Why does God allow suffering?

How can God be good when the world is so full of pain?


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With a pandemic sweeping the globe and unemployment through the roof, the question naturally arises: why?

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

Jeremiah 29:11 is a very interesting verse. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Why, then, do we suffer?

The question of suffering is a very important one. Human suffering is a native concern. Yahweh does not suffer; this much is obvious in even a casual reading of Christianity’s tome. But Jesus Christ, God incarnate, did suffer. Matthew 26:37-39 tells us as much.

“And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’”

Jesus was troubled? His soul was sorrowful, even to death? He, the Son of God, prostrated himself before the Lord? Luke 22:44 tells us that His “sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” And that’s only the beginning. That “cup” that He drank represents the sins of the entire world. We all deserve punishment, but He took all of it on that old, rugged cross.

And yet, His prayer sounds much different than ours tend to. “Not as I will, but as you will.” That’s a largely foreign concept to many of us, especially when we’re suffering. Audrey Hepburn once said, “I don’t want to be alone, I want to be left alone.” And that sentiment is a very common one. It really is much easier to let yourself be absorbed into Netflix than admit you have a porn problem, much easier to surf the web instead of reading the Bible, much easier, in fact, to do anything other than follow God. Because that’s the way He designed it.

My proposal is this: Christian suffering, while painful, is ultimately the best thing for us. And the Bible agrees with me (although I suppose the converse is a bit more appropriate). 

Case in point: Jonah. God put him through a storm, then told a fish to eat him. God used him to spread the word to the Ninevites. Jonah 3:5 says that the people of Nineveh “believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.” God used Jonah in an incredible way, turning an entire sin-riddled city to repentance. And yet, at the end of it, Jonah says, “it is better for me to die than to live” (Jon. 4:8c). God showed Jonah incredible mercy, and Jonah still ended up suicidal at the end of it.

The Bible is very clear about the impacts of suffering. Jeremiah proclaimed the word of the Lord, and wound up in a well because of it (Jer. 38:6). This is only nine chapters after he claims that God has plans for us. Are we to believe that he changed his mind? Or is something else afoot here? The only logical answer, it seems, is that God does induce suffering. 

But why? Why would a good God allow suffering? Well, if you’ll simply direct your attention to Romans 8:28, you’ll see that, for Christians, “all things work together for good.” Suffering as a tool of goodness may seem harsh – teddy bears are, after all, softer than rods – but it’s also necessary. Hebrews 12:6 tells us that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

Aside from discipline, suffering also refines us. Zechariah 13:9 says God will, “put this third (us) into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

Discipline is important. Being refined is important, too. But the main reason God allows suffering is pretty simple. He loves us.

When we suffer, we have two options: watch Netflix and eat ice cream like Sean Payton after a playoff loss, or turn to God. It’s an ultimatum that we’ve all found ourselves in. We can ignore the problem, the calls for restoration, and God’s voice. Or, we can let go of our sin. We can turn away from it and look to cross instead.

Oh, it’ll be hard. But that’s the best part. God weakens us so that we may lean on Him. In 2 Corinthians 7-10, Paul details this exact situation. To keep him humble, God gave him a thorn in his flesh. Whether it was physical or mental is up for debate, but the purpose of this “thorn” is not. It is unequivocally a means of drawing his eyes to Jesus. Verse nine is potentially the single most profound verse on suffering in the Bible. “But He (God) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’

God doesn’t give us flowers and candy every day. Sometimes, there’s a razor blade in our Halloween candy. We can swallow it whole, and hope we survive… or take it to our good, good Father. God doesn’t make us suffer for the heck of it. He brings hardships so that we can see our need for Him.

People around the world suffer atrocities on a daily basis. Some ask, “where is your God?” But point at the victories, and say, “here He is.” The single mother struggling with addiction, who still prays before every meal. The man who obsesses over money, but wants more than anything to lust for God’s word. The teenager who feels caught up in the moment and unsure where to go next, but tries his best to stay anchored in the scriptures. 

A shallow reading of Jeremiah 29:11 can certainly make suffering appear contra-biblical and antithetical to God’s promises. But if we keep on reading through verse 14, we can see that suffering is just a doorway to the palace of peace.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”