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WHY DOES GOD PERMIT SUFFERING?
by ralph jackson
7/12/2016 / Bible Studies
Do you think that God is the cause of all the suffering in the world today or might it be a consequence of our own actions? Is it also possible that many of the problems that we are faced with today come from beyond our realm of reality? What does the Bible tell us?
Let's turn to 2 Peter 3:9:
"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
We know that God is love and that He sees everything. He is in control of all events that happen upon the earth and in the universe, so why does He allow suffering on this fallen planet?
In his plan of salvation God would permit events to happen to us so that we could learn what true love and freedom is. When disaster strikes, it may not be pleasant to feel the pain, whether physical or emotional but we must remember that love and suffering are not incompatible. For example, a parent who grabs their child before it falls into a fire, might accidentally hurt the child but acted to save the child from a worse fate, out of love. Likewise God's actions, which may lead to some hurt, are prompted by His love. God Himself had to suffer hurt in order to save us. We read that well known verse in John 3:16:
" For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
No other of the Godhead could have been sacrificed to save humanity from the power of sin.
We all know there is a law of 'Cause and Effect', which operates throughout the whole of God's creation? The Bible puts it this way:
"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows". Galatians 6:7
We see the law of nature in operation therefore we cannot deny that it exists. This law is not only in the present, but it will operate throughout all eternity.
Paul goes on to say in Galatians 6:8:
"The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life."
People often bring suffering and affliction on themselves through individual sin or transgression of the laws of nature, which affects them personally. From this it can be seen that suffering is not directly a punishment for a sin, as some religions believe, but it is a consequence of sinning a natural outcome.
Take our eating habits. God instructed us in the Bible not to eat certain foods. Was He being a killjoy? Not at all. God created our bodies, our digestive system etc., and He knows what bad food can do to it. Do we listen to his instructions? No, we eat what pleases us! What looks and tastes good on the plate! So what happens when we eat things that we have been expressly forbidden to eat, such as pork meat, shellfish, crabs, etc.? We reap what we sow; heart disease; diabetes; cancers; tumours and many more diseases. And of course what we put into our bodies can determine our life span. Our bodies were created to regenerate with the aid of the vitamins and minerals we consume. Every cell is a miniature computer with a particular function. Each one designed to ensure the body remains in a healthy vibrant state, however if there is a constant daily attack of toxins from the food we eat, combined with a polluted environment, many of our good cells act like suicide bombers. They attack the incoming toxins and in the process die. These have to be regenerated to ensure their numbers do not deplete and become outnumbered by the free radicals that invade the body. When the good cells are overwhelmed, the body starts to decay. This is when diseases can gain a foothold. If we continue in our daily misuse of the food and drink we put into our bodies, the disease grows until it finally succeeds in the destruction of the body, which dies.
This leads me on to what the Cause is for all affliction and suffering in the world today?
As I've just said, individuals can bring about their own problems by going against natural laws but overall sin when it is full-grown gives birth to death. James 1:15.
Isaiah 24:5,6 says:
"The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws and violated the statues and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt."
So if sin is responsible for all the ills, the suffering and afflictions throughout the earth, how did it start? Didn't God make Adam and Eve sinless! Yes He did, but because He made them free thinking humans, they had the propensity to disobey. Eve was tempted and Adam followed his wife in that temptation. Therefore because of their disobedience to God's law, they fell from their holy position and as a natural consequence the earth became cursed and this eventually led to a state of decay, corruption and eventual suffering in the whole of God's new creation. Paul tells us in Romans 8:22:
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time."
Paul also shows in this chapter that there is to be a day of deliverance from the world's sinful state. Today we continue to live on a sin-cursed earth, which one day will be delivered from the curse and be liberated and renewed in Christ.
I have now shown how individuals can cause their own misery and that sin is the cause of all misery on earth, but what is sin? Many will say that it is doing immoral things such as killing, stealing, etc., but these in themselves are not sin they come about as a result of sin. The Bible tells us that 'sin is the transgression of God's law'. 1 John 3:4. Without law there is no sin (Rom 4:15).
We must keep in mind that even if we keep the law of God, we cannot be justified by it, even if we keep it to the letter throughout our life. Only through Christ and His sacrifice are we made right (justified), with God. God did not make an arbitrary 10 Commandments to dictate to us, He gave us His law which is a transcript of His character. We were given these laws to keep us safe and to show us what sin is (Rom 3:20).
Now that we know sin causes suffering, why should those who are innocent still suffer the same consequences as a sinner who disobeys God's law? We know that everyone on this earth, no matter how hard they try to be good, are still under the curse of sin. Sin is a cancer of the soul. If we get close enough to those who disrespect the law of God, just like getting too close to a fire, we are going to get burned. Others can contaminate us. Contaminated in our thoughts by those we associate with and our actions, which come from the wrong thoughts we entertain.
Jesus showed us that while some suffering is as a result of individual sin, it often comes upon the innocent.
