Pain and Suffering
How Can a Loving God Allow Pain and Suffering?
We know from the Bible that we used to live in a paradise without pain and suffering. When Adam & Eve sinned, everything changed, and pain and suffering entered the world. We chose this. We are going to experience pain and suffering, Holocausts, genocides, and natural tragedies, because this fallen, broken world is under the curse of sin, and satan has a lot of authority (for now but justice will come). Here are 12 reasons I have found why God does not stop pain and suffering:
1) Free will inherently requires evil to exist. God did not want slaves or robots worshipping Him. Would you want to force others to love you or would you want them to choose to love you? Once God created humans with free will, it was up to them, rather than God, whether they would exercise their freedom by having a choice: good or evil (including pain and suffering). That's what free will means: having a choice. It is impossible, and a contradiction, to create a world where people have free will and genuine freedom, but they are not free to choose evil or make bad decisions because that other choice does not exist. What alternative can you suggest? If God enslaved the human will, squelching wrongdoing by forcibly preventing us from indulging in our favorite sins, we’d be the first to shake our fists at him. It would be the height of hypocrisy to dare criticize God for not always interfering when tragedy looms. Time after time we have each proved by our actions that we don’t want his love and wisdom cramping our style. There would not even be love in that world because true love is a choice. Love for God and love for each other must involve a choice.
2) What do you expect God to do? To intervene and stop it all? And where would the line be drawn since good comes out of so much pain and suffering? Surely a holy God would yearn to wipe out every cause of pain, right? And if he eradicated everyone who has ever caused pain by selfishness, cheating, lying, gossiping or hurtful remarks, who would be left? Oh, you mean just the big stuff? And if your pain or suffering didn’t get prevented you would still complain!
3) He has limited Himself in some ways, including banishing satan to earth where he has some authority for a time. Satan is the cause of much pain and suffering, but it started with our fall, and even before that, his fall. If a person suffers and is angry with God, frequently that is misplaced anger. God is the giver of life. Satan is the destroyer, the one who tears down life. Often pain is not the direct result of sin, but rather the handiwork of Satan. Paul, for example, wrote to the Corinthians, "There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me" (2 Cor 12:7).
4) God knows better than us (Suffering and pain works for good). Look at the death of God Himself, Jesus suffering and being crucified! Try telling his parents, his family and all of his followers that his death was a good thing; and yet out of this gruesome event, came the most beautiful gift of love: the ultimate eternal life. And what about the parent, the doctor, etc. that has to cause temporary pain for the better of the child or patient? What about the times in your life that you had pain and suffering but good came out of it?
5) Suffering typically draws us to God, leads to repentance, and increases our faith. This is the most important reason for pain and suffering, although we may not see it, and many wouldn't agree. It's clear from testimony that many people who endure suffering do not curse God but rather cry out to Him. Only after suffering, only after disaster, did Old Testament Israel, do nations, do individual people turn back to God. To quote C.S. Lewis, the author of an excellent book called The Problem of Pain, ”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.” And of course, repentance leads to something wonderful – to blessedness, since God is the source all joy and all life. However, according to Psalm 59:1-3, our sins separate us from God and He "will not hear us" unless we resolve that first. We are all evil and have the inherited disease of sin. We are born diseased and will a death sentence. That doesn’t change until we find Christ. Suffering is compatible with God’s love if it is medicinal, remedial, and necessary; that is, if we are very sick and desperately need a cure. And that’s our situation. Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick… I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” It’s important to note that according to the Bible, “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). “All of our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Our righteous acts are never purely for God but always contaminated with self-interest and our demands for justice are mixed with lust for vengeance. Suffering brings us to that crossroads where we choose to trust Him or not. The Bible reveals, "The Lord... is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Pet 3:9). He is patiently waiting for us to humble ourselves before Him and to receive his forgiveness and eternal life. Now is the time to choose. When he returns, judgment will begin. Pain and suffering are frequently the means by which we become motivated to finally surrender to God and to seek the cure of Christ. The greatest Christians in history say that their sufferings ended up bringing them closer to God and was worth it, and the Bible has a lot to say about suffering (i.e. read the book of James, 1 Peter 4, Phil. 1 and 2, and 2 Cor. 1, 4, 6, 7, 11 and 12)... We are to become more Christ-like through our suffering. Paul wrote a lot about this (see Scriptures above) and he suffered more than most people. Did you know that 10 of the 12 disciples died excruciating deaths because of their faith in Christ? Do you think they would have died for a lie? Would they have gone through that if they had questioned God’s goodness, allowing it to happen?
