Why does God allow such suffering in the world? Is there a purpose behind pain?
A Fallen World
The primary reason that there is suffering in the world is that Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and thus, broke the command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They decided for themselves what is good and what is evil. They thought they knew better than God and listened to the serpent (Satan), and choose to do what is right in their own eyes. This is a bad plan because the Bible teaches that “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart” (Prov 21:2), and just as it was in the time of the judges in Israel where “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25), so it is today. Apart from God, we believe we know best, but history has proven this is false. All we have to do is to look at the world today and see how that turned out. When we or anyone chooses to go their own way and not God’s way, the proverb is right in saying “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov 12:15).
Atheists on Suffering
I can’t count all the times when unbelievers have said, “If there is a God, then why does He allow suffering? If He’s all-powerful, why doesn’t He stop it? If He doesn’t, then He’s a cruel God. And if He can’t stop it, then He’s not all-powerful?” My response is, “Okay, let’s say there is no God. Guess what? You’ve still got suffering and you’ve still got evil? Who’s responsible now? Mankind is!” Our world is fallen because we’re motivated by what historians call the “bottom line,” which history has shown is money. This world is under the pulls of the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life, and it’s like everyone’s out for themselves. This same unholy trinity (the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life) that brought down this world in the Garden, is bringing the world down even further into the pit of hell, which is a separation from God.
I knew a man years ago who had a debilitating disease. He was suffering so much that he wanted to die. When someone shared the gospel with him and spoke of how much Jesus suffered (Isaiah 53) so that we might have eternal life, it made him think of God for the very first time. This man’s suffering broke him and made him see how useless life was outside of the sovereign will of God. If not for this man’s suffering, he might not be a Christian today. This experience humbled him and God can only give His grace to the humble because He resists or is opposed to the proud (James 4:6).
The Apostle Peter on Suffering
Every person who has ever lived has suffered in one way or another. There isn’t a human being alive or dead who’s not gone through some form of pain and suffering, but the question is, “What will we do with it?” Suffering can make us bitter…or it can make us better. If you want to know about suffering, I strongly suggest you turn to the 1st Book of Peter who wrote more about suffering than any other author in the Bible (18 times!), and he wrote that it “is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly” (1st Pet 2:19). In regards to suffering, it is “to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1st Pet 2:20), which footsteps refer to Jesus Christ, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1st Pet 3:18). Have you suffered a lot? Are you suffering right now? Peter tells you that “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you”(1st Pet 5:10).
Trial by Fire
We know that fire is symbolic of God’s judgment, but sometimes fire is good thing. For one thing, fire removes the impurities from gold, and in similar fashion, our fiery trials remove the impurities from our life. At least they should. Peter again writes, “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1st Pet 4:12-13), “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1st Pet 4:19).
Storms of Life
There are many reasons that God allows suffering, and for the children of God, it’s always good. There are storms of affection (because He loves you), there are storms of direction (making us take a different path than the one we’re on), there are storms of perfection (as Peter said, we can share in Jesus’ sufferings), and there are storms of reflection (making us examine our lives). Finally, suffering purifies our faith (1st Pet. 1:7), sorrow keeps us in a humble attitude (2nd Cor. 7:10), trials allow us to fellowship with Jesus (Phil 3:10), to be partakers of His sufferings (1st Pet. 4:13), and so that we might reign with Him (2nd Tim. 2:12). Our suffering is really nothing compared to what Jesus endured, but ultimately, this will all make sense at His appearance (1st Pet. 1:7, Rom 8:18), as “Our light affliction is but for a moment, works (this is a verb, an action) in us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2nd Cor. 4:17).
There are so many things about suffering that we can’t grasp in this life. Someday, it will all make sense. For today, we can see some of the reasons that God allows us to suffering, but knowing God is good, we understand that there is nothing that happens to us or others that will not work out for our (and their) very best (Rom 8:28). We simply have to remember that. Since God is for us, so who can be against us (Rom 8:31), even if we’re suffering or someone we know and/or love is suffering too?