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Why Does God Allow Suffering?
By Richard Gunther
is no easy answer to this question, because only some of the material we
need to answer the question is available to us, but what we do know we
will try to share. Only God Himself has the wisdom and understanding to know the
whole answer, and He has never attempted to explain it all to us - perhaps
because no human could ever fully grasp the enormous amount of information that
the charge is often made that God is cruel, or vindictive, because He
"allows bad things to happen." Some of these bad things include
deaths, diseases, deformities and accidents.
we look at these charges, here are three little stories :
A child runs away from its parents and out on to the road. The mother
runs after the child, grabs it by the arm, smacks, and angrily tells the child
not to go that way. All the child knows is that its personal freedom has been
violated, and that its bottom hurts. It begins to cry, while its mother tries to
explain about cars, and injury, accidents and death, but the road was clear at
the time, so the child thinks its parent is being cruel and vindictive.
A child climbs on to its father's bike and pushes away from the wall. The
bike wobbles all over the drive and gathers speed, then it crashes into the
letterbox and the child is hurt. It angrily kicks the bike and walks back to the
house, crying. It thinks the bike is cruel and vindictive.
A child sneaks disobediently upstairs and defiantly turns the bath taps
on. A flannel blocks the plug so the bath begins to fill. The child goes away,
forgetting to turn the taps off . . . an hour later the water seeps through the
floor and shorts out a wire, starting a fire, which burns the house down,
killing the family dog and the child's mother.
child now accuses its father of cruelty and vindictiveness for not forcing it to
turn the taps off. "If you hadn't stopped me, Mum would still be
alive!" shouts the child.
in all three cases, was the child correct in its accusations? The answer is
"no." In all three cases the child was working from within a position
In the road incident, the reprimand and smack were given in love, not
cruelty, because the parent wanted to save the child from serious injury or
death. It was the child's ignorance which distorted the reality.
In the case of the bike, the crash was the normal consequences of various
natural laws operating - momentum, gravity, friction - and it was only the
child's ignorance which caused these laws to work together in a hurtful way. If
the child had been good at riding bikes, there would have been no crash.
and other natural laws are neutral. They never cause anything to happen; they
just operate in predictable ways. One could not call gravity "cruel"
or "vindictive", and we could not reasonably expect God to stop
natural laws from operating whenever our personal safety was in question.
In the case of the overflowing bath, we have a situation where
disobedience is combined with cause and effect. The child goes against its
parent's instructions, and then forgets about the bath. The water causes the
electrical fault and the fire destroys the house. The child is, primarily
responsible for the destruction. In ignorance the child blames the fire, the
water, the bath, the house, and anything else it can think of, but the real
blame rest with the child because it was an act of disobedience which started
the whole disaster.
who are older and more enlightened can see very plainly that in all three of the
above cases, the ignorance of the child is the main reason why it accuses
various objects or people wrongly. Yet there are people who, when something
adverse happens, quickly blame God for the misfortune - they do this because
they are ignorant of several things :
The nature of God
The state of creation
The results of sin
bear with me as we touch briefly on these things.
The nature of God.
I was a baby, I had no idea what my parents were like. From my bassinet I saw
their heads come and go, and I associated their presence with such things as
milk, warmth, and other simple things.
I grew up I understood more. I realised that my parents were much more complex
than I had first thought. I noticed that they had times of happiness and
sadness. I discovered that they knew an awful lot more than me about life. They
taught me the first things about how to speak, read, count, dress, play, eat,
garden, make things, and write, until I went to school.
I was at school I learned a lot more information, but I soon realised that that
simple level of education was just the start - afterwards there was university,
and even more training further down the line. I also learned about people like
Einstein and Newton, and other geniuses, who made my understanding of the world
quite primitive compared to their broad knowledge.
