13.11.06

If God exists why is there so much suffering?

I'm starting this series, examining objections that are raised to the gospel, by looking at one of the biggest. The existence of suffering, injustice, grief and misery in this world is undeniable. You only have to listen to the news for a few minutes to hear of some atrocity or tragedy that has devastated real lives.

Yet we believe in a loving compassionate God, one who is sovereign and all-powerful. There is nothing that is outside of his power to influence, and there is nothing that is less than perfect and good in his nature. How do we reconcile the two? Indeed, some would ask, can they be reconciled?

First of all, I want say that however we approach this subject it must be with sensitivity and compassion. There are no easy answers, and even if there were, a glib comment gives no relief to those whose lives have been turned upside-down by tragedy. This subject has engaged great minds for centuries, and if we think we are going to come up with something definitive in a few lines in a blog we are in for disappointment!

This doesn't mean, though, that we have nothing to say, or that we have nothing that can be of comfort. The Bible has volumes to say about suffering, and about the suffering of the Innocent; indeed one of the longest and oldest books in the Bible is devoted exclusively to this subject (a book sadly neglected by many Christians) - the book of Job.

Job was a man who faced in one day, tragedy that most will never face in a lifetime. He lost his children, this fortune, even his health. He was left with nothing. In this situation he had to face the issue we now examine, but not as an intellectual exercise, but from the inside. How could a good God cause so much suffering in his life when he had done nothing to deserve it. His own wife told him to abandon his faith in the goodness of God. His friends tried to persuade him that he must have deserved it. But Job set a remarkable example in that in all that he suffered he maintained that God was good and worthy to be praised. In the end Job's faith was rewarded and his fortunes were restored to everything they were before and more.

There is however an even greater example of one who suffered though he had done nothing wrong - the example of Christ himself. Whatever the reason for suffering, it is clear that it is indeed something that God cares about deeply! Wherever he went, Jesus did good and mended broken lives. He brought comfort, healing, forgiveness and restoration to whomever he met. More than this he took upon himself the most horrendous suffering, the like of which we will never know, all for our sakes. God is not detached and aloof from our sufferings. He does not look down and think: "Serves them right!" However much the news of the latest tragedy moves us, it moves God's heart more. Indeed it moved him so much, he sent his only son to die to put it right.

So how did it go wrong in the fist place? Well, when God created man, he was created to give God glory. He was the pinnacle of God's creation. As such, he was not a mindless automaton, or a powerless slave that had no option but to do what God asked. Where would be the glory in praise from such as these? But man was created with both choice, and freedom to exercise that choice. The love and worship he gave to God would be freely given. However in giving man the choice and freedom to choose good, he by necessity gave him the choice and freedom to choose evil.

God did not create evil, but he did allow it to take place because of his greater desire to be united with us - the objects of his affection. In this way the existence of evil no more disproves the existence of God, than the existence of shadows disproves the existence of sunshine.

If what we saw today was all there was or ever would be there would indeed be cause to question the goodness or power of God. But we know that although not all things are good, God is working all things for good. Just like the sufferings of Job, we know that God will not let the situation go on forever, and that there will come a reckoning when every deed will be accounted for, every tear will be dried, and any suffering will be more than compensated for.

32 comments:

Steven Carr said...

God, being omnipotent, can easily create beings with free will that he knows in advance will never choose evil.

According to Christian dogma, Heaven is full of creatures just like that.

So an omnipotent, omniscient God can , if he so chose, create a world full of beings with free will that He knows in advance will never choose evil.

But God (according to Christian dogma), chose to create beings that He knew in advance would choose evil.

And the idea that God will recompense suffering in the future has no evidence for it. Where is the evidence that Heaven exists?

Should we permit abortion because all tears will one day be dried?

Should God permit abortion because all tears will one day be dried?

The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches that it is wrong to pass by on the other side when people are suffering.

When the tsunami killed 250,000 people on 26/12/2004, did God pass by on the other side, when the wave was travelling across the ocean?

Job is an interesting book. One feature is that Job assumes throughout that it is God who is causing all his suffering and the death of his family. For Job, suffering was not evidence that there was no God. It simply meant that he wanted God to leave him alone and let him enjoy what short life he had, without divine interference.

Mark H said...

Wow! Brave! In at the deep end eh?

I'm going to splatter-gun thoughts here, rather than draw any conclusions. It's liberating to be commenting rather than blogging ;-)

I think that suffering is something that causes us to search for God. Suffering is when we are faced with an undesirable, painful, situation that we cannot resolve for ourselves. We recognise that we have reached the end of ourselves, and so we start to look outside of ourselves for an answer.

