Why doesn't God stop all the suffering in the world? By Colin Webster This is the hardest question for any Christian to answer. On the one hand the Bible clearly teaches that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8); on the other hand the suffering that we see around us and perhaps even experience at a personal level seems so contradictory to our understanding of that love. It will therefore come as no surprise to know that there are no easy answers to this question. I speak as one who has experienced the pain of watching my father die at 64 of cancer and the very next day hearing the tragic news that my brother was involved in a car accident which has left him paralysed to this day. Suffering is no stranger to any one of us, but I believe the Bible gives us both an explanation and also a hope for all of us to take on board. Suffering and faith Far from what many may think, suffering is not an automatic barrier to belief in God. The Bible is full of people who endured tremendous misery and yet their faith remained firm. The Israelites, for instance, suffered terrible slavery under Pharaoh (Exodus 1:8-14); the Old Testament prophets suffered persecution at the hands of their own countrymen (Jeremiah 26:16); the early Christian believers suffered imprisonment and death for their faith under Emperor Nero. Yet these people did not give up their faith in God (2 Corinthians 11:23). Suffering can often strengthen a person’s faith not weaken it! In fact many people have turned to God at the darkest moments of their lives and found him to be there. Perhaps it is only at our darkest times when no-one else can help that we cry out to someone who can. As C. S. Lewis once said, ‘Pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world.’ Suffering as a direct consequence of our own choices Much of the suffering in the world today is a direct consequence of personal human choices. The person who injures himself in a car accident because he was over the legal limit has to suffer the consequences of his own choices. So does the person who chooses to fiddle the books in their business and then gets caught. God has not made us immune from the consequences of our own choices. This is where some of the suffering stems from in our world. Suffering as an indirect consequence of other peoples actions Then there are those who suffer as a result of the consequences of others. Perhaps the biggest cause of suffering is war, which stems from human greed for power, money or land. The atrocities which we have seen in Bosnia and Rowanda show not only the utter depths of depravity that some people will stoop to, but also demonstrate the profound effect that wrong choices can have on others. The rapist’s actions are not only repugnant in themselves but they also have a tragic effect upon the victim too. Many of the wrong decisions that people make in life have extensive knock-on effects on other people, rather like ripples reaching the shore when a rock is tossed in the middle of a pond. Wrong actions not only wreck our lives they can wreck the lives of others too. This cause of suffering accounts for the vast majority of pain and misery that we see around us today. Suffering as a direct result of the ‘fall’ (the first sin) Finally, there are forms of suffering which appear on the surface to be entirely devoid of any human action. For instance earthquakes and flooding due to severe weather conditions, or the child that dies at an early age of an incurable illness. It is at this point that we feel the greatest of injustices have been carried out against us. It is here that a person feels justified in shaking the fist at God and saying, ‘Why me?’ There are few answers that will satisfy anyone faced with such tragic experiences. But for now let me say that even these tragedies are directly attributable to man’s original rejection of God at the very beginning of time. I would like to move onto some of the misconceptions that some have regarding this issue of suffering. Suffering does not mean that God no longer loves us It was Oscar Wilde who said, ‘There is enough suffering in any lane in London to prove that a good God does not govern the world.’ Wilde’s observation of the suffering that surrounded him led him to a conclusion about God which was this: if God cannot stop the suffering then he is not an all powerful God and if He will not stop the suffering then he is not a very caring God. The observation that Oscar Wilde made led him to a wrong conclusion about God which needs rectifying. God does love the world and he takes no pleasure in seeing anyone suffer. If anyone ever doubted God’s love then they need to look at the cross of Jesus. For on that cross God gave up his Son Jesus to die for the sins of the world. Jesus willingly gave up his life for the sins of those who had rejected God - that