6) When we go through suffering and pain, yet trust in God, He is glorified and we will be rewarded for our faith when we get to heaven. We may not see this now but this is clear from several books in the Bible, including the Words of Christ. Jesus himself endured pain and suffering to glorify the Father. Jesus said, "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began" (John 17:1-5). The Bible says faith is what pleases God and faith is refined and prified during pain and suffering. God promises to reward us eternally for all we endure for Him.
7) Those who commit evil are not getting away with it. Evil people are hurting others all the time. Certainly God can’t consider that fair. But justice delayed is not necessarily justice denied. As you know, there is a day coming called Judgment Day, where we will all stand before God and He will settle accounts and people will be held responsible for the evil they’ve perpetrated and the suffering they’ve caused. Criticizing God for not doing it right now is like reading half a novel and criticizing the author for not resolving the plot. God will bring accountability and justice at the right time. In fact, the Bible says one reason he’s delaying is because some people are still following the clues and have yet to find Him. He’s actually delaying the consummation of history out of his great love for them.
8) God desires to bring good out of all pain and suffering. Not all of us learn and benefit from our suffering; that’s where free will comes in. Everyone reacts differently to a situation or experience. Include all types of affliction, and it is no exaggeration to say that literally millions of people have suffered without it diminishing their devotion to Jesus. On the contrary, they insist it was God’s comfort, love and inspiration that empowered them to endure. Again, it’s a matter of perspective. Is God going to be on the throne of my life or am I, with my understanding of everything that happens. He wants to be on the throne. As hard as this may be to understand, if we find Christ and go to heaven, we are going to be thankful for our pain and suffering.
9) In light of heaven, the pain and suffering is insignificant. Mother Teresa said, “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth, a life full of the most atrocious tortures on earth, will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.” Keep in mind, Mother Teresa didn’t speak from the insulated bubble that so many of us live in; she spoke from a life full of suffering. And on top of this, Christ said He will reward us for everything we endure for his glory. The apostle Paul, one of the most qualified persons ever to broach this subject, discovered that no tragedy could ‘separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39).’ For nearly 2,000 years this has been put to the test by the torment of thousands of Christian martyrs who have agonized in triumph, rejoicing in the goodness of God. Paul also said “…our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.” and “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Cor. 4:17).” On one side of the scale, you can have the ultimate pain and suffering, and on the other side of the scale, you have God – the God available to all who seek Him in the midst of their pain. The good of God, the joys of God, is going to outweigh all of the possible pain and suffering, and even the joy, of this world.
10) Even when the cause seems beyond human influence, all pain and suffering can be traced not to God’s will, but to rebellion against God’s will. Proverbs 19:3 says, "A man's own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the LORD." We spurn God’s laws, hurt each other, and then have the audacity to blame God for the resulting disaster. All suffering can be tracked back to human wrong-doing – not necessarily the action of anyone presently alive, but to someone’s deliberate disregard of God and his ways (including Adam and Eve). When we human beings told God to shove off, he partially honored our request. Nature began to revolt. The earth was cursed. Genetic breakdown and disease began. Pain and death became part of the human experience. The good creation was marred. We live in an unjust world. We are born into a world made chaotic and unfair by a humanity in revolt against its Creator. And why doesn’t God strike a person dead before others could be hurt? Because to be fair he should do the same to you and me. Only a maniac or an ego-maniac would dare demand justice from God. Though we are too trapped in our own mud to have a hope of seeing ourselves as we really are, if we could remove ourselves a little, we would realize we all stand guilty before a holy God. We have each added to humanity’s pain. For example, how can you blame God for starving babies in Ethiopia when the best-selling books in the United States are on dieting, on how to take the extra fat off? It is not God's fault that people are starving today. The earth produces enough food right now to give every person 3,000 calories a day. The problem is that some of us hoard for ourselves so that others of us go to bed starving at night. It is a cop-out to blame God for human irresponsibility. If a person gets drunk, drives his car across the median, and sends your friend to an early grave, will you blame God? Do you blame God for Hitler's seven million murders? That would be escapism. The vast majority of human evil and suffering is a direct result of human irresponsibility.
