An answer to the “Why does God allow Suffering?” question

A few weeks ago now, I posted a surprising answer to the “Why me?” question. In that article I essentially make the point that one reason God allows suffering in our lives is so that we will be able to help others. But there are clearly other reasons, and we will never fully understand. One of the important reasons for us to grasp is expressed by Paul in what some have claimed is the finest chapter in the whole Bible, Romans 8:

Behind every bad thing that happens to us, God is at work, turning it around for our good

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
(Romans 8:28).

These words are incredibly hard for us to hear when we are in the middle of a real crisis, such as for example that caused by a mental illness. This is why we must learn their truth even when everything is going well so that we are prepared. For one thing is for sure: suffering is coming, however much we may want to pretend it isn’t.  Jesus promised us as much when he said “in this world you will have trouble.”  But he also promised us that he has overcome the world, meaning that the world does not hold any surprises for him.

What are some of the ways that suffering helps us. What is God doing in us when he allows suffering to come against us?

Suffering produces patience in us

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(Jas 1:2–4).

It is impossible to endure unless you have something to endure through.  Christians who have responded well to the white heat of the crucible of suffering come out the other side mature.  It is this maturity that helps them to help others.

But there is more still to it than this.

Suffering allows us to demonstrate the power and life of God in this world

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10).

I’m sure you have met the kind of Christian who greets every difficulty in life with a grin that has been wallpaper pasted onto their face. You know the kind who when asked how they are says “God is being good to me” with what looks like a false smile on their face even when you know their world is falling apart. This is not the lifestyle that Paul advocates here. Paul experienced real emotions that were sufficiently dark that I suspect a psychiatrist would have offered him medication. He was afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. There was in Paul an emotional complexity, however. He stubbornly refused to allow hope to be driven away. This is crucial, and it is why Christians do grieve, but in a different way to those who have no hope.

This ability to hold onto God even in the midst of great sorrow is why Christians can and do get depressed, but the mature Christian will even in the middle of his darkest times have at least a glimmer of hope that remains ablaze.  That small glimmer of hope needs to be nurtured by those around us at times.  Jesus does not quench that faintly burning spark and nor should we with well-meaning but foolish comments.

In the middle of suffering the supernatural power of God is revealed in us, broken vessels, and people ask “What is it that is so different about you?” But Suffering also has eternal benefits for us:

Suffering is connected directly to our eternal glorified state

 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

(2 Corinthians 4:16–18).

We are in mysterious territory now. But it does seem that even as we feel the pain of death at work in our bodies and indeed minds, God is somehow directly turning that pain into joy that we will feel for eternity.  I don’t want to speculate too much about this, but it seems to me that there may be a connection to the discussion we see in Job 1.  Satan cannot grasp why God’s people would see him as worthy of worship unless he “does stuff” for them.  We see that Job resolutely continues praise God and serve him even when things do not go well for him at all.    Do we fall into the same trap that Job was accused of by Satan?  Do we secretly believe that we have done some kind of deal with God and that because we are “good Christians” he somehow “owes” us a good life with no suffering?  If so, when suffering comes we will surely not demonstrate the worth of our faith, and of it’s object to others.  May God cause us to demonstrate his value at the hard times in our lives.

Suffering teaches us to trust in the God who delights in delivering us

None of what we have said in this post in any way negates the fact that God wants us to have a strong hope in him, and to believe that even in this life he will do us good, and act on our behalf.  Real faith requires us to trust his sovereignty but also dare to believe that God will act. Having considered all that we have in this post, it is surely no wonder that at a very hard time in his own life, Paul could confidently speak of his certainty that God would save him out of his troubles:

We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again

(2 Corinthians 1:8–10)

 

About Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock has been a blogger since April 2003, and a member of Jubilee Church, London since 1995, where he seves as part of the leadership team alongside Tope Koleoso.

Together they have written Hope Reborn - How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus, published by Christian Focus.

Adrian is also the author of Raised With Christ - How The Resurrection Changes Everything, published by Crossway.

Read more about Adrian Warnock or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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  • Noah Smith

    That’s all well and good if you survive the suffering. Just seen a news report about a poor child who’d been starved, poisoned, tortured and beaten to death by his own mother and stepfather. I don’t think anybody is better off for having that take place.