I discovered was that my understanding of life was always relative to someone
else's. It was the same in athletics. No matter how fast I ran, there was always
someone who could run faster.
we come to the nature of God, we must remember that, according to the Bible, He
is a great deal wiser and more powerful than us. He created us, not we Him. We
are His creatures, and as such we are almost infinitely smaller than Him.
the same way, we ought to remember that God is the judge of people, and not the
other way round. It seems to be a facet of human nature to forget this. People
like to think that God is in the dock, on trial before men, there to explain His
actions to the human race. The reality is the very reverse. God is the judge of
the whole universe, and the human race is in the dock before Him. It is merely
proud arrogance and sheer ignorance to think any differently.
what is God really like?
launching into a huge number of Bible texts, let us make a summary of the God of
the Bible :
God is good. This means that there is nothing bad in Him. Every thought
and action God has is good, because His whole nature is an expression of love
God is infinite. He has no beginning and no end. He has always existed,
and He will always exist. He lives outside of what we call Time because He
God is omniscient. This means He is all-knowing.
God is immanent. This means God is in all places by His Spirit.
God is omnipotent. This means that all power comes from Him.
God is sovereign. This means that He pays attention to every detail.
God is personal. This means that He has personality, He thinks, He acts,
He responds to us.
God is holy. This means that God has a standard of right, against which
anything which differs is called 'wrong'. God is the origin of all morals.
The state of Creation.
to the Bible, when God first created this universe, it was perfect. At that time
this earth was a beautiful place, with no storms or hurricanes, no earthquakes
or floods. The weather was warm and mild, and every morning a mist came up to
water the ground. There were no deserts, or mountains, no rains or powerful
winds, and all life on earth was in harmony.
created all life, and then added two humans, who were also perfect. At that
time, according to the Bible, there were no carnivores - all the animals ate
grass, leaves, fruit and herbs. For a short time, everything was the way God
wanted it to be.
the first humans had free will, and they chose to disobey a direct command of
God. God had already warned them about the consequences of disobedience, but
they went ahead anyway, and as a result, God brought in a punishment tempered by
was degraded. The weather became hostile and all life was altered to become what
it is today - carnivorous and sometimes deadly.
world we have been brought up in, and which we consider to be 'normal' is
actually in an abnormal and temporary state. The time is coming
when God will restore the world to its original perfection, but for now, we are
still passing through the consequences of the first human's disobedience.
The results of sin.
is disobedience. It is seen in simple things, such as the child who turns
the taps on in the bath. It is seen in the child who refuses to obey its parents
and runs on to the road. It is seen in people when they show arrogance, pride,
stubborn rebellion and revenge. It is displayed on our screens every night -
kidnapping, terrorism, murder, arson, war, spite, jealousy, and so on. As Jesus
said : "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries,
fornication, thefts, false witness, blasphemies . . ." Matthew 15:19
what some people say is "If God knows the consequences, why doesn't He
intervene and stop them happening?"
is a very dangerous question, because it implies that God should be at our beck
and call like some helpful cleaning service, doing nothing for us but fixing or
preventing us from making a mess.
a couple of parents telling a child "Now junior, you play with those
matches all you like, because we'll be with you, catching them when they drop,
and putting out any fires you happen to start!"
would the child learn?
imagine a mother saying "Junior, you may run onto the road as much as you
like, because I have instructed every motorist in the city to drive like snails
and to stop whenever you come near."
the child learn anything about road safety?
what some people want God to do is allow them all the freedom but none of the
responsibility. They want to be able to live life the way they want to
live it, and if they do anything dangerous or injurious to themselves or others,
God is supposed to step in and work a miracle to keep everything sailing along
utterly selfish and self-centred!
us apply this egotistical view to the three stories we started with :
A child runs away from its parents and out on to the road. The mother,
thankfully, has previously arranged for all traffic on that road to be equipped
with huge, soft pillows on the front bumpers, so the child is not injured. It
then decides that roads are fun to run on to, so from then it makes a habit of
running on to them. Soon all the children in the neighbourhood get the same
idea, so they force the whole city to equip all its cars with soft pillows. Then
the children decide to try all sorts of other stunts, such as jumping off
bridges, or lying on railway tracks. In the end the entire city is covered by
pillows, and the children are miserable because they cannot run or walk anywhere
without continually falling into soft pillows.
the children accuse their parents of being 'too restrictive'.
