Why Is There Suffering in the World?
- Sophia Bricker Contributing Writer
- 2021 17 Jun
Everyone has experienced suffering. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, many people have experienced health crises and the loss of loved ones. Suffering is not a new phenomenon since humans throughout history have also experienced times of pain and hardship.
Although all people will inevitably experience suffering in their lives, there seems to be an innate resistance to such pain. Anger and sadness are common reactions as people wonder, “Why is this happening?” Sadly, some people choose to blame God for their suffering and others even deny His existence because of the evil in the world.
While some skeptics and opponents claim that God cannot exist because of the presence of suffering in the world, Scripture teaches otherwise. Throughout the Bible, there is a plethora of examples of humans who suffer and yet find strength and hope in God.
Unlike other major worldviews and religions, Christianity teaches that God is not silent in response to the problem of pain. He has provided an answer. However, to understand the solution that God has provided to pain and suffering, its cause must be examined and established.
Sin: The Origin of Suffering
While some people blame God for their suffering when they are experiencing pain and sorrow, the Bible teaches that the Lord is not the cause of human suffering. Rather, sin is the originator of all pain, suffering, and evil.
Like the domino effect, sin impacted the entire universe: humans, animals, plants, and planets. Because of this extreme impact on all things, most theologians rightly state that the entire world is fallen.
God had originally created everything good. On the sixth and last day of creation, God looked at all He had made and declared it to be very good, which included the first man and woman (Genesis 1:31). The Lord had graciously made mankind with free will so that they could choose to love Him.
However, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, thus bringing sin into the world (Genesis 3:6-7). As Romans 5:12 clarifies, “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned” (NLT).
The Lord had already warned the first human couple that their sin would bring death into the world, which did occur because of man’s sin (Genesis 2:17). Death, disease, and suffering insidiously crept into God’s good creation.
Weeds and thorns hinder plentiful crops, intense pain accompanies childbirth, and humans die (Genesis 3:16-19). Because of the pervasiveness of sin, all creation is longing for redemption (Romans 8:19-23).
While suffering in the world is caused by the presence of sin in the world, it is important to note that the Bible never says that suffering comes because of a specific sin in a person’s life.
This was the lie that Job’s friends believed, which was that God caused people to suffer because of their sinfulness (Job 4:7-8).
While many people today believe this same lie, the Bible is clear that Job had not done anything to deserve his suffering (Job 1:1,8). A person does not get cancer, for example, because of lying or getting angry. Rather, cancer and other diseases are a result of living in a fallen world.
Many people wrongly believe suffering is a form of divine punishment, which is not true according to Scripture. Individual choices of sinful mankind can and do affect others, such as a gunman choosing to attack a school.
However, the people experiencing the suffering should not be thought of as having “deserved the pain” because of something they did. God does discipline His children for their good (Hebrews 12:6), but He cannot cause evil, for this would contradict His very being (1 John 1:5).
Purpose in Suffering
God is not passive in human suffering, as He is currently active amid the pain in the world. He can use bad events for His good, thus redeeming the pain and suffering for His purpose.
In her book about suffering, missionary and author, Elisabeth Elliot, insightfully states, “[God] has a loving purpose. And He can transform something terrible into something wonderful. Suffering is never for nothing” (Suffering is Never For Nothing).
Many examples of this can be seen in Scripture when God used bad situations for His good. For instance, Joseph’s brothers intentionally planned to murder him but instead sold him as a slave to Egypt (Genesis 37:20-28).
While these actions were evil and caused Joseph suffering, God was at work. The Lord elevated Joseph in the sight of the Pharoah and used him to ration food to prepare for the severe famine, which would affect Egypt and the surrounding area (Genesis 41:33-40).
When he was older, Joseph recognized God’s work in his life and told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20, NIV).
Another example from the Bible, where God used a bad situation for His good, can be found in the Book of Acts. Persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, which caused the Christians to scatter to Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1).
Although this persecution was terrible against Christians, the Lord used it for His good in that the believers spread the gospel to all the places they had been scattered (Acts 8:4). Thus, Jesus’ declaration that the gospel would spread to Judea and Samaria came to pass (Acts 1:8).
These examples, and many more found in Scripture, are wonderful reminders that there is purpose in suffering and God can work out good things from evil circumstances. The most significant purpose in suffering, however, can be found in Jesus’ crucifixion.
Jesus: The Ultimate Sufferer
Amazingly, God did not leave mankind to suffer endlessly. Although He could not arbitrarily forgive sins, since His holiness demands justice, God did have a divine plan to save mankind.
Even in the Book of Genesis, God speaks of His plan directly after the fall of man (Genesis 3:15). To free mankind from sin, death, suffering, and pain, God would have to suffer.
Jesus, God the Son, took on human flesh and became a sinless man while still being fully God (John 1:14). He lived the perfect life, satisfying the commands of the Law, which no sinful human could ever accomplish.
Not only that, but Jesus willingly suffered intense pain and humiliation before willingly dying for the sins of mankind (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 3:18). Jesus suffered, died, and was resurrected to bring eternal life to all who believe in Him (2 Corinthians 5:15).
The ultimate sufferer, Jesus, defeated sin, and its effects, including suffering, which would see its end at the consummation of history.
When Jesus returns and He accomplishes all that is written in Scripture, Satan and death will be destroyed in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:10,14).
In the Eternal Kingdom, which God will establish after the renewal of creation, “He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4, CEV). Believers in Christ will experience eternity with the Lord, free from all suffering and evil.
While the original man and woman chose to bring death and suffering into the world when they freely sinned, the Bible presents the overarching story of how God is at work to redeem His creation. Everything in the universe has been affected by man’s sin.
Mankind has felt the effects of sin through pain and suffering in their lives. Although people may often wonder why God would allow suffering, they must remember that God has already acted to ultimately end human suffering, hardship, and death.
Jesus Christ dealt with sin when he bore mankind’s sin on Himself while hanging on a cross. He suffered unimaginably through the crucifixion and endured the pain of being separated from the Father.
Despite His agony, Jesus lovingly died for all people to bring the promise of a new life without suffering. At the consummation of all things, the entire world will be redeemed from the effects of sin and believers will no longer have to experience sadness, death, or suffering.
Once and for all, God will do away with all sin and Christians will live forever in joyful worship of their Savior. Even in times of suffering, believers can rejoice in their future hope of eternity.
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Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. Holding a Bachelor of Arts in Ministry and currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Ministry, she is passionate about the Bible and her faith in Jesus. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.