Recently my best friend and mentor Steve Curington died at the all too young age of 45. Whats worse is that 2010 also brought the death of my grandfather, and another good friend to suicide. I don’t share that to evoke a sympathetic response, but to set the tone for the topic at hand: Why does God allow suffering?
Job said that man’s life was, “few of days and full of trouble”, and certainly when we experience pain, and suffering our natural response is to ask God why. If God is so big, and powerful, why does He allow death, war, murder, lost jobs, and cancer? As a Pastor people are constantly asking me in these kind of situations if its ok to ask God why. The short answer I believe is yes.
I also often get asked if it is ok to get mad at God sometimes. The short is answer is no. However human nature is such that we often can’t understand the why or how or what of how an infinite being chooses to act. However it is even more wrong to not talk to God when were mad at Him. If you read the book of Job, he got mad at God and complained to him, the same with King David, and the Prophet Jeremiah. Even Jesus on the cross asked, “why God have you forsaken me.” So by all means bring your complaints to God! Hebrews 4:12 says, “to boldy come to the throne of grace to ask for help in time of need.”
To understand suffering we must first understand, and come to grips with the fact that God is good. Job said,“Far be it from the true God to act wickedly, and the Almighty to act unjustly!”—Job 34:10. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Now whether we agree with God ultimately or not we must eventually submit to His Lordship if we are going to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
So if God is good why do young people die, why do we have wars, and why does God allow evil in the world? Those are the wrong questions though. The real question is what is evil? Evil is anything that is sinful or against God: lying, murder, rape, etc. So then God allows evil because He doesn’t destroy sinners immediately. He allows them to continue living because He wants to redeem them. So why does evil exist? Because sinners exist and they perpetuate sin. Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” 1 John 5:19.
This wasn’t always the case however Genesis chapters 1-3 says, God created man with a Perfect Environment, Perfect Health, Perfect Painlessness, Perfect Purpose, and a Perfect Partner (eve). What happened then? Sin happened. Man disobeyed God, and brought death and hell upon all mankind (Romans 5:12). Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
What is the result of our sin? Romans 3 tells us, “10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: 14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood: 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways: 17 And the way of peace have they not known: 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes. 19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
The result of this is that we are all sinners. So the real question is not why does God take people home early, or allow us to suffer, but why does He allow his enemies to to continue to live at all. Because he wants to redeem them. God doesn’t create suffering He just allows it, and uses it for His glory, and our good.
Romans 8 tells us that sin impacts every part of creation, “18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. 20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, 21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. 23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
Here are a few other basic reasons that God allows suffering:
Revelation 4:11 says, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” God uses the suffering caused by sin to bring Himself glory. Job is a great example of this in the Bible. Did God cause Job’s pain? No He simply allowed it, and used it to draw Job closer to Him, and in the end he gave Job twice as much wealth.
In the same way Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, but when they met him later in Genesis 50 he said, “you meant it for evil but God meant it for good.”
Salvation of Lost Souls
Do you suppose the leper of Matthew 8:2 would have came to Jesus if he’d been in perfect health? What about the blind man of Luke 18:35? II Kings chapter five tells the story of Naman, the Syrian captain who had leprosy. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t fear God until God humbled him by making his spend seven years of his life on his hands and knees like an animal (Dan. 4:30-37).
Sometimes God will even use the tragedy of a believer to bring OTHERS to Christ. Such is the case with Lazarus in John Chapter Eleven. Lazarus was very sick, but before he ever died Jesus said that his sickness was “for the glory of God” (Jn. 11:2-4). Later, in John 11:45, we read that “. . . . many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on Him.
No one ever suffers in vain. God always has a reason, and sometimes He is trying to show someone their need to receive the Lord Jesus Christ. Could this be true in your own life? Think about it. Could the Lord be convicting you of the fact that you are a sinner, and you need to be saved?
Some Christians Suffer Because of the Chastisement of God
Revelation 3:19 says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” Notice these important words from Hebrews 12:6-8: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.”
The difference between punishment and chastisement is not necessarily severity but relationship. just as when my child tries to touch a hot stove I swat his hand not because I hate him, but because I want to protect him.
Some Christians Suffer for the Living for the Lord
II Timothy 3:12 says, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Then II Timothy 2:12 says, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him…” Jesus said, “. . . . If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Lk. 9:23) When a Christian chooses to deny himself and follow Christ, he (or she) chooses to suffer for the Lord.
Some suffering is for sanctification
Paul said, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” If God always wanted you to be comfortable he would not have sent you a comforter (John 14). Rather He would have took you to heaven right after you were saved.
Ultimately though the question of suffering will not be totally settled till we get to Heaven, and understand things from God’s eternal perspective. In that day we will understand past suffering, and will never again experience future suffering. Heaven will be a place with a Perfect Environment, Perfect Health, Perfect Painlessness, Perfect Purpose, and a Perfect Partner (God).