Or to put it another way. If fallen-ness did not include suffering then many of us would not recognise that we are fallen: we would not look for God. How else can Paul consider his own considerable suffering to be "momentary, light affliction producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison"? (2 Corinthians 4:17)

So when somebody asks the suffering question, then one thing we can do is to see through the question. Rather than immediately try to give a sound academic answer to the question, we can ask the person about their own experiences. We then start to co-operate with Holy Spirit in the process of restoration for that person.

There are also those who ask the question out of genuine compassion for others suffering in the world, i.e. they consider themselves to have not yet suffered in life, but they despair at what they see elsewhere. Somebody who has genuinely compassionate like that may have actually recognised that we have all come to the end of ourselves! Or they may not ;-) But having some testimonies to hand of how God has alleviated suffering for people you know, or yourself, can really help people to see that God's heart is not that we suffer.

I'm still trying to help some friends and family with this question. It's difficult for them to see that WE, not God, brought suffering into the world, and that God has ALREADY dealt with it - but not on our terms.

Chris HH said...

Steven, You are right in that the promise of heaven is not an excuse for us to do nothing now. Indeed we are told to pray that God's will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We do not wait for heaven, but seek to bring the justice, peace, love and restoration of heaven down to earth.

As for the angels, to whom I assume you are referring. Although the Scriptures are not clear, the implication is that they have already had their rebellion and judgement. So they had their opportunity to choose too.

David McCarthy said...

Hi Chris!

I'm delighted to have accidentally come across your blog. Wonderful to see and read you in action.

Abby said to me "He was such a nice boy"!"

All blessing to you........

Steven Carr said...

'Although the Scriptures are not clear, the implication is that they have already had their rebellion and judgement.'

You mean all angels sinned and were kicked out of Heaven for rebelling and then some came back?

Why does God expect suffering to make people love him?

How did the 250,000 people killed by the tsunami manage to turn to God?

How did the women who cried to God for help as their babies were torn from their arms by the water, did their turning to God for help outweigh the loss of their children?

Would anybody have turned away from God if God has made the waters pass over without killing anybody?

Or would more people have turned to God and given thanks to him for a miraculous escape?

Steven Carr said...

'God did not create evil, but he did allow it to take place because of his greater desire to be united with us - the objects of his affection.'

Isaiah 45:7 ' I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster'

I'm not quite sure how you create darkness, but there it is.

The Hebrew word for 'disaster' is the same word as the word in the 'tree of knowledge of good and disaster', which is more commonly known as the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Anyway, whatever you want to call it, Isaiah 45:7 says God created it.

Mark H said...

@Steven

I can't decide if you're contributing to the conversation or just trying to antagonise? I'm going to assume the former.

I think it's important to realise that WE brought suffering into the world. God told Adam and Eve "don't eat that, or you'll die" - the ultimate in suffering. They ate it. We all died.

I think it's also important to realise that Jesus suffered in our place. This is the wonderful news of the gospel. We don't have to have what we deserve. But it is our choice.

Sometimes I think we want God to be some kind of anonymous and frankly irresponsible benefactor who lets us get away with absolutely anything without consequence, or worse still, would bless us when we act wrongly. If God was like that then I think I'd rebel. Because if God were like that then he'd be encouraging man's inhumanity to man, whereas He is in fact just and will punish us for our inhumanity to one another. It's interesting that 4 out of the 10 commandments relate to our broken relationship with God, and 6 out of 10 relate to our broken relationships with one another. God wants us right with Him and right with one another - but the ratio is intriguing!

Personally I'm a huge proponent of God doesn't want anybody to suffer, and we can co-operate with Him in that. I'm pretty sure that Chris is too.

But that doesn't change the hard truth that suffering is evidence of our rebellion against God and the consequences of that into our own relationships. We can try to patch it up with our own efforts but we'll soon realise that we're very limited in how much we can do in ourselves. The answer is to come to Him first and then love one another. Jesus said that all the commandments are summed up by loving God and loving one another.

I've seen people who have come to God first, and then turn towards their fellow man with compassion, pray for the suffering and seen people healed, broken bodies restored, even babies raised from the dead. God alleviates suffering on a scale that man just can't. If we truly care for those who suffer then we can try to do it our own way ... or can do it His way. My own relationship with God compels me to give all that I have to bless and to help others. What does that tell you about Him? (It tells you NOTHING about me!)

