There are millions of people
in the world who are facing severe trials and suffering. Recently, a major
earthquake in India killed thousands and made thousands homeless and lacking the
necessities of life. It is natural for those who believe in God (who is revealed
to us in the Bible) to ask, "why does God allow bad things to happen to good
people?" "Why does God allow suffering to exist in this world?"
This is a question that has been ask since the world began. We cannot deny that
suffering takes place. We cannot ignore it. But the Bible does give us some
insight as to why God allows these things to happen.
ASK BY GIDEON
In the book of Judges we
find a man named Gideon asking this question. The general period of the judges
in which this question occurs was soon after Israel had entered into Canaan.
During this time, the people who were left in the land, who the Israelites did
not drive out, would attack and oppress Israel. God allowed this to take place
to punish Israel for their unfaithfulness. These attacks would grow worse and
worse until Israel was defeated. Then the people of Israel would repent, and God
would raise up a judge to deliver them from their enemies. Gideon's question was
ask of an angel after the Midianites had come into the new settlement and took
the harvest of the Israelites. This continued for seven years. It became so bad
that there was no food, sheep, oxen or donkeys left. The number of the
oppressors is described as being like grasshoppers.
When an angel of God came to Gideon he said,
"Yahweh is with you, you
mighty man of valor!" (Judges 6:12). This is when Gideon ask,
"O my lord, if Yahweh is with us, why then has all this happened to us?"
Gideon believed that the evidence that Yahweh was with Israel would have
manifested itself in protecting them from the oppressors. It seemed to be his
belief that if God was with a person, (that is, if one was a faithful child of God) one could expect
protection from physical threats. There are many people today who believe this
doctrine. They believe that if they are obedient to God then God will reward
them physically by keeping them from disease, death and any physical threat and
will make them rich and successful. There are many preachers on television and
radio who make the promise that if you send them money then you will be healthy,
wealthy and successful. But we must remember that the purpose of God's blessings
to man is not to provide an insurance policy against worldly failure.
If we hold to the "material success in return for spiritual service" theory, we
will be ill-prepared to face problems and troubles which often come into our
lives. If our health becomes poor, or we have a financial setback, we will
immediately come to the conclusion that we have not been faithful to God and
that He is no longer with us.
SUFFERING SOMETIMES COMES UPON US
BECAUSE OF SIN
The problem of suffering is
an old problem dating back to the very beginning of this world. Shortly after
God made man in His own image, Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. She
believed Satan's lies and disobeyed God (Genesis 3:1-6). Sin thus entered into
the world and we have had problems ever since. At the same time, something else
came into the world because of sin -- suffering.
At least some of the suffering that we see taking place in this world is brought
about because of sin. This can be an area in which the Christian can escape much
suffering. Of course, we can't completely escape this kind of suffering, because
none of us can live a sinless, perfect life and because we live around those who
sin and are thus affected by their actions. John wrote,
"If we say that
we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 John
1:8). God recognizes our inability to live a completely sinless life, so He has
made provision for it. John wrote, "But if we walk in the light as He is in
the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ
His Son cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7). As we strive to live the
Christian life, Jesus' blood continues to cleanse (Greek present tense) us from
all sin. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our
sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
(1 John 1:9).
But even though we may be forgiven of sin -- that is, the guilt will be taken
away and we will not be held responsible for it in the sense that we will lose
our souls -- still, we may have to suffer the physical consequences of our sins
or of someone else's sin. There is not only a spiritual price to pay for sin,
but sometimes there is also a physical price. A drunk may get behind the wheel
of an automobile and run into a bus load of kids killing and maiming them.
