Why Does God Allow Suffering?

suffering

One of the great philosophical questions. Why does God allow bad things to happen to us and worse… evil and suffering to exist in the world? Mankind has struggled over this complex issue for centuries, because if God is truly loving as Christians make out that he is, then we have an inconsistency between the God of the Bible and real-life circumstances.

However, the Bible has real answers for these tough questions and it is my hope that people reading this blog will begin to gain insight into a Biblical understanding of God’s nature and character and will begin a journey in experiencing God’s overwhelming grace in the midst of human suffering and personal tragedy.

The first reason is simply so we can know the difference between good and bad. Between happiness and sadness. Between experiencing enjoyment and experiencing suffering. If there was no such thing as bad experiences, then how would we know that we were having a good experience? I worked as a concrete labourer for ten months and then got a job as a desktop publisher. I remember my first day on the job as a desktop publisher and it was one of the best experiences in my life. We love warm sunny days because we have experienced cold and windy days.

The other reason is that you need to understand that we live in a fallen world because of sin. Did you know that there is enough food to feed the world one and a half times over? The world produces 17% more food per person today than 30 years ago. But still, close to a billion people go to sleep hungry every night. God in His compassion has provided more than enough food on the earth, so why then is there famine in world? Why is there children starving to death in third world countries? Because of mans greed, selfishness, apathy and ignorance. There is starvation in many parts of the world because of purely human causes. Let me explain. Firstly, because of human apathy. We have millionaires and billionaires who spend money on ridiculous things and purposes and yet, aid agencies and charities earnestly looking for financial support to go in and provide food for the hungry miss out on their contributions. Secondly, many aid agencies cannot reach a lot of areas affected by famine, either because of lack of resources or security concerns because of violence in volatile regions. Thirdly, because the countries beset by famines have governments guilty of gross economic irresponsibility. Many of these governments are blinded by greed and rife with corruption. Unfortunately, it’s the poor and defenceless that bear the consequences of their governments financial mismanagement.

So we need to understand that it is not God’s fault in regard to human suffering, it is our fault because of sin entering the world which began with Adam. For those Christians who believe in millions of years of evolutionary development, then death, disease and suffering existed BEFORE sin, so why would God call that ‘very good’? No! God is not the cause of death and suffering. Why? Because death, disease and suffering came AFTER sin–our sin in Adam’s decision to disobey God. Yet God stepped into history at just the right time in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sin (which was death) and saved us from what we did to ourselves and to this world. We committed high treason against the God of creation and therefore –we don’t even deserve to exist. What a merciful, gracious God we have who, despite our rebellion, had planned for a way of salvation for us.

What about God’s sovereignty in regard to our lives? Is he really in control of our lives or is everything down to random chance? King Solomon shares some interesting wisdom:

“I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.” Ecclesiastes 9:11

The Bible says that “time and chance” happens to us all. It’s interesting that in the book of Deuteronomy there are cities which God had appointed as cities for people to run to if they accidentally killed someone:

“This is the rule concerning anyone who kills a person and flees there for safety—anyone who kills a neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought. For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his axe to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. Otherwise, the avenger of blood might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbor without malice aforethought.” – Deuteronomy 19:4-6

So why shouldn’t God protect the man from the axe hitting him and killing him? Because God allows time and chance happen to us all. Can God intervene? Yes, he can, but He is sovereign to choose not to. However, in saying that, prayer on the other hand can bring about the power of God to intervene and the Bible (and the lives of many Christians) is full of many examples of Him coming to the aid of people as a result of prayer. Yet, sometimes people die even with people praying for their recovery. Why does God allow that to happen? What about parents who have lost children? Even Christian parents? There are many Christian parents who unfortunately have lost kids as a result of tragic accidents. Where is God then? In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, in the majority of cases we don’t understand why God would allow such a traumatic thing to happen. But often time reveals the good that can come out of tragic circumstances. It is then that we begin to understand that God sees the big picture. We see way too close at our circumstances, but God sees how everything comes together and ultimately, he knows what is best for us and allows tragic circumstances to achieve a far greater purpose in our lives.

