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IMPORTANT BIBLE TOPICS

  • Word Cloud by Nigel Griffiths

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

If the God of the Bible is a God of love, why does He allow suffering? This is a question many people ask, and many others use as a reason not to believe in God. It is a very good question because the answer uncovers the very character and purpose of God with His creation, and His attitude towards what is good and what is evil. The world is certainly in a terrible mess in so many ways: wars, famines, pestilence, crime, disease and unnatural deaths caused by others. These result in untold trauma and suffering to millions, so why does God allow it?

The Bible has the answer

It requires humility and an open mind to think about and accept what we read in the Bible. In the opening chapters of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we read about the creation of the world, the creation of plants and animals, and lastly the creation of man and woman. The commentary states that "God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good"

  • Genesis 1:31

Adam and Eve were placed in a beautiful garden, in a region called Eden, and Adam was asked to tend and keep it (see Genesis 2:8,15).

But everything changed as we read in Chapter 3. Things started to go wrong. So, the question arises, why did God allow that to happen? Previously it is recorded in chapter 2 that a strict command had been given to Adam not to eat of the fruit of a particular tree in the centre of the garden. The account calls this ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’. There was also another tree called ‘the tree of life’. No command was given about that tree. This is the record in Genesis chapter 2: ''"Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 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 2:15-17

In these words, God was testing His new creation to see whether they would be obedient to His wishes. He gave Adam & Eve freewill to choose. The punishment for disobedience imposed by God was death. So here we begin to see the character of the God of the Bible. He requires obedience, otherwise there will be consequences. He did not create our first parents to be robots. He wanted, and still wants us to choose what is right in obedience to His commandments. Are we prepared to understand and accept that concept?

The introduction of sin and its consequences

The record describes how a serpent tempts Eve to disobey the command given. Eve takes the fruit and so does Adam; both must face the consequences. Disobedience will end in death. Death involves suffering for both the one dying, and others grieving. Disobedience to God's commands is described in the Bible as sin, so sin was the cause of the death sentence. But that was not all; there were further consequences imposed by the Creator, as recorded in Genesis chapter 3, all involving suffering in one form or another:

  • God imposed on Eve the pain and suffering of labour in childbirth.
  • God told Adam that the ground was now cursed. It would grow thorns and thistles and the man would have to struggle to grow crops to survive in a hostile environment, until he died and was buried in the very ground he tilled (Genesis 3:17-19). God said to Adam: "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return." (3:19)

What have we learnt so far? God, the Creator, required obedience and gave our first parents a rule. The rule was broken by sin, and God imposed the consequences that involved suffering, a curse on the ground, and death.

Does God care?

So, are we to conclude that God is cruel and unloving with no purpose? Absolutely not! We have not yet examined God’s words to the serpent which preceded His words to Eve and to Adam. These words are crucial and are found in Genesis 3:14-15. Firstly, the serpent (a creature God had made ) was to be cursed and condemned to slither along the ground from then on. However, verse 15 contains a hidden promise of a solution; the hint of a greater plan to rid the earth of sin. Look at these words carefully to see whether you can understand a deeper meaning:

"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel."

  • Genesis 3:15

In this verse "enmity" means a state of opposition between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent. The offspring of the serpent indicates the multiplication of sin, now endemic in human nature. Freewill allows choices, good and bad. In subsequent generations, two classes of people would be the result, who would be at odds with each other. The "seed of the serpent" would be those who ignored God's commands and lived lives of unrepented sin. On the other hand, "the seed of the woman" would be those who, despite being sinners, would try to follow God’s ways.

Jesus Christ – the seed of the woman

However, the reference to the seed of the woman in this verse is a singular noun – it speaks of a single person – "He". We can therefore see in this verse a hidden meaning – a promise. Jesus Christ was the eventual offspring of Eve – the seed of the woman. The serpent would be bruised in the head which speaks of a fatal blow to sin. Jesus died to take away sin. He lived a sinless life and died as a necessary sacrifice, which destroyed sin and dealt it a fatal blow. In accomplishing this he suffered a "wound in the heel" symbolising his death, from which he was released after three days, for God raised him from the dead. So, does God care about sin in the world? Yes, He does care, and it grieves Him deeply. Genesis 3:15 shows that, from the very beginning, He had in mind a plan to rid sin from the earth through the saving work of His son Jesus Christ.

The purpose of God to rid the world of sin and suffering

In Romans chapter 8, the Apostle Paul sets this out in his commentary on the purpose of God with His creation. This involves suffering as a consequence of sin, and its eventual removal from the earth. The act of God, in imposing suffering as a punishment for sin, is called "futility" in this passage, but that is not the end of the matter. Notice that Paul even makes reference to labour pains as a symbol of the suffering experienced on this earth before the birth of the kingdom age when there will be big changes:

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs together until now."

  • Romans 8:18-22

"The children of God" are those who are prepared to believe and have faith in the purpose of God in Christ to remove sin's influence, first in their own lives by seeking forgiveness, and second in the whole world after Jesus returns to establish his kingdom on the earth. The birth of a new age is alluded to here, after the terrible pain and suffering of the present world, where sin reigns unchecked among its population. Romans chapter 8 is just one chapter in the Bible where the character of God is described, the means of forgiveness of personal sin, and His ultimate intention to rid the whole world of sin through His son. Here is described the love of God in providing His son to be a mediator, through whom our sins may be forgiven. Forgiven sin relates the believer to peace of mind now and everlasting life, free of all suffering in the new age to come. It's recommended that you read the whole of Romans chapter 8 to see the force of Paul's teaching. Here are further extracts on this theme:

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."

  • Romans 8:28

"If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?"

  • Romans 8:31-35

"Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

  • Romans 8:37-39

Conclusion

Suffering is an inevitable part of the backcloth of our lives, imposed by God because of sin in the world. The most obvious symptoms of unrestrained sin among nations are wars, leading to worldwide suffering, food shortages and death on a huge scale. As we learn from the first book of the Bible, the introduction of sin by Adam and Eve resulted in the earth being cursed, with its consequences of famine, disease and death. We cannot remove these conditions by our own efforts. They are divinely imposed as part of God's plan of redemption from sin for true believers. Even Christ had to suffer in his mortal life to rid the world of sin. This saying was true of Christ, and it is true of the lives of all children of God who understand the need for redemption and forgiveness: "No suffering – no salvation".

True believers understand that all suffering will eventually be removed from the earth as part of God’s plan, as described in the following passage in the last book of the Bible: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."

  • Revelation 21:3-5
Author Justin Giles
Country London, UK
Source Light on a New World reprint from Volume 30.4

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