The question “Why does God allow suffering?” is perhaps the hardest query we will ever have to answer. To answer it rightly often requires us to jettison long-held assumptions and deep emotions. We have to see things from God’s perspective using our limited comprehension. To answer why God allows suffering (or sickness, or death), we must go to the unsearchable wisdom of his Word.
We have to establish that God’s knowledge is perfect and much higher than our own.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
We can know his will to an extent, but we may never know the intricate reasons why God does what God does. This is what theologians refer to as God’s “secret will.” (Read more about it here).
“Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor?” (Isaiah 40:13).
God created the universe and all that is in it. He is sovereign, which means he is an all-powerful Ruler, and that he is active in all aspects of his creation, including each one of us; including our every circumstance and situation.
God’s sovereignty is a hard concept for many people to grasp, even Christians. I admit I can’t wrap my mind around everything, but I that does not nullify the fact of his sovereignty: his all-knowingness, his all-powerfulness, and his ever-presentness. God knows the hows, the whys, and the outcome of all our lives, because he planned it, and is bringing it to pass (Philippians 2:13).
The reality of sin.
Because sin entered into the world (which was a part of God’s sovereign plan from the beginning), we are all sinners by nature and by choice (Romans 5:12). Sin not only affects us spiritually, but it also affects the entirety of creation (Genesis 3:16-19). Adam’s rebellion spread to all creation, and marred and perverted it. The natural order of all things was upset. Instead of love, we lust. Instead of grass, we have thorns. Instead of peace, we have war. Instead of a pristine world, we have a polluted world. Instead of physical perfection, we have sickness. Instead of obedience, we have sin. This means there will be suffering. (This is why we should work to get a handle on the Bible’s teachings on sin. It’s corruption is much deeper and its wide-spread than we’d like to admit.)
For the Christian, God’s plan always includes suffering.
God’s plan for us always includes suffering to varying degrees. This one is also hard for us to swallow, but it’s true nonetheless.
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29).
“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).
“For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5).
Because we are partakers of the glory of Christ, we must also be partakers of his suffering. For many, they think this only includes persecution or “being made fun of,” but it includes suffering, period. You won’t hear this preached in most churches because it offends our cakewalk Christianity. Suffering is a part of life for all people, and in particular for Christians.
We must trust him regardless.
As the creature, we must trust that what God said is true, what he does is perfect and in accordance with his will, even when it doesn’t square with what we think his will should be. His knowledge and ways are high above our own. Therefore, we must simply trust him in faith, even when his plan changes our plan.
“Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock” (Isaiah 26: 3-4).
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
When suffering appears is when we usually fall apart. It’s when we’re sorry, doubtful, and faithless. But, we are called to trust in God and not in our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). This is not a cop out, as non-Christians often charge, but a simple truth. As a dear friend of mine is apt to say, we must trust God because he’s essentially saying to us “I got this.”
He has a perfect plan and purpose for our lives.
We have established that suffering is a part of our lives. God hasn’t been taken by surprise by suffering and death. He knows it well, and has a handle on the situation. I cannot answer why God’s plan includes more suffering for some than for others. But I do know this: “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever” (Psalm 138:8).
No one knows exactly why some suffer to greater degrees than others.Why one dies peacefully in his sleep in old age while another suffers unbearable pain for years. Jesus said such things are a part of God’s sovereign plan for his creation: “For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:44).
God loves people.
That God would permit suffering, sometimes on an incomprehensible scale, is a non-believer’s hashest charge againt Christianity. They say, “How could a loving God allow pain, suffering, and death?” These are valid questions, and I hope we’ve answered some of it. But, as in all things, we must trust God, and that when he says he loves us, he really does love us. God is, after all, love (1 John 4:16; read it in context).
I could never explain God’s love, much less in a short blog. Suffice to say, what we often call love, and what God calls love are two different things. We are often taught at an early age that love – true love – is all about happiness, gushy feelings, emotional highs, and feeling good. For us, the concept of love could never include pain, discipline, authority, acceptance, and submission
However, God sees things differently. As a matter of fact, the greatest act of love ever shown by God was the sacrifice of his Son for our sins (John 3:16). That act of love included injustice, torture, abandonment, and death. But at the same time it included salvation, mercy forgiveness, compassion, sacrifice, preference, substitution, and reconciliation – all the things love should be.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
We can trust that, even in suffering, God loves is displayed.
Why does God allow suffering? I don’t think anyone can answer that question in a way that touches all the bases for everyone. For me, it is enough to know that in healing or in suffering, in life or in death, God will be glorified (Romans 8:21).
My prayer is that we are able to bear it.