Why does God allow suffering?
Have you ever asked yourself that question? Wondered why a good God, a loving God, could allow suffering to exist in this world. This question takes on a whole different (and painful) reality when we are the ones suffering. Doesn’t God care that I’m suffering? Why is He allowing these bad things to happen to me?
This question has caused many to struggle in their faith and some to walk away entirely. Reconciling how a good and loving God could allow such pain in their lives (or someone close) became too difficult. And I get that. I’ve been there.
But I think we have a flaw in our understanding of who God is and why suffering exists. Many well-meaning Christians and misinformed Churches have made the problem worse by simply throwing a band-aide answer, or a dangerous misunderstood answer, at the question. You just need to believe more. Just pray more. You are suffering due to a lack of faith. God is causing your suffering because “______”. True followers of Jesus are spared from suffering. And the list goes on.
But there’s a better, more Biblical answer to this question.
So, let’s look at what suffering is and how a good God can allow suffering to exist.
The Difference Between Pain and Suffering
First, we need to define the difference between pain and suffering. All suffering includes pain, but not all pain is suffering.
Pain is, in most cases, a good thing. If you touch a hot stove your body reacts with pain that causes you to quickly move your hand. The pain is a defense mechanism that keeps you from further harm. We might not like the pain, but it does serve a purpose.
To read more about why pain is a good thing check out: Why Pain Is Actually A Blessing
Yet, we know all too well in our world pain can quickly move to suffering. An accident that leads to lifelong pain. A disease that ravages our body. Harm that was brought upon us by another human. Or the millions that have no access to basic human needs. Suffering is all around us.
Of course, it’s not just physical pain that brings about suffering, nonphysical suffering is often silent, but just as painful. Those who have been abused wear scars that seemingly never heal. Betrayal leaves many wondering if they will ever be whole again. Grief causes one’s life to halt and become devoid of meaning. And the list could go on and on and on.
Suffering is all around us.
Again the question not so quietly arises. Why does God allow suffering? How can good God allow suffering?
What The Bible Says About Suffering
The Bible should always be our first stop in understanding God and the world around us. So before we dive into the specific question of why does God allow suffering, let’s look at what the Bible says about suffering.
The Bible contains a lot of suffering, but surprisingly says little about it. At least not to the end of why God allows suffering. The Bible chooses to focus more on the response to suffering rather than the causation.
Virtually every passage on suffering in the New Testament deflects the emphasis from cause to response. Although we cannot grasp the master plan of the universe, which allows for so much evil and pain (the Why? question), we can nevertheless respond in two important ways. First, we can find meaning in the midst of suffering. Second, we can offer real and practical help to those in need. Philip Yancey in The Question that Never Goes Away
In the midst of suffering, facts and truth bring little comfort. Telling someone you’re with them and all hope is not lost goes a lot further. And that’s the Gospel, right? God came to earth and suffered with us in His pursuit of us. He didn’t give a lecture on why suffering exists, rather He says I’m with you and I will not leave you. His promise is that one day it will end, but until then He will be with us. One day it will all make sense. But in the meantime, we do not suffer alone.
The Bible spends much it’s time reminding us that our suffering is not meaningless, there is hope. God is redeeming all things for His good and our benefit. And the Bible teaches us to bring this message to those in the midst of suffering.
While the Bible has valuable things to say on the topic of suffering, it doesn’t directly answer our question. Rather it focuses on how we should respond.
So let’s dive a little deeper.
Why Does God Allow Suffering
What I’m about to say will be of little, or maybe no, help/comfort to those currently suffering. It will shed some light on the question we are asking. But reason and facts do little in bringing peace and comfort in the midst of suffering. Which I think is why God rarely responds to our demands for answers when we are suffering. He knows it will bring little comfort. Instead, he responds with, I’m with you.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the question, Why does God allow suffering?
Well, not so fast…
There’s a fundamental flaw in that question. The assumption in that question is that we know better than God and that we are the center of importance. I know most of us wouldn’t say that. But that’s how we are acting, isn’t it?
The reality is our understanding of God, of suffering, and of love are all severely limited. We are finite beings trying to grasp at an infinite God.
The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word “love”, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake… We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the divine love may rest well pleased. C.S. Lewis in A Mind Awake
Fixing The Flaw In The Question
The first thing we must recognize is that God sees the larger picture and is orchestrating everything for his glory, which is to our benefit. You and I are not the center. There’s a larger story unfolding that you and I are not privy too. We have to ask ourselves if we trust that God’s plan is good, even if at the moment it doesn’t seem good. That’s what faith demands, believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.
