Does God Care about our Pain?

The questions revolving around the supposed goodness of God and the existence of suffering have plagued the minds of believers since before the beginning of recorded human history. Why, it is so often asked, does mankind groan under the existence of all those things that cause us pain (and the list is utterly exhaustive), when a supposedly omnipotent, omnipresent, and infinitely-loving God has the power to intercede at any given moment? Is he unable? Uncaring? Non-existent? The questions beg answers, and yet, no easy answers can be given. The issue of suffering and God’s goodness is a complex one, but one that must eventually be addressed by the thoughtful believer.

The questions relating to such an issue, while valid, can be met by other, perhaps more thought-provoking questions: Does the gift of free will explain and/or justify suffering? Who defines what, exactly, “goodness” is? And lastly, what effect would the cessation of suffering have on the world as we know it? In this Hub I will attempt to answer these questions, and in so doing, provide reasonable grounds to at least rethink our assumptions concerning the nature of both suffering and evil and the coexistence of a loving god.

Those wishing to either negate God’s existence or to question his omnipotence often raise the following seemingly logical dilemma proposed here by 18th century philosopher David Hume: "Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"1 At first glance, this is indeed a problematic series of questions, but are Hume’s questions perhaps making too basic of assumptions about the nature of both evil and God? Assumptions that need to be more clearly examined? Does Hume raise a false dilemma?

Does the gift of free will explain and/or justify suffering?

It is fairly obvious that the benefits of pain are often quite detectable, as in the case of exercise or the sensation we experience when something in our body needs medical attention.  In this sense, it appears that the very fabric of our being is somehow intimately related to the concept of pain and suffering.  Even those things that provide us immense benefits, such as water, fire, and earth, can be the source of immeasurable sufferings through things such as floods, fires, and landslides.  But while suffering is, at times beneficial, at other times it is clearly not.  The molestation of a child, or the prolonged agony of an animal are just two instances in which trying to discover a benefit may prove to be a difficult endeavor.  So the question remains:  Where does the suffering of a five-year old child fall fit in with the concept of a caring god? 

It seems the most repeated response to the question of how a good god can allow suffering is to point to the existence of free will, as the freedom of mankind to make moral decisions fits quite well with the concept of a loving god.  For good or for bad, we are free to do deeds of both terrible depravity and of selfless charity, with God apparently allowing both with impunity.  As odd as it may seem to the finite mind, we all possess the capability to deny other living beings their right to live, and God has allowed it to be so.  While this appears at first glance unjust, the concept and promise of eternity should change our perspective on this.  As apologist Ravi Zacharias has been quoted as saying: 

"If I take a life, it is tragic, because I cannot restore that life.  But if God allows a life to be taken, he can still restore that life, and the component of eternity does spell the possibility of an explanation.  God is able to restore life, and eternity is able to bring ultimate justice."

If a life after this one exists, as expressed by the Bible and nearly every other religious belief, then death is merely the beginning of justice.  If we can presuppose that God is a just and benevolent being, then it logically follows that all wrongs and injustices that have occurred in this world shall be dealt with accordingly.  When one considers that ultimately, all of mankind will eventually face God, death no longer seems so unjust.   

But does the benefit of free will justify the problem of pain? While the existence of free will does seem to harmonize the idea of God’s goodness with the reality of suffering, there have been legitimate questions raised in response to this concept. Nicholas Everitt, in his book, The Non-Existence of God, argues that free will is not so valuable as to justify the evil we see in the world. But, he argues, if free will is valuable enough, then God was either irresponsible in creating a being that could potentially sin, or should have forseen our penchant for sinning and refrained from creating us in the first place. In response to the first contention, that free will is just not worth the price, what is the alternative? Would the strange, God-controlled dystopia that would exist in the absence of free will would be little better than confinement to a terrarium, and would not this sort of world be counter-intuitive to the nature of a loving God? Secondly, who are we to judge a decision so lofty, profound, and infinitely complex as that of the creation of mankind? Given that the alternatives to our current existence as proposed by Everitt are either controlled obedience or non-existence, I’d argue that many alive today, believer and non-believer alike, would like to think that God did indeed make the right decision.

By what, do we mean, "Goodness?"

As to the question of God’s goodness, may it perhaps considered presumptuous on our part to try to fit God into a box we call “goodness”? By defining goodness on our own terms, we invariably run the risk of imposing our own particular brand of morality upon this definition. While the atheist may point to the existence of suffering as a indication of God’s non-existence, and the agnostic may argue that it reveals a trait of apathy or even malevolence within God’s personality, the Bible clearly reveals a god who is both real and benevolent. As is stated in the book of James, “every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.” While the Bible is hardly compelling evidence for the average atheist, it nevertheless describes a god of goodness, a god with which whose existence we can begin to understand the pervasive sense of moral absolutism which inhabits us all.

