Why does God allow pain and suffering?

A LONG-WINDED WAY OF SAYING, “I DON’T KNOW” – BUT WHY THAT’S OK AND WHAT WE DO KNOW

What we don’t know about pain and suffering – the specifics

This question is as old as the world. It’s a question that even the biblical authors asked – like David in Psalm 13:1 “How long O Lord, will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

Let me start with an admission. There’s a lot I don’t know about this. I don’t have an answer to the question, “Why?” I don’t know why you are suffering right now, why some parents lose their children so young, why your mom got cancer, or why your sister was struck by a car. When it comes to the specifics, God hasn’t revealed that. I can’t explain why I am sitting here typing this in a comfortable office in fine physical health, while other people around the world are hungry, homeless, and hurting.

When it comes to specifics, we just don’t know. We don’t know why New Orleans got hit by Katrina (contrary to the thoughts of some). We don’t know why certain people at certain times have to suffer.

In fact, that’s the whole point of the book of Job. As Job is suffering (and boy, does he suffer) his friends come up with every possible reason for why this is happening. But, none of them are right. In the end, the whole question of “why” is dismissed by God. He basically tells Job, “Who are you to question me?”

If we are stuck on this question, we’re gonna be stuck for a while. We don’t know why specific bad things happen.

What we do know

While there’s a lot we are unsure of, there is plenty that we are confident of.

  1. All pain and suffering is a result of sin. This does NOT mean that if you get cancer it’s because you really messed up some time earlier in life. It does NOT mean that if a city is devastated by an earthquake/tornado/tsunami that God is exacting payment for its sin. But, God’s Word makes it clear that the reason why bad things happen is because there is sin in the world. And sin has thrown everything out of whack. Nothing works the way it should anymore – our bodies, our environment, our relationships. This leads us to point numero two.
  2. All pain and suffering is an occasion for repentance. Check out Luke 13:1-5. In that short interchange some people come to Jesus to tell Him about the latest atrocity that Pilate had committed. It seems as though they want to know why God would let that happen. Did the Jews deserve it? Were they hiding some secret sin? Then Jesus brings up another atrocity – a time when a giant tower fell and killed 18 people. In neither example does Jesus answer the “why?” question. He doesn’t explain why He allowed these things to occur. All He says in the end is, “Repent”. A similar interchange happens in John 9:1-5. In that passage there’s a blind man and people want to know who caused the blindness by their sin – him or his parents? Jesus doesn’t answer the “why?” but says that it happened so that God’s work might be displayed in his life. Point being, anytime we see bad things happen we shouldn’t point the finger (at others’ sins OR at God) but at ourselves. We should reflect on how we are a part of the problem of sin in the world and begin to trust in God as the answer to it all.
  3. God is good, loving, and powerful. Passages like 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4 remind us that God loves all people and longs for them to be saved. That is a consistent message of the Bible, probably because God knows we will be tempted to see suffering as a sign that God isn’t good, that He doesn’t care, or that He’s not all-powerful.
  4. God works good out of bad. Check out Romans 8:28. God can take really bad things and work good out of them. Maybe you’ve seen it happen in your own life. A health scare brings a family closer together. A financial crisis changes priorities. Now, that doesn’t make the bad things good and it doesn’t minimize their badness. Death, cancer, and suffering in general are still bad. But, God works good out of them, through them. God is bigger than our suffering and so He is able to twist it for good. He’s able to take the lemons we’ve grown in our lives and make them into lemonade.
  5. God can sympathize with us, because Jesus suffered too. Jesus experienced the effects of sin in this world just like we do. He probably stubbed His toes and hit His funny-bone. We know He cried at the funeral of His friends (Lazarus), underwent mockery and ridicule, and of course was crucified on a cross. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us that He can sympathize with us in everyday because He’s been where we’ve been. Jesus isn’t some cold, uncaring, CEO who laughs at the plights of His people, but a loving Lord who understands our pain, because He suffered too.

God’s answer to our pain and suffering

No, I’m not going to pull a switch on you and tell you the answer to your individual “why?” I still don’t know why you got cancer, why your child got sick, or why your family seems to have so much trouble. God hasn’t given us answers to those questions.

What God has given us is THE answer. The answer to all our pain and suffering: The Cross. That’s where He defeated our pain and suffering once and for all. That’s where He conquered it. On the cross Jesus declared victory of sin, satan, and the world. Your suffering is not what defines you, it’s not the end of your story, and it’s not a reflection of what God thinks of you. The cross is what God thinks of you – He loves you so much He died so that you could spend an eternity in His glorious presence.

Let me leave you with these words – and I don’t share them to minimize your pain, but maybe to put it into eternal perspective in light of what God has done.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that God will reveal in us.” Romans 8:18.

If you’ve liked what you read and what to read more, check out my little book called, “Growing Up: In, with, and under Jesus” on Amazon.

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