Why Does God Allow Suffering and Death
I have been asked this question many times. Sometimes the simple answer that God does not cause suffering and death, but that suffering and death have entered the world because of man's rebellion and sin is not enough to satisfy a hungry or aching heart. The individual asking the question, from their perspective, thinks God should immediately have overruled such things being in the world, because He is God and this is His world. Since we are finite on this earth, not infinite as God is, it is difficult for us to realize that had He done so we would not be here to ask and answer the question.
I have been dwelling on various facets of this question and the Bible teachings for many years. Were I to try to deal with this thing exhaustively I would be quickly caught up in the mode of writing another book, which cannot be done at this time. But I would like to present enough of a perspective on the matter in a short form to help all those willing to understand to see the truth that there is a reason for pain and suffering. That pain and suffering continues in the world is as much a part of the fact that God is love, and He demonstrates that love, as the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ came and endured the cross as payment for our sins as a demonstration of that love.
Sometimes this question comes to me in another form. People will ask, "Why does God cause suffering and death?" I do not think they mean any disrespect to God when they ask this question normally. But something is built into man that recognizes that God is the source of all creation and that suffering and death are now part of His creation.
Simply because God created everything in the beginning does not mean that He created suffering and death. Some things only have potential for being when they are made the same way a car engine might be said to have the potential for running before it is cranked. Until the engine is cranked, the fact of the running engine does not exist. If the engine were never cranked, you would never have the engine running and polluting while at the same time it carries us to the destination we need to get to.
When God created man, He made him with the capacity to obey or to choose not to. The only way you can have a being that can choose to love God and to obey Him is to produce a being that has the ability to choose not to. If you stop and think about it God did exactly the same thing with the angels. Each of them had the ability to choose whether to serve God or themselves. When Satan or Lucifer, who was of the highest order of angels, a cherubim, chose to rebel, he persuaded one-third of the angels to go with him. When God made man, He invested all the authority of the initial choice of whether to sin or not in one fellow named Adam. The day that Adam chose to sin, he took the entire human race with him, not just one-third of it.
We can see that God has continually desired to have those who would choose Him freely. This is the individual decision that we still have to this day even though we have an inherited fallen nature from Adam and live in a world that has been likewise afflicted because of man's sin. Fallen angels have no such ability. They had one opportunity to make their choice and that was it. When we fault God for the situation we live in, we do so not realizing that were it not for Him having set things up this way, we would have no opportunity to repent after the first time we ever rebel against Him.
I have now made a point about why it is necessary to allow pain and suffering because of God's love. It is part of the necessary consequences of allowing man an opportunity to repent after his initial rebellion. When Satan and the other angels rebelled against God they could no longer be at home in heaven. Two-thirds of the heavenly host were still faithful to God and heaven was made as a place especially for God's throne and His faithful angel's presence. In the same manner, the Garden of Eden was made for faithful man, and a place for God and man to have time of fellowship together. When man fell, he had to leave the idyllic place and go out into a world that groaned under the weight of man's sin.
After Satan fell, he had no immediate place to go. He and the fallen angels existed in the world of the supernatural, but were able to move from time to time between the various spheres of God's creation such as heaven and earth. Hell was in preparation for the devil as his ultimate dwelling place. It would not be a place where he would rule and reign, but a place where he would spend eternity in a kind of prison. When man fell, he could not remain in Eden, but God provided man the ability to go out into the world. But instead of beginning work on a hell for man, God began work on a way man could be transformed into a being fit for heaven, where he could be with Him for all eternity.
Just as the supernatural world is not comfortable for Satan and his angels and they wish to escape from it for a season, the natural world is not comfortable for human beings and we wish to escape from it and the pain and suffering it contains. The Devil and his angels sometimes come out into the world of men for a short time, but this reminds them of the place where they are ultimately headed. Men escape this world for a time through the activity of prayer and worship. It reminds us of the place where we are headed if we take advantage of God's plan for redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ.
This brings up again specifically the issue of pain and suffering. If this present world were comfortable for us, we would be content in it. Since it is not, it puts pressure on us to desire another. For those who humble themselves before God, there is the possibility of going to the place He has provided as a result of His response to our fall. If we refuse His plan and choose to become more rebellious in our sinful condition, ultimately we must go somewhere else when the consequences of sin have run their course in this world.
