rebellion against God by the human race is that God has taken away paradise and allowed everyone to live with the consequence of being part of a race that is separated from Him and hostile to Him. Romans 1:18 holds a painful truth. The human race deserves punishment and we see this in all the suffering around us. God says we will reap what we as a race have sown. This is hard to accept in a world that sees God at best as a benevolent grandfather. However, God is holy and just and takes man’s rebellious autonomy as an affront to His holy character.

Suffering is not without purpose and meaning, it contains a message that needs a response. C.S. Lewis called pain “God’s megaphone”. God’s beautiful creation and blessings are a foretaste of heaven, but in the same way, suffering is a foretaste of hell. It is almost as if hell casts a shadow upon the earth and as its darkness falls it brings suffering in its wake. There is a taste of hell now so that those who will be warned by it will not experience the real thing. God uses pain to get our attention, to show us that something is drastically wrong with the world because we are not right with Him. Pain has its benefits. When you burn yourself on a cooker, the pain tells you to remove your hand from the heat, or else you would be in real difficulty. So God speaks to us through pain.

God is compassionate. We shouldn’t imagine from the above that God is just angry and wrathful, He is also loving and compassionate. Jesus wept over the rebellion of Jerusalem and wept at the grave of Lazarus because of the human plight. God is moved by the tragedy of our suffering, and has done something about it.

God has intervened. Christ as the incarnate God came to earth to represent sinful men and women, to suffer in their place more than any person has ever suffered, so that for each person who trusts Him the suffering would one day stop forever. He will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4). On the cross, Christ suffered for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3) and became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). We reap the benefits of this by believing that He died for us personally and committing ourselves to Him.

However, this is not heaven. Even Christians who have been forgiven still suffer, and sometimes worse than before they were Christians, as we become less and less popular. The truth is we live between two realities. Christians are “in Christ”, which removes suffering for us for all eternity in the new heavens and earth. However, we are also “in Adam”. In other words, we are still human and have to live in a sin cursed world.

Christians suffer with purpose. The Bible tells us that Christians should think of suffering differently than we did before we were saved. Before, God was our judge, but now He is our Father. Hebrews 12 tells us that God is in complete control of how much suffering comes into our lives. It’s not punishment but rather Fatherly discipline that aims at helping us grow in holiness and be separated from our sin. 1 Peter 4:1 says that, he who has suffered in his body ceases from sin. That’s why the psalmist could say, “it was good for me that I was afflicted as before I went astray but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119:67).

We can’t answer all the mysteries but we can grapple with what God does tell us and believe that “the judge of all the earth will do right” (Genesis 18:21). So when tragedy hits and it seems so senseless, do I ask why? You bet I do, its a valid question. The question only becomes a problem when we ask it in a way that blames or accuses God. The parable of the sower tells us that such a response to trials shows a defective faith that neither understands ourselves or God.

So how should we respond when we suffer? Peter says, “Commit yourself to your faithful creator and continue to do good”. What a challenge! So often we use suffering as an excuse to feel justified in sinning, like getting drunk or… you fill in the blanks! However, God is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1) and He will comfort us in our trouble if we come to Him. How will you respond?

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