Later, he may hear and obey the gospel while awaiting trial. He can be forgiven
by God of killing those kids but he is still going to have to answer to the
courts for his act. He may receive the death penalty or spend the rest of his
life in jail. That's the physical consequences of his sin. So, even though he
may have been forgiven by God, he will still have to pay the physical
consequences of sin. But not only will he suffer the physical consequences of
his sin but those children who were injured in the wreck will suffer, some of
them for the rest of their lives. The families of those who were injured and
killed will suffer. Thus, sin has far-reaching consequences even on those who
But if all this is true, then how does the Christian avoid a lot of the
suffering that results from sin? When one becomes a Christian he changes his
life. He may turn from drunkenness or other drug use, and all the problems and
suffering that could come his way if he had continued to drink. He will learn to honor and love his spouse and thus prevent a broken home and all
the heartache he would have otherwise suffered if he had not changed. He will
live a good moral life, and thus prevent the disease and destruction that a life
of immorality might have brought upon him.
By his becoming a Christian, he may add years to his life. Years that would have
been missed if some sinful habit had shortened his life and destroyed his
health. You see, we're speaking of prevention. By living the Christian life, we
avoid and prevent much of the suffering that others may face because they live a
Christianity then is preventative in its nature. Jesus not only came to provide
remission of sins, but He also came to save us from a life of living in sin. He
gets the Christian out of the sinning business and into an effort to live right.
He changes our direction, causing us to be righteous and helping us to avoid sin.
James wrote, "Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and
someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of
his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins." (James
5:19-20). That phrase "cover a multitude of sins" is interesting. What is James
referring to? Could it be that he was talking about all the sins that will be
prevented because this soul was turned from the error of his way? When a soul is
turned from the error of his way -- when he is turned back to the truth -- then
other sin which would have been added to sin, will never be committed -- it will
be prevented. Why? Because the sinner has turned from a life of sin.
Prevention is a wonderful thing. It is better to prevent a war than to win one.
It is better to prevent a disease than to get it even if you recover from it.
Prevention is better, safer, and easier than cure.
Christianity changes our lives, prevents us from living a life largely given
over to sin, and thus avoids much suffering that might otherwise have occurred.
But still the innocent sometimes suffer because of the sins of others.
BROUGHT ABOUT BY PERSECUTION
Because I live in a country
(the United States of America) where religious freedom has been a way of life, I
(and others who live in this country) do not think of this aspect of suffering
much. However, just because we do not now suffer outright persecution in the
United States of America for being Christians, does not mean we may not at some
time in our life suffer such persecution. It seems to me that there has arisen
an anti-Christian sentiment in the United States today, that has been getting
stronger in recent years. Even in the United States
Christians are not exempt from the possibility of religious persecution. It may
be that some day those of us who are living now will see religious persecution
like Christians experienced in time past who have given their lives for Christ.
Just as surely as a Christian will escape suffering caused by sin, when we turn
to the Lord, we invite into our life another kind of suffering -- a suffering
brought about because we are Christians. Persecution. Paul wrote,
"Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ
Jesus will suffer persecution." (2
Timothy 3:12). This verse clearly tells us that we "will suffer persecution."
There is no doubt. We may be murdered, as happened in the first century and in
other time periods. It may be something else. But we "will suffer persecution."
Peter wrote, "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer,
or as a busybody in other people's matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a
Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter."
(1 Peter 4:15-16). With the Christian life comes suffering. Suffering comes to
murderers, thieves, evildoers and busybodies. But it also comes to Christians.
And Peter's admonition is - since you are going to suffer, don't suffer for
wrong doing but for doing what is right.
Why do the righteous face persecution? Truth and error -- right and wrong -- sin
and righteousness are antagonistic toward each another. There is a battle that
is being fought. There is no escape from this battle and no place to hide. The
philosophy of this world is diametrically opposed to that of Christianity, and
there can be no peaceful co-existence. James wrote,
adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?
Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of
God." (James 4:4). Jesus said,
"If the world hates you, you know that it
hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its
own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world,
therefore the world hates you." (John 15:18-19). Even though the Bible
teaches that we will face persecution, many Christians are trying to live so as
to satisfy the Lord and the world at the same time. If you are doing that, you
have set before you an impossible task. And you have also set before you the
fact that you will suffer. The inward war that results from trying to live to
please the Lord and the world at the same time results in great suffering. We
should remember what Jesus said: "No one can serve
two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will
be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24.
Note: "mammon" refers to wealth or riches). There is
the conflict -- there is the war -- the battle rages and we will suffer because
The suffering we face because of our sin and the suffering we face because of
persecution usually does not present much of a problem when it comes to the
problem of suffering. We understand that suffering sometimes comes upon us
because of the sin we or others have committed. We understand that we sometimes
suffer because of persecution. But there is another category of suffering that
is related to the physical world where it seems that we have a hard time
understanding and explaining why it takes place.
RELATED TO THE PHYSICAL WORLD
When God created this world
He did so for man's good. He put laws into motion to govern it. It is a perfect
world for what God designed it for.
But we should all realize that this world was once more perfect than it is now.
In fact, it was a paradise. The Psalmist was inspired to write,
"Of old You
laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You will endure; yes, they will all grow old like a
garment; like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed."
(Psalm 102:25-26). This world has changed. One of the major changes that
took place in our world was when sin became so great that God destroyed the
world by bringing the Flood upon it. (See
Genesis 6-11). Evidently, such great physical
changes took place on the earth that it changed the very nature of the weather
patterns and the physical make-up of the earth and changed this world from a
perfect paradise to one in which natural disasters can occur. Before the flood it
had never rained (Genesis 2:5-6). Can we not conclude from this fact that there
were no storms, tornados, or hurricanes? If that be true, then it was man
himself who was responsible for bringing the suffering that occurs as a result
of these natural disasters. Every time we see people lose property or life
because of an earthquake or hurricane or other natural disaster, it is a reminder
of God's judgment upon this world in the days of Noah. Because of the great sin
that was world-wide then, the innocent suffer today. It is so because the Flood
which was brought upon the earth because of man's sin made drastic changes which
brought about the conditions that would produce natural disasters.
There is something else we need to consider. The natural laws that God set in
motion can be broken, and when they are, the penalty must be paid even though
they may be broken unintentionally or due to matters beyond our control. It is
here that the questions are ask. It is here that the atheist tries to put doubt in
our minds about God's existence. Somehow we have the idea that God ought to
suspend the laws of nature if we are righteous, good, and innocent. But, even though those laws have been suspended in very special cases in the
past, God is no longer doing that today. The age of miracles is over (see
Corinthians 13) and the Christian lives in and is subject to the same laws of
nature that the sinner is subject to.
Now we may obey the gospel and totally change our lifestyle, but we still live
in a physical body and a physical world. We still live in a world where fire
burns and water drowns. We still must eat, exercise, and rest. We are still
surrounded with the same dangers and diseases that we were before. When we obey
the gospel, it does not protect us physically from the natural world we live in.
Conversion has to do with the soul, not the body. The body will be changed in
the resurrection to a incorruptible body (1 Corinthians 15) but we will have to
wait for these bodily changes. Until the resurrection from the dead, we are
subject to the natural laws of God on this earth.
Of course, when we obey the gospel, there are benefits to the physical body. We
will take better care of ourselves. We will give up sinful habits that
contribute to disease. We will refrain from letting our physical lusts and
passions determine our actions, thus avoiding sins which otherwise cause
physical suffering. So, there will be good, physical blessings which result from
becoming a Christian. But these things do not exempt us from all physical
There are many who claim that God miraculously delivers certain righteous people
from physical harm. But, then we have to ask the question, if that is so, what
about all those other righteous people who are not delivered? Would that not
make God a respecter of persons? We know the Bible says He is not a respecter of
persons (Acts 10:34). What would God have to do to eliminate physical suffering
for His people? Would He not have to take us out of the world or build a shell
around us so that we would be immune to the laws of nature (and thus miss the
good those things can bring)? Or, He would have to perform a miracle so often
that the laws of nature would no longer be law!