A child climbs on to its father's bike and pushes away from the wall. The
bike wobbles all over the drive and gathers speed, then it heads towards the
letterbox - but the father quickly runs ahead and removes the letterbox. The
child wobbles into the road, so the father diverts the traffic. The child
wobbles across the park, so the father runs ahead, shifting seats, felling
trees, draining and filling the pond, clearing the way right across the city . .
A child sneaks disobediently upstairs and defiantly turns the bath taps
on. A flannel blocks the plug so the bath begins to fill. But the bath has an
automatic switch which automatically unblocks the plug hole. The child then
decides to stuff paper into the electric heater, but the heater automatically
switches off. The child then tries various other destructive ideas, but in every
case an automatic defence overrules. The child becomes bored and miserable
because it cannot 'have any fun'. In its heart it remains rebellious, but the
world contains that rebellion, so the child never learns about consequences.
all three cases we see that if a child does not learn about consequences
or personal responsibility, it fails to grasp the real world, and
secondly, if parents fail to teach a child correctly, the parents themselves
the same way, God has equipped this world with a set of rules which we call 'the
laws of Nature' - heat, cold, pain, gravity, friction - to teach us that every
effect must have a cause. In the natural world we know that if we fall over, we
will probably hurt ourselves. In the moral world, we know that if we sin we will
probably feel the effects, either by hurting ourselves or someone else in some
some people say, "Why should I be punished for something the first two
humans did?" And the question seems quite reasonable. Adam and Eve
disobeyed God, and were punished - that is very fair. They heard God's warning,
and they rebelled, so they got what they deserved, "But I'm not sinful like
them! I never killed anyone, or robbed a bank! I'm a very nice person - quite a
good person in fact - so why should I be punished?"
question depends a great deal on what we mean by "good".
us imagine we are looking at a flock of sheep. They are big, white New Zealand
sheep, standing on a dark green hillside. The sun shines on their fleeces and
they are quite dazzling.
imagine the weather has changed. A thick blanket of snow has fallen, and there
are the same sheep, standing on the white hillside. Suddenly you notice that
their fleeces are actually quite grubby.
to the snow, those sheep are not very white at all.
let us look at the question again. If I compare myself with other people, I may
decide that I am quite a good person. Compared to a drug-smoking,
booze-drinking, gang-member murderer on Death Row I'm quite a saint!
compared to God? Well, that's a different story.
are many people who think they are 'good'. They decide this by comparing
themselves with other people. They compare their lives with the lives of people
who commit all sorts of antisocial, or immoral acts. They raise themselves up by
looking down on others, and then they decide that, because they are so much
better than other people, God is also pleased with them.
could be further from the truth!
God is holy and righteous. His moral standards are so pure and so perfect that
not a single human who has ever lived would qualify to stand near to Him.
way to understand our true state compared to God is by looking at the Ten
Commandments. (Ex.20) If you hold a mirror up to your face, you see your own
face as it appears to others. You see the spots and wrinkles and maybe you wish
you had another, better face? But most people have no choice. They are stuck
with the face they have.
you hold the Ten Commandments up to your heart, you will, (hopefully) see your
heart as it really is. Are you willing to do this?
The first commandment
is to put God first in all our affections. This means that if we love anything more
than we love God we are sinning. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love
God with all our hearts, minds and strength, so the greatest sin must be to fail
to do this.
The second commandment
is to not make or bow to any false image. Many people in non-Western countries
do this, but most people in the West do not. However, in another way, people in
the West do make for themselves a false image of God. Some people think of God
(wrongly) as a Libertarian, so they imagine that God doesn't mind lust, or
cursing, drunkenness or licentious behaviour. Other people think of God in other
ways, so they think lying and cheating are OK. Almost all non-Christians have an
idolatrous understanding of the nature of God.
The third commandment
is to not take the Lord's name in vain. How many times have you said
"God!" as a swear word? How many people do you know who use the name
of Jesus as a curse?
The fourth commandment
is to honour the sabbath. This day - every seventh - was set aside by God for
Man to use to worship Him on. Most people don't. Sunday, for most people, is
just a day for enjoying oneself, resting, going for a trip, watching the rugby .
