Why does God allow Suffering?
The issue of suffering in life is perhaps one of the hardest to approach and has recently been on all our minds. It can often seem to us that life is unfair, that people suffer unjustly. Jesus himself said so, in the sermon on the mount:
“...for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45)
In short: good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. This goes against a concept that is deeply ingrained in all of us: that the good should be rewarded and the evil punished. Why should thousands of people die in a tsunami? What had they done to warrant such evil?
It is human nature to ask “Why?” when things go wrong, but how often do we ask the same questions when things are going well for us? People ask “Why does God allow suffering?”, without asking “Why does God allow prosperity or success?”
There is, of course, nothing new under the sun. Human attitudes never really change. At the beginning of Luke 13, Jesus is asked the same questions about two recent tragedies: the local Roman governor had killed several Galileans for offering sacrifices, and at Siloam a tower had collapsed, killing eighteen people: Can you hear the cries: ‘What did these people do to deserve death? Tell us, Teacher – why did they die? It’s not fair!’ What would you have said? Would you have offered comfort or tried to appease them?
“There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)
These people were no worse than anybody else, but they still deserved to die. Just as if they were thieves, rapists, murderers, despots, dictators or tyrants. And the same applies to us, says Jesus. So is Jesus really saying that life isn’t fair? Or is it we who are drawing the wrong conclusions?
James writes this in his letter:
“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10)
The context of the passage is favouritism. The early church was a real mix of people. All were equal under this ‘new’ gospel, but it took time to adjust. James tries in this letter to instruct his readers in practical Christian living, and here at the beginning of chapter two he speaks out against favouritism. The rich were shunning the poor and badly dressed brothers and sisters. This, says James, is a sin. All sins are equal in God’s eyes, because by sinning we have broken the relationship that God wants us to have with him. For he who said:
‘Do not commit adultery’, also said, ‘Do not murder’. Now if thou commit no adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law (James 2:11).
So we could say this: there is only one sin – breaking God’s law – but many ways to do it. There is no such thing as a ‘little’ sin. This is difficult for us to accept. It was difficult for those who asked Jesus about the tower and the murdered Galileans. We don’t like to hear that we are as bad as murderers and other ‘real’ criminals. But it’s true. Human thinking must not cloud our faith in this way. The world’s idea of ‘justice’ is not God’s idea of justice, because all men and women are guilty according to God’s Law.
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23)
And so we find that we are approaching this whole matter from a human point of view, rather than God’s:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8,9)
For God to prevent us from suffering would require, in the majority of cases, the removal of free will. However, God has given us freewill so that we have the ability to make choices. We can choose to obey his commandments and serve him, thereby having the hope of being saved from sin and death:
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22)
We must therefore look:
“...unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Jesus is the author of the faith we must have. It is only through reading the Bible that we can equip ourselves with the means of attaining unto eternal life.
Finally, the Bible tells us that:
“...the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)