It’s a huge question, isn’t it? Hardly a day goes by when we don’t come across suffering. Devastation caused by earthquakes and tsunamis… millions living in poverty… children being abused… family breakdowns… bullying… people suffer. We suffer. So it’s right to say to God: “God, if you’re there, why don’t you do something about it?”
Well, imagine we could actually tell God what to do. Where would you suggest he starts? How about God gets rid of the terrorists and the murderers. That would mean a lot less suffering for many people—but suffering hasn’t been eradicated yet. How about God deals with the paedophiles and the drug dealers and the thieves? We can see the world’s getting a much better place, but it’s still not perfect.
How about God gets rid of the unkind, the gossips, the liars, the selfish—oh, but that’s actually me.
You see, when we ask God to get rid of suffering, we’re actually asking him to get rid of us. We do suffer, but we actually cause loads of suffering ourselves. That time when we lost our temper with someone… when we trod on someone to get to where we wanted to… when we ignored our kids because we were just too tired or busy… when we gossiped about a work colleague… when we were just plain nasty to someone. We cause much suffering.
So if we demand that God throws suffering out of this world, we’re actually demanding that he throws us out too.
God is delaying the day when he will deal with all suffering so that we can realise that we’re part of the problem, and we can ask him if there’s any way not to be thrown out of his world.
That’s an answer—but the Bible offers us much more than that. I don’t know you—and maybe you’ve clicked on this video because you’re really struggling with something at the moment. When I’ve struggled in the past, what I need more than answers is hope – I need to know that I’m going to get through this suffering, and I need to know that there’s something beyond this suffering.
And the amazing thing is that God knows what you’re going through when you suffer—because he himself suffered. God lived on earth as a man, Jesus, and Jesus suffered and even died in agony on a cross. He promises to be with those who trust in him, comforting them and helping them through their suffering.
But even more amazing than that promise is that God promises that one day he will put an end to all suffering. Those guilty of causing suffering will one day have to answer to him, and justice will be done. He promises that he’ll make a perfect world, a world of “no more death or mourning or crying or pain”, for those things will be gone forever. And God says that because Jesus died you, me, anyone, can ask for a place in his perfect world instead of being thrown out of it.
You know, when I’m going through suffering, knowing that God is with me, and that one day I’ll live with him in his perfect world, are two amazing hopes that keep me going.
Well, this is a huge and really emotional subject, and I’ve only had a short space to talk to you about it. But why not go along to a good local church, and there you’ll find some people who’ll be able to help you practically, listen to you, and answer any more questions you may have. You know, churches are just full of people who’ve suffered in the past and who may still be suffering now. But they know the promises of God—that he will be with them, and that one day they will live with him forever in a world with no more suffering.
Thanks for clicking on “Go Deeper” after watching or reading Dawn’s answer. This section gives you some more points to think about, in a slightly deeper way, and points you to some other online resources you might find helpful if you want to take this issue further.
If there isn’t a God…
It’s worth starting by turning the question round a bit. Clearly, there is suffering (even though some eastern religions say it isn’t really real: it certainly feels real when it happens to us). Let’s imagine for a moment that we decide that since there’s suffering, there isn’t a God.
Firstly, that would mean that there’s no justice. One of the writers of the Bible imagines a world with no God, and he says:
“In the place of judgement, wickedness was there, in the place of justice” (Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verse 16).
Often, people who cause great suffering get away with it in this life: perhaps they’re never caught, or perhaps they commit suicide. If there’s no God, then they never face justice. Wickedness wins.
Secondly, that would mean that there’s no future. In a world without God, “all go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return” (Ecclesiastes 3:20). Life may well be miserable, and death is the end. If you’re unlucky to be born into a life of poverty, or abuse: well, that’s all there is. In a world without God, there’s no hope.
Thirdly, that would mean that suffering itself doesn’t matter. If there’s no God, we’re all just animals; in fact, we’re all just collections of atoms. A child being shot is of no more importance than a gazelle being taken down by a lion: or a plant being trampled on. Human life is worth no more than any other life. Suffering would only matter if it happened to us.
But you’ve probably read this far because to you, suffering is a problem. And the whole idea of “suffering” being “wrong” only works if there’s a God. Suffering is only a problem if it’s the case that suffering is an intruder into human life in this world.
Suffering, the intruder.
And the Bible says that’s exactly what suffering is: an intruder. When God made this world, it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31): there was nothing wrong with it, no suffering. Humans were not made to know pain or death.
So why is there suffering now? Well, the Bible’s answer is that humanity caused suffering to enter the world; and that each day, even after all this time, we still cause suffering.
The first humans rejected the wonderful life they’d been given; a life enjoying God’s perfect world living under God’s perfect rule. They decided they’d run his creation better than him: so they rejected his rule (you can read about that in Genesis 3:1-7).
The consequences of living their own way was that their relationships became painful (Genesis 3:16); life became marked by suffering (Genesis 3:16); the creation which humans had turned upside down unsurprisingly stopped working properly (Genesis 3:17-18); and existence itself came to an end—death entered the world (Genesis 3:19).
And that’s the world we live in. It’s beautiful but it’s broken. It’s fantastic but it’s flawed. No relationship is perfect; no life is without pain; we see the world not working perfectly in earthquakes, tsunamis and so on; and the blunt statistic of life is that one out of every one person dies.
Suffering is our problem; but as we look around, we can see that it’s actually our fault, too. And the Bible says that even natural disasters are caused by human rejection of God.
There’s nothing much we can do about suffering. We can try to make laws to dissuade people from causing it, and we can try to limit its effects. But we can’t put an end to it.
God gets involved…
God can, though: and he promises that one day this will be a world where God “will wipe every tear from [people’s] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things [will have] passed away” (Revelation 21:4). That’s an amazing future!
And it’s a future secured by what God has already done through Jesus, God the Son. He’s taken the punishment we deserve for rejecting God, causing suffering, and messing up his world. He did that when he suffered the ultimate pain of dying on a cross separated from the love of God the Father, who he’d been loved by for all eternity. One poem in the Bible puts it this way: “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Jesus’ death makes it possible for anyone who stops rejecting God, and turns back to him, to know that they’re headed for life in that perfect world, a life without pain, suffering, or death. And Jesus’ resurrection proves that his death really has opened up that future for people.
So, if there’s no God, this is a world without justice, without a future, and where suffering isn’t something we should be bothered about (unless it happens to us personally). It seems to me that’s not the world we experience; and it’s certainly not the world we want.
If the God of the Bible is real, however, justice will be done; there is a perfect future on offer; suffering is an intruder which will one day be banished.
How do we deal with suffering?
So when we hear of suffering, how does the Bible suggest we might like to respond?
When Jesus was alive on earth, a tower collapsed, killing dozens. How did Jesus respond? “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5). The existence of suffering is a reminder that all is not well with this world, or with us, and that one way or another we will all one day die: and so we need to turn back to the one who can give perfect life beyond our death—to Jesus, God himself.
As Dawn said, this is a very emotional issue, and a very difficult one. We hope that something in Dawn’s answer, or in this Go Deeper section, has proved helpful to you as you think through the problem of suffering. There may well be many more questions and objections in you mind: we’d encourage you to:
GO ALONG to a good local church (you can find one using the “Find a Course” function on this website), where you’ll find people you can trust who will listen to you and try to help you
READ If I were God, I’d end all the pain by John Dickson (you can buy a copy here).
GO ON a Christianity Explored course, where you can ask any and every question you have.