If God is good and loving, why does he allow us to suffer? You may be seeking to understand where God is in the midst of a storm or you have a friend or child questioning "Why does God allow suffering?" To answer this question, we need to take a look at Scripture and understand Christian theology and worldview.
What Does Scripture Say About Suffering?
Christians can experience “many troubles”—mental, physical, emotional or spiritual suffering (Psalm 34:19). All Christians have or will suffer (John 16:33; Acts 14:22). The Apostle Paul experienced various faces of suffering (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).
While suffering can be a result of sin, all creation, even the righteous, will groan under the weight of sin and suffering (Romans 8:20-22). Only in heaven is there no pain, death or grief (Revelation 21:4).
Satan is the author of sin, and suffering came on mankind as a result of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3). Because of that choice, the curse of sin pervades all creation—humans have a sin nature (Romans 5:12-21); but people also are sinners because of their choices (Romans 3:23; Galatians 6:8). Suffering because of sin is a tragic part of all human life.
Though no trial can separate the Christian from Christ’s love (Romans 8:35), the mystery of suffering is real. David felt this struggle when he asked, “How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2), and the believer keenly feels this loss of fellowship when dealing with a sin. (excerpt from What Does the Bible Say About Suffering? by Dawn Wilson)
God's Goodness and Our Suffering
My toes curled as the waves hit me. The icy feeling rushing over me wasn’t just the cold water — it was the trauma that took place the last time we were here. And, yet we were back again determined to make new memories to replace where all our nightmares began.
Last year, during a camping trip, Chris woke me in the middle of the night with ashen skin and wild eyes. Convinced it was a heart attack, I dragged my 38-year-old husband to the truck. I tucked our kids into the back seat and raced to the nearest hospital. His heart went into V-Tach, racing over 300 beats a minute. The ER team did everything they could to slow his heart until there was nothing left but to shock his heart back into a normal rhythm.
This began a two-year stint of both Chris and I being hospitalized. Our friends thought it was odd. Our church family was bewildered, and we questioned God. Our family honored him, so why would he allow all this suffering? That became a question I wanted answers to.
When we are suffering, the message we need to get through our hearts is this: Life is hard — God is good. That’s it. Those are the guarantees we have. Psalms declared his goodness: “I have no good besides you [O Lord]” (Psalm 16:2).
There is nowhere else where goodness is generated. James 1:17 says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father.”
Good is a pretty boring word. It lacks luster but it is what the Bible uses to describe God, the Creator of the universe. When trying to apply such a tiny definition to God, we immediately run into problems.
It’s strange to describe him as good when you think of how he spoke things like stars, planets, and the moon into existence. A lit candle is good. A bubble bath is good. Coffee in the morning is good.
So, how can we use the same “boring” adjective for God when he created singing whales and the Grand Canyon?
With impressive muse, he painted sunsets with broad strokes of pinks and oranges. He designed the Amazon, Orchids, and Elephants. He designed diamonds, fire ants, and chromosomes. Everything in existence was designed by God. But, how can this be the same God that allows suffering?
I love how Jason Helveston at Desiring God states it: “Life is hard because God is good.” God has “intentionally shaped the world in such a way that effort would be required to accomplish significant change, progress, and renewal.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 reminds us:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen?
You know, When you really understand the purpose of suffering, which comes out more in the New Testament than in the Old, but when you understand it and you understand that there are two kingdoms, there's a kingdom of darkness, there's a kingdom of light, there's a kingdom of Satan, there's a kingdom of God, and there's going to be a conflict until God sets up his kingdom on earth with the second coming of Jesus Christ. So, there is bound to be conflict. But what Jesus points out, in this world you'll have tribulation, "But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world."
And so, every time you see a reference to suffering to trials, to temptation, you also see that God is using that to refine us, to purify us as silver, to make us more like Jesus. And so, suffering becomes a means of God conforming me to the image of the Son, but it also becomes a platform for others to see that his grace is sufficient, his power is perfected in weakness to show that we believe that God is sovereign, that he rules overall and that we can show in not only the world, but Ephesians points out, we can show the angelic host what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and to be triumphant in your faith.
So he says in Romans 8, "We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. We are put to death all day long. Yet in all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us." And then he calls us overcomers. And who is he that overcomes? But he that believes that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God. And this is the victory that overcomes the world, and that's our faith. So it shows that we believe what God says, and we walk triumphantly.
