An elderly couple returning from visiting family are killed in a car crash. A young family is killed when a tornado rips through their house. A young mother is swept away by a tsunami. A young father is killed in a terrorist attack. A young woman is raped and murdered. A young man is killed in a random act of violence. A child is killed in a dog attack. Toby Keith sings, “Well a man comes on the 6 o’clock news said ‘somebody’s been shot, somebody’s been abused, somebody blew up a building, somebody stole a car…’” Tragedy strikes in many different forms, but whatever the form, it is common for man to cry out, “Why?”
Why would a good God allow such evil, pain, and suffering to exist on earth? Epicurus struggled with this saying, “God either wishes to take away evils and is unable; or He is neither willing nor able; or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and unable, he is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character if God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious, which is equally at variance with God; If He is neither willing or able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not God; If he is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils? Or why does He not remove them?” (Thomas Warren, Have Atheists Proved There Is No God? p. 4).
Why Do We Suffer?
There is not one, but many earthly causes fort man’s suffering. Let’s notice several:
1. Many suffer due to their own personal choice(s) in life.
Consider: (a) The murderer, thief, evildoer, or busybody may reap the consequences of actions in this life (1 Peter 4:15). (b) The drunk or drug addict may bring many woes upon himself (cf. Proverbs 23:29-ff). (c) Those who choose to smoke may suffer respiratory problems. (d) The promiscuous may develop an S.T.D. or unwanted pregnancy. (e) Those who build their houses without good foundations may suffer loss (Matthew 7:24-27). (f) Those who build below sea level or in a flood plain may suffer disaster.
2. One may suffer due to the choice(s) of another (or others).
Consider: (a) One can be murdered, as Stephen was by the mob (Acts 7:57-60). (b) One can be raped, as Tamar was by Amnon (2 Samuel 13). (c) Wives are battered and children are abused through no fault of their own. (d) Drunk drivers kill.
3. One may suffer due to the choice(s) of a previous generation.
Consider: (a) God told the Israelites “your carcasses shall fall in the wilderness. And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of your infidelity, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness” (Numbers 14:33, cf. Exodus 20:4-6). (b) Later, Israelites would say, “our fathers sinned and are no more, but we bear their iniquities. Servants rule over us” (Lamentations 5:7-8). While they did not bear the guilt of their parents sins (Ezekiel 18:20), they did bear the consequences. (c) Children are born with problems due to prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol. (d) Children are born with HIV infection. (e) All of humanity suffers due to the effects of the global flood and the reshaping of the earth’s topography (cf. Psalm 104:5-9 NASB). Wayne Jackson has written, “Had it not been for man’s evil, the flood would never have come; the features of the earth would not have been so altered; and man would not be suffering the consequences thereof today!” (The Book of Job, p. 118).
4. One may suffer as a result of living in a physical world which is operating according to physical laws.
Consider: (a) Gravity is a part of this world. Gravity allows us to dwell upon this earth. Gravity can also cause objects to fall and such may result in death (Like 13:4). (b) Fire can be used to cook and warm the bones. Fire can also kill (Job 1:16). (c) Water can be used to sustain life. Water can also drown (Exodus 15:4). (d) Stones can be used to build a house. Stones can be used to stone a man to death (Acts 7). (e) Food can be used to sustain life. Food can be misused resulting in obesity and heart disease.
5. Some suffering comes as a direct result of living a godly life.
Consider: (a) “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). (b) “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God ” (Acts 14:23, cf. 2 Timothy 4:18; 2 Peter 1:10-11). (c) “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
6. Some suffering may by due to Satan’s attacks (Job 1:9-22; 2:1-10). Satan attacked Job’s family, wealth, and health in an effort to get him to turn against God.
Why Does God Allow Such?
Some make the assumption that if God is omnipotent (all-powerful), then He should immediately eliminate all evil, pain, and suffering upon this earth. However, could there be reasons that God allows evil, pain, and suffering to continue in this world?
1. Pain plays a role in physical preservation.
Pain is the body’s warning that something is wrong. It prompts one to remove his hand from a hot stove top. It informs the body that food and water is needed. It informs us that a body part has been injured and needs attention.
2. Pain and suffering can be used (if properly viewed) to spiritually mature us.
When tragedy strikes, man is reminded of the brevity and uncertainty of life. James writes, “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” ( James 4:14). This should prompt man to wisely use time (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5). We should not “let the sun go down on (our) wrath” (Ephesians 4:26).
Tragedy also reminds us that we should live out our lives prepared for eternity, because we know not how long we each will have on this earth. “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Suffering helps us to understand how God views sin. Think of the suffering of Jesus upon the cross who “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). I could never grasp how terrible sin is to God without the suffering of Christ.
Suffering can be used to develop certain spiritual characteristics. Patience can be developed through suffering ( James 1:2-3; Romans 5:3-4). Arrogance and pride can be quenched through suffering (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Prayer and humility before God sometimes is a result of suffering (2 Chronicles 33:9-13; Jonah 2:1-2; Psalm 119:67-71). Seeing the sinful suffer may prevent me from following the same course.
Suffering in others can prompt us to be benevolent and compassionate beings (Luke 10:30-37; Romans 12:15). It can help us to not be wholly self-absorbed.
Kerry Duke has written, “God has provided man with an environment capable of building in him qualities suitable for another realm” (God At a Distance, p. 12).
3. Suffering may fit within God’s plan of volitional balance.
Kerry Duke explains, “It was not enough for God merely to create man as a free moral agent. To exercise his will in the truest sense, he must have an environment perfectly suited for this purpose” (ibid, p. 13). Again, “just as the earth is neither too close to nor too far away from the sun, man in a spiritual sense is neither too close to God nor too far removed from Him” (ibid. p. vii). “To preserve freedom, God does not overwhelm man with a direct manifestation of Himself. Just as a piece of metal that is too close to a magnet cannot resist being drawn to it, man could not avoid believing in God if he were to experience the unveiled essence of deity. On the other hand, if man had no revelation from the Creator, he would be incapable of finding and serving Him” (ibid, p. 43). God could have created an environment with trials so severe that our souls would be so crushed or preoccupied that obedience to His will would have been virtually impossible. But God designed the physical environment after neither of these extremes” (ibid, p. 143).
Some have wondered why God allows the righteous to suffer. However, if God removed all suffering from the righteous, would there really be volitional balance?
4. Life is best viewed as a test.
“Just as men test silver and gold for their genuineness, the Lord tests the genuineness of the heart (Zechariah 13:9; Psalm 66:10). Tribulation is pictured by Peter as a trial of fire that is for mote important than the testing of gold (1 Peter 1:7). … We are compelled in the face of trials to declare the heart’s true desires. Tribulation quickly unmasks us of any pretense. Of course, God knows our hearts before we respond to the trial (Note: the trial itself may mature us. See point 2 above. B.H.). But when we react to a trying situation, we declare unequivocally to the world and to ourselves who we really are. Trials bring to the surface the good or bad qualities that lie undetected deep inside the soul” (Duke, p. 142).
5. God provides man with opportunity to repent.
Some wonder why does not God simply eliminate the sinful. If God eliminated each and every person the minute he sinned, no adult reading this now would be alive. God has provided man with the opportunity to repent (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). Some will. Others will not.