There is no easy answer to the problem of suffering. I do not believe the Bible tells us why God has allowed suffering in the world. However we do know what it cost God to allow suffering, and that He will help us through our hurt and pain. But we will start with the fact that rejecting God is no help at all with the issue of suffering.
Rejecting God Does Not Help With Suffering
If God does not exist then why should suffering bother us? If all there is to this universe are the laws of physics, chemistry and biology, and that we have come about by random chance and coincidence, then there is no inherent right or wrong in the universe. We may suffer through illness or injury, but there is no reason to say that my suffering is good or bad or has any value at all. There is just what happens in a cold uncaring universe. Others may have hurt us, but there is ultimately no reason why this is wrong. All there is simply one animal getting an evolutionary advantage over another animal in the battle for survival.
Ultimately all behaviour is permissible – morality is just a matter of personal preference resulting from our biology culture and upbringing. Without God we have no right to say anything that happens to us, any law or action is wrong. We can do whatever we like but equally have no right to ask anyone to stop doing things we don’t like. This lack of morality often leads to a lack of restraint of evil. Richard Wurmbrand was a Christian minister imprisoned by the communists. He described part of his experience in the following way:
“The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe when man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil. There is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man. The communist torturers often said, ‘There is no God, no Hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.’ I have heard one torturer even say, ‘I thank God, in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.’ He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.” Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1967), 34
Look Back At The Cross
If rejecting God does not help when suffering enters our lives, where can we begin? Firstly, look back at the cross of Jesus Christ:
“6 [Jesus Christ] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:6 – 8
While the Bible does not ultimately say why God has allowed suffering to occur in this world, it certainly shows us what it cost Him to allow suffering in His creation. God made the world good, without suffering and pain, but through the disobedience of our first parents sin and suffering entered the world. Being reconciled to sinful humanity cost God the Father dearly.
The Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, entered our world of pain and suffering as a man, not as a wealthy king or merchant, but as a poor Galilean carpenter. He knew poverty, hunger, fatigue and the pressure of work. During his time on earth His family misunderstood Him and His disciples failed Him. Peter disowned Him, Judas betrayed Him, and Thomas doubted Him. The Lord Jesus was persecuted and slandered by His enemies, and falsely accused and tempted in every way we are. He knew the pain of being beaten and crucified and at the time of greatest suffering, while placed under the wrath of God on the cross, was completely abandoned by His Father, with all comfort removed. This is only part of what it cost God to allow sin and suffering in our world.
Because we have a God who has entered into our painful world, who has experienced our pain first hand, He can empathise with us in the midst of our suffering. We do not have a detached, disinterested, impersonal God – He has entered into our humanity as the God-Man Jesus Christ.
Look Forward To The Resurrection Of All Believers
After looking back at the cross of Jesus Christ, the next thing we can do is to look forward to the resurrection of all believers. This world is not all there is!
“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,” 1 Peter 1:3 – 6
The perfect creation that was lost through the disobedience of our first parents will be restored. The believer has the hope of life in a glorious resurrection body on a new world with the Lord Jesus Christ. This new life will consist of an eternity of bliss, no tears, no pain, no more death, or separation from loved ones, and this wonderful existence lasts forever. Illness, disease, aging and death, heartache abuse and pain will be no more.
However the center piece of our resurrected life will be the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Imagine being next to one who is perfect in love, knowledge, truth wisdom and judgment. More than all this, He is the one who has loved you enough to die for you – that is how much he values you, and you will be in His presence forever.
Look to Christ Now For Help, Strength and Support
But what help can I have now in the midst of my trials?
“14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Hebrews 4:14 – 16
The Lord Jesus Christ sympathizes with his people, and both is able and willing to help us now in our sufferings. He has perfect access to God the Father, standing in the court of heaven and in His high priestly role is representing our needs to the God of the universe. We are never beyond God’s reach, he is everywhere in this universe. God is never caught by surprise, He never sleeps, and is ever vigilant, knowing all things, He knows and is always aware of our circumstances. There is no power in this universe that is greater than God, nothing in all of creation, whether natural or supernatural, can stop God’s help from reaching us. This is unceasing heavenly support 24/7 without any breaks in coverage, wherever we are in this universe.
But why should God help us? We do not deserve God’s help, but thankfully we approach a throne of grace. The help we receive from God is not dependent on us being “good” or our religious performance – it is dependent on Christ’s finished work on the cross to reconcile us to God, and not our efforts. Have we messed up and let our God and our friends down? We can still come to God through the Lord Jesus because we come to a throne of grace, that is of undeserved faviour from God. We need only faith in the finished work of Jesus upon the cross. Do you feel particularly “holy”, as if you have performed well for God? Then remember, man at the height of his religious attainment is still unacceptable to God, falling short of the perfection God requires – we come to a throne of grace, of undeserved faviour. The key here is that we can be assured of God’s ever present help in our time of need. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.