I hope this is helpful. I don't have all the answers but I'm willing to share what I have found to be true.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to post another comment to your blog so quickly, but the message by Steven spurred me on. It is a common belief that God causes suffering, and he may in fact put us in situations from time to time that allow us to grow into members that can eat meat instead of milk, but much of our suffering is caused by our own actions. When we stray from the path and life purpose God has given us, we will constantly find ourselfs encountered with pressure that we may at the time view as suffering. In many instances, however, this pressure is simply a way to push us back toward the path we should be on. The suffering idea also creates a segway to the ideals of coverings and repairing breeches in our "hedge", but that would take up way too much of your blog. TO those who do not want to believe their is a God and a Heaven, we as men and women can not convince them otherwise unless they are open to the idea that there is more.

Steven Carr said...

Adam and Eve did not bring sufferig into the world.

A) You have no evidence that they existed.

B) Even after they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and disaster, there still was no suffering until God cursed them. His action brought suffering into the world.

C) God could easily have put angels with flamig swords around the tree to physically prevent Adam and Eve eating from it. Apparently God can physically prevent people from eating from trees without interfering with free will. He did just that in chapter 3 , verse 24.

God also made animals and designed them (apparently) to tear each other apart to get somethig to eat.

Didn't God design the fast legs of a cheetah and the sharp teeth of a cheetah so that it could tear gazelles apart?

Steven Carr said...

MARK
'But that doesn't change the hard truth that suffering is evidence of our rebellion against God and the consequences of that into our own relationships. '

CARR
When did Job rebel against God, so that he suffered as a consequence, and his family were killed because God wanted to show that He was right and Satan was wrong?

MARK
'Personally I'm a huge proponent of God doesn't want anybody to suffer, and we can co-operate with Him in that.'

CARR
Deut. 28: 63 Just as it pleased the LORD to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you.

It pleases God to ruin and destory people.


By the way, why does God issue commandments for people to live Him?

Can love be commanded?

God, Himself, of course, hates everybody.

Psalm 5 makes clear that God hates sinners, and God says we are all sinners. Verse 5 - The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. 6 You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.

Why does God hate all who do wrong, and also tell us that all do wrong?

Mark H said...

@Steven,

We could go on and on and on and on ...

But I won't.

May you direct the strong feelings that you have regarding suffering to help many, many of your fellow man, and please don't be offended, but you may you also encounter the personal love of your Creator before you reach the end of your days.

Steven Carr said...

Why not just do what God does and pass by on the other side when children are dying of malaria?

I remind you of Chris's words 'The Bible has volumes to say about suffering, and about the suffering of the Innocent; indeed one of the longest and oldest books in the Bible is devoted exclusively to this subject'

What was the special purpose for which Job's family was killed?

Mark H said...

It's not that I can't discuss your questions, it's just that we both know nothing will be settled. We will disagree, and we will both feel that we have "evidence" for continued argument. It's pointless when we could both be using the time to do good things to help suffering people instead.

Peace to you. The end.

Anonymous said...

Like I posted earlier, you can not make people believe if they do not wish to believe. On the post stating that God hates, the psalmist is actually speaking there, not God. Also, all of the quotes used to bash God are Old Testament quotes, but this is a new covenant, better than the covenant pledged with the blood of bulls and goats. Why do people like ypurself wish to be hopeless when God will give ypu abundant blessings and a life much more fulfilling?

Steven Carr said...

I don't understand.

Are you saying that the Psalmist is lying when he says that God hates all who do wrong, or that Deuteronomy is wrong to say that sometimes God finds pleasure in ruining and destroying people?

As for the New Testament, what does the Son of God say in Revelation 2

Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.

So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her
suffer intensely, unless they pent of her ways.

I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

Isn't the Son of God saying that he will cause suffering?

Chris HH said...

As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? Eze 33:11

It is wickedness, not the wicked that God hates. For it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us. God does not want any to perish, but to receive forgiveness through repentance and faith. Jesus came into the world not to condemn it, but to save it.

The God that Jesus revealed, and he was and is the ultimate revelation of God, is not an austere and stern God quick to punish. But a loving father, who like the father of the prodigal son, looks with eager expectation for the first sight of his returning child, and as soon as they make the first step rushes to embrace and restore them.

Suffering is, and always has been, an emotive issue. We could examine verses to do with God's wrath against sin and debate them case by case, or ponder more examples of dying babies, but it doesn't move us any further on in this discussion.

Steven Carr said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steven Carr said...

CHRIS
'It is wickedness, not the wicked that God hates.'

CARR

I shall repeat Psalm 5 again

Verse 5 - The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. 6 You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.

Deuteronomy 25:16 For the LORD your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.

I'm still waiting for evidence that Adam and Eve existed, and that there really was a tree of knowledge of good and disaster.