    • Rafael

      This assumes that YHWH(God) doesn’t exist, you said,

      “That’s all well and good if you survive the suffering”

      Yet the person who was, “starved, poisoned, tortured and beaten to death by his own mother and stepfather.” will be Resurrected, so not only have they survive it, but they get Eternal Life

      • Noah Smith

        My objection doesn’t make sense unless I’d assume (for sake of argument) that a God existed (YHWH or otherwise). I wasn’t aware that being tortured to death was necessary to gain eternal life. So its better to have been tortured to death as a child by your own mother and gain eternal life than have a normal childhood and become a nonbelieving adult and not get eternal life? Nice.

        • Rafael

          A fallacy happened you assumed that the child CAN have a great childhood just by YHWH making it happen when you said,

          “So its better to have been tortured to death as a child by your own mother and gain eternal life than have a normal childhood and become a nonbelieving adult and not get eternal life? Nice.”

          We are not clay, we are Free Willed beings, we choose, without Free Will there’s no Consciousness, in order to exist, we need, Free Will,

          Asking for YHWH to give a kid a great childhood by the snap of His fingers is like asking Him to make someone exist and not exist, this is inconceivable, a logical impossiblity due to Free Will.

          • Noah Smith

            I’m sure the child didn’t want to be tortured and killed.What about his free will? why should the free will of his killers be privileged? If you saw a child being murdered would you not intervene and prevent the free will of the child killer? And this is God we’re talking about, snapping his fingers and giving all children happy childhoods would hardly break a sweat on God’s brow

          • Rafael

            “I’m sure the child didn’t want to be tortured and killed.”And ”

            Of course not, but this same child will get Eternal life and it’ll be irrelevant.

            “why should the free will of his killers be privileged?”

            Compassion and Mercy, we should want everyone to be good, and live, like YHWH(The Father and The Son and The Holy Spirit) does(Ezekiel 18, Matthew 5), the child is getting Eternal Life, instead of wanting the killer to die, shouldn’t we want the killer to repent, be good and live?

            “If you saw a child being murdered would you not intervene and prevent the free will of the child killer?”

            I’m not YHWH, my appearance affects no one, YHWH’s does, if He appears alot die and don’t get to live(Why? Read, http://savedbychrist94.blogspot.com/2013/03/problem-of-suffering-solved-why-it-is.html ) I however can help with my appearance, so I am obligated to do so, YHWH not only is not obligated, but doing so would result in an even greater disaster.(Having more die unnecessary)

            “this is God we’re talking about, snapping his fingers and giving all children happy childhoods would hardly break a sweat on God’s brow”

            And this is free will we’re talking about, which makes the idea as inconceivable as asking YHWH to make something exist and exist at the same time, it cannot even be conceived.””

          • Noah Smith

            So the murder and torture of a child is “irrelevant”? No offense but your reasoning comes across as more than a little psychotic. And your rejoinder to my question regarding the free will of the killers makes no sense, I didn’t argue for them to be killed (what the heck are you on about?). If you think your appearance / interference affects no one, I presume you’d just ignore a murderer killing a child?.

          • Rafael

            “So the murder and torture of a child is “irrelevant”?”

            When did I say it is irrelevant? Why try to make me look bad? that is low and fake. what I said is that when they get Eternal Life, it WILL be irrelevant. I’ve tripped before, when I was younger it hurt my feelings so bad, as I grew it became nothing to me, likewise when YHWH appears, gives eternal life, etc, then every single thing that happened here will mean nothing.

            ” If you think your appearance / interference affects no one, I presume you’d just ignore a murderer killing a child?.

            “No offense but your reasoning comes across as more than a little psychotic.”

            If you didn’t want to offend me then you just, wouldn’t have done it, don’t bullshit me, especially when you take my words out of context to make me look uncaring and cruel.”

            Didn’t you read? I’ll quote what I wrote,

            “I’m not YHWH, my appearance affects no one, YHWH’s does, if He appears alot die and don’t get to live(Why? Read,http://savedbychrist94.blogspo… ) I however can help with my appearance, so I am obligated to do so, YHWH not only is not obligated, but doing so would result in an even greater disaster.(Having more die unnecessary)”

            That link was important, it explains that if YHWH appears, sinners can never repent and thus die, humans however like myself effect no one by appearing.

            and I never said that I would/should ignore a murderer, as you claimed,

            “I presume you’d just ignore a murderer killing a child?.”

