Does God allow suffering?

You may have heard someone say: if God is all-powerful, he is not all- loving because he allows such pointless suffering; if he is all-loving then suffering proves that he is not all-powerful to stop it. The existence of suffering either proves that God doesn’t exist, or that he doesn’t care, or that he is powerless to act. There are a few questions underneath this way of thinking.

The first question is whether God is responsible for suffering. We think that if God is powerful enough to stop suffering, and he doesn’t, then he is responsible for suffering. But this is simply not the case. You do not have to think too hard to realize that most human suffering is a direct result of human sinfulness. One person mistreats another person and that other person suffers. Even some of the suffering that comes in the natural world is still closely tied to human error, ignorance or sinfulness. For example, in the Victorian bushfires in February 2008 many of the fires which claimed human lives and destroyed property were started by arsonists. It was human politics that was responsible for so much overgrown/dead wood being left in the areas worst affected by the fires, despite years of warnings from some experts. Some people whoperished were defending their property to the finish when they should have been told to evacuate.

Beyond these situations, it is still the case that some suffering happens in the natural world that has no obvious connection to human error, ignorance or sinfulness. Who or what is responsible? Romans 8 describes our world as a fallen creation, groaning in pain. That all is not as it should be in the natural world is also described as the consequence of human sin. When we travel back to Genesis 3 we discover that one of the consequences of the sin that our first father Adam brought into the world was a broken creation.

Even more broadly, the Scriptures describe Satan as actively involved in bringing suffering in the world. He is active, but his activity is restrained by God.

But there is one more thing to say about God and suffering here. And that is that God understands what it is like to suffer innocently. We are talking about the God who became a man of sorrows, taking the infirmity of the world upon his shoulders. On the cross God suffered; Jesus went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced divine punishment on a scale that we cannot comprehend or relate to. When we look at the cross and ask the question Why does God allow suffering, we know that the answer is not because he doesn’t care.

For more information on this topic get yourself a copy of the Little Black Book on Suffering & Evil; more details are here.

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