But, we must realize that this is not the purpose of Christianity. There is a
far higher motive for obeying the gospel and for living a righteous life. And it
is that motive, not physical well-being, that should prompt us to obey the Lord.
We must accept the fact that though physical laws are for our good, that when we
break them and suffer as a result, that just comes as a result of living in this
However, we need at the same time to realize that God does act in harmony with
His natural laws to help the sick and such like. If God does not do this, then
why does the Bible teach us to pray for the sick? Why do we pray for doctors and
those attending the sick? God does not suspend His natural law to save the
righteous from physical disease, but He may work through His natural law to save
SOME BLAME GOD
Despite these truths, some
blame God for all or much of the physical suffering that takes place in this
world. Your insurance policy has a clause in it pertaining to "acts of God." If
a hurricane or tornado causes damage to your home it is called "an act of God."
Even our courts take this into consideration in their determinations. If a
natural disaster occurs, it is "an act of God."
When an infant dies from some terrible disease, well-intentioned friends try to
comfort the parents by saying, "It is the will of God," or "God took your baby
to be with Him." When a loved one dies in the prime of life, some say, "God took
him." Why do we blame God for all of these tragedies? This leaves the idea that
God is spreading doom and that if anything goes wrong it is God's fault. This
leaves the impression that God is some fiend ready to pounce upon us and leave
us in sorrow and suffering. But God is not like that. The Bible says that,
"God is love"
(1 John 4:16). We must understand that everything that happens
is not an act of God, or is not even according to His will. Man will many times
prevent God's will from being done. For example, it is His will that all men be saved and
come to a knowledge of the truth -- but man can defeat the will of God by not
hearing or heeding the truth or not preaching the truth to the lost.
It is true that God made the world and set in motion the laws of nature, but He
is not responsible for the misuse of these laws. To blame Him for every disaster
would be like blaming Henry Ford for every car wreck because he invented the
car, or to blame the Wright brothers for every plane crash because they invented
the airplane. An innocent baby is playing with a fork and sticks it into an
electrical outlet and is electrocuted. Is this an act of God? Did God do it? Did
He will it? No! God gave us laws of nature by which we can produce electricity
for good uses. That does not make Him responsible for all the misuses of it. The
only alternative is to do without electricity. Is that what we would want?
Someone might ask, why doesn't God intervene when the baby sticks the fork in
the electrical outlet? If He intervened in every case of an innocent person
suffering, what kind of natural laws would we have? A good man falls out of an
airplane and his parachute fails to open. That would not matter because God
would intervene and the man would gently float to the earth. Another trips and
begins to fall, but he does not get hurt because God suspends the laws of
gravity. I submit to you that if God intervened in every case where the innocent
are about to suffer, then the laws of nature would mean nothing -- they would
lose their power. This is not to say that God does not intervene working through
His natural law -- but it is to say that God does not suspend natural law to
prevent the suffering of the righteous or innocent.
Christians are in the world. As long as we live in this world, we are subject to
the same laws that everyone else is. We have the same physical problems that
everyone else does. We can get a throbbing headache just like the worst sinner.
Christians grow old just like sinners do. The reason this is so, is because we
live in the same world and are subject to the same natural laws.
We will face suffering in this life. Much of it can be avoided by the Christian
but suffering in some form is sure to come. Let us remember that this life is
simply a proving ground. And that those who stand the test are equipped for an
eternity where there will be no pain, tears, suffering or death.
God's plan of
salvation: Believe in Christ as the Son of God (John 8:24; Mark 16:16) Repent of
your sins (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38) Confess your faith in Christ (Matthew 10:32-33; Acts 8:37; Romans 10:9-10) Be Baptized for the remission of your sins (Mark
16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Romans 6:3-4).
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