Why does God allow suffering?


Before we begin…

      I agree with C. S. Lewis, who said ‘my conviction is that when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.’

The Problem of Pain, Preface


In the wake of the tsunami

      Athiests mock, saying “Where was God? Couldn’t he have stopped the waves? Isn’t he supposed to love the human race? Is he impotent stop suffering?

      Christians aren’t immune from asking the same questions. We often don’t understand why God allows suffering

      The Bible itself contains many anguished cries to the Lord, “Where are you God? Deliver me from this torment!” ‘Don’t you care that I’m dying?”


The problem, defined

      ‘If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain in its simplest form.’


C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain


There are no easy answers

      If you’ve come for a simple explanation of the problem of suffering, you’ll be disappointed.

      This is a very difficult topic, with no easy answers

      Let us proceed in a spirit of sympathy for the suffering, and in humility before our Sovereign Lord


God allows suffering to alert us

      Something is wrong with the world

      Something is wrong with God’s creatures

      Something is wrong with me



Something is wrong with the world

      The suffering we experience and we see happening to other people may seem cruel, random, purposeless, grotesque, and wildly out of control. Bad things happen to people who try to be good, and good things happen to people who enjoy being bad.


      Couldn't God have created a world where nothing would ever go wrong?

      Couldn't He have made a world where people would never have the ability to make a bad choice or ever hurt another person?

      Couldn't He have made a world where mosquitoes, weeds, and cancer would never exist?

      He could have, but He didn't


Free will

      Genesis 1: 26

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."


What separates us from all other life on the planet?

      Human beings share one unique quality with God himself: the ability to make moral choices.

      We choose to do good, or to do evil. We are therefore ‘moral free agents.’

      This is a divine gift to our species, and God will never revoke it, even when we choose to do evil, and thereby hurt others.


A race of free-agents, or a race of robots?

      We could have been created to be like the cute battery-operated dolls that say "I love you" when hugged. Such creatures would not hurt each other, because they would have no choice in the matter.

      God took the risk of creating beings who could do the unthinkable -- rebel against their Creator.


What would you have Him do?

      God has the power to intervene in situations where Person A is about to hit Person B over the head with a wooden bat. He could miraculously turn the bat to rubber or candy floss.

      If He stopped all bad things from happening, He would be robbing us from making any real moral choices, because our bad choices would be nullified.

      All real moral decisions have consequences, and the human race has frequently chosen to do evil.


End result: a fallen world

      Because the human race has chosen to rebel against God since the beginning, the moral order of our world has broken down.


      God allowed suffering to come into the world, as described in Genesis, chapter 3.

To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."  (Gen 3:17-19)


The world itself is not immune from this curse

Romans 8:19-22

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.


The whole creation is suffering – can we hear the message?

      Every sorrow, grief, and agony are vivid reminders of our human predicament.

      Like a huge neon sign, the reality of suffering screams the message that the world is not the way God created it to be.


Something is wrong with God’s creatures

      ‘When souls become wicked they will certainly use this possibility to hurt one another; and this, perhaps accounts for four-fifths of the sufferings of men. It is men, not God, who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs’

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain


Why do the ‘bad guys’ sometimes win?

      ‘The permanent nature of matter in general means that when human beings fight, the victory ordinarily goes to those who have superior weapons, skill, and numbers, even if their cause is unjust.’


C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain


Humans aren’t the only fallen beings on the planet

      The Bible tells us that Satan and the other fallen angels rebelled against God, and were thrown out of heaven.

      The book of Job tells how God allowed Satan to afflict Job, a righteous man, in order to test him.

      The Apostle Paul said, ‘To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.’ (2 Cor. 12:7)



When pain gets personal

      When I suffer an affliction, it is a message from God that there is something wrong with me – I am a sinner.


‘We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. A bad man, happy, is a man without the least inkling that his actions do not “answer,” that they are not in accord with the laws of the universe.’

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain


God’s plan to heal the human race

      God’s plan of salvation brought incalculable suffering – on Himself!

      Our healing from sin came through Christ’s suffering on the cross.

      Jesus was prophesized to be ‘A man of sorrows and familiar with suffering’ (Isaiah 53:3).


God’s love: Do we really understand it?

      ‘If God is love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.’


     C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain


God’s love made manifest in Christ’s sufferings

      Jesus was whipped nearly to death by the Roman soldiers (39 lashes was considered all that could be given without killing someone).

      Then he was crucified – essentially tortured to death on the cross.

      On the cross, He took on the sins of the whole human race, as our sacrifice for sin. He was separated from God the Father. Who among us can imagine the crushing weight of that burden?

      It is therefore fair to say that Jesus suffered more than any other person who has ever lived.

