Why Does God Allow Suffering?
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Iconic Hollywood actress Shirley MacLaine caused outrage when she once asked if the Nazi Holocaust victims suffered because of their sins in past lives. “Karma” seems to give a reason as to why God allows or even sanctions suffering. If a baby is born blind, or a child gets a terminal disease, at the very least it offers some sort of explanation.
But is that really how it works? When someone dies from a car accident or terrorists slaughter “innocent” people, is it because they somehow deserved it?
This same question arose 2,000 years ago. Certain people came to Jesus asking about two incidents that were in the news. The first was about evil. A number of Galileans were quietly worshiping God when the governor of the region suddenly slaughtered them. The second was about suffering. A tower in the city of Siloam fell on 18 men tragically killing them, and no doubt leaving many grieving friends and loved ones.
This is what Jesus said of these two incidents:
“Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2–5)
SEVENTY INTERESTING QUESTIONS
Over 1,000 years before these incidents happened, a man named Job was going through endless suffering and wanted to question his Creator. He believed he was owed an explanation. However, when God spoke to him, He had seventy questions of His own for Job. After hearing those questions Job laid his hand on his mouth, and said, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5,6). Job’s question about why he was suffering wasn't so important after he heard God’s questions. Let me see if I can give you a synopsis of those seventy questions.
Think about how God created the eyes that you are using to gather this information. He created every one of the 137 million light-sensitive cells that make up each eye. He fashioned the focusing muscles that focus your eyes an estimated 100,000 times each day. He made the tear ducts that keep your eyes lubricated, and the lids that automatically blink every few seconds. He made the nerve endings that take the images you see and send them to your amazingly sophisticated brain. He created the subconscious voice in your mind that quietly talks to you and continually feeds you fresh thoughts. He gave you the ability to ask questions about suffering and evil, and that very yearning you have for an explanation. Animals don’t care about evil and justice or suffering and death, but you do because you are very special—you were made in the image of your Creator.
Have these thoughts expanded your view of God? Then try to multiply those a million times and think of all the different eyes and brains of animals. Consider that the giraffe, the elephant, the horse, all the different species of fish, the octopus, the ant, the fly, and the million and one other creatures that have eyes, are made up of male and female, with God-given instincts to mate with their kind and raise their young.
Or ask yourself how God created the sun and balanced it in the sky. How did He position it so that it would perfectly sustain life here on this earth? How did He set the earth in motion at 67,000 mph to orbit the sun? Instead of just brushing your hair as you look in the mirror each day, think about how God created every atom that composes each hair, gave it roots, and caused it to grow. Think about the DNA He gave you that defines the blood and bones of your body, as well as your basic personality. Think about how He made your flesh, your fingers, your teeth, gave you a tongue for tasting and speaking, and your ability to understand language. Everything you possess came from God. None of this is the result of random chance, where “nothing” suddenly exploded and became all the complexity and design we see in the universe today. Such a thought is not only scientifically impossible, it is intellectually ridiculous.
Now compare God’s unspeakable ability with your own ability. Can you make an eye from nothing? How about blood or bones? How would you go about making the life-sustaining sun, from nothing? Could you breathe life into lifeless bodies, as God did with us? We can’t even make one grain of sand from nothing. Now keep these thoughts in mind as we look at the second (and more important) part of this explanation.
When the questioners asked Jesus whether these victims were being punished for their sins, He simply said, “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). What did He mean by that? To answer, let me ask you some very relevant questions about your moral state before God. You may wonder why this is necessary, but keep reading because this will help to bring this issue into the right perspective.
Do you consider yourself to be a morally good person? If so, here are a few questions: How many lies do you think you’ve told in your whole life? Have you ever stolen anything, regardless of its value? Have you ever used God’s name in vain? Jesus said, “Whoever looks upon a woman to lust for her has committed adultery already with her in his heart.” The Bible even says that if you hate your brother, you are a murderer. Have you ever gossiped about someone, failed to keep your word, been unthankful to God, dishonored your parents, had selfish thoughts, been self-righteous (thinking that you are morally good when you’re not), or failed to love others as much as you love yourself? If you have committed those sins, God sees you as a lying, thieving, blasphemous, murderous, adulterer at heart. On Judgment Day, if you are still in your sins, the Bible warns that you will justly end up in God’s prison, a terrible place called “Hell.”