And what of Christ? 2000 years ago, the God of the universe entered into his own creation, and with a willing, humble attitude of subservience, was tortured, mocked, and executed by the very creatures he brought into existence. And while the death of Christ still does not fully explain the suffering we see all around us today, it nevertheless speaks volumes to both God’s goodness and to his own understanding of the pain we have all endured and will all endure. If God was willing to be broken for our sakes, then the depth of his love is not easy to deny.

What effect would the cessation of suffering have on the world as we know it?

Professor and author John Feinberg, in his book, The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil, points to several possible ways in which God could remove evil from our world, ways that either contradict God’s very nature, or vastly redefine his creation to the point of unrecognizability. God could remove all objects of desire, or, remove the sensation of desire entirely. God could stop bodily movement when humans intended to do evil, or miraculously interact during every single instance of evil action. He could even destroy every remnant of his very creation. The point to bear in mind is that none of these options for ending evil coincide with the Christian definition of a loving god. In nearly all instances, God is either eliminating the very essence of what it means to be human or is imposing an action upon us that can only be defined as controlling. Neither are in agreement with the biblical, and very poignant statement that “God is love.”

So is God unable to end suffering? In a sense one may answer yes, as God is unable to do several things that in no way contradict his own omnipotence. Carrying out acts that conflict with his nature, such as torture or cruelty, can be categorized as “inabilities” for God, or, as Erickson points out, “God cannot make a circle, a true circle, without all points on the circumference being equidistant from the center," and he cannot “create a a human without certain accompanying features.”

Bart Ehrman, a former evangelical Christian turned agnostic, cited the existence of suffering as his main reason for rejecting faith in God. In the book, God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer, Dr. Ehrman poses again the age-old questions regarding pain: “If he came into the darkness and made a difference, where is this difference now? Why are the sick still wracked with unspeakable pain? Why are babies still born with birth defects?”

Years ago, while watching the footage of hurricane Katrina, safe, warm, and well-fed in the living room of my apartment in Portland, Oregon, I was struck with two, equally stirring, equally inspiring notions. For one, I desperately desired to have more money, so I could fill up my Jeep with water and food and drive to New Orleans. There seemed something so compelling in that idea, as if I, had I the resources, could almost feel a sense of happiness that the disaster had occurred, so that I in turn would have the opportunity to help. Secondly, as I watched the volunteer efforts pour in from every corner of the country, I realized that with no suffering, with no Katrinas, tsunamis or 9/11‘s, there could be no display of this most noble of actions. What drives people to help strangers? To sweat, and toil, and leave secure and safe surroundings? These are the questions Dr. Ehrman should be asking, because for every unsatisfied question raised about the existence of suffering, there is an equal, and far more-compelling question about the existence of compassion. Genocide may make no sense in world watched by a benevolent god, but neither does charity in a world watched by no one. Author Randy Alcorn sums it up well:

"Yes, this hurting world has truckloads of evil, but it also has boatloads of good. Where did it all come from? While atheists routinely speak of the problem of evil, they usually don’t raise the problem of goodness. But if you argue that evil is evidence against God’s existence, you must also admit that good is evidence for it. If a good God doesn’t exist, what the source of goodness?"

The question I end with then, is this:  Is God really absent in the face of suffering?  Or does he merely choose to act through us, his followers?  When I consider all the good done by God’s people in the world, who have been inspired to do good by his holy presence alone, it seems to me that there is no such absence, rather, a huge and unthinkable duty placed upon us, his people, to learn through suffering, to grow in it, and when necessary, to actively pursue its end.  Of course, God doesn’t need us to help others, just like he doesn’t need us to pray.  And yet, for whatever reason, God asks us to ask him for help, and asks us to help others.  

The question of how a good god can allow suffering will, I believe, endure for as long as it takes God to provide an answer.  While mankind can theorize and philosophize the issue for many years to come and offer succinct, intelligent and reasonable explanations for or against the goodness of God, at the end of the day, the image of an innocent child suffering will continue to beg the question:  Why?  

