Why does God allow suffering?

Evan Forester —  March 17, 2015 — Leave a comment

I’ve had conversations with many non-believers that go something like this: “I just can’t believe in an all-powerful God with all the bad stuff happening in the world. Disease, murder, hunger; if He is real then why does God allow suffering?”

I would imagine that everyone has asked themselves this question at some point in their lives. Despite feeling incredibly inadequate to answer this question, I am going to attempt to do so in the best way I can. It’s not a simple answer, in fact, I think it requires several answers. The five answers below do not necessarily stand alone, but I believe they can work together to give us peace and understanding about the suffering in this world.

The Killing Fields in Phnom Penh - a site of tremendous pain and suffering

The Killing Fields in Phnom Penh – a site of tremendous pain and suffering

1) God created a world without suffering

Genesis 1:31 says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”

God is powerful enough to create a perfect world without pain and suffering. But He also desired for His people to love Him, and love is a choice. If mankind had no choice to love or reject God, then we could not truly love Him. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve chose to reject God’s love and His way.

As a direct result of our rejection of God’s good ways, we inherited all the bad things. Some of these are a direct result of people’s actions: stealing, murder, and so on. But Genesis says the very ground is cursed because of our sin. Natural disasters, diseases, and death were not part of the original plan, but because of sin they are a regular occurrence.

2) Suffering reminds us that we need God

A couple years ago I met Laura Story, the singer/songwriter behind Blessings. Laura’s husband, Martin, had a terrible brain tumor. They were able to successfully remove the tumor, but unfortunately, there was some lasting damage. He lost his peripheral vision and has a memory deficit.

It was a very challenging event, and it presents new challenges every day. The song Laura wrote is a powerful exploration of the pain and trials in our life. One line that always sticks out to me is this:
What if my greatest disappointments,
Or the aching of this life,
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy.

CS Lewis once said, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” This, then, is one of the reasons we still have pain: it grabs our attention and reminds us that true satisfaction can only come from God.

This, then, is one of the reasons we still have suffering: it grabs our attention and reminds us that true satisfaction can only come from God.

3) Suffering works for our good

An entire book could be written about Romans 8:28-30. Most people are familiar with verse 28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It is both frightening and encouraging to know that, for the Christian, all things work together for good.

But I’m not sure we always understand what “good” means. The good that God promises in our life isn’t a better job, attractive spouse, larger bank account, or awesome vacation. When bad things happen, I think our hope is far too often in a tangible gift from God. But God promises something better, and He does so in verses 29 and 30:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What is the good that God has called us to? To be conformed to the image of his Son, and like Jesus, to ultimately bring us into glory. That means God uses all things in our life, including the trials, pain, and suffering, to make us more like Jesus.

4) Jesus can identify with us in suffering

We often forget that God himself has experienced tremendous suffering. It can be easy to get angry with Him when He gets to enjoy Heaven and we have to suffer here. But Jesus took on flesh and experienced all the pain and suffering a human can imagine. He was sick, he lost loved ones, and his death was torturous.

A few verses in Hebrews 2 explains this rather vividly. Verse 9 says, “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Continuing in verse 14, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

I find it remarkably comforting to know that we have a God who knows exactly what I am going through. He himself has suffered, and He can offer help and comfort in ways we cannot even comprehend.

5) God will put an end to all suffering

This is the kicker. Without this point, I think I would still struggle to understand why a good God could allow so much suffering. People want to know, why doesn’t God fix everything? The answer is this: God will fix everything. He will bring justice to the people of the world who cause suffering, and He will put an end to all future suffering.

Revelation 21:3-5 says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

It was this hope that kept Paul going through his many trials. The guy was beaten, stoned, flogged, shipwrecked, snake bitten, and more. But despite all these suffering, he had this to say in Romans 8:13, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Like Paul, we must also cling to this hope. Our present suffering is a blip compared to the eternity we can enjoy with God. If you are experiencing suffering now, please understand that I have no intention of minimizing your pain. Suffering can be unbearable and long lasting, but ultimately, the glory God has planned for us is so vast that our present suffering is simply “not worth comparing.

#LiveFully

To #LiveFully does not mean you will never suffer. But rather, when you suffer, it means you will seek after the Lord and His peace. It means God will use your suffering to change you into His image. It means you will trust the God who identifies with our suffering. And it means we can hope in the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Your turn: How do you cope with suffering when it occurs in your life?

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Evan Forester

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This post was by Evan, an adventure enthusiast learning to #LiveFully in New Zealand. He now writes for Embracing Exile.