The Number 1 question asked in North America today concerns God and suffering. “How could a good (or loving) God allow so much suffering in the world?” How we answer—clinically or compassionately—may have as significant an impact on the questioner as what we answer.
But here are a few suggestions:
1. The Bible tells us that all suffering can be traced to human sin. This includes “natural” disasters: “We know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Rom. 8:22). We can hardly blame God for the mess we have made. Why did He give us the ability to choose wrong? He wanted real people and that requires real choices. He has promised a coming world where perfect freedom and perfect right will live together.
2. God’s people are not exempt from this suffering, which should cause us to be slow to broadly identify calamities as divine judgment. “We also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves…” (v. 23). One of God’s tactics is to shake things up so people will seek for the things that are unshakable (see Heb. 12:27).
3. Human beings often find sufficient compensation in suffering that they are willing to endure it for the benefit it brings. It is for this reason we visit surgeons, dentists and physical therapists for temporal benefits. What of benefits in the eternal world? Paul writes: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). As C. S. Lewis suggests, if temporal suffering produces eternal benefits, they are a bargain.
4. God is not dispassionate about our suffering. He gives the reason that He allows such distress to carry on another day. The alternative is to bring an end to the world’s suffering by bringing in a judgment that will end any hope of salvation for millions. Thus, writes Peter, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
5. The Lord Himself personally understands suffering. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). And His grace and mercy can only be discovered in such dire times.