            If you read, instead of trying to get back at me and offend me(why would you want to harm/offend someone? even if they are evil? that would be, evil) I said,

            “I however can help with my appearance, so I am obligated to do so, YHWH not only is not obligated, but doing so would result in an even greater disaster.(Having more die unnecessary)”

            I said I was obligated to prevent evil, I never said humans ignore it.

          • Foxhole Atheist

            You realize that you can’t have an omniscient god AND free will, right? If god is omniscient and thus would know the action of the person ahead of time thus the person is compelled to act in one manner and one manner only…and there is a much simpler answer to the primary question asked in the post..to wit: because god does not exist

          • Rafael

            “You realize that you can’t have an omniscient god AND free will, right? If god is omniscient and thus would know the action of the person ahead of time thus the person is compelled to act in one manner and one manner only”

            This assumes that The Future is something YHWH can know, the future doesn’t exist yet, if it did then we’d be, “there”

            So, the future doesn’t exist, now what’s there to know?

            YHWH is still omniscient as the future doesn’t exist, and there’s nothing to know, and He knows everything.

          • Foxhole Atheist

            but wait, isn’t YHWH beyond space-time? so how can you say he (why is it always he btw?) doesn’t know the future…this is a constraint on omniscience…if god does not know how someone will act then god CANNOT be omniscient…doesn’t YHWH know the hearts and minds of men? if so, how can you say YHWH does not know the future actions of men? your theology becomes inconsistent (it wouldn’t be the first time this has happened so despair not)…

          • Rafael

            “but wait, isn’t YHWH beyond space-time?”

            Of course He does, however The Future isn’t in space-time or out of it, the future doesn’t exist at all yet, hence the future, if the future somehow existed, we’d be aware of it, the future cannot exist, therefore nothing to know.

            “so how can you say he (why is it always he btw?)”

            Because Hebrew language was limited, so they called YHWH by the masculine.

            “doesn’t know the future…this is a constraint on omniscience”

            How? There’s nothing to know about the future, it doesn’t exist.

            ” if God does not know how someone will act then god CANNOT be omniscient”

            How? only if the future was knowable and He did’t know you’d be correct, but the future doesn’t exist, there’s nothing to “know”, YHWH still knows everything, the future isn’t something.

            “.doesn’t YHWH know the hearts and minds of men?”

            Of course.

            “if so, how can you say YHWH does not know the future actions of men?”

            Because the future doesn’t exist yet, there’s nothing to know, the future isn’t something, He can predict what they’ll do.

            ” your theology becomes inconsistent (it wouldn’t be the first time this has happened so despair not)…”

            How is it inconsistent? if the future EXIST, and YHWH doesn’t know about THEN you can claim He isn’t omniscient, however YHWH still knows Everything because the future isn’t a THING, it doesn’t exist yet, there’s nothing to know,

            YHWH is still Omniscient

          • Foxhole Atheist

            but hold on a minute…is the test for god can know what humans can know? presumably god can know much more than humans can apprehend

            okay, i am understanding you now…god doesn’t know the future anymore than we humans…but god makes predictions…is he right 100% of the time? IF so, then you are back in the same quandary-no free-willl, because predicting future actions with 100% accuracy is equal to knowing the future and thus the actor is compelled to act in one and only one manner…if god is not 100% accurate, then god is not omniscient by definition.

          • Rafael

            “.is the test for god can know what humans can know? presumably god can know much more than humans can apprehend”

            Exactly, and the future doesn’t exist, what’s there to comprehend? argument is refuted, future doesn’t exist, nothing to ‘know’, YHWH is still Omniscient.

            “IF so, then you are back in the same quandary-no free-willl, because predicting future actions with 100% accuracy is equal to knowing the future a”

            Still a prediction, whether you know it’s accurate or not, is a prediction, unjust to end someone by prediction of evil.

            “if god is not 100% accurate, then god is not omniscient by definition.”

            You can never be 100% accurate, predictions aren’t accurate until they happen, future doesn’t exist yet, therefore to accuracy to it.

