(This article was first written to provide help during the coronavirus global pandemic of 2020).
In the midst of our current global health crisis–or whatever you may be facing in your life–many questions we may not normally ask are now being asked. One of those questions that some in the church are asking, that does surfaces from time to time, is continuously before us as long as this pandemic continues.
That question is, “why does God allow suffering?” The common answer given by the church is—sin and the curse. Because many are accustomed to hearing that response, which is true but incomplete, I want to direct your thinking in a different direction.
In This Article
In the remainder of this article, we will very quickly look at the role our free will plays is suffering, mull over the claim that to cringe at the sight of suffering is essential to humanity, and then offer a second question that when answered makes the first one easier to swallow. Easier, not easy.
That will lead us to the discovery that there is a not-so-well-hidden question behind the first one that begs us to answer it. We will answer it with the same answer that we give for the second question, “Why does God allow forgiveness?” The answer is, “because he loves us.”
That will take us all the way back to the very first question we asked with a new supposition in place of the one that usually lurks behind it. It should help us swallow, if not like, the first question, “Why does God allow suffering?” What we did was replace the “why” question (suffering) with the “because” question (love).
After all that you should be mentally exhausted. But the article below will clear everything up!
Interested? Keep reading below!
Why Does God Allow Suffering?
By Pastor Kerry Krissel
Of course, just quickly, when I say, “sin and the curse,” I am referencing the first or original sin and God’s curse that followed it. Read Genesis 3 for that information. To summarize that answer to our question, God gave us the indescribable and inexplicable gift of free will, one of the characteristics of being made in his image. No other creature was given this priceless gift.
Then with that gift, humanity made our choice and picked the false pleasures of sin over God’s command. This allowed sin to enter the world.
The combination of those two things—the gift of free will, and the choice to disobey God with it—provides one answer for the suffering we see around us. God did not and does not directly allow suffering, he allowed free will. Adam and Eve’s free choice to sin is what directly allows suffering.
Do not even try to claim that this is unfair because you are not Adam and Eve, for all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious ideal (Romans 3:23).
Without Free Will?
As for this gift, without free will, there is no humanity. We would be left as some sort of embodied automaton. Thankfully we were instead designed as embodied souls. And souls have the freedom to choose good or evil. That initial choice, and our continued choices to avoid God, if not blaspheme against him in all the ways we nudge him out of our lives, brings certain and unpleasant ramifications to bear on the world.
So we are going to put that aside, and set the stage for this redirect that I propose, by way of a disclaimer. I do not know that there is any satisfactory answer to the question at hand. Even if there were an explanation that made logical sense, even if through reason and intellect we concluded that suffering is just, even if we determined that it is the reasonable outcome given variables that we do accept and understand, and in the end somehow decided that suffering is and should be a foregone conclusion, even then it would still be unacceptable to us as caring human being. These things will not and should not cause us to conclude that we should coldly accept suffering.
To be human is to cringe at the sight of another’s suffering.
To Cringe Is to Be Human
We would have to become loveless and without the slightest hint of compassion or sympathy to blindly feel nothing when suffering is encountered. To be human is to cringe at the sight of another’s suffering. To lose that wincing recoil and abhorrent distaste is to lose our humanity. The presence of suffering is always going to be a difficult thing to bear with as long as we remain human. And so it should be.
I say that we must go through life hating the reality of suffering no matter how satisfactory or not the explanations are. And I also think that we can go on hating suffering and give up the skeptical, hesitant, disbelieving need to ask why it exists?
Let me explain by redirecting the question…
I personally do not ask, “why does God allow suffering” without feeling an urge to ask a second question. That subsequent inquiry for me, theologically at least, delegitimizes if not eliminates the need for the first question. What question has that kind of annulling authority, you ask? Simply this, “Why does God allow forgiveness?”
The first question can be answered even though we may not like the answer. The second question can also be answered. But to respond to the second we have to go back and look behind the first inquiry at another nagging and deeper question that is hiding there.
A Hidden Question
See, scantily concealed behind the “why does God allow suffering” question is the resigned or heretical assumption that God does not love us. God does not care one little bit about the plight of humanity. Hence the suffering. The conclusion that question leads to when it is left to just hanging there without a thoughtful response, is that God is a cosmic sadist – a cruel, hateful, vengeful, foul, despicable, murderous, unconscionable (ənˈkänSH(ə)nəbəl) being. There can be no other conclusion, right?
I dare say that some want that to be the conclusion even though it annihilates any chance of hope. That assumption—that God does not love us—leaves us free to go on without feeling forced to answer the “is there a God” question. This is because even if there is a God, he is a terrible and harsh being that no one should love or obey.
If you want that to be your conclusion you keep asking “why does God allow suffering” without really thinking through the answer… At least not from a Christian worldview. But then, if you have a Christian worldview you do not want that answer to be the only one there is!
Back to Question Two
And so we flip back to my second question. I think that to respond to our first question, “why does God allow suffering” or more specifically to the hidden implication that there is no God, or least not a loving one, we must first answer the second question, “Why does God allow forgiveness?”
Why did God provide for our salvation?
Why did God execute a plan to deliver us from the damning consequences of our own free will and sin?
Why did God the Father send and sacrifice his only Son Jesus to take our place and pay for our sins so we could be forgiven and reunited with him?
“Why does God allow forgiveness?”
The question could be easily extracted from a short and succinct description of our rescue that we find immediately following the truth that we all have sinned.
Romans 3:23–25 23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood… (NLT)
Why in the world did God do that? I think this is a better question. The answer we give to this question will be predictive of the answer we will give to the first question, “Why does God allow suffering.”
The Bible does not hide this answer behind veiled implications or implied truth in puzzling fashion for us to decipher. Oh no, God is readily forthcoming with the answer we seek.
John 3:16–17 16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. (NLT)
We have heard those verses so often in the church that I want to read them again but this time in a version that stretches out the meaning of keywords to give it more depth and clarity.
John 3:16–17 16 For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him. (AMP)
Rescued, Made Right, Saved, Befriended!
Indulge me long enough for just one more statement from God on the subject.
Romans 5:6–11 6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. (NLT)
Because He Loves Us!
If he saved us because he loves us, which seems like the only possible, let alone logical, answer, that has to be held as precious to us when we ask the question about suffering. “Why does God allow suffering,” which is often “is there a loving God at all,” becomes “Why does God allow forgiveness” to which we answer, “because he loves us.”
Clearly love was the driving emotion behind our rescue. Not judgment, or condemnation, or rejection, or sadistic abuse. He dearly prizes his creation. Even when we were helpless and even still ignoring and offending him, he stood up and took the bullet for us. That is proof of his great love for us. He made us right with himself again, made us his friends—through what His Son Jesus of Nazareth did for us—and if he would do that through his death, just imagine how much more his life does for us through a restored relationship with God! That life comes to us in such a plentiful supply that it overflows our life with more good than we can contain (John 10:10)!
A New Supposition
Now, stay with me because this is where this gets really good. Once we know and accept that God does love us, we come back to the suffering of humanity with a different supposition. God loves us, and if that is so he must have some way to counteract the suffering that he has allowed humanity to bring upon itself through the sinful neglect of God. And indeed he does!
God will heal every cruel and miserable and grievous and torturous wound the human heart has ever known. And that is whether it was perpetrated against us or if we brought it upon ourselves. No one needs to live with the maimed heart that diminishes their emotional bandwidth, or that restricts their ability to give and receive love, or that manhandles their feelings and reactions and causes them to hurt others, or that frustrates and reduces what they have to give to the world and those around them. Why? Because God loves us!
God will heal every… wound the human heart has ever known….Because he loves us.
More Than Healing!
Do not think for a moment that healing is all there is! As if that were nothing at all. Beyond healing, only he has the sovereign power and authority over all things to be able to take what others have meant for evil and turn it around for our good (Genesis 50:20). I do not like suffering, but I sure like taking my enemy’s attack and throwing it back in his face in a way that gives me the win and him the loss! Since God loves us, every sorrow we endure will both now and eventually and inevitably become our blessing, as it is transformed, in the present into something through which bring us good, and in the future when we finally get to see justice prevail and everything made right. Oh my friends, come with me into the glorious realm of a loving God and King!
