Why Does God Allow Suffering?
By: Steve Shirley
If God is real, why is there so much suffering and pain in the world? If there is a loving God, why doesn't He stop it? This is probably one of the most asked questions in history. Both Christians and non-Christians struggle with this problem.
To answer this, we must first understand why pain and suffering are in the world. In the beginning of God's creation of man, He created man with free will, the ability to choose right or wrong. God did not create evil, but He created the possibility to not choose good, or do what was right, which ends in evil or sin. Everything that God created was pure and holy, and evil comes when we make the choice, through our free will, to misuse the pure and holy things God gave us. If God had not given us the choice to choose evil, then we would not have free will, and true love demands that a choice is given. If a choice is forced on someone, it is not love, but it is like creating a preprogrammed robot and taking away freedom. For instance, can we force someone to love? We choose to love or not love. If the only choice was to love, it would not be love at all.
People often judge God or fail to believe in God because, if He was real, then He would live up to my standards of what God should do and be. If God was real, then He would not allow children to die, He would not allow people to starve, He would not allow good people to die, He would not allow bad people to hurt others, etc... At what point does suffering disprove there is a God? Can there be some suffering and God is still real? How much? If a wreck occurs and one person dies instead of four, can God be real? If a mass murder of people occurs and 2000 die instead of 2,000,000, is God real? Where is the bar set? Most people have the bar set in their own minds, and since God must agree with their standards of who He is to be real, they rationalize He must not exist.
We will never fully understand why all things happen. Many times they fail to make any sense in the present, and at times even after a long period of time. This is when we must simply trust God. The Bible says God is all knowing (Omniscient). He knows and sees all things, past, present, and future. He sees things from a perspective none of us will ever see. He sees a long term perspective, while we see things from a short term perspective. Many times God allows or uses short term sufferings in order to achieve a long term goal. The Bible says our life is like a story that is being told (Ps 90:9). In other words, our life is like a whole book that has been written, and we are at a certain point in that book living our lives until we reach the end of the story. Criticizing the author (God) for something right now is failing to trust Him to bring the story to a proper conclusion. The Bible says God has a good plan for those who are His children (Jer 29:11) and works all things for good, according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). No matter what problems we face, as His children, we can trust Him.
Suffering has many benefits that we often fail to see immediately. Almost everyone, both Christian and non-Christian, has had times of pain and suffering in their lives. A large number of these people would agree that after they have gone through it, and look back on it, they can see that they are a better person now for having gone through it. For Christians, this almost always results in a deeper faith and a closer walk with God. I once read something in a magazine some time back that has stuck with me ever since. A man had gone through a crisis in his life and was at a real low point. A friend spoke to him and said, "I realize nothing I can say right now will comfort you, but I can tell you this, if you get through this crisis with your faith intact, you will know things about God that many others will not know." One of the most important things any Christian can do is show the love of Jesus and how He can make a difference in a person's life. The various trials and tests we face make up our testimony. We all come from different backgrounds and trials, and we can use these unique trials and times of testing to help others. One person may have faced drug problems, another death, another sickness, another abuse, another a mistake they made of some kind. The abuse victim, who has overcome his past, can now reach out to help others who face abuse. While people who have never been abused can help those who have faced abuse, they will never be able to reach abuse victims as effectively as those who have gone through the abuse and come through it. Organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous realize this concept. Counselors who lead the programs were once alcoholics themselves.
Overcoming obstacles and enduring difficulties in our lives gives us several positive benefits. God often uses suffering and pain to bring people to repentance and submission to Him. Over and over through history, when people see terrible things happening around them, there is a turning to God for help and comfort. Most recently, for example, when the horrific events on Sept 11, 2001 occurred with terrorists crashing passenger filled jets into the Twin Towers in NYC, the Pentagon, and into the ground in Pennsylvania. Churches were filled with people seeking comfort and solace and answers. There was a national turning to God. Children in schools were praying and being encouraged to do so, when just the day before they were being told it was wrong. God can and does take the evil that Satan thrusts upon the world and works it out in a way that can be beneficial in some way to others, even though we fail to ever see it.
As Christians, people are often looking to us to see how we will react to the trials in our lives. We may never know how it will affect us. I saw an example of this recently in my life. Tragically, at my wife's place of employment there were two deaths of children of parents who worked with her. One family was Christian, the other was not. Most of the people who work with her went to both funerals, and most of them are not Christian. At the funeral of the non-Christian, people were crying hysterically, they were inconsolable and filled with grief and hopelessness. When the Christian died a short time later, the same people attended the funeral. It was a celebration of life. People were sad that they no longer had time with the departed loved one, but there was music and joy and a sense of peace. They had the peace of knowing where the child had gone, and it was to a better place. When my wife and one of the non-Christians left the funeral, she looked over to my wife and said, "That is how it ought to be." She saw the difference. This is an example of how the world is watching us as Christians and how God can use suffering to have some kind of positive benefit.
