Our soul questions: Does suffering happen because God can’t stop it? Because He won’t stop it? Doesn’t He want to stop it? Does suffering happen because we are bad? Is suffering inevitable? What does God want me to do when I’m suffering?

  • Some secular-minded people conclude that suffering happens because God is either impotent or evil.
  • Some religions tell us that suffering happens because we are getting what we deserve— either because of something we did in this life or the life before; God is punishing us or letting us get what we deserve.
  • Legalistic Christians tend to say that suffering happens because we sin; if we would be more perfect, we would suffer less.

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While it might be difficult to answer how a good, loving, all-powerful God could allow evil and suffering, the Cross of Jesus Christ is the ultimate answer to the world’s problem with suffering. It answers why does God allow suffering in two ways:

  1. The Cross of Jesus Christ tells us that sin is the cause of our pain. At the beginning of time, God created a place called “Eden”— a paradise with unhindered access to God and no suffering in the world. Yet, when the first humans sinned against God they were removed from this paradise and now distances from God. Sin became a part of the world and a part of the nature of man. There would have been no need for Christ to come if God’s plan would have remained uninterrupted. The fact Jesus came verifies that God saw our sin as the cause of our temporal and eternal suffering.
  2. The Cross of Jesus Christ shows us that God has a solution to our suffering. God defeated evil and suffering through the death of Jesus upon the cross. This is proven by His resurrection from the dead. God knew we would suffer and loved us enough to have a solution for us.

Pastor and author Tim Keller explain in his book Walking with God that Christianity teaches the reality and purpose of suffering are counter to what we will hear elsewhere. We know that:

  • Contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming. I know this firsthand.
  • Contra Buddhism, suffering is real. It is part of the fallen world.
  • Contra karma, suffering is often unfair. But God will judge in the end.
  • Contra secularism, suffering is meaningless. It is doing something.

There was a man in the Bible we refer to as The Apostle Paul. He wrote over 1/2 of the New Testament. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 he wrote about the suffering he experienced. If anyone had reason to ask, why would a good God allow suffering it was him.
He said, he was repeatedly put in prison, flogged more times than he can count, faced death, beaten with rods, whipped, stones thrown and dropped on him, shipwrecked three times, robbed, hungry, thirsty, without sleep, cold, naked and anxious. If we heard about a guy like this on the news we would say, how is he still living? And yet, he was not only living— he was continually ministering to others, joyful and hopeful.

In his letter to the Romans, in Romans 8:18, related to his suffering he says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

While our suffering is not the same type as his, we are not unfamiliar with pain and loss. How can he really say, my suffering is “NOT WORTH COMPARING”? Think of the diseases like Merz, Ebola or Covid. Or what about Stalin or Hitler and the millions of people that lost their lives in the worst way under terrible world leaders? Or what about the suffering of rape, or the Me-Too movement or physical abuse that is downright evil? Or the tragedy of 9-11 or terror of Isis?

Do you mean to tell me that those terrible things that have happened in our world in mass-proportions cannot be compared to the glory that is to come through Jesus Christ? How stupendous must that glory be if it cannot even be compared to the terrible suffering we have on Earth?

Yet, we look at our own pain and suffering and question God’s goodness, all the while He is working on something greater in reward and magnitude than the pain we experience.

In the midst of our pain, we play the “if only” game with God. If Only you were there… If Only you would have stopped this… If Only you were good and truly powerful… All the while questioning if He is really good because our suffering seems so much more real and overpowering that God.

That was true for Lazarus’s friends and family in John 11:1-43. Jesus was ministering in another town when his friend, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha’s brother gets sick and dies. They send word to Jesus to come and same him and instead of coming right away, He stays for two days then goes.

Upon Jesus’ arrival, he is met by the sister of Lazarus who starts saying, If Only you would have been here! If only you would have listened… If only you would have been good and loving, you would have stopped this pain.

And do you know how Jesus responds? Quit unusually and unconventionally. He doesn’t answer her questions— He reframes her thinking. Look at John 11:25-26, “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

He doesn’t play her if only game. There was no engagement with her basic question: if God is good, how could he allow this to happen? Instead, He ignores her question because it was the wrong question.

She shouldn’t be asking how could God allow this? but what is God doing in this? In her case, and also in ours, Jesus is constantly giving us the hope of the eternal weight of glory that is coming on the other side.

Remember back in the day when coaches of [Little League football games] were a bit more aggressive? They could take a kid to the sidelines and grab him by the helmet and say, “Look at me! Look at me!”

Similarly, Jesus was grabbing Martha by the helmet and saying, “Look at me! Don’t you look at your loss or your suffering… keep your eyes on me” and He does the same to us. In our pain, he says, “I am the resurrection and the life! Whoever believes in me will never die!”

You may feel like this suffering and pain will kill you, but it won’t. Jesus will win every time! Look at Him! When it comes to suffering in our lives, we really are left with two options: Trust God or Toughen Up. If we chose to just bear and grin through it, then we are denying the power of God in it. Christians know that self-reliance is self-defeating.

In 2 Corinthians 4:6-18 Paul writes about God’s perspective on our suffering. It is temporary and transient. Paul’s troubles were, of course, neither light nor momentary in themselves. Yet, the weighty and eternal character of the glory they were achieving for him was far greater than the pains he experienced. He writes…

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” — 2 Corinthians 4:17–18

A good God allows suffering in this life because through it He is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. Suffering reveals our impurities and the faults of our faith in God. In a sense, it is only through suffering that we can actually know that God is good. It is only through Him allowing us to go through pain that we can know Him more.

So instead of asking, why would a good God allow suffering? Let’s reframe our thinking and say how loving of God to allow me to suffer in order to know Him and develop in me the weight of glory. The right question is not why are you allowing this, God? But what are you developing in me, God?

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