This is part of long reflections about suffering from Martin R. De Haan II. I found them something worth sharing, especially during Holy Week. The entire reflection is very lengthy so I decided to break it up based on the section therein.
So, why does a loving God allow sufferings in the world?
To Alert Us
Imagine a world without pain. What would it be like? At first the idea may sound appealing. No more headaches. No more backaches. No more upset stomachs. No more throbbing sensations when the hammer misses the mark and lands on your thumb. No more sore throats. But there would also be no more sensation to alert you of a broken bone or tearing ligaments. No alarm to let you know that an ulcer is eating a hole in your stomach. No discomfort to warn of a cancerous tumor that is gathering forces for a takeover of your body. No angina to let you know that the blood vessels to your heart are clogging up. No pain to signal a ruptured appendix.
As much as we may abhor pain, we have to admit that it often serves a good purpose. It warns us when something goes wrong. The cause of the misery, rather than the agony itself, is the real problem. Pain is merely a symptom, a siren or bell that sounds when a part of the body is endangered or under attack.
In this section we will see how pain could be God’s way to alert us that:
1. Something’s wrong with the world.
2. Something’s wrong with God’s creatures.
3. Something’s wrong with me.
Any one of these problems could be the reason for the pain in our lives. Let’s look at each possible diagnosis.
1. SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH THE WORLD.
The sorry condition of our planet indicates that something has gone terribly wrong. The suffering we experience and the distress we sense in others indicate that suffering does not discriminate on the basis of race, social status, religion, or even morality. It can seem cruel, random, purposeless, grotesque, and wildly out of control. Bad things happen to people who try to be good, and good things happen to people who enjoy being bad.
The seeming unfairness of it all has struck close to each of us. I remember watching my grandmother as she was dying of cancer. Grandma and Grandpa Blohm moved in with our family. My mother, a registered nurse, took care of her during her final months. Mom administered the pain killer. Grandpa desperately wanted her to be healed. Then the day came when the hearse pulled up and took away her frail, wasted body. I knew she was in heaven, but it still hurt. I hated cancer–I still do.
As I sit here thinking of all the suffering that my friends, co-workers, family, neighbors, and church family have experienced, I can hardly believe the length of the list–and my list is incomplete. So often these people have suffered through no apparent fault of their own. An accident, a birth defect, a genetic disorder, a miscarriage, an abusive parent, chronic pain, a rebellious child, a severe illness, random disease, the death of a spouse or a child, a broken relationship, a natural disaster. It just doesn’t seem fair. From time to time I’m tempted to give in to frustration.
How do we resolve this? How do we live with the cold facts of life without denying reality or being overcome with despair? Couldn’t God have created a world where nothing would ever go wrong? Couldn’t He have made a world where people would never have the ability to make a bad choice or ever hurt another person? Couldn’t He have made a world where mosquitos, weeds, and cancer would never exist. He could have–but He didn’t.
The great gift of human freedom that He has given to us, the ability to choose, carries with it the risk of making wrong choices.
If you could choose between being a free thinking creature in a world where bad choices produce suffering, or being a robot in a world without pain, what would you decide? What kind of being would bring more honor to God? What kind of creature would love Him more?
We could have been created to be like the cute battery-operated dolls that say “I love you” when hugged. But God had other plans. He took a “risk” to create beings who could do the unthinkable– rebel against their Creator.
What happened in paradise? Temptation, bad choices, and tragic consequences destroyed the tranquillity of Adam and Eve’s existence. Genesis 2 and 3 detail how Satan tested their love for the Lord–and they failed. In biblical terms, that failure is called sin. And just as the AIDS virus infects a body, breaks down the body’s immune system, and leads to death, so also sin spreads as a deadly infection that passes from one generation to the next. Each new generation inherits the effects of sin and the desire to sin (Rom. 1:18-32; 5:12,15, 18).
Not only did the entrance of sin into the world have devastating effects on the nature of human beings, but sin also brought about immediate and continual judgment from God. Genesis 3 relates how physical and spiritual death became a part of human existence (vv.3,19), childbirth became painful (v.16), the ground was cursed with weeds that would make man’s work very difficult (vv.17-19), and Adam and Eve were evicted from the special Garden where they had enjoyed intimate fellowship with God (vv.23,24).
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul described the whole creation of God as groaning and eagerly anticipating the time when it will be freed from the curse of decay and be remade, free from the effects of sin (Rom. 8:19-22).
Disease, disaster, and corruption are symptoms of a deeper problem–the human race has rebelled against the Creator. Every sorrow, grief, and agony are vivid reminders of our human predicament. Like a huge neon sign, the reality of suffering screams the message that the world is not the way God created it to be.
Therefore, the first and most basic answer to the problem of the existence of suffering is that it is the direct result of sin’s entrance into the world. Pain alerts us that a spiritual disease is wracking our planet. Many times our troubles may be merely the side-effects of living in a fallen world, through no direct fault of our own.
2. SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH GOD’S CREATURES.
We can be targets of cruel acts from other people or from Satan’s rebel army. Both fallen human beings and fallen spirit beings (angels who have rebelled) have the capacity to make decisions that damage themselves and others.
Suffering can be caused by people. As free (and sin-infected) creatures, people have made and will continue to make many bad choices in life. These bad choices often affect other people.
For example, one of Adam’s sons, Cain, made a choice to kill his brother Abel (Gen. 4:7,8). Lamech boasted about his violence (vv.23,24). Sarai mistreated Hagar (Gen. 16:1-6). Laban swindled his nephew Jacob (Gen. 29:15-30). Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery (Gen. 37:12-36), and then Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of attempted rape and had him thrown into prison (Gen. 39). Pharaoh cruelly mistreated the Jewish slaves in Egypt (Ex. 1). King Herod slaughtered all the babies who lived in and around Bethlehem in an attempt to kill Jesus (Matt. 2:16-18).