The story of the Prodigal Son shows that the Father can welcome the Prodigal Son back without the other Son being killed first.

richard bentall said...

chris
Please find my thoughts towards your comments. Once again it is good to address these issues, rather than brushing them under the carpet.

First of all, if becoming a Christian would automatically unravel all the various problems that confront a person in life, then we would have people flocking to christianity to get away from their problems. The way it is, there are some people using religion as an escape mechanism when that is not what God intended. God wants us to serve him because we love him, not out of fear. It would be unreal and unrealistic for us to really believe that somehow being a Christian ought to exempt us from the problems that other people have to endure.
But I think even far more fundamental and far more important than this is the fact that if Christians did not suffer, they would be totally and completely incapable of doing what they were put here to do. God intends for his followers to communicate with the world, to bring Jesus Christ into the lives of people. You cannot communicate with a man unless you are enduring or have endured some of the same things that he has endured (there is a difference between endure and enjoy!). As a matter of fact, I believe that the bad experiences that you to put up with and that we all undergo from time to time are actually talents. They are actually things that enable us to communicate with our fellow man and meet his needs. I know this from a very personal reference. What is said is that in my own life what God has done have and how things have worked are to his glory.

Richard

Matthew said...

Hey Chris - you seem to have hit to jackpot on subjects that get the most comments! Even more than we I post about coffee!

I think one "rule" of bible interpretation that needs to be remembered (in light of some of the previous comments) is that the whole of the bible is a full revelation of God. We cannot base our understanding of God on one scripture in isolation: the bible doesn't work like that.

The only "thing" that stands alone in being able to fully represent God is Jesus, whose whole earthly ministry was about not only eleviateing suffering, but ultimately illiminating suffering.

Anonymous said...

Great conversation. The use of scripture out of context is a great trick of those opposed to God and his will, and you are correct that the whole Bible must be viewed as a single statement. Even the Devil used scripture to tempt Christ. The important thing to remember is that God hates not the sinner, but the sin. The Revelation quote is speaking of "lukewarm" churches and those who use God when it is convienent, but if I did not know the Bible in its entirety, I could also choose select scriptures to destroy the image of Christianity. Thank you to the host of this blog.

Anonymous said...

Chris

Physical pain is a part of being fearfully and wonderfully made; physical pain is that which protects us and enables us to survive in the environment in which we live. To say to have no pain is not to exist - however this point only addresses a small amount of issues.

This whole topic is not new Habakkuk had addressed this issue in chapter 1:3,13

Richard

Steven Carr said...

'The important thing to remember is that God hates not the sinner, but the sin.'

Where does it say that God does not hate the sinner?

The Bible clearly states that God hates all who do wrong.

Which shows that the Bible contradicts itself.

Chris HH said...

It's more of a clarification than a contradiction.

The Bible says God's anger is towards the unrighteous, but it then goes on to explain that this is because of their unrighteous actions, not because God has "marked their card."

A point you made previously is quite accurate. God's anger is towards the sinner, and yet all have sinned. We are thus all alike under sin, and under the judgement of God.

This is exactly why Jesus had to come:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)

Chris HH said...

> Where does it say that God does not hate the sinner?

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

Mark H said...

Wow! An excellent conversation has unfolded. Many thanks to everybody, especially Chris for hosting it.

Sorry I got abrupt yesterday. I was not having one of my better days and I should have known better :-(

Steven Carr said...

Paul is talking about Christians, not the world in general.

And Psalms 5:5 says clearly God hates *all* who do wrong. Don't all people do wrong?

Chris says this means that God hates the unrighteous, a word not in Psalms 5:5-6.

I get used to Christians ignoring the Bible whenever it contradicts itself, or them. I've had Christians simply refuse to open the Bible in my prescence.

Still waiting for that evidence that the tree of knowledge of good and disaster existed. (The same disaster that Isaiah 45:7 says God created.)

Anonymous said...

Again with the psalm. Psalms is a book of songs, or psalms, created for the worship of the Almighty, and inspired by the Almighty. Many of the Psalms were written by David, a man that strugled with his passion throughout his life. Does that mean they are untrue? No, but there are many other scriptures that clarify the meaning of these odes. Also, Jesus came to show us all facets of God, Moses was a shepherd that led, Joshua was a soldier that conquered, David was a King that ruled, Eleazar was a priest that taught, Isaiah was a prophet that saw, and so on, and so on, but Jesus encompassed all of God, not just his wrath, but his love too. If you want to know God, look to Jesus and his teachings because he "only said what he heard his father say", and "he only did as he saw his father do". Therefore, the best understanding of God comes from the mouth of the one who knows him best, God himself, not the writers of the Old Testament. The Old Testament, and old covenant, serve us as shadows, or lessons, while the New Testament, and Covenant, teaches us who God is completely. The problem with this wonderful discussion is that neither side will ever give, but if I am wrong about the existence of God and his greatness, I will have lived a wonderful life, but if you are wrong, what happens?

