Summary: “Why is there suffering in the world?" is the #1 question people would like to ask God. There are some answers we can give to that question.
Faith Under Fire
Why Does God Allow Suffering?
Life ought to come with a list of side effects. There should be a tag on every newborn baby saying life can be full of fun and adventure and excitement and joy, but there are side effects. There’s illness . . abuse . . . broken relationships. . . betrayal . . . sorrow . . . loss . . . injuries. . . disappointment . . . heartache . . . crime . . .and death.
Actually, life did come with a warning. Jesus said in John 16:33 that in this life, there will be trouble. But why? Why these side effects? Why is there suffering and evil and pain?
That “why” question 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, where we witnessed two World Wars, the Holocaust, devastating famines in Africa, the killing fields of Cambodia, the emergence of AIDS, the genocide in Rwanda, the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, and the attacks of 9/11. Why all of this if there’s a loving and powerful God? Why do bad things happen to good people?
I commissioned a national survey and asked people what question they’d ask if they could only ask God one thing. The Number One response was: “Why is there suffering in the world?” Interesting, I found statistical quirk: people who are married were much more likely to want to know why there’s so much suffering.
If you’ve never asked why our world is infected with pain and suffering and evil, you will when they strike you with full force or come to a loved one. And I really wish I could stand in the shoes of God and completely answer the question, but obviously I can’t.
First Corinthians 13:12 says that on this side of heaven, we only see things dimly, because we can’t understand everything from our finite perspective. And, yet, this is equally important: THERE ARE SOME THINGS THAT WE CAN UNDERSTAND ABOUT SUFFERING.
Let me give you an analogy. Leslie and I were driving up to Door County, Wisconsin, which is that thumb-shaped peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan. We were driving up Highway 42 in the dark, when it started raining heavily and we hit dense fog. I could barely see the white stripe on the edge of the road. I didn’t stop because I was afraid someone might come along and rear-end us, so I just crept along.
But then a truck appeared in front of us and we could clearly see his tail-lights through the fog. He apparently had fog lamps in front, because he was traveling at a confident and deliberate pace, and I knew if we could just follow those tail-lights, we’d be headed in the right direction.
And the same is true in understanding why there is evil and suffering in our world. We may not be able to make out all the peripheral details of why — they may be obscured from our view — but there are some key Biblical truths that can illuminate some points of light for us. And if we follow those lights, they will lead us in the right direction, toward some conclusions that I believe can satisfy our souls.
What are those points of light? Let me go through the points that I’ve personally found helpful whenever I’ve been prompted to ask the question “why.”
The first point of light to remember is this: God is not the creator of evil and suffering.
This answers the question you hear so often: “Why didn’t God merely create a world where suffering and evil didn’t exist?” The answer is: He did. Genesis 1:31 says: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
But if God is not the author of pain or evil or death, where did they come from? Well, God decided to give human beings free will, which is necessary if we are to be able to express love to God and to each other. If you pull the string on a Barbie doll and it says, “I love you,” that doesn’t mean anything because it’s been programmed to say it. Real love must involve a choice.
Unfortunately, we humans have abused our free will by rejecting God and walking away from Him. And that has resulted in the introduction of two kinds of evil into the world: “moral evil” and “natural evil.”
Moral evil is the immorality and pain and suffering that comes because we choose to be selfish, arrogant, uncaring, hateful, and abusive. And Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Some have estimated that 95 percent of the world’s suffering results from the sin of ourselves or others. For example, people look at a famine and wonder where God is, but the world produces enough food for each person to have 3,000 calories a day. It’s our own irresponsibility and self-centeredness that prevents people from getting fed.