How could a loving God allow suffering? That is a question I have heard many, many times. It’s as if people expect that God is, if He is all powerful, obligated to ensure that people should not suffer, because a “loving God” should not allow suffering of people.
The problem lies not in understanding the answer, so much as not understanding the character of God. There are many aspects to answering this question and this answer will address only one part of it: who are people to question the integrity and character of a holy God?
There is no question that suffering in life is horrible. Think of the holocaust, or the 33 million Stalin killed to establish his Russian empire, or the 78 million Mao Ze Dong killed in China. Suffering comes because a drunk driver runs a light and leaves a dad alone with three precious little girls, because the drunken man killed their mother, or because a gang wanted to have fun and killed a police officer leaving a young family without their husband and daddy. Or whether the suffering comes because of the chemical weapons used by a tyrant in Iraq and innocent people suffering the agonizing slow death in misery, or a young boy is burned over 85% of his body, because a neighbor was smoking on his couch in the apartment next door… suffering is all around us. These examples do not even begin to identify the horrible ways that people suffer.
But there was no suffering prior to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden and there will be no suffering for those who are in heaven. The suffering is confined to the time between the fall of man and the transfer to heaven for those who are raptured or who go through the door of death. The reason for any suffering is because of sin in the world. Many people suffer, not only directly because of their own sin, but because of the sins of the human race. Every person inherits sin from his father (Rom. 5:12). Every person proves his sinfulness by his rebellion toward God (Rom. 3:10), his independence from God (Rom. 14:23), or his indifference toward God (Jam. 4:17). Every person spends a great deal of time independent from God’s will in pride.
How could a loving God allow suffering? God is holy. He is deserving of submission. He gave man the free will choice to obey in dependence on Him from love or the choice to disobey by choosing for self. The choice is either rebellion, independence or indifference to the holiness of God.
What does it take for people to find their utter dependence upon God? What does it take to understand the infinite wisdom of God? What does it take to see that the physical, relational and emotional suffering in life is so small in comparison to the offense of sin against an infinitely holy God?
Asking the question should not result in further condemnation, but patient discipleship to lead the person to understand the holiness of God. We must as Peter says, arm ourselves with God’s Word,
Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. (1 Pet. 4:1-2)
There are too many ways to suffer in the flesh (as mentioned above), but all of them are designed to reveal your weakness and His glorious grace and strength. You may even succumb in the pain to say and do things you wouldn’t do if you were not in pain. That merely reveals our weakness and need of the mercy of the Lord. So “arm” yourself by total dependence on the sovereign plan of God and grace to sustain you in the trial. As you do, the Lord Jesus will refine you to depend on Him, rather than depend on self. God has not designed us to spend our time seeking after the pleasures of sin, but the kingdom of God (Heb. 11:25; Matt. 6:33). God designed us to redeem the time and seek after the will of God,
15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Eph. 5:15-17)
Our loving God is also holy and because He is a loving God, He doesn’t leave us in our pain and misery, but provides a way of salvation, so that we might have both an eternal relationship with Him (John 17:3), but also the means of revealing His glory to the rest of the world,
12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. (1 Pet. 4:12-13)
Examine yourself in all cases of suffering to see if God is seeking your attention, but accept that much suffering will result from the sinfulness of mankind against man. Seek peace with all men and be prepared to restore peace for others more vulnerable than you, who are not able to defend themselves.