In the Book of Job, after chapters and chapters of speeches by men trying to understand the motives of their creator, God suddenly appears.  It must have seemed, I would think, a great relief to both Job and his companions, to finally receive what they had surely hoped would be an answer to the problem that has burdened all of humanity.  And yet, God gives no explanation, rather, he asks questions of his own: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”  and “Who has put wisdom in the innermost being or given understanding to the mind?”  It seems that God, by showing Job and his companions how little they truly knew, was in essence saying that the issue of suffering is far too difficult for the human intellect to fully grasp.  And Job, after this stern reprimand, before anything has been restored to him and while he still suffers greatly, wisely replies: “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

Comments 21 comments

Michael Adams1959 profile image

Michael Adams1959 6 years ago from Wherever God leads us.

Awesome hub, glad I stopped in to read.


Ms Dee profile image

Ms Dee 6 years ago from Texas, USA

A beautiful lesson on "suffering"! So glad to have found your writing. Fits my verse for today, too: Prov. 3:5 in The Message "Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own." You might like, "God of the Possible" by Gregory Boyd, if you've not read it already.


Giselle Maine 5 years ago

Excellent! Deals with all of the difficult theological questions surrounding this topic. So glad I read this, especially the Randy Alcorn quote and the reminder of God's answers to Job. Will bear these in mind, as I tend to do fine reasoning scripturally from suffering through to Free Will but tend to fall down on the other questions. Thanks for the guidance - gald I stopped by!


frogyfish profile image

frogyfish 5 years ago from Central United States of America

Many facets to Truth and humanity - and your exploration and explanation draws an awsome picture of hope. Thank you for your hard worked writing!


fred allen profile image

fred allen 5 years ago from Myrtle Beach SC

Allah has never suffered with or for his people. Same for Buddah or any of the other gods of history. Jesus hanging on a cross, the man of sorrows, the God of tears, this is the one I can follow.


jreuter profile image

jreuter 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks all for the positive and supportive comments! This was a tough one to write, since the topic sources are endless, but well worth it.


jreuter profile image

jreuter 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Whoah Errol, I'll leave this comment up for a day or so, but something this long should be a hub in itself, don't you agree? "Comments" please, not essays.


Errol Kane 5 years ago

I don't agree for the sheer fact that comments area don't have a limit as to how much you can or cannot say. A Hub perhaps, but not a comment. However sir, this is your little spot to stand and it's your prerogative to do as you choose. I humbly submit.


jreuter profile image

jreuter 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

I guess I just believe that comments should serve to either generate conversation on the Hub at hand, ask questions for clarification, or offer criticism, suggestions or praise. What they should not be is an entire article on the subject of the hub with subtitles and categories. I cordially suggest fashioning this comment into your own Hub. Thanks.


PlanksandNails profile image

PlanksandNails 5 years ago from among the Ekklesia

Without the darkness in life, how could we even come to know Jesus Christ who suffered in it also?

Doesn't the very essence of mankind portray the nature of who we really are? Sinful.

If we truly know who we really are, then darkness in us could also be considered "good" because it allows the Holy Spirit to expose our true selfish nature. It is only through the humility of one's self and knowing how fallible we are that leads to an understanding as to why we must suffer in this present world.

Without the transformation of the mind, it will most likely be a mystery for many.


Beth Godwin profile image

Beth Godwin 5 years ago

Very interesting, food for thought. If only we could really know . The Hindus believe that souls reincarnate and choose difficult paths to learn a life lesson. The soul chooses the early death ect... not God. I believe you have to ask God to intervene. For him to act without being asked would violate free will. I have suffered after standing up for the right thing and had to go through some difficult periods but...I always ended up better off after the dust settled. Karma seems alive and well and truly what you sow (good or bad) so shall you reap. Well just a thought. :) sorry if this was an essay.


Beth Godwin profile image

Beth Godwin 5 years ago

PS. I am not Hindu but I am willing to explore all options. Is it possible we all worship the same God under different names????


jreuter profile image

jreuter 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Great points PlanksandNails, thanks for the comment!

@ Beth Godwin, thanks for your words as well. I don't entirely agree with you that we have to ask God to act for him to do so. The Bible is pretty much one huge tome of actions done by God without our permission or requests needed. Also, I really question the notion of Karma. From what I can tell, (I know a little about Hinduism) we in the West have really misinterpreted what exactly this means. For us, Karma means that doing good will result in good things happening to us, and doing bad...you get the idea. However, the notion in Hinduism (from what I understand, I could be wrong) means that in our current existence we are paying for sins done in a previous life. (In regards to Hinduism, apologist Ravi Zacharias said something to the extent that at least if we have a loan out with a bank they will tell us how much we owe and how long it will take to pay back!) Not so with Karma. Furthermore, as Ecclesiastes so perfectly illustrates, there are no guarantees that doing good in this life will result in good things in this life. From what I have seen, this rings true.

