Why Does God Allow Suffering?

by Jason on March 13, 2010

I know, this is a bit off my usual topic of money, but hey – it’s good to shake things up a bit.

We’ve seen a lot of suffering in the world lately – devastation in Haiti, earthquakes all over the globe right now, extreme poverty and hunger and then of course diseases like cancer!

Cancer is something that my wife and I know well, three weeks before our wedding Jen was diagnosed with cancer, but just this past year we celebrated five years of remission!

Currently, one of my all-time favorite pastors that I listen to and follow closely, Matt Chandler – from The Village Church in Dallas, was diagnosed with brain cancer.

We can ask why these things happen and to some degree these things are a mystery.  We do know that there is evil in the world, but that God is good.  He is not the author of evil, but He does allow it so that He can work through it for His glory and ultimately our good.

I don’t pretend to know all the answers of why God allows it, but what is meant for evil, God uses for the good of others.

What’s been cool with Chandler is his attitude and desire to “suffer well” during this trial.  The Associated Press ran an article on him about a month ago that is worth the read to get you up to speed onwhat’s been happening.

Here’s my two cents for what it’s worth -

God uses trials and suffering to test our faith

James 1:2-4 says:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

God uses these things to mature us as Christians, to put us through the refining fire to make us more like His Son.  We won’t achieve that ultimately here on earth, but eventually when He calls us home we will.

God uses suffering to keep us trusting in Him

It’s crazy, but when things are going well with me – I tend to ignore God.  I don’t pray as fervently, I don’t worship as strongly and I don’t look to Him as the source of every good thing.

But, when things go bad, I get on my knees, I pray like there’s no tomorrow, and I worship intensely.  It’s a shame, but it’s true.  How about for you?  We need to keep looking to Him for  the answer.

God uses suffering to point us to the ONE who ultimately suffered

That ONE is Jesus Christ, God’s Son.  Christ left all the riches and glory of heaven to come down to this earth, become a man, live a perfect and holy life and ultimately suffer at the hands of men.

They beat Him, they mocked Him, they spit upon Him, they whipped and flogged Him shredding His back into a bloody mess – they put a crown of thorns on Him, nailed His hands and His feet to a Roman cross – the most disgusting way to die in that day – and lifted Him up for all to scorn Him.

And if that wasn’t enough – God poured out His wrath, the punishment for all of my sin and yours onto His Son – and Christ died.

But that wasn’t the end of the story – after three days He rose again from the dead, defeated death, set us free from the chains of sin and death and lives today!  For all who turn from their sin and put their trust in Him – true life is available for all!

God uses suffering to point us back to Jesus’ ultimate suffering that He took on to make a way for us to have a right relationship with God Himself.

Hebrews 12:1-2 says:

…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

For more on suffering, check out this blog post by Geoff Ashley entitled Seven Thoughts on Suffering.

Here’s Chandler’s thoughts on suffering:

What are your thoughts on why God allows suffering?

Photo Credit: LM Otero / AP

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Forest March 13, 2010 at 10:11 am

This is a really tough thing for me to comment on as I can’t fully articulate what I feel.

However I can’t accept that a just god would allow suffering without holding some form of arrogance. I can much easier accept hat the being of god is not 100% good…. However that would be against Christian beliefs and also Good and Bad are things that change on a human level from generation to generation so a god’s perception of what is good would be totally different to us.

Death is something we all understand differently. If you believe you are going to a better place then death isn’t quite so scary. The worst of the pain may be for the people who have to carry on after you go.

No matter how much I think about it I just can’t accept that suffering is something that is ‘allowed’ by a higher being. Maybe god, gods, mother nature has no control, maybe their isn’t a higher being, maybe maybe maybe I just don’t know.

The suffering question was one of the first things that made me categorically non-religious. We cause so much of our own suffering i could not see why a higher power would add to that with things we could never solve.

Right now I would not say I am non-religious. I am open to all and open to non (if that makes any sense) and in the camp of being content not knowing the answer…. I just want to live a good life and be a good person as much as I can be. It’s so sad that anyone suffers but I highly admire the people who can rationalise it and just keep on going and not be bitter about their situation.

Great post and great food for thought.
.-= Forest´s last blog ..Trade in Your Car for a Horse, Would It Be Cheaper? =-.

