Why does God allow suffering?

Where did suffering come from?

Suffering is a result of evil, which came into the world through the sin of mankind. Some suffering is directly related to bad decisions in an individuals life (lying, anger, divorce, crime, drugs, etc.). Other times we experience suffering simply as a by-product of living in, and being vulnerable to, a corrupt world around us. Often times people feel as if they have been victimized, but are unaware of how decisions from their past have caught up to them many years later. One way or another, we all share in the collective guilt of our broken world, because we have all sinned (Rom 3:23):

"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. (Gal 6:7)

Regardless of how it started, why doesn't God stop it?

In order for God to remove suffering, He would have to remove evil, and in order for God to remove evil, He would have to remove the source of evil, which is humans. However, He doesn't want to destroy humans, He wants to rehabilitate them. Humans have a choice, commonly referred to as 'free will'. God has given mankind free will, because freedom is a valued part of God's design for His creation. All of the heartache in this world would be fixed...if humans would cooperate with God:

"The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Pet 3:9)

Good news: God uses suffering to our advantage

Even though suffering was not in God's original plan, He uses it to our advantage. Because humans in their fallen, sinful state naturally tend to be arrogant and self confident, suffering serves an important role in the world. God allows suffering so that mankind will understand how desperate their need is for Him. Suffering should teach us to have absolute dependence on God regardless of the situation - this is the life of faith that He requires (Heb 11:6). Few, if any, would ever be saved if it were not for our longing to escape the pain of this world. Listen to how Romans 8 describes this:

"...all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are...creation looks forward to the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time, and we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. By this hope we were saved." Romans (8:19-24)

God provides the history of the Jewish people as an example, and we see a cycle that is repeated over and over. As long as they were close to God they would prosper. But eventually, they would get comfortable, forget about Him, and fall into sin, which would result in ever increasing distress. Then eventually, they would become distressed enough to go running back to Him! At times, God even tells them in advance that this is going to happen:

"When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice." (Deut. 4:30)

This a main theme in Psalm 107:

"Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble and He delivered them out of their distress." (Ps. 107:6)

David, the King of Israel acknowledges this in his own life, through Psalm 18:

"In my distress, I cried to the Lord; I cried to my God for help." (Ps. 18:6)

It's always difficult for God to see His people suffer:

"In all their distress he too was distressed..." (Is 63:9)

One of the most touching scenes in the Bible is when a synagogue leader named Jairus comes to Jesus out of desperation, and bows down before Him in worship. Most of the religious leadership of the day despised Jesus and wouldn't have even been seen talking to Him, much less bowing down. For example, we see another leader named Nicodemus who wanted to talk with Jesus, but approached Him at night when he wouldn't be seen (Jn 3:3). But, Jairus is desperate enough that his reputation no longer matters:

"Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with Him,'My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live'." (Ps. 18:6)

Punishment vs Discipline

God punishes His enemies, He disciplines His children:

"It is for discipline that you endure, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father has not disciplined? But if you are without discipline...then you are illegitimate children and not sons! All discipline, for the moment, seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful, yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness." (Heb. 12:7-11)

"...do not despise the Lord's discipline, and do not resent His rebuke, for whom the Lord loves He disciplines, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights." (Prov 3:11-12)

"'Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent." (Rev 3:19)

"Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty." (Job 5:17)

We see in God's word that random suffering from the world is destructive, but suffering that is God ordained, produces good fruit:

"I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God...For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death." (2 Cor. 7:9-10)

We conveniently forget that Jesus is at work in us (Phil 2:13) to create holiness (Heb 12:14), and the process of sifting and pruning is not optional:

"Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit." (Jn 15:2)

"We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope." (Rom 5:3-4 )

Even though Jesus never sinned, it was necessary for Him to live life in His physical body fully as a human, enduring every temptation that is common to man (Heb 4:15). Therefore, it was necessary that He experience the temptation of suffering, and use His faith to be obedient in the midst of it:

"Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered, and once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him. (Heb 5:8-9)

God is able to see the big picture

Lastly, we must always remember that God is accomplishing things that we simply don't understand - that's not a cop-out, it's the truth. There are times in life when circumstances serve a purpose which we cannot see, and there are plenty of things that we wouldn't understand even if He explained it to us:

"Even as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts. (Is 55:9)

On one occasion, the disciples question Jesus about a certain man that was born blind. They had the same mindset as Job's friends who assumed that tragedy is a sign of God's displeasure, but Jesus corrected them:

"Neither this man or his parents sinned', said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in Him'." (Jn 9:3)

Consider when Jesus gets word that Lazarus is dying, and He responds this way:

"This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be Glorified through it." (Jn 11:4)

Lazarus is less than two miles away, which is a two hour walk, but Jesus takes two days to get there, and in the mean time, Lazarus does indeed die! The Bible makes it pretty clear how much of a strain this put on the faith of the Lord's followers. When He arrives, Martha scolds Him and Mary won't even come out of the house to greet Him. They were seeking healing for Lazarus, but that was never God's plan, God was doing something different... something bigger, that they didn't understand! As most are aware, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and Lazarus goes on to live a healthy life. However, there's more to this story than most people have probably thought about - Lazarus eventually died...again...and went right back into that same tomb, because this is part of God's plan [Heb 9:27]. Everything about this story is a stark example of how humans are inclined to look at the here-and-now, but God is always aware of the bigger eternal outlook. God doesn't see the death of his own as sad, overwhelming, or unfair, because He knows that it's a natural and inevitable part of completing their salvation.

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones." (Ps 116:15)

How should we react to hardship?

HAVE FAITH! Not faith in your prayers, or faith in what you want - faith in who Jesus Christ is (Heb 11:6)! He is understanding, He is generous, and He is everything you need, regardless of what happens or doesn't happen. The maturity level of your character is shaped by how you respond to difficulty. It's crucial that you learn to respond to every single thing in life with faith. We can take a lesson from Paul the apostle when he said:

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Phil 4:13)

These words might seem simple and trite unless we consider the extreme hardships that Paul endured:

"...in harder labor, in more imprisonments, in worse beatings, in frequent danger of death. Five times I received...forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea...in danger from rivers and from bandits, in danger from my countrymen and from the Gentiles, in danger in the city and in the country, in danger on the sea and among false brothers, in labor and toil and often without sleep, in hunger and thirst and often without food, in cold and exposure." (2 Cor 11:23-27)

Our comfort and our hope is not in avoiding difficulty - our comfort and hope is in knowing that God is bigger than our problems and He will always look out for our best interest in every situation. Take the following scripture and make it yours - memorize it, meditate on it, speak it over your problems - make it a permanent part of the way you think!:

"God causes all things to work to the good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose." (Rom 8:28)

This may be a difficult idea for some to appreciate and embrace, but you can actually experience great peace and joy in the midst of trials, if you learn to see those moments as opportunities for becoming a better person!

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you encounter trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

What we have available to us through the finished work of Jesus Christ is more than kind words of encouragement and hope for the future. We are literally expected to live our daily life by the supernatural power of Jesus Christ, flowing through our life from the inside out!

"Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Heb 4:16)

Grace is 'the empowering presence of God' and prayer is the way to access that grace. Your prayer life is what makes it possible for you to receive the strength, wisdom, and endurance to overcome the difficulties of this fallen world. You can never live beyond your prayer life! Jesus taught that constant and persistent prayer is essential (Lk 18:2) and early church leaders demonstrated this well (1 Thes 5:17, 1 Thes 1:2-3, Rom 1:9, Eph 1:16).

Remember these guidelines:

God always wants good things for you, but remember: