Why Doesn't God End Suffering?
How Long Must We Endure Suffering?
If God loves us, why doesn’t he put an end to all the suffering in the world?
I heard this question asked by someone on a television show one day, and I thought for a long time about how I would respond to it, if someone asked me the same question. The more I thought about it, the more I felt this would have to be one of those rare times when I could best make my point by responding to a question with another question. My question, in response to that one, would be: Why didn’t God give human beings wings?
Good question, huh? Why can’t we fly? Birds can do it. Moths too. And, like having no suffering in the world, flying seems to be a wonderful, virtually trouble-free thing that would have been a great asset for mankind. Every day we see birds and bees and all kinds of little flying things flitting from here to there without a care, going anywhere they want to go with wing-flapping ease. They don’t need cars (or gasoline), trains, or planes. And it seems like such a joyous, peaceful activity, this flying thing. And, just as no suffering would be—it appears the possessor of wings lives a life of complete and utter peace. So why didn’t God just attach wings to our backs too? Why did he make us without physical wings when we clearly have spirits that want to fly and to wander, even when we have no real need to travel far from home?
If nothing ever challenged us in our lives or in our relationships, would we ever know our true strength? Would we ever know what it truly means to truly love God?
The point I’m making with my silly question, and my even sillier argument, is that God could have made life a lot easier for us in a lot of ways. He could have created a Heaven on Earth for us to live in, just as he could have created a world free from all pain and suffering. And, on top of that, He could have made the world free from even the knowledge of good and evil. Wait a minute. In the beginning, didn’t He do just that?
When you read the first chapter of the Old Testament, as you are strolling through the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis, you’ll find it wasn’t until the third chapter that Eve allowed the serpent to entice her into disobedience. After that, she enticed Adam into it, putting into motion this whole good and evil, pain, suffering and death thing. So it was mankind’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, and not God, that ignited the introduction of pain and suffering into the world. God created us to be free of pain and suffering, to live eternally, in peace (even without wings!), but Adam and Eve disobeyed God. And it was the disobedience of man toward God that set into motion suffering and other painful trials and tribulations we all must endure.
Mankind had free will and a choice, and the choice was made not to resist temptation; to disobey God. As Creator of the universe and everything in it, God designed the world to work a certain way, just as He designed the human body to work a certain way. God created all physical life, physical death, and everything in between. His designs for the world He created include different manifestations of everything, from sunshine and rain, to all varieties of joy and pain. He designed our planet to rotate on its axis. He arranged for it to have atmosphere, water, vegetation and all kinds of climatic influences. He caused the sun to be set in the sky in a certain way, and likewise, the moon. He set the universe in motion, designing it to be in a seemingly slow but constant state of change. When stars burn out they leave black holes in space. Meteors sometimes strike the Earth or other heavenly bodies. Earthquakes occur in predictable and unpredictable places on our planet. Floods sometimes cover the land.
As the Bible tells us in Jeremiah 35:35: “Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name.”
Physical Suffering and God's Intelligent Design
God’s design for the universe and its natural elements is perfect. There are no mistakes in nature, even though mankind can cause nature to have to respond to unnatural interference. But even that is part of God’s plan, because everything works according to how He designed it to work. As humans, we may not always understand why something works the way it does, but as Christians, we know God meant for things in nature to work the way they work. We also know that when Adam and Eve released sin into the world, they released everything that God ordained would have to happen if mankind was disobedient. He meant for disobedient humans with the knowledge of good and evil to sometimes have to fight against evil and against the ravages of nature. Because of mankind’s Original Sin, we now have to fight against the temptations of sin. Because of sin, we have to understand that the wages of sin are spiritual and/or physical suffering or death, things that are part of the human experience, because of Original Sin.
In the Bible, after creating Adam and Eve, God placed them in the midst of everything else He’d created, and He gave them free will to obey or disobey. He warned them that there were consequences attached to both obedience and disobedience, and He even instructed them to choose obedience so that they could enjoy the consequences of it. But they chose to disobey. And even though mankind disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, God still loves us and He still provides for us instructions about how we can still obey Him and find everlasting life, and how we can choose to be with Him once again.
