By David Brandt Berg
I was talking to a pretty young travel agent the other day, and during the course of our conversation we began to talk about God.
“Oh, I don’t believe in God!” she said. “If there is a God, why is there so much suffering in the World today? Why do thousands die of starvation every day in Africa? What kind of God would allow a terrible disease like AIDS to run rampant? Why was my best friend just crippled in an automobile accident?”
“Well,” I replied, “you can’t blame GOD 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 all these things. A lot of it is the evil work of a powerful being called Satan, or the Devil, and he just loves to hurt Man and see him suffer! In fact, that’s one of his main tactics to try to turn Man away from God. He tries to give GOD the blame for his OWN dirty deeds!”
The young lady was quiet for a moment as she pondered this, and then she shot back with the atheists’ trump card question which they always try to stump Christians with! “Well then, if there is a God, and He’s ALL-POWERFUL, why doesn’t He STOP the Devil and not allow him to cause all this suffering? Why does He ALLOW evil in the World? For example, why didn’t He stop Hitler?”
“Well, that’s a very good question!” I answered. “But you see, if God had put a stop to Hitler, He also would have to put a stop to YOU!–Because YOU’RE a sinner too, aren’t you? I’m sure you’re not as bad as Hitler, but we’ve ALL been bad sometimes, haven’t we? The Bible says, `ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ (Romans 3:23). So He would have had to stop everybody in the whole World from doing ANYthing bad! Right at the very beginning God would have had to step in and use FORCE to stop Adam and Eve from eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. He would have had to interfere with our FREE WILL and the majesty of PERSONAL CHOICE that He’s given each of us to choose good or evil!”
“But wouldn’t it have been BETTER if He had MADE us all to be good?” she challenged.
“If the Lord had wanted ROBOTS, yes, He could have MADE everybody do good and love Him. But He made us with FREE choice and FREE will, so we could CHOOSE to love Him! You wouldn’t enjoy YOUR children much if they were FORCED to love you, would you?” I questioned.
Puzzled, she replied, “Well no, but what does this have to do with suffering?”
I explained, “Because Man was put here to make a CHOICE between good and evil, between doing things GOD’S way or his OWN, and THAT’S the ROOT CAUSE of why there is so much suffering, misery, pain, ill health, wars, economic troubles and so on in the World today.–Because instead of choosing to love and obey GOD, Man has chosen to REBEL against His loving rules that were made only for our health and happiness, and do things his own way, and so he is suffering from the consequences of his own wrong choices! `There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death!’ (Proverbs 14:12).
At that point she was called away to attend to a customer, so that was the end of our conversation. But I was thinking later about how much of the World’s suffering is not even caused by the DEVIL, and certainly not because GOD wants to be mean to people, but rather through MAN’S OWN FOOLISHNESS. Man is his own worst enemy!
Look at the untold suffering that Man has caused himself by continually fighting terrible wars in which millions have been slaughtered and maimed! Martin Luther called war “the greatest scourge that can afflict humanity; it destroys religion, it destroys states and it destroys families. Any scourge is preferable to it!” But is GOD to blame for Man’s wars? The Bible says, “What causes wars and fightings among you? Don’t they come from your OWN LUSTS that battle within you?” (James 4:1). God is not to blame for the suffering caused by war, but rather Man’s own selfishness, greed, pride and competitive spirit–the destruction of others for greed or selfish gain–THIS causes wars!
But, believe it or not, even more lethal than war is the death and suffering Man inflicts on himself through car accidents! AUTOMOBILES have killed more Americans, for example, than were killed in all of its wars put together!–56 THOUSAND deaths every year in the U.S. alone, and half of those caused by drunken driving!
Far too many of Man’s inventions, such as weapons of war, too-rapid transportation, towering skyscrapers, pesticides, lethal chemicals, drugs etc., are death-dealing and destructive and cause all sorts of suffering. When Man starts wilfully following his own way and building things that God never wanted in the World, what else can you expect?
If there were no automobiles, there would be practically no deaths and injuries resulting from highway accidents. Our air would not be polluted with smoke from factories and automobile exhaust if there were no cars and factories. Our MODERN unnatural LIFESTYLE is a large contributor to much of the World’s suffering! Up until about the last hundred-and-fifty years, the main form of land transportation was horses and carriages. And most of the World went at a more peaceful, leisurely and healthful pace as a result.
It’s the unnecessary stress and rush and anxiety and tension of modern-day living that brings on so many of the various psychosomatic diseases like severe headaches, stomach ulcers, heart troubles etc. We have not learned to cast all our cares upon God, as we are advised to do in 1Peter 5:7, and so we let our worried and harried minds make us sick!