      That’s the true measure of how much God loves us.


A God who suffers along with us

      God chose to become man, to dwell among us, and suffer greatly on our behalf.

      We do not have the right to say to God ‘You don’t understand my pain.’

      He knows, from personal experience, what we are feeling when we suffer.



No one is immune from this path

Hebews 5:8

‘Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered’


We also often learn obedience by what we suffer


We call it ‘the school of hard knocks.’


God allows suffering, in order to direct us

      Our sufferings show us how weak we are, and how much we need God.

      Paul sought healing from the Lord for his affliction, but God told him “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

      Paul’s response was “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.”


Why God allows ‘good people’ to suffer, along with ‘bad’ people

      We are perplexed when we see misfortune fall on decent, hardworking people, who seem to deserve a little happiness.

      ‘God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and happiness are not enough to make them blessed; that all this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched.’

        C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain


Suffering causes us to look forward

      Paul said "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." (Rom. 8:18)

      Hebrews 11 lists the trials of people who suffered incredibly--people who died without seeing why God allowed them to undergo such tragedies. These individuals were tortured, jeered, flogged, stoned, cut in half, stabbed, mistreated, and forced to live as outcasts (vv.35-38). God had planned that only in the long-range view of eternity would their faithfulness during hardship be rewarded (vv.39,40).


God allows suffering to shape us

      Paul wrote “we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope." (Rom. 5: 3,4)

      James wrote “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing"

   (James 1:2-4).


The greatest sermons I have ever heard were not preached from pulpits but from sickbeds. The greatest, deepest truths of God's Word have often been revealed not by those who preached as a result of their seminary preparation and education, but by those humble souls who have gone through the seminary of affliction and have learned experientially the deep things of the ways of God. The most cheerful people I have met, with few exceptions, have been those who had the least sunshine and the most pain and suffering in their lives. The most grateful people I have met were not those who traveled a pathway of roses all their lives through, but those who were confined, because of circumstances, to their homes, often to their beds, and had learned to depend upon God as only such Christians know how to do.

M. R. DeHaan, ‘Broken Things,’ pp.43-44.


‘All things work together for good’

      Paul says  "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)

      These words can seem rather hollow and sanctimonious when spoken to a person who is in the midst of suffering.


How does this work?

The good news is not that God will make our circumstances come out the way we like, but that God can weave even our disappointments and disasters into His eternal plan. The evil that happens to us can be transformed into God's good. Romans 8:28 is God's guarantee that if we love God, our lives can be used to achieve His purposes and further His kingdom

Ron L. Davis,  Becoming a Whole Person in a Broken World


God allows suffering to bring us together

      Paul said “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

  (I Cor. 12: 26-27)


    And "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.“

   (2 Cor. 1: 3-4)


Our capacity for sympathy

      Just as we are outraged by the evil deeds  that people commit, we feel compassion and sympathy for those who suffer

      These very feelings are God-given, and part of our being created in His image. They are part of what separates us from the rest of creation



      God allows suffering to alert us to the problem of sin

      God’s love was made manifest in Christ’s sufferings

      God allows suffering, in order to direct us

      Suffering causes us to look forward

      God allows suffering to shape us

      God allows suffering to bring us together



Suffering: a punishment for sin?

      There are clear instances in the Bible when God brought judgments on individuals,  communities, and whole nations because of their sinfulness

      It is God’s business if He brings judgment on people

      It is not our business to judge why others are suffering

      When we are suffering, it is natural to question whether it is a result of some sin


David Watson, who died of cancer at age 50, had the following to say about this:

‘Is it possible, when we see Jesus healing the sick and forgiving the sinful, that God should say, “Ah, there’s David Watson. He slipped up rather badly last month so I’ll afflict him with asthma for the next twenty years”? Or later, “He’s upset me again, so I’ll destroy him with cancer”? Such thoughts are not only ridiculous, they are almost blasphemous, and utterly alien to a God of infinite love and mercy as we see him so clearly in Jesus.’


David Watson, Fear No Evil


How do we respond to suffering: two responses

      Suffering can make you bitter (if you resist God)

      Suffering can make you better (if you yield to God)


The ‘bitter’ path of suffering

      If we refuse to listen to God and repent of our sins, then suffering will only bring anger and bitterness. We shake our fist at God and shout that ‘I don’t deserve this,’ even though we know in our heart of hearts that we do deserve it.

The ‘better’ path of suffering

Hebrews 12:7-10


Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.


      Our souls will find no peace until we are reconciled to God

      We are reconciled to God by believing in Jesus Christ, and accepting the forgiveness He offers us

      Jesus suffered death and separation from God on the cross, so that we could have eternal life


      The choice is ours – He will never force us to submit to Him

      What is your choice?