Turn to Luke 13:4 & 5.
"Of those 18 who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will perish."
And in John 9:3 Jesus said:
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."
And in Luke 13:1-2:
"Now there were some present at this time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered: "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?"
Jesus gave examples to make it very clear to us that everyone on this earth is subject to physical afflictions, injustices or disasters, which come about because of the overruling power of sin. It is not possible to say that the amount of suffering or injustice or disaster that happens to an individual is because that person is depraved or has done terrible wrongs, however sometimes when a person does something wrong, it affects a whole community and the innocent suffer. We have recently seen a pilot crashing his plane into a mountain taking the lives of all on board. Were all those on board evil people who needed to die? Of course not. The pilot chose to end his life and took innocent people with him. If you analyse many of the calamities that happen to us, they can be put down to human ignorance, stupidity, or wilfulness, which can be summed up as human sin - the transgression of God's law. So the person who chooses a wrong act, can affect many more in the greater human family. We've all had this happen to us. A neighbour takes a dislike to you for no reason you can think of and your life becomes a nightmare. Someone gets a thought in their head and puts it into action. The terrible murder of the soldier Lee Rigby, killed on our streets and the MP Jo Cox's senseless murder, both killed by sick minds that acted out the hatred that had overtaken their sense of compassion and love for their fellow human beings.
Sin is the culprit for all of human suffering. It started in heaven and was transferred to the Garden of Eden. Sins birthplace was in the heart of Lucifer. Had he not been so puffed up and full of his own self-importance, then earth would not be the place it is today. Consequently, God had to take some drastic and unusual actions to combat the cause of sin. Many times he had and has to permit human suffering to happen on this earth for a greater purpose.
Turn with me to Hebrews 12:6-11
"Because the Lord disciplines those He loves and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son. Endure hardship as a discipline. God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? Moreover we have all had fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it? 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 is 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."
And in 1 Cor 11:32:
"When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world."
When Adam and Eve sinned the human race became alienated from the life we should have had with God. We became unholy. God's image in man slowly diminished and has almost been totally erased from millions of souls by the ravages of sin over time. Because God loves His children He longs to have the human family back in the place it was created for. He wants us to have His image restored in us. He wants us to become partakers in His divine nature - in His holiness. He will not be complete Himself until we are back in His kingdom and sin is eradicated from this planet.
Why then doesn't God just make it happen? After all He is God! Yes He is and His love for us means that He will never force us to return to Him. Our freedom to choose is one of His greatest gifts. Unlike many religions on earth today that believe freedom of thought and expression is bad, God's kingdom and government puts great value on an individuals right to choose to become holy again. God does not dictate conscience but He will allow suffering in a person's life to lead him back to Himself. That suffering may or may not be related to personal sin. It is sent in love to lead us back to His law. When suffering happens to an individual, there is still no force exerted one way or the other by God. The decision to take that suffering as discipline, or to curse God is for the individual's own conscience.
We can look at Scripture to see great examples of the innocent suffering on this earth. Take Job for example, now he certainly suffered.
Turn to Job 2:3
"Then the lord said to Satan, have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him. He is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason."
Here we have a very unusual case. God was challenged by Satan to prove that anyone who served him, with loving devotion, without any personal gain could not be found on earth. But God chose Job to meet the challenge. God put his trust in one human because He knew His servant job would not let him down. God was making use of Job to disprove Satan's claim that nobody would remain faithful to God if they were put under affliction. Satan was given permission to deprive Job of his wealth, land and family. Notice it was Satan who caused the affliction of Job, not God, who permitted it to happen.
What was Job's reaction to his affliction? Did he curse God? No. He said:
"The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."
What a character of love toward God Job must have had? He never charged God with causing his suffering. Job 1:21-22. Job knew he was being tested. When he had gone down to the depths of suffering he still praised God saying:
"But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold." Job 23:10.
Job was aware of the sustaining power of God throughout his suffering and despite his so-called friend's advice to curse God and die, Job held on to his faith. We too can have that assurance when we have suffering in our lives.
We can also be reassured that affliction can bring us to repentance. Again the Bible again gives us examples: Turn to Jonah 2:1-2:
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:
"In my distress I called to the Lord and He answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help and Thou listened to my cry."
And then there was Manasseh:
"In his distress he sought the favour of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to Him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his please, so He brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God. 2 Chro 33:12-13
And what about Nebuchadnezzar?
"At the end of that time, I Nebuchadnezzar raised my eyes towards heaven and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the most high; I honoured and glorified Him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation." Dan 4:34
Yes God does allow affliction to come on some. In his love and mercy He disciplines sinners to bring them to repentance. As with Job, Manasseh and Nebuchadnezzar and the many other examples in Scripture, God still disciplines His children today. Sometimes it is hard to see God through the pain and many chose to curse Him rather than see through the experience and gain salvation by being brought nearer to their creator and saviour?
