Why does God allow suffering?
Before I became a Christ-follower, I frequently asked, “why does God allow suffering.” I had many preconceptions about Christianity. Perhaps you’ve heard some of these before:
Why does God allow suffering?
Why would God allow evil?
Why didn’t God stop Hitler?
If there’s a God…
why can’t I get a job?
why did my husband die?
why did a hurricane destroy so many homes?
why do I have cancer?
why is there suffering in the world?
Last week, I discussed how sin entered the world when Adam and Eve first disobeyed God and mankind obtained the knowledge of good and evil. God referred to this acquisition of knowledge through disobedience – this sin – as ‘death.’
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Genesis 2:16-17)
We call this the fall of mankind. God’s punishment for sin was death. So, a just God required death for sin (Hebrews 9:22). Adam and Eve – and every human after them – eventually befell, or will befall, physical deaths.
This isn’t to say that if someone died, they must’ve sinned.
God does not sit around with a ledger striking down everyone who cheated on their taxes or on their wives; death simply exists because sin exists. Sin – or death – is the furthest distance from God – or life.
Sin and death have been in the world since the fall of mankind.
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—” (Romans 5:12)
“For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a)
After Adam and Eve had sinned, they were ashamed of their nakedness. They hid from God for fear that He would see them (Genesis 3:8-10). God then made clothes for them from animal skins to cover their shame (Genesis 3:21).
Thus, the first blood was shed for the sins of man.
Animal sacrifices to God were handed down to Adam and Eve’s children (Genesis 4:4). They were the first things offered to God when Noah reached dry land (Genesis 8:20).
Later in biblical law, we learn that death was atonement for sin as well.
God set up an entire sacrificial system requiring animal sacrifices to atone (or right a wrong) for sins. God required the death of an unblemished animal in the place of a blemished sinner who deserved to die because of their sin. This offering of animals was ongoing, however, because mankind’s sin never ended.
Early on within this sacrificial system, God had the Jewish people set aside one day each year which was referred to as the Day of Atonement. You may have heard it referred to as Yom Kippur. On this day, the Jewish high priest would offer animal sacrifices in the temple on behalf of the people to atone for their sins.
Then Jesus came and allowed Himself to be a blood sacrifice, the final sacrifice as a final atonement.
Upon Jesus’ death, the veil that separated the rest of the Temple from God’s place in the temple, the holy of holies, was torn by God. This rendered the entire temple forbidden (as the holy of holies had been) and the sacrificial system was ended once and for all.
The death that still occurs in the world then is not punishment for sins that we commit. Jesus was punished for the sins that we commit. The death that still occurs in the world is a result of the absence of perfection that exists in the world.
Sin and death have been in the world since Adam and Eve. Without a firm understanding of God’s character through reading the Bible, it is easy to blame Him for the evil in the world. It is easy to doubt Him for not saving us from the world’s ills.
When tragedy befalls any of us, we seek someone to blame. We want revenge. We want someone to pay. We feel betrayed or let down by a God who is all-powerful and could have protected us from our suffering.
The world’s ills are not commanded by God, they are a result of mankind’s distance from God.
Please let me reiterate that I am not saying that Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans because it was especially sinful – though some Christians would wrongfully make that case. I am saying that all sorts of suffering (from hurricanes to genocide, to cancer) exist in the world because the perfection of the world was removed from the world by the sin of mankind.
Mankind’s worst examples of evil – from Nero to Oliver Cromwell, to Adolph Hitler – are mankind’s best examples of what can exist in the heart of man the further he is from our holy God.
”For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-8
For everything in life, God has reasons; He has ways that we can never comprehend. Why did He choose not to destroy the world again with a flood? Why did He allow your child to die and do nothing to stop the birth of Alois and Klara Hitler’s child? Why does God allow suffering? Why does God allow evil? Why doesn’t He reach down and fix everything?
I submit that God did fix everything.
He fixed everything by sending His Son, Jesus, to bear the punishment for our sins. We deserve to die because we are sinful by nature. But God forgives us through Jesus if we accept His forgiveness and – in so doing – accept Jesus (John 3:16). This is God’s grace.
So rather than striking us down the moment we have our first impure thought about our third-grade teacher or refuse to return our sister’s blanket, He gives us our whole lives. He gives us a grace period to turn from our sinful nature, to accept God, accept His Son Jesus, and accept His forgiveness. Yes, our physical lives will still end in physical death, but the rest of us will live on eternally because Jesus died in our place.
This is certainly not the way you or I would have done it. It would be easier if God would just blow the wildfires out like a candle or spare our dying parent the pain from the disease that will kill them. But God has more for us when we leave this world. He has eternal life. That is the way God chose to fix everything.
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Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.