11) Did it happen to you? It’s significant that most objections to the existence of God from the problem of suffering come from outside observers who are quite comfortable, whereas those who actually suffer are often made into stronger believers by their suffering. After wide-ranging research into the topic of suffering, Philip Yancey wrote, “As I visited people whose pain far exceeded my own… I was surprised by its effects. Suffering seemed as likely to reinforce faith as to sow agnosticism.” James S. Stewart said, “It is the spectators, the people who are outside, looking at the tragedy, from whose ranks the skeptics come; it is not those who are actually in the arena and who know suffering from the inside. Indeed, the fact is that it is the world’s greatest sufferers who have pronounced the most shining examples of unconquerable faith.” Have you read Job, the all-time classic on the problem of suffering? Do you remember what happened with Job and his three “friends?” God shows up and speaks out of a storm (no one can see God and live) and asks, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” The next four chapters detail God’s answer and Job’s reply. In chapter 40, it says “The LORD said to Job: ’Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!’ Then Job answered the LORD : ‘I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.’ Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: ‘Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?’” God goes on for two chapters and Job is satisfied. Forget the fact that God did this partially to prove something to the devil, Job doesn’t know that. God didn’t let Job suffer because He lacked love, but because He DID love, in order to bring Job to the point of encountering God face to face, which is humanity’s supreme happiness. Job’s suffering hollowed out a big space in him so that God and joy could fill it.
12) God is a suffering God. He suffered in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God stepped into this world marred by human rebellion and destruction of Satan. When Jesus was confronted by pain and disease, he brought healing through the use of a miracle. He did not use his supernatural power to feather his nest but rather to heal the sick and raise the dead. Jesus commanded his followers not only to trust him in all circumstances but also to love those who bring them pain. Jesus said, "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also....Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Mt 5:39, 44). This type of trust in God and love for all people produces Christlike character. Paul writes, "Suffering produces perseverance; Perseverance, character: (Rom 5:3-4).
13) God DOES protect and shelter you, as He promises in His Word, but only the TRUE you. In every believers soul, there are many elements that don't belong. This is similar to in nature, we only find ores, and these ores need to be melted down and purified. It takes a huge amount of these to extract just a small amount of the desired pure element, like pure gold or highly-enriched uranium. The "ores" are like the souls of the believer, filled with a lot of things that don't make up the real person, made in the image of God. This includes the various influences of the sinful nature, heredity and genetics, a poor education, bad influences or experiences... Very little of us forms the real "me" and it's that which the Lord maintains, protects, and strengthens. It is what Peter calls "the hidden person of the heart" (1 Peter 3:4). In order for the real you to be restored and you to be purified into purity and holiness, the ore of us needs to pass through cleansing fire. The only part of you that really matters will not be harmed, for God Almighty is watching over it, and can therefore be at great peace. Many examples of this can be found in Christian writings. I have particularly enjoyed those by Voice of the Martyrs, and even earlier examples in Foxe's Book of Martyrs and Martyrs Mirror.
14) Finally, we need to realize that everything is "Father-Filtered." This means that God is aware of everything about us and whatever happens to us, we know that God is allowing it for a reason, even though He could stop it from happening. This is regadless of how close you are walking with God and even applies to the unconverted and those who don't even believe in God. But according to the Bible, those who ARE converted have a greater audience with God, God chooses to hear their prayers, protect them, be graceful, etc. If something terrible happened or is happening in your life, you can be sure that God knows about it and allowed it for a reason. You may not know the reason while on this earth but for those who are converted and going to heaven, you will either find out or you won't care because you're in heaven!
You see, God is not a philosophical notion floating in space. God is a personal being who became man in Jesus of Nazareth. He died on a cross to provide the ultimate solution for suffering and death. His solution is forgiveness and eternal life. Christ rose from the dead. Over a period of forty days he appeared to over five hundred people. He ascended to his Father in heaven. He promised to come again to destroy all evil, suffering and death. He will transform this chaotic, unjust world into an orderly, just world. "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passes away" (Rev 21:4). If there is no all-knowing, all-powerful, God who stands at the end of human history, justice shall never ultimately win. The wrongs will never be made right. Evil, suffering and death triumph. But Christ taught that history was ultimately God's story.
The question is, "Have I accepted God's solution to the problem of suffering? Have I accepted Christ?" I cannot hide behind the question, "Why does God allow suffering?" But I can embrace God's solution for suffering by putting my trust in Jesus Christ for eternal life and allowing Christ to thrust me into a hurting world to administer his love, forgiveness and healing.
I admit that this is a feeble attempt to explain God’s thinking, which the Bible says is much higher than ours. But please keep in mind, every excuse you hide behind will evaporate when you stand before the Almighty Judge. Life is not a joke and you could die at any time. I hope this helps and leads you to humble repentance.
© Todd Tyszka
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