This is a question asked by many in the wake of Hurricane Florence in the USA and Typhoon Ompong in the Philippines as they see innocent children swept away in a landslide or drowned during a hurricane. While I cannot claim to know all of God’s reasons for allowing tragedies to take place in our world, I do want to provide some biblical answers to some basic questions about the topic of pain and suffering.
Q1: Did God create the world with sin and suffering in it?
A1: No, God created the heavens (universe) and earth without sin as He concluded that what He originally made was “good” and “very good” (Genesis 1:3, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). This includes all the angels created by God (Colossians 1:16). However, Lucifer, God’s highest-ranking angel, rebelled and sinned against God (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:11-19) prior to tempting Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-6). Lucifer, or Satan, also led one third of God’s angels to join him in his rebellion so that they (fallen angels and/or demons) now oppose God and His people (Ezekiel 28:16, 18; Revelation 12:4, 7-10).
Q2: When did sin and suffering begin on the earth?
A2: When Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-6; Romans 5:12). Their decision to sin also adversely effected creation (Genesis 3:14-19) which now “groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:18-22).
Q3: Does God cause sin and suffering in the world today?
A3: No, the Bible says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (James 1:13). Temptations come from our own sinful flesh, the world, or from Satan (cf. Matthew 4:1-11; James 1:14; I John 2:16). God’s love gives each human being the ability to choose. If people could not choose between good and evil, that would not be love. Much suffering takes place in the world today because of circumstances beyond our control. Some suffering is because of our own sinful decisions or the decisions of others.
Q4: When people suffer, how do they know that God is in control?
A4: When Job suffered greatly, he asked God why He had even allowed him to be born (Job 3:11). Job cried out to God. “For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, I have no rest, for trouble comes”(Job 3:25-26). God chose not to reveal His motives for allowing Job to suffer. He never told him why, but He did answer him. He answered Job by describing Himself as all powerful and in control (Job 38:1-41:34). So, we know that God is in control in the midst of suffering because He has told us in His Word (cf. Romans 8:28).
Q5: How does God feel about those who do suffer?
A5: When people suffer, God wants them to know that He cares. He is concerned about every pain and tear. He encourages us to “cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you”(I Peter 5:7). Sometimes God demonstrates His care by not removing our suffering but by comforting us in the midst of it (2 Corinthians 1:3-11). God will help us through whatever suffering we face, if we look to Him. It is with this kind of suffering that God helps us through but He does not necessarily remove it. However, there is a kind of suffering that God wants to eliminate which is eternal.
Q6: How can God love people if He sends them to hell to suffer forever?
A6: First of all, God does not send anyone to hell. People send themselves to hell when they refuse to believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16-19; Revelation 20:15) who suffered and died in our place on the cross and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:1-6). After all, God is holy and hates sin, and must punish it (Psalm 5:4; Isaiah 6:1-5; 59:2; Romans 3:23; 6:23b). The Bible tells us that all people must face God as their Judge – “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment”(Hebrews 9:27). So, whether we have sinned once or a thousand times, sin’s consequences are forever.
Q7: How can people escape eternal suffering?
A7: Their eternal suffering can be removed, not by any works or words they do or speak (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5), but by accepting what God did for them on the cross. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”(Romans 5:8). God now invites all people to believe or trust in His perfect Son, Jesus Christ, for His free gift of everlasting life. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Our good works and religious efforts will not save us because they are all like “filthy garments”in the sight of a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). We must trust in Christ alone as our only way to heaven. The moment we do, God gives us eternal life as a gift and we are His forever (John 10:28-29).
A day is coming when all those who have believed or trusted in Jesus alone for His gift of everlasting life will be with Him in heaven where there will be no more suffering. The Bible says, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying…”(Revelation 21:4). Those who have believed in Christ recognize that there is suffering in this life, but they take comfort in God’s promise that one day all suffering will be gone forever. Those people will not suffer eternally.
If you have never understood and believed this, why not trust in Jesus Christ alone right now as your only way to heaven? Here is how you could tell God in prayer what you are doing.
Dear God, I come to you now as a sinner. I know my sins deserve to be punished forever. But I now understand that Jesus Christ died for me and rose from the dead. I am now placing my trust in Christ alone as my only way to heaven. Thank You for the gift of forgiveness and eternal life I just received. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
When you believed in Jesus, the Bible says you now have everlasting life (John 3:16) and you can “know” it. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life”(I John 5:13). God now wants to use you to tell others this good news. As you learn to follow Jesus, He can show you how to tell others how to escape eternal suffering before it is too late for them (Matthew 4:19).