Even though we are all born in sin, into a sinful world, God gives us opportunities to follow His instructions for living, so that we can overcome fleshly temptations and live in the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, and enjoy everlasting life. God loves us, and He wants us to love Him too. But He did not make us as robots. He gave us free will and the ability to make choices, and, of course, He wants us to choose to love Him. He wants us to choose good over evil in every aspect of life. He doesn’t force us to do so, but He wants us to desire to do so, to be obedient to Him. Just as it was His desire for Adam and Eve to obey, He also desires that the rest of us will obey. But we—like our original earthly parents, have freedom of choice in whether or not to love and/or obey God.
Can Suffering Be a Test of Love?
God designed things so that our love for Him would be tested as we go through life. Through these tests, our love is ultimately strengthened, or it is proved not to exist at all. After all, we live in a world that mankind caused to contain both good and evil, and since evil exists in the world, how can any of us know for sure when someone loves us? Let's think about this for a minute, using an unholy example. Okay. Would you ever be able to know someone loves you if you met them after you inherited $80 million dollars? Taking it a bit further, would you be able to know that someone loves you if you quickly satisfied their every want, need, or desire? What if every time they wanted or needed anything, you just made it appear, like magic, using your many millions? What about if you and them never experienced any hardships together? In other words, how could you ever know for sure that this person loves you, instead of your money. If love was never tested, how would you know? Everyone who says they love you does not love you. And, most importantly, would the person who says they love you stay, if one day the $80 million was gone? If they loved you when you had $80 million dollars, but left you once the money was gone, how would you know if they ever loved you at all?
I believe when we go through suffering and trials, it's not just a test of our love for God, but one to show us if we really do love Him. It’s easy to say the words, “I love God.” But if we truly love Him, we will continue to demonstrate that love through obedience to Him no matter what kind of suffering or trial we go through in life. If we continue to trust God and have faith in Him throughout our suffering and trials, I believe when we emerge from it stronger, with an even stronger love for God, that’s how we, ourselves, can be sure of our true love for God.
Suffering: A Time to Love God, or to Blame God?
When you were a child and you disobediently played outside in the dirt, getting your clothes soiled and filthy, what if your parents decided you were too disobedient and too dirty to keep? What if they decided you needed to be traded for a child that would obey and stay clean while playing? What kind of parents would they be if they abandoned you for doing the things any child will do? And when you were that little child playing outside in the dirt, knowing your parents didn’t want you to be there getting dirty, you still wanted to be able to go back to your parents, and you expected them, without question, to help you get cleaned up, fed, and even tucked into bed at bedtime, with a loving hug and a kiss goodnight. Why? Because you knew your parents loved you, and you knew they were there for you, even when you were disobedient; even when your disobedience caused you to play in the dirt and get filthy. Remember, you are God’s child. And where God gives us choice, He also provides us with alternatives. We can choose to love God in times of suffering and trial, or we can choose to blame God for our suffering and become bitter. We can, in effect, reject God.
We must remember that God already destroyed once all of mankind, except for one family (Noah’s), because of disobedience (read Genesis, Chapter 6). We are mankind’s second chance, and it is only because of the suffering and sacrifice of God, in the person of Jesus Christ, that we even have the opportunity to gain, once again, everlasting life. This is how we know that God has aligned pain and suffering with joy and love. Jesus endured agonizing, unspeakable pain and suffering on Mount Calvary, so that we can once again choose to have everlasting life. The birth of a child, as another example, is considered to be among the most joyful things in life, yet it happens through great suffering and pain. God is able to produce good out of suffering and joy out of pain. By allowing us to go through suffering, He is able to test us for our own benefit, so that we can know we truly love Him, and to make us better, stronger, wiser, and more loving, empathetic, and understanding as people.
If you liked this article, you might also want to read the one below, by the same author:
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD