We live in a word filled with tragedies and sorrow. We see innocents suffer unjustly. Our possessions, families, or lives may be taken by factors beyond our control. You can’t make it through a daily news report without hearing of a new shooting, abduction, natural disaster, or fatal accident. From these events comes an understandable question: why does God allow suffering in this world? It is a question theologians have wrested with for centuries, and the answers tend to boil into one of two theories.
- If God is inherently all-loving, He would stop suffering if He could. Therefore, He is not powerful enough to end suffering.
- If God is all-powerful, then He must not love us enough to end suffering.
Rabbi Kushner, in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, comes to the first conclusion. God is all-loving but not all-powerful. Job, on the other hand, faces a God that is clearly all-powerful, so does this infer God is unloving?
The Origin of Suffering
To understand suffering, we have to return to its roots. God demonstrates both power and love in the creation of all things and the paradise He provides for His creation. However, there is one provision to this paradise, and this provision is broken in chapter 3 when His love is questioned in that He forbade something from Adam and Eve. From that one sin, suffering entered the world. If God was unloving and merely wanting to just catch Adam and Eve off guard, He would have left it a secret – just waiting to be discovered. God clearly set the boundaries. He did not keep His provision a secret. Then, with the onset of sin, God sets a plan in motion to redeem His creation, but the consequences in this world remain.
The Case of Job
Job is a case study in suffering. He is a righteous man who loses everything. Satan seeks to find his price, and Job comes close to blaming God for his troubles in passages like Job 9:20. He feels he has been wrongly judged. In Job 19:5-7, 22; chapter 31, Job continues this idea. He even lists out evidence of his righteousness. He is a faithful person. Why would this suffering come upon him? If, like his friends argue, bad things only befall the unrighteous, Job is being unfairly judged.
God responds to Job in chapter 40. God asks if there is any who can argue with God. He asks if Job is capable of setting the universe in motion, if He is capable of balancing justice and reviewing God’s judgments? Earlier, in Job 33:13, Elihu asks Job why he strives against God. We are accountable to God – it is not the other way around. This is a hard lesson to swallow, and it is natural to want to know why. However, it is not our place to condemn or try to correct God. Job receives no reason for his suffering, and we may never understand our own.
A Loving, Powerful God
Returning to the question of the reasons behind suffering, can we blame God? Do we serve a Lord either unable or unwilling to end suffering due to lack of power or love?
What hope can we have if God is not all-powerful? How do we know He will defeat the grave? How can we know that he will defeat Satan? How can we have any faith if we cannot have faith in His power? Psalm 139 records David writing of the all-powerful nature of God, able to overcome all and having power over all. Nothing is hidden from Jehovah. In John 16:33, Jesus states that he has overcome. He will suffer terrible things very soon, but His faith was in God’s power. He knows God will deliver Him from the hands of death.
If God is all-powerful, why does He not stop calamities? Does He not love His creation? We see God’s love in passages like John 3:16 where God has shared His very nature and image with us to be killed in our stead. Abraham had confidence in God’s love when he prepared to offer Isaac. In Isaiah 55:6-9, God invites His people to forgiveness. Judah was extremely wicked at this time, but under even these circumstances, He would take back His people if only they turn back to Him. His love allows for infinite forgiveness and mercy.
What would we want God’s role to be? When do we want God to intervene? Should He constantly be altering the forces of nature , continually disrupting the cycles that have been put in motion? Do we want God to take away our own free wills so we can neither harm ourselves or others? Do we want others to suffer consequences so we do not? What stipulations can we put on God’s actions? If God fails us in any way, we automatically will begin to question Him again.
God may intervene in ways we do not see or recognize. We do know, however, that He has a place prepared for us that is absent of all suffering. We can trust His power to be able to take us to this place, and we can trust that His love will allow sinners like us to enter into it (Romans 5:8). Our hope is not in this life but in the next.
lesson by Tim Smelser