Why does God allow suffering?

Suffering is part and parcel of human existence: our newspapers and news broadcasts are full of it and all of us will suffer to some degree and at some time. Yet we know instinctively that this is not how things should be. The question of suffering is perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to Christian faith for many people.

How can an all-powerful God allow suffering and still be good? The Bible doesn’t answer all our questions, but it does tell us all we need to know to continue to trust in God in a world marred by suffering.

The Bible tells us that God made everything and it was very good (Genesis 1:27). The world as he made it knew nothing of suffering. God put man in his world to enjoy it and to care for it under his direction.

But man chose to do what he thought best rather than submit to God’s loving rule, and the consequence of that choice was the disruption of everything. Now we all go our own way rather than submitting to God’s wise rule. We can’t enjoy unhindered friendship with God.
Our relationships with each other are spoiled by selfishness and mistrust. We hurt each other and spoil God’s world. Much human suffering is caused by our selfish disregard of others, whether unkind words or drunken driving or world poverty.
And creation itself is out of joint: natural disasters, disease and terrible accidents happen. Everything decays and we all die. Not that all suffering is direct ‘payback’ for wrong we have done; Jesus himself repudiated that thinking several times (for example John 9:2-3, Luke 13:1-5). But suffering is now part of the experience of being human. And we long for God to end all the pain.
God himself longs to do so. Yet to end the suffering in the world he must end our rebellion against him. In the correspondence columns of The Times some years ago G K Chesterton famously responded to the question, ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ with the succinct answer, ‘Dear Sir, I am’. Until our rebellion and selfishness is ended, suffering will not be.
To end all the suffering God must make an end of us. He takes no delight in condemning us, but to remain just he must. The great good news of the gospel is that in Jesus he has acted to punish our rebellion and yet spare us. God sent his Son, Jesus, to rescue us. He lived a life of perfect submission to God his Father. Because he was sinless he could stand in our place as our substitute, taking on himself the punishment we deserve for our rebellion against God. When he died on the cross, Jesus did just that.
By raising Jesus to life God demonstrated that the penalty for our rebellion has been fully paid. Now, if we acknowledge that we deserve that punishment and trust Jesus’ death for us, we can be forgiven, restored to right relationship with God and enjoy new life as his dearly loved children. God did it, not because we have done anything to deserve it but because of his great love for us.
The Bible also tells us that one day God will bring an end to all suffering by bringing an end to this world and bringing in a renewed creation, free from all suffering. Those who trust in Christ’s death for them now will share in that new creation with Christ. All who continue to reject Christ and rebel against God will be excluded from it. God longs for us to turn to him now and to be with him for ever. He gave the Lord Jesus to make it possible, though we don’t deserve it at all. There can be no greater proof of his love for us, no matter what we may suffer now.
For the rest of this life we will still face suffering. But we can face it knowing God’s love and knowing that God himself has suffered for us. Jesus knew what it was to be exhausted, alone and in pain. He knew what it was to be misrepresented, betrayed, despised and falsely accused. He experienced death. Whatever we may suffer, he understands and is with us to help us.
For those who trust him God can use our suffering for good, deepening our knowledge of him and our confidence in him, helping us to grow in patience or gentleness or self-control or perseverance. He will help us to endure, knowing that our suffering will end and we will enjoy eternity with him, where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).
God doesn’t answer all our questions - he is much greater than we can ever understand - but we can be absolutely sure of his love for us because of Jesus. And it’s far less important to know all the answers than it is to know and trust the one who does.
 
Barbara
(I am indebted to Barbara who wrote this for me. She is a member of a Church in Kingston, and she and her husband James are highly qualified to write this because they have undergone much suffering themselves. 
Their faith has been challenged as they have seen 3 close friends killed in car accidents, 3 murdered, 2 die at an early age, James’ brother die from heart failure, their second baby die a cot death and then in Africa their family was attacked by armed robbers who raped Barbara and shot James in the head leading to the loss of one eye, hearing in one ear, some brain damage and he has needed years of reconstructive surgery to his face, yet they can say “God is good”. 
David)


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