The fifth commandment
is to honour father and mother. Many people will say they have done this, but
the question must be asked "Did you implicitly obey your parents in all
things at all times?" Have you always had a good attitude towards
them? Have you always done what pleased them?" Now the answer must be
'No" because no child ever honours its parents as perfectly as God
The sixth commandment
is to refrain from "killing" (which, in the Hebrew, means murdering.)
Well, of course, most people are not murderers, but wait a minute - Jesus warned
that if someone loses their temper and is angry with someone they are in danger
of judgement as murderers. The Bible also says that if a Christian hates
another Christian, they have murdered them in their heart. Have you ever been
angry, or bitter against someone?
The seventh commandment is
to refrain from adultery. We may not have committed the act, but Jesus said that
"whoever looks on a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery already
with her in his heart".
The eighth commandment
is to not steal. It does not have to be a big thing - just a coin, or a book, a
biscuit, a hair clip, a lolly, or a stamp. The moment you steal something you
become a thief, and remember, God sees your whole life, right from the time when
you were very young. Think back and ask yourself if you ever took something
without permission . . . have you kept the eighth commandment?
The ninth commandment
is to not bear false witness. This is about being honest. The world has a
certain level of honesty which it is comfortable with - tax dodging, avoiding
fines, lying to get out of things, twisting the truth to give a false
impression, half-truths, 'white lies', deceit, exaggeration, misleading comments
such as gossip, and so on - but God's standard is pure honesty. If you have told
one lie, you are a thief.
The tenth commandment
is to not covet - which means two things : to avoid wanting things which belong
to others, and to avoid being greedy.
we imagined the flock of sheep on the hillside, we were thinking about how we
see ourselves compared to other people, We may have thought we were quite good,
but now that the 'snow' of God's Law has descended, we see ourselves as God sees
us. Compared to God's pure and perfect nature, we are all quite grubby. God sees
us as sinners, and there is no difference between us and a mass-murderer or
rapist. The same punishment comes to all who sin, irrespective of the quality or
quantity of their offence - in the same was as a sheet of paper with even one
black spot on it would be rejected by a Printer, just as readily as a sheet with
a hundred black spots.
penalty for breaking one or all of the Ten Commandments is exactly
the same : death.
before we move from this point, we have to go back to the first question we
asked - Why does God allow suffering? The answer, as you can see now, is not as
simple as you may have thought. There are several factors involved, and there
are some things attached to the answer which we just don't know. God's wisdom is
one of the unknowables, and another is how do all the events which began with
creation, all work together to produce a result which is in harmony with God's
sovereign rule? We see only one small area of life, and that imperfectly. We
cannot see all the parts.
years ago there was a cave-in in a Welsh coal mine.
The wives and family gathered at the top and waited, and prayed, for the men to
be brought out alive, but, sadly, some were killed underground. A minister was
called to speak, and he brought with him a tapestry. He held it up, showing the
back of the cloth, with all the loose threads hanging down in total confusion.
is how things seem to us right now" he said, "We see only the
confusion and pain, all the broken threads and twisted lines, and we do not
understand what is happening . . ."
he turned the tapestry round and showed the people the face of Jesus,
said "But this side is the one which God sees. To Him all of life makes
sense. We must trust Him because, even though we do not understand, we know that
may sound offensive, but God allows suffering because He cannot be what He
isn't. Like a parent who cannot intervene at every moment to prevent the laws of
nature operating, God cannot force the world to cushion and protect us all the
time. Suffering is an inevitable result of sin. Sin is the cause and we all
share the consequences.
us take one more look at those three stories. In each case the child (Mankind)
was using freewill and choice.
the first case the child was acting in innocence and ignorance, so a
little discipline was helpful because it might save the child's life in the
future. The parent acted in a responsible way by smacking the child for running
on to the road.
the second case the child was wrong for blaming the bike for the
accident, when it was natural laws and the child's own ignorance which were to
the third case it was the child's sin which brought about the death and
destruction. These three stories throw a lot of light on the way people behave
in this world, and also show us how God is always trying to help people - but
most people refuse His help.
penalty, we have seen, for sin is death. If we break just one of the Ten
Commandments, we place ourselves in the dock and God, the Judge, has no option
but to pronounce us "Guilty." But God has done something stupendous
in order to make it possible to say "Not Guilty!"
sent His Son Jesus, to take the whole punishment for breaking the Ten
Commandments, on behalf of all sinners. Jesus did not break any of the Ten
Commandments, as you will know if you read his life in the New Testament -
recorded by eyewitnesses. Yet, at the end of his three year ministry, Jesus
allowed cruel and sinful people to nail him to a cross, and there, on that
cross, Jesus breathed out his last breath and died - for you and me.
can you say that God does not care when you see Jesus on the cross? How can you
accuse God of being cruel and vindictive, when you see Jesus taking your sins?
There was no need for him to do this, nor any rule that said that
sinful humans must be given a chance to avoid their rightful punishment. It was
all because of God's great love that Jesus came, and nothing else.
present problems which the world is constantly battling are the result of Adam
and Eve's original sin. Their children were sinners too, and so were the
children of the next generation - and so on right up to today. You are a sinner,
just like Adam and Eve, and so am I, and so are all your friends and family. Sin
is inherited, so you will have passed it on to your children (if you have any)
and they will pass it on to theirs.
you probably know, you don't need to teach a child how to be bad. They just
naturally seem to know how to lie, cheat, steal, hit, bite, defy, refuse,
scream, want their own way . . . most of a good parent's life is spent
disciplining and training rebellious, self-willed children into obedience and
any honest parent will admit that the very things they try to remove from their
children's behaviour are inherent in their own human nature.
are several different branches to the original sin which ought to be touched on
here, because they sometimes seem to blur the picture.
are many deformities, mutations and genetically-based problems in this world.
Many diseases are caused by genetic faults, and other disorders have a genetic
cause, such as dwarfism, cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anaemia, haemophilia, and
an ideal world there would be no genetic problems, and no sickness. In fact, we
might as well extend this dream as far as ageing and abolish that too - but we
know that this world is far from ideal. The Bible tells us the cause and the
cure for these things, but it also tells us that, for a short space of time, all
creation must suffer together.
The thing we have to accept is that God cannot make it an ideal world for
one person and a fallen world for the next. Imagine the situation. You are an
obedient Christian so you get all the blessings, but your neighbour is not, so
he suffers! One repercussion of this impractical situation would be a general
rush to Christianity because that was where all the blessings were. Wrong motive
for becoming a Christian.
Nor can God take people away as soon as they become Christians - that too would
violate the logic of the situation. Who would be left to preach the gospel to
the lost? And how would the grace of God be seen if Christians were not around
to demonstrate it by their faith?
God cannot remove the effects of sin as long as there are people in the world
who either say they are good when they are in fact breaking the Ten
Commandment, or who are out and out rebels. This would be like the parent who
puts soft pillows on everything, rather than changing the behaviour of the
Nor can He force anyone to obey Him. Man has freewill, so Man chooses
things. Adam and Eve chose to disobey, risking the consequences. You and I
choose to obey God, or not to. There are literally billions of people in this
world right now who are living in defiance and disobedience to God.
I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be
compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
the earnest expectation of the creature waits for the manifestation of
the sons of God.
the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of
him who has subjected the same in hope,
the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption
into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until
consider this passage carefully. What it is saying is that all creation
("the creature") is waiting for the end of this short space of
time in which we are presently living. Why? Because God is about to bring to a
close all the suffering, and groaning, and pain, and bring in everlasting life,
joy, peace and health!
see, God does not want any more suffering in this world. If it upsets people
enough to speak out about it, how much more must it upset the One who made those
people? If we ourselves are saddened by the crime and sin in the world, how much
more is God, who cannot sin, upset by Man's continual rebellion?
a day passes without some disaster, be it Mount St. Helens or floods in North
Africa, a tsunami in the Pacific Islands or an earthquake in China. Some people
accuse God of fickleness. They say He causes these disasters because He is
cruel, and even sadistic or uncaring.
let us be a little more objective here. If you built your house on a riverbed,
who might you blame when the flood came? Yourself. If you built under the lip of
a snowy mountain and an avalanche destroyed your house, who might you blame?