Paul suffered for Christ and through that suffering he shared for us all, how much that suffering was worth: Turn to 2 Cor 4:17:
"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all."
And Romans 8:18:
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."
Paul's experience speaks to us today. He suffered much for Christ. (2 Cor 11:23-33). He carried a thorn in his flesh which caused him physical discomfort for most if not all his earthly ministry, yet he soldiered on for Christ's sake and his eternal good saying:
'Therefore will I boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ's power may rest upon me."
Paul knew that suffering increases our capacity to appreciate heaven's peace and glory.
As a former soldier in the British Army I know what hardship can be. When your lying in a cold muddy ditch in the dark of the night and its really cold, especially in your bones, you appreciate the comfort of a warm bath and bed when you finally get back home. I can imagine how we will appreciate heaven when we no longer live in this world of sin.
We can be assured that if we love God and have accepted Jesus as our saviour that our lives are now under his control.
Turn to Rom 8:28
"And we know that in all thing God works for the good of all those who love Him, who have been called according to his purposes."
And 1 Cor 10:13:
"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provided a way out so that you can stand up under it."
When suffering or affliction comes we must not forget that God will not allow it to go beyond our capacity to bear it. We can be reassured from this scripture that He will end it before it becomes unbearable.
Bishop J C Ryle, who was the first Bishop of Liverpool lived from 1816 1900, gave the following very reassuring statement:
"Christ's people shall never be entirely forsaken. Though sorely harassed, they shall not be destroyed. Though cast down they shall not be cast away. At the darkest time let true Christians rest in the thought that 'greater is He who is for them than all they that be against them'. The winds and waves of political and ecclesiastical trouble may beat fiercely over them and all hope may seem taken away. But still let them not despair. There is one living for them in heaven, which can make these winds and waves cease in a moment. The true church, of which Christ is the head, shall never perish. Its glorious head is almighty and lives for evermore and His believing members shall all live also and reach home safe at last.
God does not take pleasure in human affliction Lam 3:32-33. He would rather we keep to the right road and avoid any sinful course. He has assured us that sin and suffering will soon be a thing of the past.
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with man, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 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."
No more sin or suffering, no crying, no dying. Seems like a fantasy but its not. God gave up His Son on Calvary to ensure this present age would end and a new world order would come. Not a one which the political powers of this earth want, but an order that was meant to be from creation. This old world order of things will pass away and trouble will not come a second time. Nahum 1:9. The purging of sin will not longer be necessary as the saints of God are ready for the glories of eternity in a new improved body.
"I answered, Sir, you know" and He said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them." Rev 7:14-15.
I'd like to read a transcript from a radio broadcast by Paul Harvey in 1951.
You can listen yourselves to this on YouTube. It is entitled: IF I WERE THE DEVIL.
If I were the devil, if I were the prince of darkness I would want to engulf the whole world in darkness and I would have a third of its real estate and 4/5th of population but I wouldn't be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree. YOU. So I'd set about how to take over the USA. I'd start with subverting the church first by whispering to you as I did with Eve. "DO AS YOU PLEASE' To the young I would whisper that the Bible is a myth and convince them that man created God instead of the other way round and that what is bad is good and what is good is square. To the old I would teach them to pray: "Our Father which art in Washington. And then I' d get organised to educate authors to make lured literature exciting and to make others dull and less interesting and then TV with dirtier movies and get people to sell narcotics, and sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I would tranquilise the rest with pills. If I were the devil I would have families, churches and nations at war with themselves until each in turn was consumed. And with promises of higher ratings I would have mesmerising media fanning the flames. If I was the devil I would have schools refine intellect but neglect emotions just let them run wild until before you knew it you would have to have drug sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every school. Within a decade I would have prisons overflowing. I'd have judges promoting pornography. Soon I could evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse and then from the Houses of Congress. I would substitute phycology for religion and deify science. I would lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls and church money. If I were the devil I would make the symbol of Easter an egg and the symbol of Christmas a bottle. If I were the devil I'd take from those who have and give to those who want it until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. What will you bet I would get whole States to promote gambling as the way to get rich. I would caution against extremes and hard work and patriotism in moral conduct. I would convince the young that marriage is old fashioned and swinging is more fun. That what you see on TV is the way to be. I could undress you in public and lure you into bed with diseases for which there is no cure. In other words if I were the devil I would keep right on doing what he is doing.
It looks like Paul Harvey knew which direction the world was going.
The devil may be setting the agenda but he is only allowed to go so far. Just as he did with Job, God allowed the suffering and Job received a greater reward for his faithfulness. In our suffering we can be assured of the same protection from God as He gave to Job, if we remain as faithful as he did.
It is my prayer that we are all willing to submit to the divine refiner that we may be purified and made ready to stand in His presence in that glorious and wonderful Day of the Lord.
Acknowledgement to Pastor Stephen Bohr and Professor Walter Veith for the subject matter
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