What about evil? What about the perpetrators of rape and murder? Why does God allow them to outwork their evil violent or perverted fantasies on the innocent? To understand this, we need to understand the concept of free will. God has given every single one of us the ability (or free will) to choose to do good or evil. God would not prevent people from committing evil, because God has given them the free will to choose to do evil as well as good. To take away someones choice to commit evil has effectively taken away their free will and thus they become like robots, only performing tasks that are acceptable to the creator. Remember also, that God has given us the free will to choose to accept Him or to reject Him. Why does God do that? Because God knows that he will be spending the rest of eternity with people who out of their free will chose to accept him and love him.

Then there’s the angle that God allows suffering to outwork his purpose in us. Interesting (and comforting) to see so many examples of this in the Bible. Probably the most outstanding example is of Joseph of which his story is found in Genesis ch 37 to 50. Most people not familiar with the Bible will remember Joseph’s character from the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat broadway show. Joseph fell out of favour with his brothers by sharing his dreams describing his brothers bowing down and paying homage to him. Instead of killing him, they sold him into slavery where he served under Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard. Joseph gained great favour under Potiphar, yet Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him and as a result Joseph fled, but in the process left his cloak in her hands. Potiphar’s wife screamed “rape” and Joseph found himself in prison where he was to stay for a total of 13 years. Joseph would be forgiven to say “Where is the God of my ancestors?”, yet surprisingly to most of us– he never got bitter through his suffering. The time came when Pharaoh had a series of vivid dreams in which he searched all over the land for someone to interpret his dreams, but found none. To cut to the chase, Joseph was able to interpret his dreams and revealed that there was a devastating famine about to hit the land for 7 years. Impressed by Joseph’s ability to interpret the dream, Pharaoh made him ruler over all of Egypt, second only to himself in authority. In the midst of the famine, Joseph’s brothers heard there was food in Egypt and came down from Canaan to buy grain. An interesting verse pops up when Joseph sees his brothers in the line of buyers for grain. In Gen 42:9, it says, “Then Joseph remembered his dreams”. Such an incredible moment of realisation of destiny! Joseph then would’ve understood the divine hand of God working behind the scenes in his life, which brought him into the position where God wanted him to be. Joseph then says something remarkable to his brothers in Gen 50:19-20 “But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.'” Many of us can find ourselves in painful situations where we can be deceived into thinking that God is aloof to our suffering or that God has brought the suffering upon us because he is punishing us for something or because he just don’t plain like us. Little do we know, is that God is priming us and positioning us for our destiny. The time will come when people will thank you for helping them, because you allowed God to shape you in the hard times of your life to position you to impact the lives of others.

The most powerful thing for us to understand about suffering, is that God did not even spare his own Son from it. Just imagine what it would’ve been like for Jesus knowing his whole life, that he was born to die. Not only that, but Jesus was to die by one of the most cruelest and barbaric ways of execution ever devised by man. Jesus’ suffering did not begin while he was on the cross, but rather the night before when Jesus had the weight of the world on his shoulders in the Garden of Gethsemane. So great was the stress that tiny blood vessels were rupturing in his sweat glands and emitting as great red drops that fell to the ground (see Luke 22:44). This symptom of severe stress is called hematohidrosis.

Next thing that we read is that Jesus is brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin and physically assaulted by the members. Yet he did not open his mouth.

Having previously been beaten by the Jewish religious leaders, it was now the Romans’ turn. The beatings administered by Roman soldiers are well known to be very bloody, leaving lacerations all over the body. Romans designed their whips to cut the flesh from their victim’s bodies. These beatings were designed to be painful to the extreme. It would also cause a fluid build up around his lungs. In addition, his beard was pulled out and a crown of thorns was beaten into his scalp which was capable of severely irritating major nerves in his head, causing increasing and excruciating pain. In Christ’s severely stressed condition, these beatings were easily enough to kill him. His body was horribly bruised, cut and bleeding. Having had no nourishment for many hours, and having lost fluids through profuse sweating and much bleeding, Jesus would have been severely dehydrated. This brutal torture would certainly be sending him into “shock,” yet Jesus managed to hold himself together without going into it.