means each and every one of us. The Bible tells us that, ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8). So we should never doubt God’s love, even though we may struggle with God’s ways! God is not distant from our suffering Why does God appear to stand at a distance when we suffer? To answer this question we need to look again at Jesus. In Jesus we see a God who enters our broken world. Jesus isn’t standing on the sidelines as a spectator he’s joined us on the pitch. Jesus entered our fallen world and entered fully into all that it means to be human. He was not immune to the pain and grief that we ourselves experience, instead he suffered like us and even endured greater pain than any of us could ever know. He knew what it felt like to be destitute and homeless, he knew what it was like to be despised and rejected by people, he knew the heartache of losing someone close to him and he knew the loneliness of losing his best friends. He experienced injustice which ultimately led to physical pain as he bled and died on the cross. God did not spare his Son any of those agonies that we ourselves face. In Christ, God entered into a pain that was alien to everything that he stands for, a pain that human beings had caused by their rebellion. God never stood at a distance when he sent Jesus, he rubbed shoulders with us! Let’s consider the second of those questions. Is God powerless to help? Why won't God stop all the suffering and evil now? If we can accept that God loves us and that he is not distancing himself from our suffering, then why doesn’t he do something to stop it? The truth is, he has and he will. God could quite easily stop all the suffering and evil in the world, so there must be a very good reason why he doesn’t. People don’t realise the consequences of asking God to stop all the suffering. For one thing, our standard of gauging evil is different from God’s because God is holy and we are not. The Bible tells us that one day God will end all the evil and suffering in the world. The only thing is this it will be all the evil and suffering, and not just the selective evils that bother us. For example, many people have an idea of what they would regard as evil, such as murder, rape and theft. But have you ever stopped to consider what God regards as being evil or sinful? What about being greedy, speaking behind someone’s back, having lustful thoughts, being selfish, practising homosexuality, sleeping around, getting drunk, telling lies, holding a grudge against someone, failing to live as God created us to live? That may all sound like small change to you, but to a holy God those things are offensive to his nature and character. In fact each of these above mentioned acts are evil in God’s sight and stand in complete opposition to his holiness. So, in order for God to remove all the suffering and evil in the world, He would first of all have to remove each and every one of us, because to varying degrees we all contribute to the problem of suffering. God will remove all the suffering and evil one day, but before that great day comes there is another day that must come before it: the day of judgement! This will be when Jesus shall return to judge the living and the dead. Few people are ready for that day because they are not in a right relationship with God and will, therefore, face his judgement. So it’s in God’s mercy that Jesus doesn’t return sooner, for God wants as many people to be saved as possible. The way to be saved is if you trust Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour for he alone pays the penalty for our sin and rebellion. The beginning and the end ‘The Bible clearly teaches us that suffering is not part of God’s original created order (Genesis 1,2). There was no suffering in the world before humanity rebelled against God. There will be no suffering when God creates ‘new heaven and a new earth’ (Revelation 21)’. (Nicky Gumbel, Searching Issues (Kingsway 1995) p. 11). Suffering, therefore, is an alien intrusion into the world that God has created. Its cause is directly attributed to man’s rebellion against God’s rule. We may think that if sin has been the root cause of suffering then why didn’t God just immediately step in a remove the effects of that first sin? Well, he could have, but clearing up the mess from the first sin would not have solved the problem. As C. S. Lewis put it, ‘It would no doubt, have been possible for God to remove by miracle the results of the first sin ever committed by a human being, but this would not have been much good unless He was prepared to remove the results of the second sin, and of the third, and so on forever.’ (C. S. Lewis, The problem of pain (Fount 1997) p. 56). God is not looking for a ‘quick fix’ to the problem of suffering, evil and sin, he’s after a permanent fix and that is precisely why he sent Jesus. On the cross Jesus was dying to pay the ultimate penalty for sin - which is death (Romans 3:23). His resurrection on the third day showed that he had conquered death and therefore paid that penalty in full (1Corinthains 15:3,4). Jesus came to restore the broken relationship between God and man by removing the barrier of sin that separates unholy humanity from a holy God. With the barrier of sin removed,
