The Problem of Pain and Suffering Featured

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:41

Every human being will at some point in their lives ask these questions: Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? Where is God when natural disasters and terminal illnesses take the lives of thousands of men, women and innocent children each year? Where is God when I feel misunderstood, mistreated, and hurt by people in my life? Where is God when I'm going through physical, emotional or spiritual pain? If God is all-powerful and all-good, then how can he allow so much pain and suffering? Questions like these can shake our faith and grip us with fear, bewilderment and anger. As Christians, we know that God is powerful and loving, but sometimes it feels like he doesn't care, or that we're all alone.

George Barna, the well-known public-opinion pollster, conducted a national survey: "If you could ask God only one question, and you knew he would give you an answer, what would you ask?" The top response was, "Why is there pain and suffering in the world?"

God knows that we have this question; but perhaps he also knows the value of each of us wrestling with it personally and coming to grips with different pieces of it at different times in our lives.
Maybe that's why there are no easy answers; but God does give us hints and clues in his Word if we're willing to look for them. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I pray that God uses this article in some small way to perhaps add a few pieces of the puzzle for you. Let's try to sort some of this out together...

(Note: many others have written more comprehensively about this subject. See the "Sources" list at the end of this article for some recommended reading.)

Pain and suffering are the result of sin in our world.

All sin causes pain and suffering eventually. Hatred, prejudice, envy, jealousy, and lust lead to the emotional pain of unresolved conflicts, broken relationships, depression and hopelessness, and the social and physical pain of poverty, hunger, homelessness, violence, crime and war. In heaven, there will be no more sin – and therefore no more pain and suffering. Revelation 21:4 says, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

But why did God create sin in the first place? Actually God did not create sin. Sin is one potential consequence of "free-will." God created man in his own image and likeness – with free will (Refer: Genesis 1:27). It seems when God made man he had two choices: he could force all human beings to do good, thus eliminating all sin and suffering, or, he could give us the freedom to choose – allowing us the freedom to do good or evil, right or wrong, love or hate, resulting in the world we live in today.

Thankfully, God chose to give us free-will, because he wanted children, not robots. (I'd rather be a child of God than a robot or a puppet, how about you?) So, God did not create evil; but evil became a possibility as soon as free-will was born, and that explains the existence of pain and suffering in our world. 

Author Lee Strobel in The Case for Faith, puts it this way, "It is not logically possible to have free will, and no possibility of moral evil. Once God chose to create human beings with free will, then it was up to them, rather than to God, as to whether there was sin or not. That's what free will means – people can choose what they want to do. So, built into the situation of God deciding to create human beings with free will is the chance of evil and, consequently, the suffering that results."

So, human sin, which results from free will, is the root cause of the world's pain and suffering, and in fact causes physical and spiritual death itself. Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

What about natural disasters and disease?

But what about natural disasters? What about cancer, heart disease and Malaria; broken limbs, disabilities and birth defects? Perhaps even this suffering is the result of sin on the planet; the result of living in a fallen and cursed world.

Remember that in Genesis 3:17-18, God cursed not only the man, woman, and serpent because of their sin, but also the earth itself: "...Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you..."

The New Testament elaborates on the effects of this curse and its eventual lifting in Romans 8:19-23, "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."

So, the earth itself is currently "in bondage to decay (vs. 21)." The Greek word for "decay" here could be translated "ruin" as well. This earth is ruined by sin. It is broken, and in need of fixing. At the Second Coming of Jesus it will be fixed (actually destroyed and remade - Revelation 21:1). Until then, we live on a broken, ruined and decaying planet. So, while we live on this cursed planet, even natural disasters and disease may be the result of man's first sin in the Garden of Eden and the punishment that resulted from it.

Pain and suffering are good for us

But God was not caught off guard by Adam and Eve's sin. He knew man would sin, and so he planned to use the resultant pain and suffering for our good. Pain and suffering are agents of change, helping us to grow spiritually and preparing us for eternity.

There are many Bible passages about this:

James 1:2-4 says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

Psalm 119:67, 71 says, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word." "It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees."

Hebrews 12:7, 10-11 says, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? ...Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

As Lee Strobel puts it: "God's goodness does not always lead him to rescue people from pain and suffering. Sometimes the best thing is to allow the pain and suffering to do its refining work in our lives. We do this with our own children all the time. We don't do their homework for them because they need to learn how to do their own homework. We don't put a bubble around them and protect them from every hurt, because we know that some pain is necessary for them to grow."