Paul points to this mindset in 1 Corinthians 13:12. For now, in this life, we see things imperfectly. But God sees the bigger picture and one day He will reveal it to us. But until then, we are told to trust in His plan.
I think the reason so many of us struggle with this question of suffering is that we can’t trust God. We demand answers and that God fixes our problem(s). Thus insisting to be at the center. We think there’s no way something good could come from our suffering. The problem is, you and I are stuck with an extremely limited view. We can only see what’s right in front of us. God sees the larger picture. Is it possible that maybe something bigger is unfolding? Something we cannot see or even understand.
The point I’m trying to make is that until we put God at the center, we will struggle with this question of why suffering exists. Until we understand that there are things we will not see this side of heaven, this question will cause us to stumble. Until we place our trust that God’s plan is good, even when it doesn’t seem to be, we will never be at peace with this question.
God sees and understands what we cannot. Not only is He in control, He’s a good God that is working things for His glory and our benefit. We can trust in His goodness even in the midst of our suffering.
What We Can Know About Why God Allows Suffering
So, what do we know about suffering?
There are a few things that are important things on the topic of suffering we should know. This is not an extensive list, rather the top four things I think we should recognize.
Lee Strobel wrote an excellent piece that I adapt some of the points below from. You can check it out here: Lee Strobel Reflecting On A Mass Shooting
Point 1: God Is Not The Creator Of Suffering
In the beginning, God created a world absent of suffering. In Genesis 1:31 God looks over His creation and declares it VERY good. It was not in His original plan that suffering would take place.
So why is there suffering if God didn’t create it? Because of love.
God designed humans to love. But love requires a choice. Love cannot be forced, it must be chosen. Thus God had to give us the ability to chose, He had to give us free will. Without it, we cannot truly experience love.
Of course, we knew the consequences of free will. We rebelled against God, and still do. And our actions brought evil and suffering into the world. But God wasn’t taken aback or surprised. He set out on a path to redeem humanity. Because of love.
We are the creators of suffering. It’s not by God’s design, it’s by our sin. God allows for suffering, but He did not create it. The good news is that even though we royally screwed up. God enters into our suffering in his pursuit of us. Hope is not lost. God is restoring creation to His original design.
Point 2: Though Suffering Isn’t Good, God uses It For Good
While God didn’t create suffering, He is in the business of redeeming it. Romans 8:28 echos this promise. God is working all things, even the bad things, for our benefit.
It’s easy to see this in someone else life and doubt in our own life. We love stories of other peoples suffering being used for good. But often doubt that God can use our suffering for anything of value. The suffering we experience we see as too harmful, the damage too extreme, to be repaired much less be used for something good.
But that’s exactly what God is in the business of doing. Taking the bad of this world and redeeming for something good.
Point 3: All Suffering Is Temporary
Have you ever heard the question, If God is love (good) and is all-powerful when doesn’t He just get rid of suffering?
It’s a common question that is used to argue that either God is not all-good or He is not all-powerful. Thus we cannot, or should not, trust Him.
But there’s a flaw in that question. The assumption is that the story is over. But God isn’t finished yet. Just because He hasn’t, doesn’t mean He won’t.
Suffering is coming to an end. It’s temporary.
Why is God taking his time?
One possible answer is that goes back to Point 1 is His love. His desire is that no one would perish, but that everyone would be reunited with Him (1 Peter 3:9). God is waiting, He’s being patient, He’s continually pursuing those far from Him in hopes they will return to Him.
Suffering exists because the story is not over. God is still pursuing His people. But one-day suffering will end and the final chapter will be written. Then we will be able to see the whole story and how masterfully it was written and how much love God has for us.
For now, we must hold onto the hope that our suffering is temporary. And let’s not forget Point 2, it’s not pointless.
Point 4: Suffering Will Turn Us Bitter or Turn Us To God
Suffering spurs us to action. It either drives us closer to God or makes us bitter at God. It doesn’t allow us to stay in neutral.
Suffering will force us to move, we don’t get to decide that. We decide where we move too. Will we turn from God because we think He’s not good, not loving, not trustworthy because of our pain? Or will we turn to God trusting that while things don’t make sense now, one day God will reveal the grandeur picture?
We get to choose. But before you decide just consider that God didn’t spare Himself, He entered into suffering Himself. He knows what you are experiencing and wants to walk with you through it.
I want to hear from YOU, what are your thoughts on why does god allow suffering? How has suffering affected your faith? Comment below!
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