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Why Does God Allow Suffering?
By: Ken Rich
Posted in: Theology
Why does God allow suffering? Theologians and philosophers have struggled with this question for ages. After all, if God is all-powerful and all-knowing, can't he prevent or stop it? For some people, this is a stumbling block to faith and they never get past it.
I would not be so presumptuous as to claim an authoritative answer that others have missed. However, I do think there are some insights into this mystery, that God has provided in his Word.
The problem of suffering appears to be centered around free will. God created us (and the angels) with free will, and if he had not, we would be mere robots - not truly alive. He created us as free moral agents with the ability to choose right or wrong.
Love is the supreme ethic God is trying to establish in us, but it cannot be forced. It cannot exist without the free will to choose it, thus, freedom is an absolute necessity. However, freedom is a dangerous thing, since it can be abused. What if someone chooses not to love?
We can frame this issue in terms of antecedent will versus consequent will. God would prefer to have us live in a garden of Eden, wallowing in eternal bliss. However, he created us with free will and we chose a path of sin and rebellion. He responded with a plan of salvation that involves faith, repentance, discipline, and a process of sanctification.
There is a path back to Eden but it is neither instant nor easy. The restoration of all things will come at the appointed time (Acts.3:21), and until then all creation groans, as we wait in hope for what we do not yet have (Romans 8:22).
We live in a fallen world and although there are different causes of suffering, much of it is caused by sin. It is often horrific, senseless, and certainly not the will of God. Rather, it stems from the abuse of free will by created beings (angels or men) and results in judgment by God.
The Bible says that Satan was once a covering Cherub full of wisdom and perfect in beauty . It says he was perfect in all of his ways until iniquity was found in him (
The Bible says he rebelled and there was war in heaven. The devil was cast out and his angels (
Ecclesiastes 3:17 God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity , a time for every deed
In fact, Jesus told us in the parable of the wheat and tares that an enemy has done this. The situation must be dealt with over the course of time , not immediately corrected. Otherwise, harm would come to us and we would be uprooted along with the tares. When the time is right, when it is safe to do so without harming us, God will intervene to bring judgment upon the malefactors, healing for the victims, and restoration to all of creation.
Matthew 13:24-30 - " He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’
Do that miss that critical point - God has very good reasons for not acting immediately. Do not think that means he is doing nothing, or is unaware, or doesn't care, or is powerless. His response involves a time element , which some misinterpret as indifference or inaction.
To this day, fallen angels, and also fallen men, are in rebellion against God and make war against his saints. Many battles take place in the spiritual realm, and like any war there are casualties. Sometimes innocent children are hurt or killed. No one is more grieved by this than God, but rest assured, not even a sparrow falls to the ground without his knowledge and care (Mt.10:29).
Vengeance is mine sayest the Lord and although it may seem (from our limited perspective) that injustices and cruelty go unanswered, they do not. God is independent of time (as we understand it), and every crime will meet with judgment in the end (Heb. 10:30).
Judgment is coming , sin and sinners will be no more - there is a set time and place when all this will end ( Rev. 20:11) . Scripture says affliction will not rise up a second time ( Na.1:9) . God's principles will be vindicated as righteous and all of creation will worship him in love, without doubting his leadership. They will have freedom, but will not abuse it, nothing impure will remain (Rev. 21:27).
It is written that God is not mocked - we will reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7). God is not mocked because when you choose to remove God from your life, you have no protection from the devil, or from your own evil impulses. Most of us are self-destructive and our own worst enemies. It's not that God strikes you down, he respects your freedom and backs away. God is not mocked also, in the sense that no one gets away with anything. Judgment is coming and all your secrets are bare before him .
There will be a happy ending to the story, for all but the unrepentant. Those who turn in repentance to God, and the innocents who suffered at the hands of the wicked, or those who died cruelly from famine or disease before even having a chance to develop - have a God of infinite power and love to restore and heal them.
The Bible says God himself will wipe away our tears (Rev.21:4), and that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it even entered into the heart of man the things God has in store for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9) . Those who have suffered in this short life, have much to look forward to - for eternity (Is.65:17).
It's our linear view of time, our finite minds, our myopic perspective, that prevent us from grasping the ultimate meaning and purpose of this enigma. The great apostle Paul suffered beatings, scourging, stoning, persecution, opposition, shipwreck, peril, privation, imprisonment, and was eventually beheaded - yet he said this:
2 Corinthians 4:17 Our suffering is light and temporary and is producing for us an eternal glory that is greater than anything we can imagine.
