Does the Bible Explain Why God Allows Suffering?
- Clarence L. Haynes Jr. Contributing Writer
- 2020 30 Jun
If there is anything that doesn’t make sense and is hard to come to terms with, it’s the idea of a loving God and suffering. If there were two words or ideas that don’t belong in the same sentence these would qualify.
Before we even dive into the topic, I want to say that this is not easy. There are no simple answers related to suffering because the pain is too great to treat lightly or to randomly dismiss.
Because we know suffering does exist, it causes people to look for answers. One of the questions that lie beneath the surface for many people is...does the bible explain why God allows suffering? With the most amount of care, grace, and compassion, I want to attempt to address this very delicate issue.
How the Bible Explains Suffering
All suffering is the result of sin which ultimately produces evil. If there was no sin in the world there would be no suffering. I know that doesn’t offer much comfort, especially if you are suffering right now. But, it is true: the sinful condition of our world is the result of one man’s sin.
Notice what Paul says in Romans:
When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 (NLT)
Adam’s decision brought with it all the consequences of sin. Two of the biggest are suffering and death. However, I want you to be careful not to automatically equate any suffering you may be going through right now with some specific sin you have committed. This may not be the case.
We are all under the curse of Adam’s sin, which means you will experience pain, hardship, and tears in this life—and one day you will experience death.
Now that I have thoroughly depressed you, let me explain why you don’t have to be.
Temporary and Eternal
When the Bible speaks of suffering, if you sum them all up, there are really two types that matter most: temporary suffering and eternal suffering. Temporary suffering is the result of the fallen sinful world we live in; but is limited to this life. If you are in Christ, then the moment this life ends, so does any suffering you may be experiencing. Paul refers to this in 2 Corinthians 4:17:
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
On the other hand, eternal suffering is the worst of both worlds. Eternal suffering is the result of rejecting God’s love and mercy while in this life, coupled with paying the ultimate price for it throughout eternity.
He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might – 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9
If you are suffering, as difficult as it may be, when compared to eternity, your current suffering is only for a little while. This framework is important. Because to get a handle on suffering you must learn to look at it in its proper perspective.
Once you clear that hurdle, we can now look more intently at the question: does the bible explain why God allows suffering?
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Suzanne D Williams
Why Does God Allow So Much Suffering in the World?
This is a question that has baffled people for generations and I am going to give you a great theological answer right now: I don’t know.
There are great Christian apologists and scholars who tackle this question. Yet, even though we can understand what evil is, we can define and see what suffering is, it’s very difficult to understand why God allows it to continue.
My ‘I don’t know’ answer to the question of why God allows suffering may not feel very theological. However, it does point to a truth that we sometimes forget.
God’s ways and purposes are higher than ours, and we won’t always figure them out.
What I have discovered is that there are some questions that just won’t get answered in this life. This I believe is one of them. What is important to remember, is that suffering in this life does not negate or cancel out God’s love and concern for humanity. I will get to the reason why in just a moment. However, just understand there are things that will happen in this life that you won’t be able to explain, and to which you will never get an explanation.
An Example of Suffering that God Allows
At the root of all suffering as we established is sin and evil. Yet within that sin and evil God has the ability to turn the most difficult pain and suffering into something that becomes good and blesses many people.
If you remember the story of Joseph in Genesis, look at some of the conditions of his story. He was:
- hated by his brothers
- sold by his own brothers into slavery
- falsely accused of rape
- thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit
Can you imagine the pain and suffering Joseph went through during this 13-year period of his life? He was innocent. It wasn’t fair. He didn’t deserve that. I am sure all those thoughts entered his mind at some point.
Yet the story doesn’t end with his suffering. It ends well for him and for everyone. Joseph was elevated to the second-highest leadership position in Egypt and because of his interpretation of a dream, that entire region was saved from famine.
In Joseph’s case, God allowed the suffering because it would bring about deliverance for someone else. Remember what Joseph said to his brothers at the end of Genesis:
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. – Genesis 50:19-20
I have always believed that the suffering you may experience in this life, that God allows, is not for you. It may be to bless someone else. I know it’s hard when you go through suffering, but God will use that suffering to lift someone else who may be going through something similar.
God allows the suffering, then comforts you and brings you through it, so then you can in turn comfort someone else.
The reality of the fallen world we live in is that people are going to suffer (see John 16:33). As believers, how can you identify and understand someone else’s pain if you have never experienced it? Is it possible that the pain you experience and the knowledge of God’s faithfulness you obtain through it has a purpose? What if your trial was the one thing that God used in your life to win one lost soul to him? I know we don’t often think of it in this light but I think it’s an important question for you to ask. This doesn’t make the suffering feel better but maybe it helps give better perspective.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. – 2 Corinthians 1:4-5
Scriptural Promises about Victory over Pain and Tragedy
There are many promises throughout Scripture of God bringing us through trial and pain. I want to share these two:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Sometimes in the midst of trial and pain, we have to look forward. It is so important to remember that we will face hardships in this life, but it’s more important to remember those hardships won’t last forever. God will one day set things back in order, and suffering will be no more.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Rastan
Why Jesus Suffered on Our Behalf
As challenging as this life can be, there is one experience of suffering you and I will never have to experience. We will never have to suffer the eternal punishment for our sin, because Jesus suffered in our place. If you remember the story of Joseph I hope you see the parallels. Here is how it looks in Jesus’ life. He was:
- hated by his own people
- betrayed by one of his own disciples
- falsely accused
- crucified on a cross for sins he didn’t commit
Maybe the answer to the question does the bible explain why God allows suffering is found here in the person of Jesus Christ. Because it was his suffering that brought about our salvation. Again, the suffering of one bringing blessing to many.
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. – Romans 5:18-19
Jesus suffering on our behalf has brought this full circle. The curse that brought us sin, suffering and death has been overturned by Christ who brought us righteousness and eternal life. This doesn’t remove the temporary suffering in this life, but it gives us the hope of freedom from suffering in our eternal life.
A Prayer to See God’s Faithfulness through Suffering
Lord help me in my place of suffering. Give me grace to endure and wisdom to understand the purpose behind what you are doing. Even if I don’t understand why I know that I can trust you. Help me to never lose sight of your great love for me even as I walk through some of life’s most difficult challenges. Amen.
This question has no easy answer. What I do know is that in spite of the pains of life, God is still faithful. And he will supply deliverance.
You may never fully understand the sufferings and trials of this life...I know I don’t. Yet God never promised that he would wipe away all tears and pain in this life. That is what heaven is. I would encourage you today in your suffering to know that God has neither forgotten you, nor rejected you, and he is not mad at you. He has loved you from the beginning and he will continue to love you through every difficult challenge in life.
When it is all said and done he will ultimately fulfill his promise and wipe away every one of your tears. For you belong to him and his love for you is great.
“But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…” – Isaiah 43:1-3
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, teacher, author and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and has just released his first book, The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled trying to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.