          • Foxhole Atheist

            I, and I was hazard to guess you and everyone else, would be unable to distinguish between some entity that is 100% accurate in predictions and some entity knowing the future…You are quite correct that I can never be 100% accurate in my predictions (if i was i would not only be god, but i would be a very rich god)…but then I don’t claim to be omniscient…again, if god is not 100% accurate in his predictions then he is by definition not omniscient.

            unlike the proposition that there is a god, predictions are open to evidence…you just need to wait and collect the evidence…now, has god been 100% accurate in his predictions to date?

          • Rafael

            “I, and I was hazard to guess you and everyone else, would be unable to distinguish between some entity that is 100% accurate in predictions and some entity knowing the future”

            “if god is not 100% accurate in his predictions then he is by definition not omniscient.”

            Omniscient means knows everything, predictions aren’t a fact/truth, they are assumptions of what will happen based on present observation, so it has nothing to do with “know”, if the future exists and it can be known and YHWH doesn’t know it THEN you can claim He isn’t omniscient, however the future doesn’t exist yet, so there’s nothing to know, YHWH(The Father and The Son and The Holy Spirit) is still omniscient.

            “has god been 100% accurate in his predictions to date?

            Destruction of Temple in Jerusalem 70AD, this is so important to The Bible, why? because Jesus Christ says it will happen and the text never says prophecy fulfilled, according to scholars this means The Entire New Testament was written before 70AD and Jesus Christ gave accurate prediction.

          • Foxhole Atheist

            You didn’t really answer my question about whether god has been 100% accurate unless you intend for me to extrapolate from N of 1 (and that 1 is dubious)…but let’s take that as true then if I extrapolate god is 100% accurate in prediction which cannot be distinguished from god knowing the future..which is incompatible with free will
            Put another way…is god infallible? If yes then his predictions will be 100% accurate and we are right back to the quandary…if no, then….
            Btw, can god travel faster than the speed of light?

          • Rafael

            “You didn’t really answer my question about whether god has been 100% accurate”

            Yes I did,

            “Omniscient means knows everything, predictions aren’t a fact/truth, they are assumptions of what will happen based on present observation, so it has nothing to do with “know”, if the future exists and it can be known and YHWH doesn’t know it THEN you can claim He isn’t omniscient, however the future doesn’t exist yet, so there’s nothing to know, YHWH(The Father and The Son and The Holy Spirit) is still omniscient.”

            “Put another way…is God(YHWH) infallible? If yes then his predictions will be 100% accurate and we are right back to the quandary…if no, then….:”

            Predictions are not accurate UNTIL they happen, until then, they are speculation, only Facts are Accurate. so this doesn’t apply, YHWH(The Father and The Son(Jesus Christ) and The Holy Spirit) is still infallible.

            “Btw, can god travel faster than the speed of light?”

            He created the speed of light, so of course.

          • Rafael

            “there is a much simpler answer to the primary question asked in the post..to wit: because god does not exist”

            Proof?

          • Foxhole Atheist

            the onus is not on the receiver of the claim to provide proof…it is on the claimant…i say god does not exist in the same manner that i say the tooth fairy, or santa, or zeus, or thor, or the flying spaghetti monster does not exist…until you provide me with evidence, your claim does not hold value for me…the evidence to date for all of those beings i cite are all the same – as in there is no evidence (santa and the tooth fairy might be exceptions because I remember receiving actual gifts from them :-))…and no, scripture does not constitute proof.

          • Rafael

            “the onus is not on the receiver of the claim to provide proof…it is on the claimant.”

            Exactly, and you claimed He doesn’t exist.

            “i say god does not exist in the same manner that i say the tooth fairy, or santa, or zeus, or thor, or the flying spaghetti monster does not exist”

            You cannot say the tooth fairy, santa, zeus, thor, or the flying spaghetti monster don’t exist until there’s evidence that proves they don’t.

            .”until you provide me with evidence,”

            Lack of evidence is not Evidence of Absence, so right there you cannot say they don’t exist but take at least a neutral position, otherwise the “He doesn’t exist” is a claim.

            “as in there is no evidence”

            You cannot say that there’s no evidence unless the whole universe is throughly demonstrated to have, no evidence.