Our problem is that we tend to consider our own goodness while we are ignorant of God’s perfect goodness, something called “righteousness.” Then when we see what we consider to be evil, we think, “If God was good, He would immediately step in and stop the evil.” We criticize His lack of action because we fail to consider something vital.
Let’s imagine that the average person sins ten times a day—only ten times a day he falls short of the required moral standard (in God’s Book, “good” means moral perfection). In one year he would have clocked up over 3,600 sins. In forty years, that’s almost 150,000 sins that God has seen and must punish. How many sins do you think that you've committed in your lifetime? With that knowledge, do you still want God to immediately step in and punish those He considers to be evil? The Bible does give us one explanation about why God doesn't intervene and punish evil: it’s because He is “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He doesn't want you to end up in Hell.
Do you remember how Job laid his hand on his sinful mouth? Has that happened to you? Hopefully, you have seen that we have no right to demand an explanation from God. Like a good judge, He isn't obligated to give us anything but justice. And so the words that Jesus said to His hearers now make sense. He was saying that the answer to their question about suffering and evil was secondary. The first question is, will you repent of a multitude of sins that you yourself have committed, or will you remain in rebellion to your Creator and end up in Hell?
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Fortunately, God is rich in mercy and He provided a way for guilty sinners to be forgiven. He became a perfect sinless Man in Jesus Christ, and suffered and died on a cruel cross, taking the punishment for the sin of the world. We broke God’s moral Law (the Ten Commandments) and Jesus paid our fine. If a guilty criminal has someone pay his fine, the judge can then legally let him go. It is because Jesus paid our fine that God can clothe us in righteousness, and dismiss our case. He can commute our death sentence and let us live forever because of the suffering death and resurrection of the Son of God.
The Bible says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). If you will repent and trust in Jesus alone, God will forgive every sin you have ever committed and grant you the gift of everlasting life. The moment you come to know Him, you will receive a new heart with new desires. You will truly be born again.
Along with being made a brand new person, you will find that you can trust God with very little effort. It’s similar to a love relationship between a man and a woman. If we love someone, we will naturally trust them. Love and trust go hand in hand. When you see the love that God has for you (expressed on the cross), you will easily trust Him regarding His allowance of evil and of suffering. It won’t be such a big issue. You will say to yourself, “God miraculously created my eyes, my brain, my yearning for justice, and on top of that He gave me the gift of eternal life. I’m just a creature, and He is the Almighty Creator. He allows evil and suffering because He has His purposes, and His purposes are infinitely above my understanding. I know that He knows what He’s doing, and so I will trust Him with all of my heart, knowing that one day I will get a complete explanation” (see 1 Corinthians 13:12).
NEW WORLD COMING
It’s also essential to remember that the Bible tells us evil and suffering exist because we live in a “fallen” creation. When God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning, everything was “very good.” According to the World Health Organization, there are now over 12,000 categories of disease. Think of it—12,000 diseases! These exist because Adam sinned against God, opening the door to greed, lust, hatred, rape, anger, jealousy, pride, murder, racism, and war. His sin also ushered in the Genesis curse, which brought with it killer earthquakes, terrifying tornadoes, horrific hurricanes, dreadful droughts, disease-carrying mosquitoes, poisonous snakes, man-eating tigers, killer bees, plague-ridden rats, the pains of old age, endless suffering, and of course, death.
However, the day is coming when God will restore this earth to its original state and there will be no more Genesis curse, a day for which we patiently wait. If you study the signs of the times given to us in the Scriptures, you will know that that day isn’t too far away.
ONE MORE THING
There’s a wonderful consolation for those who love God. If we find ourselves going through some sort of suffering, we have the knowledge that He is permitting this “fiery trial” for a reason. He promises to work out all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (see Romans 8:28). That word “all” means just what it says. When ten of the original twelve disciples were murdered for their faith, God allowed it for their good. Jesus told them that not a hair on their head would perish, and we will see the fulfillment of that in eternity. God is without sin, so He keeps every promise He makes.
So if you are a Christian, whatever terrible lion’s den in which you find yourself, know that God has allowed it for a purpose, and that nothing, not even death, can separate you from His amazing love. Remember the admonition to “trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5, emphasis added). Those who do that can say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). Let your trust in God banish any hopelessness, despair or fear of the future. He knows what He’s doing.
If you are not a Christian and you've irreverently questioned God in your heart or you've let life’s pains make you bitter, please don’t make the mistake of shaking your fist in anger at the One who gave you your life. Instead raise both hands in surrender to His perfect will. You will never regret doing that…not in a million years.