humans could once again live in a relationship with God and live to please him instead of themselves. But, more importantly, with our sin being paid for in full we can enjoy an eternity with God in the new heavens and the new earth which is the final state that God desires (Revelation 21, 22). All of human history is leading up to Christ’s return. At that point the ‘old order of things’ (a reference to the current world in which we live with all its evil and suffering) will pass away and God will permanently establish his ‘new order’ of things where there will be no more evil, suffering, or death, or even the capacity for such things to occur (Revelation 21). Those who will enjoy this eternally perfect world with God will be those who have turned from their sin and rebellion against God and chosen to accept salvation through Jesus Christ. This is becoming a Christian. God's people are not immune from suffering It is worth remembering that just because a person becomes a Christian doesn’t mean to say that they will be immune from any suffering. In the New Testament Jesus warned his disciples that they would suffer much persecution because of their faith in him (Luke 6:22). The Apostle Peter explained that as a result of their Christian faith many of them would suffer (1 Peter 1:6; 2:20; 3:14,17; 4:15-19). Christians are not immune from hardship; they too have to endure (like all of us) the consequences of living in a fallen world - but with two great differences! Firstly they know that the troubles of this world are only momentary and will be eclipsed by the joy of spending eternity with God. One day they will be free from pain and suffering though for a time they may have to endure much trouble and sadness (1 Corinthians 2:9; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). The Christian’s ultimate perspective is that one day their suffering will end and justice will prevail, vindicating their faith in God’s promise to justly destroy this fallen world. Secondly, God is present to help the believer in the here and now to cope in their suffering. If you turn to the Psalms in the Bible, you will read of God’s people finding comfort from the Lord in their present trouble (eg Psalm 23, 40, 73). The Rev Handley Moule was once Bishop of Durham when a very serious colliery disaster took place. Moule rushed to the pit head to comfort the sorrowing wives grieving the loss of their loved ones. Almost at a loss for words to express his sadness he opened his Bible and a bookmark fell out. On it was worked in silken threads the text ‘GOD IS LOVE’. On one side the words stood out lovely and clear, but the other side showed a tangled mess of loose threads. Moule then proceeded to show the people both sides of the bookmark. All of our lives, when we analyse them this side of eternity may appear to us to be a tangle of loose threads that seem totally unconnected and detached from any meaning and purpose. But on the other side of eternity, one day, if we trust Him, we will see that God will have worked all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). This applies even to life’s greatest tragedy, however impossible it may seem to us in this life for good to come from it. I remember hearing the sad story of a young Christian couple in America who lost their two year old daughter. On the gravestone of the little girl they had only two words inscribed after her name. The words were these: ‘Yes Lord!’ I am sure that young couple’s hearts were torn in two over the loss of their little girl. I am also certain that they asked the question, ‘Why?’ Yet, despite the darkness their hearts were plunged into, they knew that one day an answer would be given and they would see everything from God’s perspective. They still believed that ‘God works all things together for the good of those who love him.’ (Romans 8:28) Even the tragedy of their daughter’s short life will make sense one day. For now, they submitted to God’s sovereignty in all matters - including the tragic ones. Their hope remained in God and one day that hope will not disappoint them. I trust that if you put your trust in Christ you will find that this couples hope can be your hope too, just as it is mine. link to the risbridgers story??????????????????? If you would like to talk further then contact Colin Webster at the Cornerstone Church Office (Cornerstone) or join a Discovering Christianity Course where you can investigate the Christian faith further. Further reading:
C. S. Lewis, The problem of pain (Fount 1997).
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Fount 1997).
Nicky Gumbel, Searching Issues (Kingsway 1995).
David Watson, Is Anyone There? (Hodder & Stoughton1986).
Stephen Gaukroger, It makes sense (Scripture Union 1988).
John Blanchard, Does God believe in Atheists? (Evangelical Press 2000)
See also: The Problem of Evil: How can a good God allow evil? At Leadership University.