The hurt that others inflict on us may be due to selfishness on their part. Or you may be the target of persecution because of your faith in Christ. Throughout history, people who have identified with the Lord have suffered at the hands of those who rebelled against God.
Before his conversion, Saul was a rabid anti-Christian who did all he could to make life miserable for believers–even working to have them put to death (Acts 7:54-8:3). But after his dramatic turn to the Lord Jesus, he bravely endured all types of persecution as he boldly proclaimed the gospel message (2 Cor. 4:7-12; 6:1-10). He could even say that the suffering he endured helped to make him more like Christ (Phil. 3:10).
Suffering can also be caused by Satan and demons. Job’s life story is a vivid example of how a good person can suffer incredible tragedy because of satanic attack. God allowed Satan to take away Job’s possessions, his family, and his health (Job 1,2).
I cringed even as I wrote the preceding sentence. Somehow, and for His reasons, God allowed Satan to devastate Job’s life. We may tend to compare what God did to Job to a father who allows the neighborhood bully to beat up his children just to see if they would still love Dad afterward. But, as Job came to realize, that’s not a fair assessment when speaking about our wise and loving God.
We know, though Job did not, that his life was a test case, a living testimonial to the trustworthiness of God. Job illustrated that a person can trust God and maintain integrity even when life falls apart (for whatever reason) because God is worth trusting. In the end, Job learned that even though he didn’t understand what God was up to, he had plenty of reason to believe that God was not being unjust, cruel, sadistic, or unfair by allowing his life to be ripped apart (Job 42).
The apostle Paul experienced a physical problem that he attributed to Satan. He called it a “thorn in the flesh . . . , a messenger of Satan to buffet me” (2 Cor. 12:7). Paul prayed to be freed from the problem, but God didn’t give him what he asked for. Instead, the Lord helped him to see how this difficulty could serve a good purpose. It made Paul humbly dependent on the Lord and put him in a position to experience His grace (vv.8-10).
Although most cases of sickness cannot be directly tied to Satan’s work, the gospel accounts do record a few examples of suffering attributed to Satan, including a blind and mute man (Matt. 12:22) and a boy who suffered seizures (17:14-18).
3. SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH ME.
Too often when something goes wrong in our lives we immediately jump to the conclusion that God is whipping us because of some sin we’ve committed. That’s not necessarily true. As we indicated in the previous points, much of the suffering that comes into our lives is because we live in a broken world inhabited by broken people and rebellious spirit beings.
Job’s friends mistakenly thought that he was suffering because of sin in his life (Job 4:7,8; 8:1-6; 22:4,5; 36:17). Jesus’ own disciples jumped to the wrong conclusion when they saw a blind man. They wondered if the man’s eye problem was due to his personal sin or because of something his parents had done (John 9:1,2). Jesus told them that the man’s physical problem was not related to his personal sin or the sin of his parents (v.3).
With these cautions in mind, we need to deal with the hard truth that some suffering does come as the direct consequence of sin–either as corrective discipline from God for those He loves, or punitive action by God upon rebels in His universe.
Correction. If you and I have placed our trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior, then we are children of God. As such, we are part of a family headed by a loving Father who trains and corrects us. He’s not an abusive, sadistic parent who dishes out severe beatings because He gets some twisted pleasure out of it. Hebrews 12 states:
My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. . . . Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness (Heb. 12:5,6,9,10).
And to the church in Laodicea, Jesus said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19).
King David knew what it was like to experience the tough love of the Lord. After his adultery with Bathsheba and his conniving to ensure that her husband would be killed in battle, David did not repent until the prophet Nathan confronted him. Psalm 51 recounts David’s struggle with guilt and his cry for forgiveness. In another psalm, David reflected on the effects of covering up and ignoring sin. He wrote, “When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me” (Ps. 32:3,4).
In 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, the apostle Paul warned believers that treating the things of the Lord lightly–partaking of the Lord’s Supper without taking it seriously–will bring discipline. Paul explained that this discipline of the Lord was purposeful. He said, “But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world” (v.32).
Most of us can understand the principle that whom God loves He disciplines. We would expect a loving Father to correct us and call us to renew our obedience to Him.
Judgment. God also acts to deal with stubborn unbelievers who persist in doing evil. A person who has not received God’s gift of salvation can expect to receive God’s wrath at a future day of judgment and the danger of harsh judgment now if He so chooses.
The Lord brought the flood to destroy decadent humanity (Gen. 6). He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18,19). He sent plagues on the Egyptians (Ex. 7-12). He commanded Israel to completely destroy the pagans who inhabited the Promised Land (Deut. 7:1-3). He struck down the arrogant King Herod of New Testament times (Acts 12:19-23). And at the future day of judgment, God will deal out perfect justice to all those who reject His love and rule (2 Pet. 2:4-9).
In the here-and-now, however, we face inequities. For His all-wise reasons, God has chosen to delay His perfect justice. The psalm writer Asaph struggled with this apparent unfairness of life. He wrote about the wicked who were getting away with their evil deeds, even prospering, while many of the righteous were having troubles (Ps. 73). Concerning the prosperity of the wicked he said, “When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me–until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end” (vv.16,17). By thinking of the sovereign Lord of the universe, Asaph was able to get things back into perspective.
When we struggle with the reality that wicked people are literally “getting away with murder” and all sorts of immorality, we need to remember that “the Lord is . . . longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
The first part of the answer, then, to the problem of suffering is that God uses it to alert us to serious problems. Pain sounds the alarm that indicates something is wrong with the world, with humanity at large, and with you and me. But as we will see in the next section, God not only signals the problems, He also uses troubles to encourage us to find the solutions–in Him.