Why Does God Allow Suffering?
If God is so good, why is there so much suffering in the world? This is an age-old question that causes a stumbling block for many people coming to faith in Christ. If God is truly capable, why doesn’t He merely speak the word and do away with it once and for all?
No one is immune to suffering though some seem to experience more than others. Why would God allow infants to suffer and die? Why would any parent have to bury a child? Why would God put up with unspeakable crime and injustice? Why do so many on the planet not have enough food or water to survive? Just what kind of God would allow hurricanes, tornadoes and floods?
Quick answers to these questions often do not satisfy. Theologian Don Carson says that some Christians appear to have all the answers: “They have theological answers that satisfy them: suffering is the result of sin; free will means that God has to leave people to make their own mistakes; heaven and hell will set the record straight… And then something takes place in their own life that jolts them to the core…That is not to say, however, that the set of beliefs is irrelevant. It is to say that…the Christian, to find comfort in them, must learn how to use them.”
Some suffering can be explained by the fact that one may have brought it onto himself. For example, if you speed you may get a ticket. If you cheat on your spouse, your marriage may end in divorce. Other suffering may be caused by standing up for Jesus and the persecution that follows similar to what the Apostle Paul experienced (2 Cor. 11:23-29). People experience suffering at the loss of life such as Mary and Martha did at the loss of their brother Lazarus (John 11). But there are other forms of suffering that are seemingly senseless or mysterious. Job of the Bible may be the best example of this as all of his children were killed at once, all of his wealth was wiped out, and he experienced painful sores on his body.
How and why could God allow that to happen? Some are quick to point out that God will not give us more than we can bear in this life. But that sentiment is often a misquoted and misapplied Bible verse. I Cor 10:12-13 says this: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted he will provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
That’s clearly a verse on temptation and not suffering. In fact, God often gives us far more than we can bear on our own! Paul also said in 2 Cor 8:8-9: We do not want you to be uninformed brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had receive the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but God, who raises the dead.”
Did you catch that? God says He gives us more than we can bear so that we rely on Him and not ourselves. That when we fall, we would fall upon Him, our steady rock in times of peril. Could it be that God’s goal for us is not that we would experience minimum suffering and maximum worldly happiness in this life but that perhaps He has a different goal altogether—that we would not rely on ourselves but rather on Him who desires to mold and make us to look more like Jesus?
We are living in an unfinished chapter of God’s story which includes incredible suffering. This is not unexpected. For Jesus said in John 16:33: “I have told you these things so that in me you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world!” Yet one day all will be brought to justice and all things will be made new (Romans 12:17-19, Revelation 21:1-4). And in that Day, the promise from God is that all of our suffering will pale in comparison to what God has in store for those who love and follow Him (2 Cor 4:16-18).
While God does not often answer why specifically we are suffering the way we are, He does answer by providing the Who in the person of Jesus. In the Christian faith, God is not some Deity who sits far away unaffected by the suffering of the world. No, He actually entered into suffering Himself by taking the form of a servant. Not only did Jesus suffer in His earthly life, but He suffered most profoundly in His excruciating death on the cross for crimes He did not commit. God the Father knows intimately what it’s like to lose a child. He’s been there.
David Powlison turns the suffering question from “why me?” to “why Jesus, and why not me?” Why would Jesus enter this world full of evil and choose to go through weakness, hardship, sorrow and death? Is it because He could do it for the joy set before Him, the love of the world and the glory of His Father? And why not me? Why not me if my suffering can better show forth the Savior of the world? Why not me if it teaches me to rely on Him? Why not me if in my weakness I can demonstrate the power of God? And why not me if I can be a source of comfort and hope for others?
Perhaps Steve Estes perhaps said it best: “God permits what He hates in order to accomplish what He loves,” and there is no better example of that than the cross of Christ. We may never know the answer to “why” this side of eternity. But for those who trust in Christ, we have the promise that He will walk with us and carry us every step of the way. May our suffering cause us to value Jesus as our only true Treasure in this life and in the next. “For whom in I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).