Other benefits of suffering include that it can teach us courage, help our love and trust to deepen, and develop moral character in us. For Christians, it can help us to trust and lean on God more and more. As we pass through trials in our lives, we come to trust God more as we see how He has helped us in the past to overcome. This is what builds our joy and peace in God. The Bible calls it the peace that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7). We should always find our joy in the Lord.
If you fail to see the blessings God has bestowed on you, it is often wise to keep a journal. Many times when we fail to see the blessings, it is because we choose to focus on the negative and not the positive. Use the journal to write down positive things that have happened and answers to prayer, no matter how small. They are there if you look for them. This has a benefit in the future by allowing us to look back and see where God has helped us when we struggle. I remember reading a story about a man who was walking down the street one night and a man robbed him at gunpoint and took his wallet and all of his money. This is a tragic event to happen to a person and it could be looked at as a failure of God to prevent this from happening. Why did God allow this? However, this man chose to focus on the positive and how God worked in his situation. How did God work? I am still alive, I could have been killed. I lost a lot of money, but I can still make more. At least I had money to lose, many have none. I have God to help me through this, that poor man probably does not know God. The examples can continue, but this is a way to see God's hand upon our lives. Whatever the trials, pray for God to reveal the blessings and work them for a positive outcome in some way.
I remember in my own life, when a local newspaper writer, whose articles I truly enjoyed reading, was killed in a traffic accident. He was not wearing a seatbelt and was crushed as his vehicle flipped. It was a very sad time for me. Because of that incident, my wife and I started wearing our seatbelts regularly. At that time, wearing seatbelts was not emphasized like it is today. Not long after that happened, my wife was involved in a serious accident and her car was totaled. The car was totally smashed in front, but my wife walked away unhurt. She was wearing her seatbelt. I truly believe that if she hadn't, she would have been seriously hurt. While the death of that writer I enjoyed so much was tragic, God took that event and worked some kind of good out of it. His death was not in vain.
Many times people who condemn God for allowing suffering are people who are on the outside looking in. They see the suffering of others and reason that God could not be real because of what they see happening to others. They fail to even find out what the people who are facing the suffering think or believe. Many times, although not always, those facing the suffering are leaning and trusting on God and have a confidence we don't see.
The Bible is filled with people who trusted in God during trials and persecutions. Paul was one of the most persecuted men in the Bible. (2 Cor 11:23-38) speaks of some of the trials he faced. He was:
Put in prison over and over
Flogged an uncounted number of times
Faced death over and over
Received 39 lashes from the Jews 5 times
Beaten with rods 3 times
Stoned one time
Shipwrecked 3 times
Spent a day and night in the sea
Was in continual danger from rivers, robbers, his own people, and the Gentiles
Was weary and in pain often, without sleep
Often hungry, thirsty, and naked
Concerned about the health of the churches
He was also given a "thorn in the flesh" (most likely a disease of the eyes) because he had seen paradise and God did not want him to be proud.
How did Paul react to all of the pain and suffering in his life? (2 Cor 12:9-10) tells us Paul's response: (9) "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong."
Another example is found in (Acts 16:23-25). Paul and Silas, after being beaten with rods, were cast into prison with their feet placed in stocks and they "prayed and sang praises unto God."
Paul saw his trials as opportunities to grow in God and praise Him. How many people would look at someone who faced those trials from outside the situation and believe God was working? Yet, Paul knew God was in total control.
Jesus told us that tribulation and persecution are to be expected (Mt 5:10-12), and said we are blessed because of them. The Bible also tells us that nothing can happen that God does not allow (1 Pet 3:17). Job is an example of this (Job 1:6-12, 2:1-7). Satan could do nothing to Job without God allowing it. Jesus told Peter, "Satan has asked permission to sift you as wheat" (Lk 22:31).
Knowing this can help us to know, as Paul did, that God is working in every situation.
Dear friend, do you have this assurance and peace in your life? Jesus Christ can give you this peace if you will trust Him. The Bible says in (2 Cor 7:10) that "godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation." This is one possible outcome of pain and suffering, to bring us to repentance. Are you ready to surrender your life into His hands? (Rom 8:18) says our suffering is not worthy to be compared to eternity. In Heaven there will be no more tears (Rev 7:17) and there will be no more pain or sorrow (Rev 21:4). This is our hope as Christians. If you desire to make this commitment for Jesus Christ, ask Him into your life right now.