Judson March 13, 2010 at 12:45 pm

The one thing my wife has always wanted wass a baby. Then last year Rachel and I got pregnant. After 5 weeks, we miscarried. That DEVASTATED us. The ONE thing we wanted on this earth wss taken from us.

The awesome thing about it, my wife said that for some reason God wanted to have our baby before us. That right there gave me joy in knowing my wife’s strong and solid faith.

We hold to the fact that gave gave us that trial because we could handle it when others couldn’t and he did it so “that” light could shine before others and other would see that Jesus is real – because if he wan’t we probably would’t have gotten through it.

Praise the glory of His grace,
Judson

Jason March 13, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Forest, thanks so much for your comment and for checkin’ out the blog. I totally understand where you are coming from – it’s a very difficult thing to grasp that a good God would “allow” suffering to happen because it goes against our desire to see those types of things ended.

One of the things that has helped me process this thought is that if you go back to Genesis – the first book in the Bible and look at the story of creation – God created a world with perfect harmony and rhythm – it was paradise. There was no suffering or evil – but the problem was that when Adam & Eve sinned, it jacked the whole system up!

Now there was shame and guilt, a couple chapters later we read about Cain murdering his own brother – so that initial fall of man led to a new system that was imperfect.

From what I hear from you, and I am the same way – I want to see poverty ended, social justice served, suffering gone and diseases cured – but we just won’t until God ushers back His kingdom again. We read in Revelation at the end of the Bible that God will create a new heaven and new earth and the old will be gone, the new one will come with no more tears, no more sorrow, no more suffering.

God will bring back that rhythm, that perfect harmony, that paradise – but for now He allows these types of things in part to show us that the world IS jacked up and that what we really long for is to be back in perfect harmony with Him.

Anyways, I’m no theologian, but those are some of the thoughts I’ve worked through in my study of the Bible, God and suffering

Craig/FFB March 13, 2010 at 2:25 pm

This is a hard question to get your head around. I prefer to try to stay away from the black and white question of why suffering is allowed. Phrasing it that way gives it a cause and effect as if bad things happen to bad people or because something bad was done. I look at it more as suffering exists. How we deal with suffering is how we are as people. Do we let suffering bring us down to our animal selves or does it make us push harder to be better enlightened?

Suffering is knowledge. What do we learn about the world and about ourselves when we suffer? Maybe that is key.

Not to make light of tragedies that happen. Sometimes we really can’t make heads or tails of why things are. We just have to go on trying to make each day better.

Kevin@OutOfYourRut March 13, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Jason–We’re on parallel paths here! I posted a piece on the same topic last night on my faith forum page. I must say I think you’ve done a better job handling it, and it is a tough one no matter how it’s done.

Forest–None of this will make the slightest sense until you grasp the concept of a Sovereign God. Once you accept that, you begin to undertand. Bad things never feel good, but you begin to understand and accept. I sense that you want to believe, but you’re looking for someone to answer all of your questions satisfactorily first. I had the same idea for a long time, but realized that some questions will never be answered this side of heaven no matter how hard we try. Ultimately, it comes down to taking that leap of faith, then waiting on God to reveal to you as much as you need. We’ll always have questions.

Judson–the point that your wife made, “God wanted to have our baby before us”, is supported by a verse from Isaiah saying as much. I can’t find it, but it really helped me to come to grips with death. Your witness in the face of this tragedy is a light to everyone around you. Your child isn’t gone, he/she just went ahead of you.
.-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..Since when are you the quitting type? =-.

Jason March 13, 2010 at 6:46 pm

JD – thanks for you testimony to Him in light of difficult circumstances!

Jason March 13, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Craig/FFB – thanks for your comment! I think that’s a good distinction to make that not all suffering is a result of someone doing a bad thing. I think there are cases of it being a cause/effect relationship, but not always.

You’re right though, we need to press forward and do our parts in making the best out of it.

Jason March 13, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Kevin – it is a tough issue for sure. I liked your post as well. You bring up a great point about God being Sovereign over all things. And He is good – He works out all things for His glory.

BibleDebt March 13, 2010 at 9:32 pm

God always uses trials to prepare you for a larger goal. It may take a lifetime to see why, but he always has a plan. Praise God for our blessings and trials!

Jason March 14, 2010 at 7:10 am

Bible Debt – thanks for the reminder that we may not see right away what our own trials are for, but God does have a bigger plan!