are millions of people in the world right now who are risking their lives
because they think the fault-line won't shift, or the earth won't slump, or the
floods won't flow. They build with substandard materials and cry 'disaster' when
their buildings fall, they perch their houses on cliffs, and cry 'unfair' when
the cliff gives way, and they drive at breakneck speeds, and then blame God for
gets the blame for ill health - when it is the person who has been eating
junk for years. God gets the blame for the nervous breakdown - when it is the person
who has been feeding his or her mind on Satanic music, or endless TV rubbish, or
sick books. God gets the blame for the most terrible things, but usually this is
because people don't like to own up and admit they are really the cause.
live in a fallen world, but God has given us the ability to learn wisdom. If we
are wise we will care for our bodies and minds, and we will make wise decisions
about who we marry, how we drive, and where we live. Our governments will make
wise decisions too. The Bible is full of perfect advice - as you would expect -
for men, women and children. Just as every car comes with a Manual, God has
provided a Manual for His creatures.
when we are stupid or ignorant, God cannot remove the consequences - which is
why there is so much needless suffering. Most suffering is preventable,
but Man is a sinner, so Man chooses to turn his back on God and 'do his own
thing' - which is another way of saying 'rebel against God'.
Man obeyed God
there would be no wars, no thefts, no adultery or any kind of sexual sin, no
dishonesty, no greed, no murder, no hate, no violence of any kind, and no
vengeance. All the people of the world would have plenty to eat, good clothes
and nice houses, and wealth would be shared freely with all.
you see? God has done everything He can, within His own rules, and within the
limits of His own nature, to make all people happy, but people have refused to
take the lead, and so most of the suffering in the world is entirely their own
answer is, and always has been, in our hands.
entire earth at present looks very different to how it used to look. When God
first created this planet, he spread low hills with forests and plants all over
it. There were no great oceans or mighty mountains. Then, after about a thousand
years or so, God brought a tremendous global flood to destroy the world. This
flood created the sedimentary rocks, of which about 80% of the earth's surface
is comprised, and in which are embedded the billions of fossils - the remains of
the plants and animals which were buried by the sediments.
the great flood, the world was repopulated again, from Noah's family, and the
nations presently in the world are direct descendants of this family.
the earth is now so different, the weather is also different. Instead of a warm,
mild climate, we have extremes - tornados, hurricanes and the like, and the
earth itself is still recovering - volcanos, floods, earthquakes and blizzards.
We also have polar caps.
we do not take into account the tremendous changes which this earth went through
only some 4000 years ago, we cannot fully appreciate the reasons for some of the
world's natural disasters.
Bible is very clear about this. God created many angels, and chose one of them,
called Lucifer, the 'shining one', as head, but Satan became proud and tried to
usurp God's authority, so God sent Satan and the other rebellious angels to
earth. These angels are also called demons. They may be invisible, but they are
real. Their purpose in this world is to lie, to steal and to kill God's
creation. Their main focus is the blinding and degradation of Mankind.
of the ways in which Satan has been very effective is his propagation of
Religion. Christianity, as based on the Lord Jesus Christ, is the true religion,
because Jesus is the only Son of God. Jesus confirmed this by fulfilling
hundreds of prophecies, by working miracles, and by living a perfect life -
which no-one could fault. Jesus also conquered death by rising from the grave.
the religions in the world - except Christianity, teach that the only way to get
to heaven is by doing good works. Only Christianity has a risen Saviour, who
gives everlasting life freely to all who come to Him. And only Christianity has
the power to change lives by a "new birth". The evidence speaks for
itself. Over the past 2000 years millions of people have started living new
lives because of Jesus Christ working in and through them.
does God allow suffering? This is really the sort of question which Satan might
ask, because as long as he can keep people holding grudges against God, the more
likely it is that those people will not turn to God in repentance.
we ought to remember is that God is our Judge, and not the other way
round. God will never have to explain Himself to us, but we will have to explain
to Him why we refused to accept the free pardon offered to us through His Son.
God so loved the world,
he gave his only begotten Son,
whoever believes in him should not perish,
have everlasting life.
God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world;
that the world through him might be saved."
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