Is There Another Reason?
Now, if God saved us for some reason other than love, though I cannot think of a one, that will taint the suffering question. We will indeed ask over and over the “if there is a God” or “why does God allow suffering” question with the forgone attached conclusion that he is evil or does not even exist at all. But I for one do not want to live in a world where that is true. This is one reason, only one mind you, why I believe in the God of the Bible. It is self-preservation.
I would not get out of bed in the morning if this were a world without a loving God. Or a world with a god-like the Greek gods who made life particularly difficult for mere mortals out of their own selfishness and vice.
Suffering as (Non) Evidence
If there is no God at all, why are we even asking, “why does God allow suffering.” Maybe to disprove the belief in God? As if suffering were some kind of irrefutable evidence that there is no God. That does not stand up against the least rigorous thinking. It may be believable if not for the gospel. If there was suffering without any consolation. Thank God, that is not the case.
Since suffering is the result of our choice to ignore God, and that despite our rejection of him he went ahead and rescued us anyway while we still fought against him as his enemies, I think we can indeed cancel the “why does God allow suffering” question! Any other doubt that hides (very badly) behind it for that matter. I think we have more than sufficient cause to take to heart the fact that through our forgiveness God singlehandedly made a way for us to be brought back to him… because he loves us!
Every time we have to face unbearable and unthinkable suffering, we must remember the consolation of the gospel.
Let me quickly interrupt our chat. If you would like to talk to someone about questions or struggles this article surfaced for you, go to the Two Rivers Counseling Center’s website and look around. When you are ready, click the “Get Counseling” link. Or go directly to the “Get Counseling” request form HERE. If you are not local to upsate New York and cannot come to my office, we can always make a virtual appointment through using social media to connect face-to-face. Now back to our discussion.
Question Two Again
I know there are many other questions this whole train of thought could divert us to so let me take you back to my initial inquiry. “Why does God allow forgiveness?” What does God forgive or save us from? Our rebellion against him, from sin. Sin is not immorality. It is leaving God out. Sin is living life without giving him a thought. Sin is living like we are God and free to make our own decisions apart from him and his authority, leadership, or guidelines.
Why did God make ignoring him a sin that is punishable by death? To deter us from sin. Why did God so desperately want to dissuade us from sin, from ignoring him? Because he designed us to need him. If he gave us no deterrent to sin we would all live a life apart from him not knowing any better… and would be miserable, incomplete, unfulfilled, and empty. God did not tell us how to live so he could have cause to gleefully zot us from on high. He lovingly taught us how to live so we could live!
Sin & Suffering
Sin causes suffering. Suffering is a reminder that we are prone to forget him. It should encourage us to turn our hearts back to him because like it or not suffering is humanity’s fault. Not to mention that without suffering there would be no way we could grasp and fear an eternal destiny in hell. A quite unexpected service that the ugliness of suffering offers us.
You may be thinking that all suffering cannot be caused by sin? Some suffering is caused by sin in the global or ubiquitous sense that there is sin in the world. This is why in heaven, when sin is done away with, there will be no suffering. And of course, some suffering is caused by specific acts of injustice, abuse, selfishness, and the neglect of God.
Still Not Satisfying
None of this—not the fact of the systemic presence of sin or any other explanation—makes it easy for me to grapple with the suffering of a newborn baby who has never had a chance to leave God out. Nor does it make it any easier to understand the suffering and persecution and abuse of innocent people simply because of their race, or the color of their skin, or the rank or status that they were born into.
However, knowing God is just and loving does cause me to be immeasurably thankful for redemption that immediately rights everything that is of eternal weight, heals every heart wound in the present, and will one day put all things right.
So, when I see suffering, I have two almost simultaneously and congruent responses. First, I recoil and feel the pain of suffering. Then, in the midst of that sick feeling in my gut, I look up. That upward gaze leads to my second response. I bow low before the God who gave me two choices! The God who gave me a free will to make two decisions. One, the choice of reverence of rejection. I can choose either to love him or hate him. I can either follow or rebel, obey or disobey.
