Why does God allow us to suffer? - Part 1
by Gini Crawford, MSW
3/2008 revised 6/2019
A few weeks ago, I anxiously laid awake thinking, "How can I answer, 'Why God allows suffering?' How can I write this devotion when I am struggling right now concerning a dear cousin of mine who is very sick from cancer?" (I am sorry to say, my cousin died days after I started writing this.) Yet in my struggling, God in His infinite wisdom and love knew this would be the best time for me to deal with this question in my life.
I know only God can give me (and you) peace concerning the age old question of why He allows suffering. So let's allow Him to speak to us through His Word in this devotion. Did you know some of Jesus' last words on this earth talk about Him giving us peace in suffering?
I have told you this so that you will have peace by being united to Me. The world will make you suffer. But be brave! I have defeated the world!" John 16:33 (GNT)
Before I present you with a list from what the Holy Spirit has shown me on why God allows suffering, I need to emphasize something to you. That something is that suffering will never make sense to you without looking at it through the filter of Jesus' suffering and the cross. I don't have room in this devotion to give this all important theme the space it deserves. So that is why this devotion is in two parts. In part 2 called "Where are you God when I hurt? Or the silence of God," I will expound on Jesus and His suffering for us.
God's decisions are made from an eternal and loving perspective
I think the first and the most important thing we need to realize about why God allows suffering is: His decisions are made from an eternal perspective, not from a human perspective. God's decisions aren't made by some wild man but are made through the understanding and wisdom that created us and loves us (Psalm 136:1-9). I hardly know what is happening in the present at times, but His decisions come from knowing the past, present and future, and even the what ifs. He made us in love and for love, so won't His decisions be what His beloved people need?
I do believe you would agree, God decisions and His ways aren't like ours. In this world, even as Christians, we have to fight a natural inclination to sin - so our decisions can be led by selfishness, impatience, pride, anger, even vengeance or jealousy, instead of by God's kindness, love and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:31-32). We also can't forget hormones and just plain weariness drive our decisions. And if our decisions are right on, they still are made by our limited wisdom compared to God's perfect wisdom. In Isaiah 55:8-9 God states,
'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." NASB®
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! Romans 11:33 NASB®
God’s decisions are made in the framework of Who He is and what is best for us from the viewpoint of eternity. God is all-powerful, always present, all-knowing, unchanging, faithful, eternal, self-existent, righteous, holy, patient, good, kind, merciful, just, sovereign, and the Creator, so of course He knows all things and can make the best possible decisions for our eternal welfare.
O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn. If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night," Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written, The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them. Psalm 139:1-16 NASB®
His decisions are never self-serving, but always in the framework of what are best for His people (John 10:10-30). Just think of how Jesus chose to suffer for us on this earth (2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 2:5-8).
His decisions are made for us in and from His love (1 John 4:9-10; Revelation 1:5b). He would never allow us to suffer for the heck of it or out of meanness. He always has a reason for everything that happens in our lives. During a time of great upheaval in the nation of Israel’s history, God says, in Jeremiah 29:11,
'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.' NASB®
Jeremiah 29:11 is a very comforting verse for us when we are suffering. Yet, we need to understand it. What God is saying is - His plans are always to give us welfare and not calamity from an eternal perspective. My limited reasoning says, "Suffering has nothing to do with the idea of our welfare. I would certainly define suffering as calamity." However, God is looking at everything from what is going to give me and you the absolute best for a future now and in heaven. Without God and His plans working in my life these many decades, my life would not be one of hope but of despair. Because of Jesus, I am a gal full of forever hope. I believe, when we get to eternity, whatever we have suffered on this earth will be beautiful in its eternal results for us. The Apostle Paul, who suffered a lot, said in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18,
For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. NASB®
God works all thing together for good
God's decisions are always being made for our good - so we can become more like Jesus, as Romans 8:28,29b tell us.
We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose…to become like his Son... (GNT)
He makes His decisions by what we need to experience on this earth so we can have Jesus' character in the present, as well as in the future (Ephesians 4:20-5:2).
...but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)
We also need to understand that God works all things, yes, for our good but also for everyone's good. A situation that is so awful for us may have a wonderful result for many others. For example, a woman having cancer might result in her whole family becoming Christians. A good example of this in the Bible is shown in the evil that Joseph's brothers did to him. God used the evil to save his whole family and many people from dying of hunger. Joseph said in Genesis 50:20,
And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. NASB®
God understands our struggle with suffering
God knew we would struggle with Who He is and what He does, because we perceive everything through the filter of our temporal world. In this world, God tells us our knowledge and understanding of Him, and His design and purposes will not be understood completely. That is why it is very hard for us to fully understand why God allows suffering. Yet, when we live with God in eternity we will then know and understand Him completely as He does us now. In eternity we will understand why God allows suffering.
