Once when I was talking to a travel agent, our conversation moved to spiritual topics and the existence of God. “I don’t believe in God,” she said. “If there is a God, why is there so much suffering in the world today? Why do thousands die of starvation every day? What kind of God would allow terrible diseases to run rampant? Why was my best friend just crippled in an automobile accident? Why didn’t He stop Hitler?”
“Those are very good questions,” I answered, “but you see, if God had put a stop to Hitler, for example, He also would have to put a stop to every other person’s free will. The Bible says, ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’1 So He would have had to prevent everybody in the whole world from doing anything wrong or bad! From the very beginning, God would have had to step in and interfere with our free will and the majesty of personal choice that He’s given each of us to choose good or evil.”
“But wouldn’t it have been better if He had made us all to be good?” she challenged.
“If God had wanted robots, He could have made everybody only do good and love Him. But He made us with free choice and free will, so we could choose to love Him! You wouldn’t enjoy your children as much if they had no choice but to love you, would you?” I questioned.
Puzzled, she replied, “Well, no, but what does this have to do with suffering?”
I went on to explain, “Because we were put here to choose between good and evil, between God’s way or our own way, and wrong choices are the cause of all the suffering, misery, pain, ill health, wars, and economic troubles in the world today. Instead of choosing to love and obey God, we choose to do things our own way, and we sometimes end up suffering from the consequences of our wrong choices. The Bible tells us that ‘there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.’”2
This exchange prompted me to think about how much of the world’s suffering is caused by humankind, such as the untold suffering that humankind has caused by fighting wars in which millions have been killed and maimed. Martin Luther called war “the greatest plague that can afflict humanity; it destroys religion, it destroys states, and it destroys families. Any scourge is preferable to it.”
Is God to blame for man’s wars? The Bible says, “What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you?” 3 God is not to blame for the suffering caused by war, but rather humankind’s greed or thirst for power, glory, and selfish gain.
In our current age, the stress and rush and tension of modern living often brings on psychosomatic diseases such as severe headaches, stomach ulcers, and heart problems. We have not learned to cast all our cares upon God, as we are advised to do in 1 Peter 5:7, so we allow our worried and harried minds to make us physically sick as we strive to keep up with the ever-increasing pace of modern society! Meanwhile, we can also make ourselves sick by smoking, drinking excessively, and taking substances that harm our minds and bodies.
For another example of ways in which humankind causes suffering, look at the millions who are starving each year in some parts of our world, when there is a surplus of food in other parts of the world. God has provided more than enough so that no one need go hungry! But while surpluses are stored or destroyed in some parts of the world, the people in other nations starve.
Of course, much of the reason that millions of people around the world suffer deprivation, want, and squalor is because of the selfishness of others. If everyone shared their wealth or lands as they should, or invested it in jobs and industries to create employment, or paid living wages or fair prices for the labor and produce of the poor, there would certainly be enough to go around. God’s Word repeatedly advises and even commands those who have abundance to share with those who have not, because He doesn’t want the poor to suffer.
Lastly, we must also remember the ways God can use suffering for good in our lives. Sorrow and suffering often bring out the best in people, compassion, love, and concern for others. Suffering is meant to be a strength-giver and to equip us for giving strength to others. The Bible says, “We comfort others with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”4 For Christians, it gives us the desire to share the eternal solution to people’s problems and suffering—Jesus!
“Why does God allow suffering?” is one of the great questions of life. Though we can understand many of the reasons through reading God’s Word, there are some things we won’t fully understand until the next life, when we are able to see things as God sees them.
Suffering often turns people to God and inspires them to repent and seek forgiveness and ask God to save them. As King David said, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but in my suffering I cried unto the Lord and He saved this poor man out of all his troubles.”5 Suffering and affliction can draw us closer to God.
God’s Word promises us that all the suffering for those who love God will come to an end, and He “will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there will be no more pain, for the former things are passed away.”6
Until that perfect day, we will have to endure some suffering, but our compensation, our reward waiting for us in heaven, far outweighs the temporary pain and suffering we may experience on earth. As the apostle Paul said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”7
- Romans 3:23
- Proverbs 14:12 NIV
- James 4:1 HCSB
- 2 Corinthians 1:4
- Psalm 18:6; 34:6; 119:67
- Revelation 21:4
- Romans 8:18 ESV