Now I have made a second and third point about the necessity of pain and suffering. It makes us uncomfortable with this present world and makes some of us to desire the world that God has provided for those who choose to repent and cling to Him. People might say that if they were God they would not do it this way, but the truth is they are not and do not understand all there is to understand about the subject. From what little we are capable of understanding, if we think about the matter objectively, we should come to realize that it is unlikely that any other situation would be apt to work. God loves us enough to want us to be with Him and for Him. A parent who does not allow a child to experience consequences for willful wrongdoing creates a child who will not only do wrong again but will continue to do so until the consequences become so overwhelming that they are completely destructive. The nature of genuine love for a child is that they are required to experience some genuine consequences when they do wrong. The Bible even makes this the measure of a parent's true love for a child.
Why does God keep allowing the evil men do to go on when it generates more pain and suffering is a valid question. The truth is that God does interject Himself into the affairs of men concerning the issues of pain and suffering. First of all He interjects Himself in that the believer is never allowed to experience more than they will be able to bear according to God's Word. Many times people have asked me this question in the middle of their pain whether it was emotional or physical. The answer has always been that God will never allow one of His own to experience more than they can bear. For us to say we are at the end of our rope and cannot go on does not mean that we are. It seems that we are tired and frustrated with our situation. This is the first observation of the fourth point I am about to make.
The next observation is that God has twice interjected Himself into overall human history to put a limitation on the total depravity of man. The first was the expulsion of the human race from the Garden of Eden, where they were prevented from taking from the tree of life and having none ending life that would give them all the time in the world to get into trouble. Point four is that pain, suffering, and death puts a limitation on the amount of trouble that the human race can get in to. Were it not for this, can you imagine the amount of chaos we could create catering to unbridled fallen human desire? The second interjection into man's total human history was the great flood when the human race was reduced to just eight souls. It was a judgement upon sin that also slowed man's unbridled desire to sin down. The next great interjection will also be a period of judgement called Tribulation. In this catastrophic event the restraint to man's evil will be lifted while judgement falls upon him at the same time. Remember what I said about the unrestrained child earlier?
Of course the Bible demonstrates that God has been continually interjecting Himself into the affairs of nations, by allowing them to be punished through another nations and finally bringing their existence to an end. The principle of restraint through the experience of pain, suffering, and finally death has been present at every level of human experience from the individual, to the national, to the collective whole. On every one of those levels we can also see God's love and care available to all those who would choose to serve Him over the things of the world. Were God to act too quickly to end this process would mean that some who will choose to willingly belong to Him would be left out.
This is point five, and my final point for the moment. Pain, suffering, and death allows God to demonstrate His love toward us. Theologians like to argue whether the atonement of Christ lies primarily in the nature or in the will of God. The truth is that the two are inseparable. It is not God's will that any should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth. The preceding points have all served to demonstrate that there is something higher and greater than this present world and through pain, suffering, and death we get glimpses of it. There is also a death worse than physical death and that is eternal spiritual death. This is what happens when a person comes to the end of life without making the Lord Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior in a personal relationship. They experience eternal spiritual death.
There is also pain and suffering that is worse than any earthly pain and suffering we might know. That is the eternal torment in the place reserved and planned for the Devil and the fallen angels. Remember that I pointed out earlier that God had planned a
way for us to be with Him unlike the fallen angels for which He has been preparing a place for them not to be with Him? Well, people who choose to not be with God have no other place to go than where the fallen angels go if they die physically without salvation through Jesus Christ. There was no plan for an unredeemed man, only for saved ones.
God demonstrated His love toward us in that God the Father, sent God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to the earth to identify with us in our experience of this fallen world, show us how to overcome it, and to finally experience physical death while paying for our sins. Though much can be said about God's demonstration of love for us in suffering, nothing greater can be said than the demonstration of Christ's love toward us upon this earth. Even in the Old Testament prediction about the Lord's appearance in this world He was called the Man of Sorrows, well acquainted with grief. The issue of God's presence and identification with us in our pain was never in doubt.
Finally, I must conclude with an observation. Everything I have said about why God allows suffering and death into our lives is positive. But, the question is whether or not we will use it as God intended or not? This is the question with so many things including salvation. What a people experience can make them either nobler or smaller and even mean. It is their choice in how they will use it. It is possible for even a saved person to reject the comfort and presence of God in what they are called upon to endure and overcome. The choice is given to the individual.
My concluding remark is that there is a teaching and a spirit loose in the world today that encourages us to be bitter toward God because pain and suffering, the evil men do and the fact that He does not intercede the way we think He should. As a teenager I fell under the influence of this teaching for a time and expressed my rebellious spirit in the matter toward God. When I did I felt the very heavens move and knew I had deeply offended the Lord. Of that moment I have repented many times, and I have come to know over the years what I have expressed here.
God did not make suffering for the human race, but He has capitalized upon it for our good and His glory. But He has done so at no small price to Himself and that should make us feel humble.
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