            However there is evidence,

            The Bible

            Shroud of Turin

            Jesus Christ Resurrection is only way to explain Historical Facts, all Naturalistic theories do not work

            First Uncaused Cause

            Fine Tuning

            Objective Morality requiring YHWH

            Quantum Mechanics and Substance Dualism

            DNA and Intelligent Design

            Macro-Evolution being Scientifically False.

            ,so there ya go.

          • Foxhole Atheist

            Ok, I assume you are a monotheist (abrahamic god)…you would likely not endorse the existence of Zeus, Thor,Moloch, Mot, Baal, Annapurna, Philomena, Osiris etc…I assume you would say those gods are non-existent…when you make this/these ‘claim(s)’ do you feel the need to substantiate this/these ‘claim(s)’?

            Now I interpret from your last paragraph that you are an agnostic. Is that correct?

            Now agnosticism is an empty vessel, and here is why. I can dream up perhaps not quite an infinite number of things and make claims about these things. For instance, as I type this I am guided by an invisible pink elephant hovering over my left shoulder. Now, what would you say about this claim?

            The position i think you are taking based on your last paragraph is that you would claim to be agnostic (if you say the invisible elephant doesn’t exist you would be me, and I don’t think you want to be me :-)). But then you would have to claim agnosticism about all claims, whether reasonable or not. Humans, being the inquisitive sort of animal, pursue knowledge and so pursue the truth of claims. How would you decide which claims are worth pursuing as an agnostic?

          • Rafael

            “Ok, I assume you are a monotheist (abrahamic god)…you would likely not endorse the existence of Zeus, Thor,Moloch, Mot, Baal, Annapurna, Philomena, Osiris etc…I assume you would say those gods are non-existent…when you make this/these ‘claim(s)’ do you feel the need to substantiate this/these ‘claim(s)’?”

            Of course I need to substantiate, I use Science, History, Logic and The Holy Spirit(YHWH) to prove that YHWH(The Father and The Son(Jesus Christ) and The Holy Spirit) exists, which disproves the false “gods”

            “Now I interpret from your last paragraph that you are an agnostic. Is that correct?”

            No, I’m a man of science, critical thinking and over all facts, all which lead to the indeniable fact that YHWH(The Father and The Son(Jesus Christ) and The Holy Spirit) exists. agnosticism and atheism are invalid and dismissed in science.

            “For instance, as I type this I am guided by an invisible pink elephant hovering over my left shoulder. Now, what would you say about this claim?”

            Easy, Pink isn’t invisible, Immaterial(color has no material property) but not invisible.

            “How would you decide which claims are worth pursuing as an agnostic?”

            I’m a Christian

          • Foxhole Atheist

            Wow I did not see the ‘more’ bit that comes after your absence of evidence does not equate to evidence of absence paragraph…had I seen that I would have realized that we were having a serious dialog…creationism really? Evolution being ‘scientifically’ false really? The bible and shroud of Turin as evidence, really? I can no longer continue this dialog.

          • Rafael

            “creationism really?”

            Creationism… Really? why say that? why do you have this presupposition, I used to have that, for example, I’d say Talking Snakes? Really? but then SCIENCE kicked in with Quantum Physics and Atoms and then wow, Snakes can actually potentially talk as humans, it is scientifically possible.

            you can’t have a presupposition when investigating, otherwise you have no investigation to begin with, just biased.

            “Evolution being ‘scientifically’ false really?”

            Of course, DNA, Shroud of Turin and Rape disprove evolution.

            “The bible and shroud of Turin as evidence, really? I can no longer continue this dialog.”

            Bible is held as a Historical text, and Shroud of Turin is Examined by Scientist to be Supernatural.

            Presuppositional “Really?” doesn’t work, it doesn’t refute anything.

      • tehsilentone

        well that may be true for those nice god-fearing child-beating families, but what about those child-beating non-christian families? preeeetyy sure the atheist/muslim/buddhist children fry at YHWH’s hand

        • Noah Smith

          I think the thinking goes that murdered children under the age of responsibility get a free pass into heaven. I guess this applies to non christian children, but who knows.

  • Mandy Johnson

    Thank you Robbie for bringing the discussion back to why God allows suffering.

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