Also, much of the suffering brought about by SICKNESS is man-made and comes from a poor diet. God gave us natural sugar, but we bleach out its nutrients and make it unhealthy and white. We eat white bread when whole wheat is much better for us. We disobey God’s health rules by eating all kinds of junk foods, sugary sweets, chemical preservatives etc., instead of the delicious natural fruits, vegetables and foods that God has so abundantly provided. We also make ourselves sick voluntarily by smoking, drinking and taking drugs that harm our minds and bodies. Is it GOD’S fault if we voluntarily abuse ourselves in this way?–Of course not!
For another example of how Man causes his own suffering, look at the millions who are starving in countries like Sudan and Ethiopia. The deserts of Northern Africa used to be a beautiful, fertile, wooded area. But over several centuries people cut down all the trees! As a result, the topsoil eroded and there was nothing left but desert. As the people moved south, seeking fertile land, they continued to cut down the trees, and so of course the desert moved southward too!
Today there are THREE-AND-A-HALF MILLION SQUARE MILES of desert in the Northern part of Africa because men have disturbed the ecological balance of nature. As a result, untold numbers of people are dying of starvation there every day!
Can you blame GOD for this? Problems like these are caused by MAN’S own foolishness over a number of years, often centuries! Problems which have steadily grown over successive generations.
Also, there is a huge surplus of food in other parts of the World–MILLIONS UPON MILLIONS OF TONS A YEAR–so God has provided more than enough so that NO ONE needs to go hungry! But while the Western World spends hundreds of millions of dollars on storing or destroying these surpluses and on exercise and diet programmes to lose weight, and pay farmers NOT to grow crops, the poor nations of the World starve!
There are other forms of suffering that men bring on themselves. Take AIDS for example, which is particularly rampant among homosexual men. Homosexuality or SODOMY, as GOD calls it in the Bible, is strictly FORBIDDEN by God as being unsanitary, unhealthful, unnatural and cursed! “Men committing indecent acts with other men, and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” (Romans 1:27). AIDS, as well as a good many other diseases, are caused and spread by abusing the body in a way that is contrary to God’s Word and His health laws. So is it God’s fault when men suffer the consequences of their own sins? No! As the Word says, they receive “the DUE penalty for THEIR perversion.”–By LAW they were STONED!
Another cause of misery and suffering is the pitiful poverty and squalor of the poor in the Third World’s huge cities. Shanty towns have sprung up around cities from Bombay to Cairo to Rio de Janeiro to Manila, where millions of squatters live in little shacks and lean-to’s, in the midst of foul water, garbage, sewage, filth and the most unsanitary conditions imaginable!
But God didn’t intend for people to live that way! They never should have come to the city in the first place! They would have been much better off to stay out in the country, where there’s fresh air and food, plenty of good hard work and exercise, fewer people, beautiful clean flowing streams, and plenty of place for the children to play, and where they can have animals and enjoy all the other benefits of good healthful country living. This is the good wholesome, healthful country life that God designed for Man!
But the poor see the fine cars and beautiful homes and all the fancy material luxuries and useless bric-a-brac that the rich own in the cities, and they think that those things will make them happy! They think that in the city they will be able to work less and make more money and live in luxury!
So they swarm to the cities, and soon their families fall apart, their children get into drugs and crime, they can’t find work and they suffer from terrible disease and malnutrition. In many instances, they wind up virtually living in their own excrement–washing in, cooking with and even drinking horribly foul polluted water!
Is it any wonder thousands die from typhoid and cholera and every other kind of disease? “Cities,” as the great historian Toynbee said, “are the festering sores on the World.” But they’re not GOD’S fault! They’re a MAN-MADE curse!
In some countries, the poor crowd into the cities to escape civil war, guerilla activity or criminal groups and bandits in the countryside, so their suffering is sometimes brought on by OTHERS’ greed and oppression and Man’s inhumanity to Man in WAR.
Of course, much of the reason that millions of people around the World suffer deprivation, want and squalor is because of the selfishness of the RICH. Most of the rich simply do not share their wealth or lands as they should, or invest it in jobs and industries to employ the poor.–Or pay the poor decent wages or fair prices for their labor and produce so that they can make a decent living. If they did, there would certainly be enough to go around, as the Lord INTENDED for there to be. In His Word He REPEATEDLY advises and even COMMANDS the rich to share with the poor because He doesn’t want the poor to suffer!
