Job 2:11-13: "Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, each one came from his own place—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. For they had made an appointment together to come and mourn with him, and to comfort him. And when they raised their eyes from afar, and did not recognize him, they lifted their voices and wept; and each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven. So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great."
John 16:33: "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
The above question has often been asked often by both Christians and non-Christians alike. Put another way: why does God allow people to suffer in this world if He is a God of love? Even as Christians, we sometimes wonder why we are going through pain and suffering while it seems unbelievers do not. They do too. The difference is Christians think they should not suffer these things. Christians do suffer abuse, broken relationships, betrayal, sorrow, injuries, disappointment, heartache, crime and death. And perhaps you've been asking the question as well: "Why? Why me? Why now?" The "why" question is not a new one; it goes back thousands of years. It was asked in the Old Testament by Job and the writers of the Psalms, and it was especially relevant during the 20th Century, when we witnessed two World Wars, the Holocaust, genocides in the Soviet Union and China, devastating famines in Africa, the killing fields of Cambodia, the emergence of AIDS, the genocide in Rwanda and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. Unfortunately, the 21st Century hasn't started much better. There was 9/11, and now the Syrian slaughters, and on and on. Why do all of these horrific things happen if there's a loving and powerful God? Why do bad things happen to good people—like loss of loved ones, pains of divorce, horrors of rebellious kids, devastations of cancer, accidents, etc?
This study is not likely to answer all our questions about why there is suffering in this world, but we will make an attempt to do so. Jesus said that we will face persecution and suffering. Unlike some other religious leaders who wrote off pain and suffering as mere illusions, Jesus was honest about the inevitability of suffering. In John 16:33, He said, "You will have suffering in this world." He didn't say you might—He said it is going to happen. We may not be able to make out all the details of why certain things happen, but there are some key biblical truths that can help provide some answers to our questions about pain and suffering in the world.
Suffering In This World
- My first response consists of four words that no one wants to say or express: "I do not know." Pains are real and never superficial. In 1Cor 13:12 we're told, "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity." In Job 2: 11-13, Job's three friends reacted to his suffering as they or we ought to. They sat down with him for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him because there were really no words to say. Bottom line: we don’t know all there is to know about suffering.
- God is not the creator of evil and suffering. Sometimes people suffer because we have a vicious enemy Satan who hates us and is out to steal, kill, and destroy everything redemptive and beautiful. This answers the question you hear so often: "Why didn't God merely create a world where tragedy and suffering didn't exist?" The answer is: He did! God created a beautiful world (Gen 1:31). But when man decided to listen to Satan, the consequence was that Satan’s evil reigned from then on. Choices always have consequences, even today.
- Though suffering isn't good, and He did not create it, God can use it to accomplish good. In Rom 8:28, the Bible promises: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Notice the verse doesn't say God causes evil and suffering, just that he promises to cause good to emerge. And notice that the verse doesn't say we all will see immediately or even in this life how God has caused good to emerge from a bad circumstance. Remember, we only see things dimly in this world. He makes the solemn pledge that he will take the bad circumstances that befall us and cause good to emerge if we're committed to following him. You might say, "No, he can't bring good out of my circumstance. The harm was too great, the damage was too extreme, and the depth of my suffering has been too much." But if you doubt God's promise, remember that He took the very worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the universe, the death of His Son on the Cross and turned it into the very best thing that has happened in history of universe. If God can take the very worst circumstance imaginable and turn it into the very best situation possible, can He not take the negative circumstances of your life and create something good from them?
- Misery inflicted by corrupt leaders who steal money that could have been used to better the lot of their citizens, and instead use it to enrich themselves. All over the world, we see examples of this.
- Sometimes people suffer through no human fault at all. The best of God’s saints had their nights. This is no indicator of divine disfavor. Life is simply hard.
- Sometimes people suffer because we live on a physical earth where natural disasters can and do happen. These include tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, tsunamis. Natural disasters are a part of any living, shifting, fluctuating planet.
- God made us and gave us choices, otherwise we would be robots. Man chose to rebel with Satan, and so he is suffering the consequences of his choices.
- The day is coming when suffering will cease and God will judge evil. Many people wonder: "If God has the power to eradicate evil and suffering, then why doesn't He do it?" Just because he hasn't done it yet doesn't mean he won't do it. The Bible says that the story of this world isn't over yet. It says the day will come when sickness and pain will be eradicated and people will be held accountable for the evil they've committed. Justice will be served in a perfect way. That day will come, but not yet! So what is holding God up? One answer is that He's actually delaying the consummation of history in anticipation that more people will put their trust in him and spend eternity in heaven. He's delaying everything out of his love for humanity. 2Pet 3:9 reads: "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
- Our suffering will pale in comparison to the good things God has in store for his followers. In Rom 8:18 we read: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." Remember, these words were written by the apostle Paul, who suffered through beatings and stoning and shipwrecks and imprisonments and rejection and hunger and thirst and homelessness—far more pain than most of us will ever have to endure. We certainly don't want to minimize pain and suffering, but it helps if we take a long-term perspective. "God has all eternity to make it up to me."—And he will. God promises a time when there will be no more crying, no more tears, no more pain and suffering, when we will be reunited with God in perfect harmony, forever.
Response to Pain and Suffering
- As we go through pain and suffering, let us key into God’s response to Paul in 2Cor 12:9-10: "And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." By “grace,” I do not mean the general definition of “unmerited favor”, but rather the extraordinary enablement and ability that God gives through the Holy Spirit to respond to the pain and suffering: the ability to persevere, remain at peace, have joy, be sensitive, sincere and empathetic.
- We decide whether to turn bitter, or to turn to God for peace and courage. There are examples in Scripture of how the same suffering that causes one person to turn bitter, to reject God, and to become hard and angry and sullen, can cause another person to turn to God, to become more gentle and more loving and more tender, willing to reach out to compassionately help other people who are in pain. We make the choice to either run away from God or to run to Him. What happens if we run to him? John 16:33 says: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. "You will have suffering in this world. But be courageous! I have conquered the world." In other words, He offers us the two very things we need when we're hurting: grace and peace to deal with our present and courage to deal with our future. How? Because He has conquered the world! Through His own suffering and death, He has deprived this world of its ultimate power over you. Suffering doesn't have the last word anymore. Death doesn't have the last word anymore. God has the last word!