Introduction to the Suffering Spectrum – differing views on God’s role in our pain

Introduction to the Suffering Spectrum – differing views on God’s role in our pain May 18, 2023

Suffering is an inevitable part of the human experience, and for many, it raises difficult questions about God’s role in our pain. This series of articles aim to explore the theological spectrum of different views on suffering.  We will explore the way Christians differ about how much we view God as responsible for, sovereign over, or merely an observer of the suffering we experience in this world. By examining various perspectives and their implications on our emotional well-being and faith, we hope to offer insight and guidance for those grappling with the complexities of suffering and God’s presence in their lives.

This post was written with help from and in partnership with ChatGPT.

So far I have introduced the idea that for comfort when suffering we need to somehow believe God is in some way in charge but also compassionate:

Suffering and a loving God?

And I began to explore how the various views of God’s level of responsibility for our suffering can be seen as forming a spectrum

Balancing God’s Power and Love when life hurts – Introducing the Suffering Theological Spectrum co-authored with ChatGPT

I also shared a list of the best books on Suffering from a Christian perspective:

Top 20 Christian Books on Suffering: Ranked by ChatGPT | Find Hope & Solace in Difficult Times

Today I will continue to introduce this Suffering Spectrum.

As we explore the theological spectrum of God and suffering, it is essential to recognize that our beliefs and perspectives on this issue can significantly impact our emotional well-being and faith. By considering the different viewpoints, we can gain a deeper understanding of God’s character and our relationship with Him in the midst of suffering. Ultimately, navigating this spectrum allows us to wrestle with our doubts, fears, and questions, helping us to find solace, hope, and a deeper connection to God despite our pain.

Acknowledging the emotional turmoil that many experience when grappling with suffering can help us better understand the various perspectives on God’s involvement. By engaging with these beliefs and their potential psychological effects, we can gain insight into our own experiences and support others in their journey through suffering. This understanding can help us not only to avoid blaming God but also to feel safe and secure in our relationship with Him, even during our deepest struggles.

This new series complements my previous work through Keller’s magnificent work on this subject, I encourage you to read these posts if you haven’t already:

Hope in Suffering

Five Truths about Suffering

Our Culture can’t cope with Suffering

Thinking, thanking, and loving

Weeping is Encouraged

Keep Walking with Jesus

Keep Asking and Expecting

One of Keller’s key points is that suffering will one day come to all of us and we should not be surprised when it does.  As Luther said:

“They gave our Master a crown of thorns. Why do we hope for a crown of roses?” – Martin Luther

Don Carson also has a helpful approach to suffering and proposes six pillars to support a Christian worldview aiming to produce stability through suffering: “A Christian worldview rests on huge, biblically established, theological frameworks—all of which have to be accepted all of the time,”

Certainly his pillars are worth considering as we go thorough our own spectrum approach and his argument that you have to accept all of these at once might imply that we will find nuggets of truth in ALL of the spectrum of thinking about suffering we will explore.  Here are Carson’s six pillars abridged:

“1.The beginning of the Bible’s storyline.

“What Jesus seems to presuppose is that all the sufferings of the world—whether caused by malice [as in Luke 13:1–3] or by accident [as in Luke 13:4–5]—are not peculiar examples of judgment falling on the distinctively evil, but rather examples of the bare, stark fact that we are all under sentence of death.”

2.the end of the Bible’s storyline.

“We have just come through the bloodiest century in human history. This is a damned world. Human life has never been, is not, and will never be ‘perfectable-so-long-as-we-get-our-politics-right.’”

3, the place of innocent suffering.

Speaking of Job’s comment “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15),  Carson says “we do not know the mind of God—and we dare not act as if God owes us detailed explanations.” There are times when the godliest thing we can do is say with Job,. Indeed, Carson suggests, “God wants our trust [even] more than he wants our understanding.”

4, the mystery of providence.

5. the centrality of the incarnation and the cross.

6.taking up our cross (learning from the persecuted global church).

“There have been more Christian conversions since 1800 than in the previous 1,800 years combined, and there have been more Christian martyrs since 1800 than in the previous 1,800 years combined. And to this you have been called [1 Pet. 2:21]. ”


These pillars are crucial as we come to the core question: How can God be both in charge of the universe and a loving Father given there is so munch suffering in the world.

In our next post in this series I will begin outlining the spectrum of different views of God’s relationship to our suffering.  Here is the outline of the main headings we will look at:

The Suffering Spectrum

  1. God as the Author and Orchestrator of Suffering
  2. God as the Compassionate Companion in Suffering
  3. God as the Helpless Observer of Suffering

We will explore this spectrum in more detail and see that under each of these overall headings there are also a range of views.  We will examine what biblical support there is for each perspective.


In conclusion, the theological spectrum of suffering provides various perspectives on God’s power, responsibility, and love in the face of human suffering. By exploring these diverse viewpoints, we can gain a deeper understanding of God’s nature and His role in our lives. As we grapple with our own experiences of suffering and those of others, we may find ourselves moving along this spectrum, seeking a balance between God’s power and compassion that resonates with our beliefs and values.

Our beliefs about God’s involvement in suffering can have significant emotional and psychological implications. Recognizing that there is a fluid theological spectrum on this issue allows us to engage in critical discussions and evolve our understanding without necessarily rejecting all our beliefs. It can also provide comfort and guidance as we navigate our own suffering and support others through theirs.

Ultimately, the theological spectrum of suffering invites us to consider how we might not blame God for our pain while still feeling safe and supported. By engaging with these diverse perspectives, we can develop a more nuanced understanding of God’s nature and cultivate a deeper, more resilient faith in the face of life’s challenges.

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