So MOST of the suffering in the World is not GOD’S fault at all, but MAN’S fault, because of disobedience to God’s Own loving laws! And believe it or not, the rich ALSO suffer! In some ways even more than the poor! The poor at least have the HOPE that riches could one day make them happy. But the rich have it all and are STILL not happy. In fact, a good many of them got their riches by robbing and cheating the poor. This is contrary to God’s laws for happiness and SPIRITUAL prosperity, which say that we must show love and concern and give and share with our fellow man.
Consequently, the rich usually suffer from a bad conscience as well as fear that someone will try to take away their riches. So they have to live like prisoners in their own homes, behind the high gates and walls that they’ve built to keep out thieves and robbers and their enemies! But the demons of Hell are able to pass through those walls and gates and enter into their homes with fear and sickness, worry and death!
Another very difficult kind of suffering that God allows is the PERSECUTION that His followers suffer at the hand of the godless Gospel-rejecting wicked. For millenniums the righteous have suffered pain, persecution and deprivation at the hands of a wicked World! In fact, any Christian who courageously stands up and actively fights the evils of this World is bound to suffer persecution. “For ALL who live GODLY in Christ Jesus SHALL suffer PERSECUTION!” (2Timothy 3:12).
If we were to try to cover ALL the causes of suffering in this World, it would probably take a book! But we hope we’ve at least given you SOME answers to one of the great eternal questions of this life: “Why does God allow suffering?”–Because WE’VE brought it on OURSELVES! Though we can understand MANY of the reasons through reading God’s Word and through prayer, we probably won’t know ALL the answers to that question until we get Up There, as there are some things we won’t understand until we see things as God sees them.
A very fitting illustration of this is the story of Doctor Handley Moule, when he visited a coal mine immediately after a terrible underground explosion. At the pit’s mouth was a large crowd, among whom were the relatives of the trapped and suffering miners.
“It is very difficult,” he said, “for us to understand why God should let such an awful tragedy happen. But I have at home an old bookmarker given me by my Mother. It is woven in silk, and when I look at the wrong side of it, I see nothing but a tangled mass of threads. It looks like a big mistake! One would think that someone had made it who did not know what she was doing. But when I turn it over and look at the right side, I see there, beautifully embroidered, the letters, ‘GOD IS LOVE!'” “We are looking at this today,” he continued, “from the wrong side! Someday we shall view it from another standpoint and we shall understand.”
God ALWAYS has a purpose and a plan in suffering, even though we can’t always see it right away! Sometimes, “His ways are past finding out” (Romans 11:33), and we just have to TRUST God, knowing that whatever He does, He does it in LOVE, and that if we don’t understand NOW, we will LATER!
Lastly, we must also mention the BENEFITS of suffering. Suffering is often GOOD for you! The ancients Greeks believed this, and this is why the Greeks put a lot of sorrow and suffering in their Tragedies. They called it “catharsis”, a purging or purifying. They believed that deep emotion and weeping washes away the impurity, the silliness and foolishness in you, and makes you honest and pure. Like an old poem says:
I walked a mile with Folly,
She chatted all the way,
But never a thing I learned from her,
For all she had to say!
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And never a word said she,
But oh, the things I learned that day,
When Sorrow walked with me!
It’s amazing how suffering often brings out the sweetness and goodness in people! The sorrow, the suffering, the sacrifice and sadness brings out the best in them, the compassion, the love, the tenderness, the brokenness, the love and concern for others! Suffering is meant to be a strength-giver to you, and to equip you for giving strength to others. The Bible says, “We comfort others with the comfort that we ourselves are comforted with of God!” (2Corinthians 1:4). And for us who are Christians, it gives us the desire to give OTHERS the answer that WE’VE found that can solve ALL their problems and suffering–JESUS!
Many times suffering turns people to God and inspires them to plead with Him for forgiveness and to repent and ask God to save them. They realise that God is dealing with them and they ask, “Lord, what did I do wrong? Why did I need this?” As King David said, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but in my suffering I cried unto the Lord and He saved this poor man out of all his troubles!” (Psalm 18:6; 34:6; 119:67). Suffering and affliction drive us closer to the Lord!
And finally, let us never forget that “we have not an High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but He was in all points tempted like we are.” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus Himself knows what it’s like to suffer! He suffered more than any of us! He suffered for ALL the sins of ALL the World, and some day soon, God’s Word promises us, all the suffering for those who love God will come to an end, and He “shall wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things are passed away”! (Revelation 21:4).
Until that perfect day, we will have to endure some suffering, but our compensation, our reward waiting for us in Heaven, far outweighs the temporary pain and suffering we may experience down here. As the Apostle Paul said, “For I judge that the sufferings of this present time are NOT WORTHY to be compared to the GLORY which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18).
Are YOU saved and ready for that Day?
External link: Why Sin and Suffering?
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