If all that wasn’t enough, Jesus now had to face the cross. The cross was a favoured method of execution by the Romans. In fact, the Romans called it the “Ultimum Judicium” which meant the “Ultimate Judgement”. Jesus was forced to carry the the wooden beam of the cross on which he would die from the Antonio Fortress (Roman headquarters) to the designated place for execution, just outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Imagine the effect of carrying a heavy weight if you were in that condition? At the place of execution, the Romans fixed the wooden beam he was carrying to the stripped him naked and nailed him The pain and damage caused by crucifixion were designed to be so excruciatingly intense that one would continually long for death, but could linger for days with no relief. According to medical professionals, the piercing of the median nerve of the hands with a nail can cause pain so incredible that even morphine wouldn’t bring relief, he would’ve experienced severe, excruciating, burning pain, like lightning bolts traversing the arm into the spinal cord. Rupturing the foot’s plantar nerve with a nail would have a similarly horrible effect. Furthermore, the position of the body on a cross is designed to make it extremely difficult to breathe. One particular medical professional described the intended, torturous effect: “For indeed a death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of horrible and ghastly—dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, tetanus, shame, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of untended wounds—all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point which would give to the suffer the relief of unconsciousness.”

At the ninth hour (the time at which a sacrificial lamb was killed everyday in the Jewish temple), the whole land came under darkness and Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated,“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” At that moment, the unthinkable happens. The eternal communal bond of love between the Father and Son was broken. God the Father turns his back on his one and only Son. For the first time in all eternity that Jesus was on his own and completely isolated from his Father. A lot is said about the physical pain that Jesus endured, but not much is mentioned about the emotional agony that Jesus experienced when His loving Father turned his back on him. Yet Jesus took all the rejection that was intended for us, so that we could find acceptance from the Father.

Jesus then said, “It is finished.” at the same moment when the temple’s priestly ram’s horn was blown that day, announcing that the priests had completed the sacrifice of the lamb for the sins of Israel. Also at that moment, the great, thick curtain that closed the Holy of Holies room from view, ripped open from top to bottom. See Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46.

A British medical professor believed that Jesus did not die from exhaustion, the beatings or the 3 hours of crucifixion, but that he died from agony of mind producing a rupture of the heart. His evidence comes from what happened when the Roman soldier pierced Christ’s left side. The spear released a sudden flow of blood and water (John 19:34). Not only does this prove that Jesus was already dead when pierced, but that it is also evidence of cardiac rupture of an over-flow of serum in the pericardium chamber of the heart. In other words, Jesus died of a broken heart.

There is no question that it was painful beyond words. Biblically, it is clear that Jesus chose and willed His moment of death. That moment was induced not by pain, emotional stress, heart attack, or any other, but by His free will. Though fully human, He is also fully divine. As God, He could not die from external sources, but only of His own volition and will.

Why did Jesus have to suffer? Hear the words of Isaiah the prophet, which he prophesied 2750 years ago (750 years before Jesus’ birth);

“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

At the cross we see a perfect display of God’s anger, a perfect display of God’s justice, and a perfect display of God’s love. God’s anger was poured out, His justice was met and satisfied and his love was demonstrated to all mankind.

So what kept Jesus focused throughout the ordeal? We get a bit of an insight into this from this verse:

“who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Heb 12:2b

The question is not what was that joy set before him, but rather who was that joy set before him. Why? Because YOU are that joy! Despite the incalculable amount of pain and suffering that Jesus went through, it was all worth it, because it mean’t that you now have a way to eternal salvation. So no matter what you are suffering or what your loved one is suffering, be assured that there is a higher purpose being worked out in your life. Also, be aware that many others throughout the world are undergoing similar suffering to what you are going through. The Apostle Peter said the following;

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Peter 5:6-11

Would you like to accept the free gift of salvation that was paid for by Jesus on your behalf? You can by saying a simple prayer (click here). Saying the prayer will not ensure that what you’re suffering will instantly go away, but rather it means that you begin to walk through life in relationship with your creator.

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