There are different reasons and causes for hardship and suffering. Not all suffering is senseless and cruel! There is a form of suffering that is actually good and beneficial. We are told that God disciplines those he loves , like a Father meting out punishment to an erring child. Such discipline is unpleasant, but for our ultimate good (Heb. 12:7-11). We must trust his plan for our lives. Besides corrective discipline, God allows trials and tribulations to strengthen us, and cause spiritual growth.
Romans 5:3 ...we also rejoice in our sufferings , knowing that suffering works perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope: and hope doesn't disappoint us...
Gardeners sometimes prune plants to cause them to grow better. Some things (we perceive as bad or unpleasant) God allows because of the harvest it produces in us spiritually. This is another form of suffering that is actually good for us, in the long run.
You see, God is not a cosmic Santa Claus like some teachers make him out to be. He is far more interested in forming a right character and faith in you than he is in spoiling you with wealth, or lavish creature comforts. He may even allow the devil to deprive you of your worldly comforts, to try your faith.
Job's faith was tested and he was a better man because of it. The fact that God gave back double what was taken from him, was just an added bonus to the real benefit - faith tried in the furnace of affliction .
Isa. 48:10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction.
For a deeper understanding of God's discipline, I recommend this article - Tough Love - In the Furnace of Affliction? I remind you that I am not talking about the sinful, senseless, mindless brutality that sometimes occurs. Sin and the suffering it causes is not God's will. He created the earth to be a garden of Eden , which we forsook. Unfortunately, our way back to Eden is a difficult, rocky, narrow path - not the broad road of ease and self-indulgence.
Acts 14:22 "We must endure many hardships to get into the kingdom of God."
1 Peter 1:6-7 ...you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials ...
Peter says above that the trials have a definite purpose - to test and purify our faith so that it is genuine. He says below that we should consider it normal, not strange, that these fiery trials come...
1 Peter 4:12-13 " Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you...
It is also helpful to keep in mind that the tests God brings, are only for a season. When their purpose is complete, God himself will restore and establish you. Perhaps in a new level of responsibility, or with greater power to operate in. He is growing you up into Christ, refining you, strengthening you, leading you to greater things...
1 Peter 5:10 ... after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
Job 23:10 ...when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.
Why do some
God loves us so much, that he endured watching us torture his Son - just so he could save those who would choose to turn from sin and suffering. Jesus loves us so much, that he took the abuse, in order to save us from ourselves, and the devil's manipulations. God himself suffers and is grieved, he can identify with you in your sufferings.
This brings us to grace . Jesus provided a way for you to wipe the slate clean , even if your sins have caused great suffering to others. He took the punishment you deserve, and if you will allow him to (freewill), he will apply the merits of his sacrifice to cover your sin. He will also transform you, by the renewing of your mind, and form a right character in you - if you allow his Spirit to indwell you.
Rev. 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man
Notice that God is actively seeking entrance to your heart. He seeks, he knocks, he calls, but it's up to you to open the door and let him in . He doesn't force his way in, a synergism exists whereby God initiates and we respond.
Please don't get lost in the endless arguments between Calvinism and Arminianism. The extremes of both positions are wrong. A strict fatalistic monergism is flawed, as is an over-emphasis on man's part in the synergy, such that God's sovereignty is not acknowledged.
Our freewill exists within the predetermined limits that God, in His sovereignty, has imposed
God foresaw the problem of sin. In fact, the plan of salvation was predestined before the world was formed.
Rev. 13:8 the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world...
The plan of salvation was predestined , but your participation in it is a free will choice
It's up to you to choose the free gift of salvation by faith in
2 Peter 2:5 he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people...
Psalm 37:38 But all sinners will be destroyed ; the future of the wicked will be cut off...
Romans 6 For the wages of sin is death ...
Ezekiel 33:1 1 - As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.
Unfortunately, most people just don't get it. Don't blame God for what the wicked do, blame the wicked for not doing what God does - love .
Also, rest assured, judgment will be executed and the rebellion will be put down - along with the suffering it causes. For the people of God, there will be peace, love, and beauty forever - as it should be.
2 Thessalonians 1 :7-9 This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power
Rev. 21:3-4 Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.