If there were no pain and suffering in this world, how would we build character? How would we develop perseverance? What would motivate us to turn to God? C. S. Lewis says: "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, and shouts to us in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world." God has certainly used pain and suffering in my life to get me to turn to him, how about you?

The point of our lives in this world is not comfort, but preparation for eternity. This world is perfectly designed to cause people to turn to God in repentance and grow spiritually by learning to persevere. And that helps us grow in our character – which increases our hope of further growth and, eventually, heaven! Romans 5:3-4 says, "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope [of further spiritual growth and eventually heaven]."

This world is a soul-purifying factory; God knows exactly what he's doing. It's perfectly designed to produce repentance, character, spiritual growth, and the hope of heaven. That's why Christians can say with confidence: "God is in control."

God uses evil for our good and his glory

Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that in all things [even bad things] God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Lee Strobel points out that the cross is the greatest example of how God uses evil for our good and his glory: "God has demonstrated how this works in the case of his own son dying on the cross for us. The death of Jesus on the cross demonstrates how the very worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the world, ended up resulting in the very best thing that has ever happened in the history of the world. At the time, nobody saw how anything good could ever result from Jesus' death on the cross. And yet God foresaw that the result would be the opening of heaven to human beings. So, the worst tragedy in history brought about the greatest blessings in history. And if it happened there – if the ultimate evil resulted in the ultimate good – then it can happen in our lives as well. As we face struggles and trials and suffering, we sometimes can't imagine good emerging. But we've seen how it did in the case of Jesus, and so we can trust that it will in our case too."
There is great hope in this during times of tragedy. God can bring good out of bad in our lives – just like he did with the death of his own son on the cross.

How do we deal with pain and suffering?

Okay, so pain and suffering are necessary – but how do we deal with them emotionally and spiritually?

One way is to focus on Jesus and the cross. Isaiah 53:5 says, "he [Jesus] was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed."

This passage reminds us that God knows what pain and suffering is all about. So, where is God when we're hurting? He's right there, hurting with us! Where is God when we're suffering? He's right there, suffering with us! Where is God when we're crying for relief? He's right there, crying with us! What is God's response to pain and suffering? He weeps for us. John 11:33-36 says, "When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. "Where have you laid him?" he asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!'"

In fact, if there were no pain and suffering, there would not be the same opportunity for God to show his ultimate love for us on the cross. As 1 John 3:16 says, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us." Sometimes when I'm going through painful trials I remember the words to this comforting devotional song: "...And Jesus said: 'Come to the water, stand by my side. I know you are thirsty. You won't be denied. I felt every tear drop when in darkness you cried. And I strove to remind you that for those tears I died.'"

Where is God when we're hurting? He's right there with us, hurting with us, feeling with us, comforting us, and loving us through it.

Practically Speaking

So, how should we deal with pain and suffering, emotionally? First, realize it's normal and healthy to hurt over these things and wrestle with them. Even Jesus did. Matthew 27:45-46 says, "From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi,lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" While Jesus knew that he must die on the cross for the redemption of mankind, he still emotionally struggled with God allowing him to go through such intense pain and suffering, as we see here and in the garden of Gethsemane.

But we must resist the temptation to curse God and sin because of it. Job 2:9-10 says, "His wife said to him, 'Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!' He replied, 'You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?' In all this, Job did not sin in what he said."

Ultimately, we must learn to trust God more than ourselves. Proverbs 3:5 says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." Psalm 131 says, "My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore."


Our sin and the sin of others have caused us to live with pain and suffering. But our wise and loving God has devised a way to use the resulting pain and suffering in our lives, and the lives of others, to do us good and to bring himself glory. Romans 11:33-36 says, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen."

My prayer for you is that the pain and suffering in your life and in this world would bring you closer, not drive you further away, from God. Romans 8:35-39 says, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
Deliver Us From Evil by Ravi Zacharias
What's So Amazing about Grace? by Phillip Yancey
• Websites:
o Dr. John Oakes:
o Dr. Doug Jacoby:

Read 5583 times Last modified on Thursday, 14 November 2013 16:56