Why does god allow suffering? From our limited earthly perspective, we cannot see any reason for suffering. Why would a child be born blind, a loved one die of cancer, a natural disaster destroy a city? All of these occurrences seem totally random and unnecessary to us. We blame bad luck or indulge in self pity and become bitter. Often the Devil is accused. We are rarely wise enough to seek purpose for our suffering, especially when we are experiencing it directly. Suffering is painful. At such times our emotions cloud our thinking.
From God’s viewpoint suffering, as we define it, is the consequences of a contaminated world, one harboring a virus far more contagious and widespread than HIV. It replicates and infests our very DNA; it incubates within every cell, molecule and atom. Like any virus, it is exceedingly difficult to extract from its host. As it has taken on the host’s DNA, you cannot counter it with a round of antibiotics. Nor can a series of chemotherapy sessions destroy it.
It is a viral infection that has existed since the dawn of time. Unfortunately and catastrophically for humankind, it is not only limited to our own species. It resides in the sub atomic elements of the earth itself, completely invisible to even the most advanced microscopes. Yet, its effects are so visible, its signs and symptoms so prevalent, that only the most ignorant deny its existence.
This endemic, epidemic and pandemic virus is…SIN.
Before asking why does God allow suffering, ask what has caused suffering? The answer… is Sin. Its introduction is the consequence of our rebellion, our hubris, our rejection of the Creator (Gen 3:17-18). That was the catalyst that initiated the embryonic cycle of sin’s universal infestation.
Today, to use a human analogy of birth, sin has reached the third trimester of labour; it has arrived at term. Now fully birthed, sin’s effects are cataclysmic. Everyone is contaminated (Rom 3:9-18). Like bacteria, we all carry it.
Why does God not eradicate this virus then? Quite simply – He can. He could remove sin as easily as a surgeon cutting out a cancerous cell. However this cancer, as previously stated, has infected every cell. Thus only a global genocide would purge it. Remove humanity and suffering no longer exists. We are the cause of suffering. Not God.
And so, there lies the dilemma. Answer the cry of humanity and stop all suffering? Solution – destroy humanity. Careful what you wish for seems an appropriate response. Thankfully, God has other options for the suffering we have introduced.
The first is in God bringing purpose from suffering. Suffering creates perseverance, character and hope (Romans 5:3-4). Often those who have suffered and overcome are the most mature and compassionate of people. Suffering helped them conquer their own selfishness, arrogance and pride. However, suffering is not only limited to teaching us a lesson. It also teaches us understanding.
An effective treatment for an alcoholic is to talk to an ex-alcoholic. A doctor whose mother died of diabetes will certainly have greater understanding of patients who are diagnosed with the condition. The woman who has lost a child understands the pain of the widow. Persevering
through suffering develops empathy. Sadly, our own initial arrogance (a symptom of sin) actually makes us believe we do not need any such instruction at all.
This logic however is misguided. Anyone reading this article will know that in times of trouble or pain it is the compassionate, wise and understanding we seek most. Not the shallow, narrow-minded or heartless. The former tend to have faced suffering in their own life experiences, whilst the latter remain unaware and ignorant. Those who suffer and persist in doing well are commended by God (1 Peter 2:20).
God can bring purpose out of suffering to better us. God achieves this by suffering with us. William Tyndale introduced the term long suffering to explain one of God’s attributes. In translating Galatians 5:22, he rendered the Greek word makrothumia as “longsuffering” – a word that previously did not exist. This “longsuffering” is one aspect of “the fruit of the Spirit” – that life that is birthed in the believer by the Spirit of Christ in us. Makrothumia means patiently bearing heat without disintegrating (Scrivener).
Put mildly, God suffers in bearing our sinful natures. Every murder, every death, every stolen possession, every lie, every unkind word, everything God sees and endures. He even suffered losing His only son on a torturous cross for us. Think you suffer? Imagine what a loving, all powerful God suffers in patiently enduring our sinful disposition.
God has not left us helpless in this terrible condition though. The world’s greatest physician has supplied a vaccine for the pandemic. The vaccine is not, as some testify, totally free and easily administered. Far from it. This vaccine will cost you your very life(Mt 10:38-29). Not too expensive when you consider you are already dead. Sin’s final symptom is death – eternal. Without the vaccine, your destiny is limited to say the least.
The vaccine does not cost money. God does not actually need financial gain. He has released the vaccine into the atmosphere and through numerous outlets; He graciously distributes it free of charge. However, like any physician, God does expect its dosage, administration and instructions to be closely adhered to. If not, it will be ineffective.
The vaccine is Jesus Christ. The antivirus is Christ’s Holy Spirit. By entering your system, a process is initiated that begins to counteract the virus. Piece by piece sin is removed. That process is life long. It is often called sanctification. As with any cure, the receiver needs to heed the instructions for the vaccine and antivirus to take effect.
The instructions that accompany the treatment is the Bible – God’s Word. Read the instructions and accept the Vaccine. The antivirus will do the rest. If suffering persists, do not worry (it cannot add a single hour to your life). Just keep trusting the Vaccine is at work and keep a close eye on the directions. The Antivirus is slow release – it has to be, every cell is infected.
As with any medical treatment we do have freewill to accept it or not. Rejection did, however, cause the condition in the first place. The fact a cure exists is good news .Suffering is an acceptable side effect (Acts 14:22). However as is the case with any bacterial disease, symptoms may worsen before they improve. That is the bacteria dying off and releasing toxins. The purging of sin often feels the same.
If pain persists, look at the crucifixion. The Great Physician Himself also experienced pain in distributing your cure.
Copyeditor – Dr Niles Reddick