Suffering - Between the Two Gardens
Let’s travel back to the garden in the book of Genesis. It tells us we began in the Garden of Eden. It was complete perfection. Lions slept under shaded trees with the lambs. The trees produced savory fruits, while the wind sang praises to God in soft breezes of climactic perfection.
But do you know what made it all the more perfect? Adam and Eve walked in relationship with God all day, every day. In this garden, there was no death, no disappointment, disease, or divorce. It was the ultimate paradise. So, what happened? How could he allow death and disease to happen?
If God is a good God, then why did he allow evil to enter the world? He didn’t. Adam and Eve did. The Bible teaches that Satan is the author of sin. Sin is the reason that we have afflictions, including death. All of our problems and our suffering, including death itself, are a result of man’s rebellion against God.
When they sinned, their eyes were opened, and they were aware of the good and the bad. Yes, God certainly could have destroyed the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to prevent the fall of mankind, but that would ruin the whole story. It would rob of us the chance to feel hope. It would numb our minds of dreaming of better things to come.
Romans 8:28 reminds us: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” He is moving in our lives. Even in the suffering, even in the temptation, and in the very middle of our sin — to accomplish both of helping us become more like Christ.
But the story doesn’t end there. The story ends with redemption in another garden! Revelations 21:3-4 tells us:
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Jesus Understands Our Suffering
At the heart of the Christian faith is a God who knows what it is to suffer. The cross of Christ is the ultimate manifestation of God’s justice. Jesus ended his days on earth nailed to a cross with a crown of thorns shoved onto his head.
Before he ever crawled up onto the cross, he was also whipped and beaten beyond recognition. He was abandoned by his closest friends in his hour of deepest need. Jesus is described in the Bible as, “… a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3).
He took on our pain and suffering so we could freely choose to give our lives to him.
When we are in the middle of our pain and suffering, we whisper prayers and question if he cares. He will bend down to whisper back, “Look at the cross. I cared that much!” The cross of Christ can be regarded as the ultimate manifestation of God’s love for us.
He too understood sorrow and pain with his son on the cross. God isn’t going to leave us in the ashes. We don’t have to wallow in our failures. We won’t be in pain forever because God is making all things new.
Encouraging Truths About Suffering for Christians
Suffering helps us hold tight to Jesus - When suffering comes into our lives we are roused out of our sleep to see reality--that earthly blessings do not satisfy or save. That we must cling to Jesus for all our needs and for life itself. That we must take up the armor of God and join in the battle against Satan and evil in the world that seeks to ruin us. We are reminded of the gift of Jesus that we already possess; a Gift that is truly all we need.
Suffering Helps Us Sympathize with Others - We can say kind words to those who are suffering. We can take them a meal or give them a hug, but until we have experienced suffering ourselves we cannot fully sympathize with a fellow sister or brother who is going through some tough times. Our suffering makes us sensitive to the afflictions of others.
Suffering is God's Tool for Our Sanctification - The process of becoming more like Jesus is not an easy transformation. Sin digs in its heels and doesn’t want to let go. Our pride says that we know better and selfishness is constantly pushing Jesus aside. In order to look more like the humble, selfless Son of God we must go through some fire so that our impurities can be burned off (Is. 48:10). While it is not pleasant at the time we will shine more brightly once we make it through. (James 1:2-4)
Suffering Exercises Our Faith - During many of our hard days of difficulty and uncertainty when we may not understand why we are suffering it becomes necessary to exercise our faith in the truths we know about God. The truths that never move. Truths of his person like his wisdom, goodness, and sovereignty. Our suffering does not only test our faith, but it works it out and makes it stronger. (excerpt by Jen Thorn)
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/spukkato
Heather Riggleman is a believer, wife, mom, author, social media consultant, and full-time writer. She lives in Minden, Nebraska with her kids, high school sweetheart, and three cats who are her entourage around the homestead. She is a former award-winning journalist with over 2,000 articles published. She is full of grace and grit, raw honesty, and truly believes tacos can solve just about any situation. You can find her on GodUpdates, iBelieve, Crosswalk, Hello Darling, Focus On The Family, and in Brio Magazine. Connect with her at www.HeatherRiggleman.com or on Facebook.