Mark H said...

Hi Steve,

Let's clear away a couple of obstacles so that we can see the playing field.

Let's assume for a moment, that there was no Adam & Eve, and there was no tree of the knowledge between good and evil. Let's assume, just for now, that they are merely allegories revealing to us that we choose to judge for ourselves rather than trust God's judgement. Let's assume that we're pretty poor judges and that causes a lot, if not all, of our human conflict, humans causing suffering to one another.

Further, let's assume for the moment, just for this conversation, that you're right. God hates us for it. Our choice has made us His enemies. He wants us to know that He hates us for it, so He tells us so in the Bible and there is also suffering that we can see is the result of God's judgement.

Then, how do you feel about what God does about it? How do you feel about how God deals with feeling hatred towards us?

He takes the form of his enemy, man. This God-man spends some time with us and teaches us how we should be living together. Then God pours out all of His vengeance, wrath and anger upon the God-man until He's completely spent, there's not an ounce of wrath left. Then He gives the people who were with Him a message to tell others that goes something like:

I hated you for your sin, I really did. I could have wiped you out in an instant. I have the power. But instead I poured all my wrath upon a proxy for you so that our relationship can be restored and we can be as I originally intended, knowing one another and enjoying one another's company. The only thing you need to do is stop judging for yourselves and return to trusting my judgement. There's nothing else you need to do. This is my gift to you.

How do you feel about that? Presumably something in that offends you? That's okay. Why not tell us what it is, instead of playing scripture tennis? Maybe we can help? If not, at least then we can understand.

sincerely, Mark

Richard Bentall said...

Chris
I know that this post has some good comments and I just wanted to add some understanding that "things can only get better".

When Jesus Christ came to earth, He saw His share of misery, he saw the plight of outcast lepers, widows in need and people with debilitating mental disorders. He reacted with compassion to alleviate misery.

Jesus' concern and compassion were evident when He wept openly as He approached Jerusalem for the final time (Luke 19:41-44). He could foresee the anguish that warfare would bring on the beloved city and its people in A.D. 70 when a Jewish rebellion would result in Roman armies laying siege to the city, with horrible consequences.

He proclaimed that part of His mission was "to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Luke 4:18). Such a time has not yet occurred for all mankind, but God promises He will bring an end to suffering in general during Christ's millennial reign and will eventually banish it (Revelation 21:4).

However in the mean time Christ has imparted us with his holy Spirit to enable us 1) carry on the good work that he has started and 2) to see and end to suffering.

Every blessing
Richard

Anonymous said...

I think that..If people were to stop assuming and stop guiding themselfs with philosophys and thoughts of men. Points like this
"If God exist why is there so much suffering?". wwould be understandeble and not a blanck spot of confussion on the human mind. The Bible was written thousands of years ago.It explains from the beggining why are we suffering.
Just because for example a child falls and the parent was there that dose not mean that the parent caused the fall the parent just let it happend. God does exist...other wise how did we come to be?? In orther to understand well to the point of deep and thruthfull understanding when readingthe bible you should meditate and live the reading like a movie.other wise how could anyone state the right answer. An answer like this should be backed up by scrptures and applied correctly; not in a humans piont of you...but Gods point of view.
God has given us the privilige of free will...but he has not created us a desteny. He provides us with principles and laws that would help us live live correctly and properly.For us to use as a guide.Beacause, really...Who knows us better than him,who created us?
( 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17) And on suffering-God will bring and end tothis horrible suffering we are all suffering..He is not slow in to bringing this end ,but merciful(2 peter 3:9; isaiah 30:18)This scriptures among others...have helped me till this day to understand our humanity suffering and personal suffering.How could a lovable God, go against him self?(deuteronomy32:4; Psalms 37:28;Exodus 34:6,7)

Anonymous said...

if people would stop guiding themselfs with philosophys and the thought sof men the world would be less confused. The Biblie was provided for us as a guide..not just another book. In Jermiah 10:23says that "it oes not belong to man who is wlking even to direct his step"..then how could a man even pretend to guide teir thoughts throu another mans thought. thoughts reagrding Biblie should be answerd With the bible not phylosophies.For the better of everyone.