Kevin@OutOfYourRut March 14, 2010 at 10:47 am

BibleDebt – You’re bringing up a point that’s been very apparent to me of late, that we’re being prepared for larger goals. Sometimes it takes years before we can see and apprecitate that, and it does of course require a willingness to acqknowledge the driving force behind it.

Even non-believers are aware of it, but refer to it as “luck” or “karma”. Question: How could we have either apart from the existence of a higher power?

How could either come to be in a raw, naturally driven evolution?
.-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..Should You Use Retirement Savings to Pay Off Debt? =-.

MikeB March 14, 2010 at 1:19 pm

What a great question.
Every time I work outside it is hard on my hands but over time tougher skin formed and the work didn’t hurt my hands as much.
I think a similar effect happens when God allows us to suffer. Those challenges allow us to grow, learn, do better next time, and be an example.

Jason March 14, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Mike – thanks for that great analogy! God uses tough things to continue to form us and shape us into who He wants us to be.

Mitch Ebie March 14, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Great article! The book of James, in the Bible, tells us that suffering (trials) leads to maturity. This is true, but I am not convinced that it is the choice of God that we suffer over the chance events that are the results of a fallen world (Genesis 3 really messed things up for us). I have thought much about this topic and my conclusion is that, sure God can throw some trial our way to encourage maturity in him, but there really is not much of an alternative. The absence of suffering would raise more questions about God than what already exists. No suffering means there is no Genesis 3 as we know it, and no Genesis 3 means no need for Jesus.

Carlos March 16, 2010 at 7:07 am

Jason: That’s one of those questions that you hope you don’t hear when your witnessing to someone. I’d have to agree with your perspective. When I’m asked this or think about it I always think back to Job and what he had to endure and basically God “allowed” to happen to him.

The other piece to it is I believe God put principals in place on this Earth and when we apply or break these principals we might view them as God “allowing” us to suffer. Financially in particular if you spend more than you make you’ll go broke. This is not God’s fault, the circumstance is based on multiple decisions that have been made with money that has led up to…bankruptcy, foreclosure, repossession ect. Great question!
.-= Carlos´s last blog ..I’m Sorry but Stewardship is not just about Management =-.

Joseph | kickdebtoff March 16, 2010 at 7:57 am

Great post and Amen to the things you highlighted
“God uses suffering to point us to the ONE who ultimately suffered” This is one christian principles that we should try to learn as christians.
Consequently, some things are hard to explain and even harder to comprehend, but the confidence that even in it all God has great and good plans for us should be our source of strength.

What the suffering also reminds us is that we are travelling through.. to a better place. In fact Jesus told his disciples that
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
This was the scripture that came to mind last week when i learnt that both my uncle and grandpa died monday last week – a very difficult time for the family to bury two family members at the same time.
.-= Joseph | kickdebtoff´s last blog ..Some DIY Savings Tips =-.

Jason March 17, 2010 at 6:55 am

Hey Carlos, thanks for the comment – yeah, it’s interesting sometimes that we tend to blame others or even God for that matter for the bad things in our lives, when in reality, often it’s our own mistakes that have led to some horrible consequences. That isn’t always the case, but that’s probably a good starting point to consider.

Jason March 17, 2010 at 6:56 am

Joe- I’m so sorry to hear about your uncle and grandpa – my sincerest condolences to you and your family. It sounds like you’ve got some good perspective during a very difficult time for your family. Thanks for sharing and for touching base!

Christina March 19, 2010 at 2:24 am

I have always believed that God allows us to suffer to prepare us for a greater responsibility. If we keep having the same problem or none at all, then we’re not growing. It also serves as a reminder that I’m not in control of my life but HE is. People have the tendency to forget to say thank you when all things go well and when things are starting to get sour…then that’s the time we call out His name. We don’t want to suffer but everything has its own purpose, in fact its just consequences of our actions, we ask ourselves why Lord..but in time, if open our hearts and listen carefully with what He wants for us…then we will come to realize that He always wants what’s best for us and the people around. Life is really full of mystery but if we keep holding on to Him, we can uncover those mysteries through our journey in life.

Nice read. Thanks for sharing.

Jason March 19, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Christina, thanks for checkin’ in. I totally agree:

People have the tendency to forget to say thank you when all things go well and when things are starting to get sour…then that’s the time we call out His name.

I know that to be the case in my own life – difficulties keep us on our knees and dependent upon Him!

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