I don't believe we worship the same God under different names. While that sounds all well and good, it doesn't fit with the evidence. Different gods display different personalities, lay out different rules for living, give holy books that preclude the concept of other religions and religious practices, etc. etc., and I refuse to believe that God suffers from multiple-personality disorder or schizophrenia.

Please, don't apologize for the length of your comment! It wasn't too long at all. Mine on the other hand? Hmm...I'm not so sure. ;) Thanks again.


Beth Godwin profile image

Beth Godwin 5 years ago

Hmmm, Gods laying out different rules. Mostly it is man telling other men what God thinks. Which translates into what they think is right or wrong and claiming it came from God. I have a totally different view of God than the Baptist endoctrine of my childhood. And as for Karma, I just know that when I have done good things , even in secret, they were brought to light and rewarded and I have seen many who have done evil get their justice in time. Although sometimes much later.


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

...well I always appreciate anyone who can make me think and ponder life's great mysteries .... because there is a lot of 'color' in this world not just the 'black and white' of divided opinion ..... and you certainly open up the dialogue for open minds - and you are also such an excellent writer and an astute communicator of your ideas and provocative thoughts ..... bravo and thanks so much for gracing my humble hubpage!


jreuter profile image

jreuter 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks epigramman, your words are much appreciated.


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz

This is good stuff, voted up and awesome. I will link to this in my hub of similar topic.


Lone Ranger 4 years ago

Please allow me to critically analyze and evaluate your essay as follows:

Thought Provoking: Yes

Informative : Yes

Helpful : Yes

Interesting : Yes

Spiritual Imperative: Yes

Biblically Sound : Yes

300 words or less: No

Boring : No

Easy to Read : Yes

Use of enough small words that even the Lone Ranger could understand : Yes

Use of visual aids : Yes

Use of references : Yes

Overall Quality : Freeking AWESOME!!!

Thanks, J.R.!!!


Lone Ranger 4 years ago

Morning, J.R.!

Just wanted to say that it is my contention that the Almighty allows suffering to continue in this world because He wants us to yearn for eternal life...a life without pain, suffering, and sin. It is there for the taking if one accepts the free gift of salvation through Christ Yeshua (Jesus) our Lord.

I have also come to theorize that the Almighty may have built in to the world a certain degree of natural dissatisfaction, whereby people should look to Him for peace and comfort and thus give up hope of ever finding it here on earth. Perhaps He wants us to know that there is a Heaven, but it is not to be found here; there is perfection, but it is not to be found here. Did Christ not say, "My kingdom is not of this world"?

Best wishes and God's speed - L.R.


Lone Ranger 4 years ago

J.R.:

Perhaps it would change things if one were to realize that the Almighty did intend for man to dwell in Paradise and walk closely with Him...is that not what the Garden of Eden was about? Who is responsible for messing things up?

Is not suffering a result of sin or perhaps a trial to test our spiritual resolve, as in the case of Job? Is not suffering a way to purify that which is impure and doesn't the Almighty discipline those whom He loves?

Is there not a Devil who likes to deceive, devour, and destroy?

Would not God violate the principles of free-will, if He continued to intervene on man's behalf? Did He not say that He would not contend with man forever, just prior to the Great Flood of Noah?

Is it possible that much of the suffering we see in our lives and around us is the result of poor judgement and the consequences of sin? Perhaps it is our sin from which we suffer or that we allowed sin to prosper around us and for this we suffer from sinful fallout? Does a man not reap the crop he sows?

If life here on earth was paradise, what did Christ come to save us from? If paradise could be found here on earth, why would one place their faith and hope in Christ? If Heaven could be acheived now...why wait patiently on God or store up treasures in Heaven?

Best wishes and God's blessings to you and yours - L.R.


mathiaskain profile image

mathiaskain 4 years ago from On the net usually

A person who has gone through suffering better APPRECIATES Love when it is given. As an example, before I met the Love of my life,I suffered a lot of heartbreak,and even an ex having an abortion (without even bothering to consult me even though the child she aborted was mine.)

A person who has never experienced suffering may take Love for granted, and thus might abuse it when it is given. I think part of why the Lord permits us to endure the trials of this fallen world is so that we have a deeper appreciation of His immense Love and don't abuse it or trample on it.

Does what I am saying make sense?

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