Answers to One of Life’s Most Troubling Questions
Q: If God is love and He loves us, as the Bible says, why is there so much suffering in the world?
A: God is not to blame for all the suffering in the world. He’s not some kind of monster that enjoys making people suffer. It’s not God who causes the pain, death, and heartache. The truth is, much of what we suffer is caused by people’s selfishness and destructive attitudes and actions.
Take wars, for example, which have caused untold suffering throughout history. The Bible says, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” (James 4:1 KJV). People are to blame for the suffering caused by war, because of their own selfishness, greed, pride, and competitive spirit—the destruction of others for selfish gain.
Q: What about poverty? What about the millions who die of starvation and disease in some of the impoverished nations of the world? Surely they haven’t brought that upon themselves!
A: Believe it or not, man is largely responsible for poverty as well. Global warming is increasing, rainforests are disappearing, deserts are expanding, and seas are dying. These combined ills are having a disastrous effect on food supplies, especially in already impoverished regions, and all are largely the result of the haves relentlessly striving to have more at the expense of the have-nots. For example, indiscriminate logging for fast money in some developing countries is bringing about ecological disasters and population displacement.
In addition, civil conflicts, driven by political greed contribute to famine and poverty in many nations. Can God be blamed for this? Again it’s a case of people bringing suffering on others through selfishness, lack of love, and lack of foresight and concern for future generations.
Q: But the shortage of food is not caused solely by desert expansion, forest depletion, and war. There are often natural forces beyond man’s control that contribute to extreme poverty and starvation. Isn’t God to blame for that?
A: It’s true that some factors are beyond man’s control, but ironically, while millions are undernourished, in other parts of the world there are huge surpluses of food. No one needs to go hungry; God’s earth provides more than enough. But unfortunately, while many rich Western countries spend hundreds of millions of dollars on storing or destroying their surpluses, even paying farmers not to grow certain crops, the poor of the world starve.
Another example of manmade misery and suffering is the pitiful squalor of the poor in the huge cities of some developing countries. God never intended for people to live in crowded, filthy, dehumanizing slums. In most cases those people would have been better off if they had stayed out in the country where the air is clean and there is more food and fewer people—healthful country living as God intended.
In some countries, the poor crowd into the cities to escape civil war, guerrilla activity, or criminal activity in the countryside—more suffering brought on by others’ greed and oppression of their fellow man.
Others, unfortunately, are responsible for their own predicament. They see the material success of the middle class and rich in the cities and think that would make them happy. They are drawn to the cities, but often find their economic state worse than before. Modern cities and the suffering they bring are not God’s fault; they’re a manmade curse.
Also, most of the rich don’t share their wealth or lands as they should, and many don’t pay the poor fair wages for their labor or fair prices for their produce. If they did, there would certainly be enough to go around. The Bible repeatedly advises and even commands the rich to share with the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7-8; Psalm 41:1; Matthew 5:42). God doesn’t want the poor to suffer!
Science has also proven to be a two-edged sword. God has helped man learn more about the world in which we live, which has led to many beneficial discoveries, but much of this knowledge has also been misused, culminating in horrific weapons of war, polluting factories and refineries, cancer-promoting substances, etc. These death-dealing and destructive inventions bring on untold pain and suffering, but they are not God’s fault.
Q: Is man, then, solely responsible for all the pain in the world today?
A: No, a lot of it is the work of Satan, also known as the Devil—the powerful spirit being and archenemy of God, whose relentless goal is to make people suffer. In fact, one of the Devil’s main objectives is to turn man away from God by pinning the blame on God for his own dirty deeds!
Q: If God is loving and all-powerful, why doesn’t He stop the Devil and the people responsible from inflicting all this suffering? If God is not directly responsible, why does He allow it to go on?
A: The Bible speaks of a great war in the spirit realm between the forces of good and evil (Ephesians 6:12). God and His angelic forces do often stop the Devil from wreaking even more havoc and destruction, but in some cases God allows the Devil to perform his destructive work as a judgment on those who have rebelled against God or refused to follow His natural and spiritual laws.
But as far as God stopping people from perpetrating suffering and evil, if He were to do that, He would have to put an end to our free will and majesty of choice, whereby we can choose to do good or evil.
Q: Wouldn’t it have been better, then, if He had created us all to be good?
A: If God had wanted robots, yes, He could have made everybody do only what is right and good. But He purposely limited His own power by creating us with a free will so we could choose to both love Him and do what is right—just as parents want their children to love them of their own free will, not because they’re forced to. We were put here to make a choice between good and evil, between doing things God’s way or our own.
This is the main reason there is so much suffering, misery, pain, ill health, wars, economic troubles, and other woes in the world today—because instead of choosing to love and obey God, many people have decided to rebel against His loving rules, which He made for our health and happiness. Most people want to do things their own way and so must suffer the consequences of their own wrong choices. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12, NIV).
Q: But why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? No one is perfect, of course, but why doesn’t He reward those who genuinely try to do good and make right, loving choices by sparing them from suffering?
A: He does, for the most part. We’re all acutely aware when things go wrong, but we often don’t see or appreciate what could have gone wrong but didn’t because of God’s loving intervention on our behalf.
Nevertheless, good people do sometimes go through difficult times. That’s when it’s important to remember—and this can be difficult to grasp—there are benefits from suffering. Difficult times shape our character and teach us important lessons. Often more is learned from failure than from success. Also, suffering often brings out the best in those who choose not to become embittered or hardened, and engenders love, tenderness, goodness, and concern for others. The Bible says, “We comfort others with the comfort that we ourselves are comforted with [by] God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). Often those who turn to God for comfort and strength in their suffering later want to point others to the One who can also ease their sufferings and help them solve their problems—God and His love, personified in Jesus.
And the best news is that one day soon, God’s Word promises, all suffering will come to an end for those who love God. Jesus is going to return to rescue His own from all suffering and whisk them off to Heaven, where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain, for all these things will be passed away (Revelation 21:4).
The above answers are based on the writings of David Brandt Berg.
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