The second choice—ah, that wonderful, treasured second choice—when I realize how rebellious I have been in the face of such great love, how thankless I have been in the face of such great sacrifice… he waits for me to secondly accept his sacrificial forgiveness, be made new, become his child, and receive the hope of heaven where all suffering is finally dead and I am finally fully alive.
We must stop asking the “why” question, by answering the “because” question.
We Must & Must Not
We must not stop feeling compassion for those who suffer. And we must stop asking the “why” question, by answering the “because” question. God allows suffering because he has allowed us our free will. But he has also activated his own will to save us from every wrong and injustice, no matter who perpetrated it or how unimaginably horrendous it is. Justice will come. If not now, later.
Thankfully, when justice rains down upon the earth, the just condemnation that I deserve will have already been paid for, satisfied by the death of my Savior, ratified by his resurrection, and sealed with a resurrection of my own that he has shared with me in body and soul. Why? Because he loves me. We replace the “why does God allow suffering” that has behind it judgment against God, with the “because” answer… because he loves us.
Suffering Alongside Love
That is right, suffering can exist along with a loving God because he is a loving God! Because his love caused him to counteract suffering with loving salvation for all humankind.
In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, I invite you to think about the questions you are asking. I mean really think. If “why does God allow suffering” is one of them, each time it comes up ask instead, “why did God forgive me?” Sit with the answer, “because he loves me.” If he loves you, he will work all things together for your good, for the purpose for which he has called you, for those who love him (Romans 8:28). Nothing can stop his plan for your life not even the worst of suffering, and in a cosmic turn of events he takes the evil you knew and with that rubble, he will build for you a new life.
Unstoppable God… And Love
There is something else that will not be stopped. It is the definitive answer to “why does God allow suffering?” Because he loves us!
Romans 8:31–39 31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. 35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT)
Let’s close by adding to that an ancient prophecy about Jesus and the effects of his love for us.
Isaiah 61:1–4 1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor (those who suffer). He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. 2 He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. 3 To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory. 4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins, repairing cities destroyed long ago. They will revive them, though they have been deserted for many generations. (NLT)
That Day Is This Day!
What a trade-off! That day is here. That day is now! God is ready to make the swap you seek. He will take from you broken-heartedness, captivity, mourning, and the ashes that are all that is left after suffering. In its place, he will bless you with good news, comfort, release, freedom, his favor, beauty, joy, praise, and his righteousness in place of your unrighteousness. The effect will be like that of a great and might oak tree, solid, enduring, flourishing.
In place of ancient ruins long destroyed he will repair and rebuilt and revive even them though they were once deserted! In him, there is nothing that can touch us that will, in the end, be harmful or eternally destructive.
Maybe the best reason to ask, “why does God allow suffering” is so that it will lead us to ask, “why does God forgive us?” Because he loves us. And because he loves us, every precious promise he has made to us will be fulfilled (2Peter 1:4).
So we can conclude with this…
1Corinthians 15:58 With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort. (The Message)
What is that work we are to be about whether the world is sick with a new coronavirus or not?
2Corinthians 5:19–21 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (NLT)
Take care of your own heart, get it settled down on God, accepting of and peaceful in his providence, in his promises, in his provision. Internalize his love and what it means to you. Be sure then that the script that you hear in your head and heart is true to him. Once you have some degree of contentment and safety in him, get busy reconciling the world to him!
When you do, remember this, the question is not “how could a loving God allow so much suffering?” The real question that you want to pose to those who ask the first question, is, “how could a loving God who gave us free will not allow suffering, especially when he went to such great extremes to provide consolation, at great cost to himself, so that we can freely have healing and life in spite of our suffering?”
Want to Read More?
AGAIN… If you cannot get things under control in this troubling season of life, I encourage you to get the help you need to do the necessary discovery required to get to the bottom of it and root it out of your life. Simply go to tworivers.church/thecenter and click “Get Coaching” to make an appointment.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DO A LITTLE MORE READING… or find the words you need for your conversations with God, look up these verses in the Bible: 2 Peter 1:3; Titus 3:4–8; 1John 4:9–10; Psalm 2, 3, 11, 13, 14, 23, 24, 33, 34, 36, 37, 46.