What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face. What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete-as complete as God's knowledge of me. I Corinthians 13:12 (GNT)
God knows this world is a harsh place to live. He knew it would be quite impossible from a human standpoint to trust Him concerning suffering. A friend of mine had a teenage daughter die in a late night car accident with a friend who was driving dangerously. She struggled and still does at times concerning trusting God. She had faithfully asked God to protect her kids ever since they were born. Even the night her daughter was killed she had prayed for her. I know God understands her struggle with trusting Him because He knows all things. I know He isn't thinking, "How dare she does not trust Me." God is patient and kind. We demand more of people who are suffering than God does. Remember, Jesus gave His life to save us from evil, and give us His love.
If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-35, 37-39 NASB®
God never wanted us to suffer
We need to understand God did not create us for pain and suffering. God created everything very good for us and wanted it to stay that way (Genesis 1). He created the universe and a world that was devoid of anything evil, unpleasant, hurtful, painful, distressing and so on. God didn't create us to suffer physically, psychologically, socially nor spiritually. We learn from Genesis 2:16-17 and 3:6 that Adam and Eve's free will chose to disobey God, which brought bad/evil and death into our world. We were to possess only life, good, pleasure, abundance, peace and harmony; but their sin brought death, evil, insecurity, pain, scarcity, toil, conflict and alienation into the world as well.
Sin brought suffering into this world. If there were no sin there would be no suffering. We need to realize every sin, either ours or someone else's, affects all of us, and the world around us. Sin has also put nature in a tail spin, causing such things as cancer, disease, earthquakes, floods, etc. So we could say the effects of sin have just kept mushrooming since Genesis 3.
Quite a bit of our suffering is caused by others sinning, even in unintentional ways. Yes, God could stop that person from hurting you, but where would He draw the line in stopping people's free will? If He had not given Adam and Eve a free will, you would not have a free will either.
Let me give you an illustration from my life to hopefully give you a little understanding of how God feels when we suffer, and why He doesn't stop our suffering. My second son during his toddler years cut his head 3 times. Yes, he was very active. The doctor was emphatic that he needed stitches. The first ordeal of stitches turned out to be a nightmare, so from then on every time my son needed to have them, I felt awful. (It was so hard for me to see my child in such pain and distress.) I would find myself almost wanting to strangle the nurses and doctor to stop my son's suffering. In some ways, my hurt was more than his because of how much I loved him. They must have known I was going to interfere with what needed to be done to heal him, because they were adamant I could not be in the room with him. I can still feel how awful I felt each time I watched them put him in a straight jacket, to put those stitches in.
If I felt awful when my son was suffering, how do you think God feels when you and I suffer? He is so much more loving and caring than I am. In reality we can only love and care because we are created in His image. When we feel bad about suffering we know God does more. Have you ever thought maybe God feels worse than you about your suffering?
Some of you might think God enjoys seeing us suffer. However the Bible is clear, God isn't happy when we are suffering. Just as I felt awful about my son and his pain, God feels awful when we are in pain. In the Gospel of John, Jesus wept when He saw and felt firsthand what the agony of death and suffering does to us (John 11:32-40). The Old Testament is full of God mourning over our suffering, even the suffering we brought on ourselves. The difference between God and us is, I would have stopped the doctor from helping my son to heal, but God is wise, He knows what we need to go through to make us what we should be for our journey with Him on this earth and in eternity.
I hope I haven't glibly given you a simple list on why God allows suffering. Life is harsh, confusing, frightening and hard to understand at times. It isn't easy to get past why God didn't stop something that hurts so much that you find it hard to trust Him. Nevertheless, let me remind you God very much did something about our suffering! He stepped out of eternity to suffer for us, so that the cause and effect of sin would be completely taken care of. God suffered so that you and I don't have to die and suffer throughout eternity.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. Isaiah 53:4- 5 NASB®
Life Application: Take some time now and ask yourself, "Why and how do I struggle with why God allows suffering?" Be honest. God knows whether you trust Him or not, in any way, shape or form. Write down what the Holy Spirit shows you. Then ask God to do whatever He needs to do to reassure you concerning suffering, so you can trust in Him. Remember He wants you to experience peace and comfort in Him. Rewrite John 16:33 in your own way, then ask God to empower you to do what that verse is telling you to do to have His peace.
back to home