Why Does a Good God Allow Pain and Suffering?
Why does a good God allow pain and suffering?
Hurricanes, cancer, car accidents and untimely death. The world is a sad place. Nice, kind people die every time. Answering why this happens is, in many ways, the greatest hurdle for all religions. The question has plagued humanity for generations, with early writings from the the Ancient Near East (some of which you were probably forced to read in high school, like Gilgamesh) wrestling with how to explain this harsh reality around us.
It is one thing to say “bad things happen,” but it is quite another to answer the question, “Why?” This is complicated in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, buy the claim of one God. If good and evil isn’t a cosmic battle of a pantheon of gods, why doesn’t this one God just stop all of the suffering? Maybe he isn’t good? Maybe he isn’t powerful? So goes the thought process.
There are two parts to this question. One, why does suffering and pain exist? Two, why doesn’t God stop it?
Simply stated, pain and suffering exist because of sin. By design, God created a world that was untarnished by the realities that we experience. He created a world that was good - a phrase repeated seven times in the first chapter of the Bible’s account of creation.
The world that you desire, you see, is the world that God created, but in his goodness God also created mankind with the ability to make choices. In Genesis 3, we see this come to a head when the first humans have to choose between whether they will trust God to define good, evil and walk in his ways, or whether they will set themselves up as god by determining these things for themselves. God warns that this will lead them to death, but they do not listen. Instead, they choose to defy God.
This fractures the world forever. Sin is born, civilization is corrupted and the whole earth has never been the same. The things that are done to us and that we do to others all come back to this terrible choice. Bad things - be they sickness, crimes, even death - are the direct result of us living in this cursed world.
But if God is good and in control, why doesn’t he just prevent all that bad stuff from impacting us? Well, God filters the pain and the suffering in the immediate, something referred to as common grace, but we need more than that. A temporary relief of the pain wouldn’t deal with the problem. Taking medicine when you have a fever might make you feel better, but it isn’t, necessarily, eliminating the fever.
In his goodness, God doesn’t just deal with the symptoms of a broken world (e.g. pain and suffering). Instead, because he is both good and powerful God deals with sin, pain and suffering eternally.
Enter Jesus - God become flesh. He lived a perfect life while everyone around him engaged in the same sin that was spreading the pain and suffering we experience today. He undid the impact of the curse of sin during his time on earth, healing the sick, raising the dead, giving sight to the blind and pushing against the corrupt power structures of the day, but ultimately, and more importantly, Jesus dealt with the curse of sin permanently and eternally on the cross.
Although Jesus was perfect and pure, he died a criminal’s death in the greatest of tragedies. But what was tragic for Christ is advantageous for me and you. We are offered, in exchange for our sin, his righteousness. In exchange for his suffering, we are offered peace and forgiveness.
The point is this: there is legitimate pain and suffering in this world because of sin, and it happens to all people. Jesus knows this firsthand. We do not, however, simply need a reprieve from the effects of sin, we need to have it removed entirely from our being and our world.
On the cross, Jesus dealt with sin once and for all, but now we are waiting for his return. Do we still experience suffering and pain? Yes, because sin is still present in this world, but sin is still present because God - in his goodness - is waiting for people to stop running from him and instead to run to him. The day will come, however, when the chance for that turning (what the Bible calls repentance) will run out and then God will make all things new.
Pain and suffering WILL be gone once and for all, but not yet. In many ways, Pain and suffering today can remind us of God’s goodness in that he is still giving all people time to turn back to their Creator before the final judgment.
Want to learn more? Come to Revolve Church or any of the other churches participating in the Explore God sermon series this coming Sunday. For more information, including more articles and videos like this, check out www.exploregod.com.