11 January, 2007

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

The Bible Answer to Human Tragedy

Suffering is a problem in life that comes home to everyone. A child is born blind, deformed or mentally afflicted; and the question comes: Why? The child has done no harm. A kind & giving woman, in the prime of life, is racked with pain in a hopeless disease that can only end in death. Why her? These are the people who can least be spared, can they not? Millions in the world are suffering semi-starvation and disease in countries with vast populations and little fertility. Others perish or are made homeless in floods and earthquakes. Why should they suffer?

Pain, torture and death have been imposed on helpless millions by the tyranny of man and the destructiveness of modern war. Countless lives are lost in acts of terrorism, by brutality and hijacking. Accidents there have always been, but the scale of today's disasters and natural calamities is often overwhelming: a passenger aircraft crashes; an oil rig blows up; fire traps hundreds in an underground train. People ask: Why does God allow it?

The questions readily rise to mind and on the surface seem reasonable: yet a candid look at them shows that they carry certain implications. They imply that suffering in human life is inconsistent either with the power or with the love of God: that as a God of love either He has not the power to prevent the suffering, or if He has the power then He has not the will, and is not a God of love. It is assumed that the prevention of suffering as it now affects the apparently innocent is something we should expect from a God of love who is also Almighty. Are these assumptions justified?

Facts of Life
Some facts about life must be taken into account before we try to form a judgement:

Man lives in a universe of cause and effect and the consequences of certain causes are inescapable. Fire burns, water drowns, disease germs destroy. These facts have moral implications. Men live in a universe in which the consequences of what they do are inescapable, and therefore their responsibility for what they do is equally inescapable. Without this burden of 'natural law' man could do as he liked with impunity, and there would be no responsibility. God made the universe this way because He is a moral God who makes men responsible beings with freewill to choose how they will act.

Man's neglect and misuse of his own life has corrupted the stream of human life itself, and left evils which fall on succeeding generations. These, again as part of natural law, may manifest themselves as hereditary weaknesses and tendencies to disease. The very stuff of life may be affected as it is passed on from generation to generation.

The consequences of man's acts are not only directly physical. The social and political evils which they have created throughout history have left a gathering burden on the generations following. People today are caught in a net of the consequences of past history, and even when they try to right one evil, another is brought to bear: "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Romans 8:22).

Should People be Saved from Themselves?
Taking such facts as these into account, it must be asked, What is it we are really doing when we require God to remove suffering? Are we not asking that God should (a) suspend natural law, (b) divert the consequences of heredity, and (c) turn aside the effects of man's inhumanity to man? Have we the right to expect God to save men from the consequences of human acts? Would it be a moral universe if He did?

These questions can only be asked of situations when the hand of man is involved. Earthquakes, tempests, famines and floods are called 'acts of God' because usually there is no other explanation for their occurrence. So if we look beyond human acts to natural disaster, we find that it falls upon all, innocent and guilty alike. As soon as we begin to question the suffering of innocent victims of these disasters another dilemma is raised. Are we saying that the calamities should be selective in their working, searching out only those who deserve to suffer'?

An Evil or a Symptom?
Underlying all the loose thinking on the subject which has been surveyed so far is one basic assumption: it is that suffering is evil in itself. It is this belief that suffering is the essential evil that lies at the root of Buddhism. The Bible view is radically different: suffering is not evil in itself, but a symptom of a deeper evil. The Scriptures portray suffering as a consequence of sin: not necessarily the sin of the individual who suffers, but sin in the history of man and in human society. Its origin is succinctly put by the Apostle Paul:

"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Romans 5:12).

The sentence upon the woman after the disobedience in Eden says:
"I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."

To the man God says:
"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Genesis 3:16,19).

The teaching is simple. With man's disobedience there came a dislocation in the relationship between the Creator and the created; the relation between God and man is out of joint. The first sin brought a fundamental change which affects all with the evils which are common to man. Death is universal: God does not modify it for the particular individual. The Bible teaching is that men are left to their own ways and the working of natural law, though there may be times when natural disaster is divinely directed as a judgement upon man and for the cleansing of the earth. The outstanding example is the flood in the days of Noah.

At the same time it is true that in the Bible, for those who seek to serve God, suffering takes on new meaning; they are in a new relationship to the Creator, and will learn to see tragedy in a new light. What is it?

A Godly Man's Experience
The answer may be seen in the example of Job. Here is a devout man who meets with disaster in the loss of his flocks and herds-the source of his wealth; with terrible bereavement in the loss of all his children at one stroke; and then is stricken with a tormenting disease which separates him from men. Yet he says: "What? Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10). He recognises the important principle that he cannot claim good as a right: it is not for him to decide what God shall do.

"Does Job serve God for nought?"
While, therefore, the Book of Job offers no simple answer to the problem of suffering, it has been raised to a wider level. Only by loss and suffering could Job know that he did not serve God for the sake of houses, lands, flocks and herds, or even children. He did not even serve for the sake of his own skin, his health and wellbeing. He worshipped God for Himself, and in spite of all the wild words which came from his stress of mind and body he had an ultimate belief in God's righteousness and faithfulness. It was only when stripped of everything that he really knew that God was his only refuge, and in that discovery he was triumphantly vindicated against the slander of the Adversary epitomized by the three friends.

Job's faith in God was put to the test under trial, and by trial it was tempered as steel. It was by his final acceptance of the wisdom of God, and by learning that faith could be developed through suffering, that Job came at last to the fuller knowledge of God.

Some Conclusions
The conclusions to be drawn from what has been considered so far may be summarised as follows:

• Man lives in an ordered universe of cause and effect and must accept its consequences; and since sin entered into human life these must involve suffering. The suffering, however, may not be directly related to the sin of the sufferer but may result from the acts of former generations.
• At the same time it is the universe of a God of wisdom and love who can guide and control the suffering for those who seek Him in order to bring them to a deeper knowledge of Him.

A Divine Discipline
It is in the light of this latter conclusion that we may understand a passage in the Letter to the Hebrews based on a saying in the Book of Proverbs: "And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees" (Hebrews 12:5-12; Proverbs 3:11-12).

Read in its context, the passage expounds itself. Suffering and loss are common to man, but for the children of God they are directed by their Heavenly Father as a spiritual training, and as such are the expression of His love.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Jacques said...

Hi again Jason.

Have we the right to expect God to save men from the consequences of human acts? Would it be a moral universe if He did?

Well, that's exactly what Christians believe Jesus will do when he returns.

The sentence upon the woman after the disobedience in Eden says:
"I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."

To the man God says:
"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Genesis 3:16,19).


The above shows that according to the Bible, God is responsible for humankind's suffering.

God broke the previous "natural law" that was "eternal life" to punish Adam and Eve.

"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Romans 5:12).

Paul said that death is direct consequence of sin.

But the Bible didn't say that animals and plants sinned too, and since they have no sense of good and evil, why do animals and plants die?

"What? Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10). He recognises the important principle that he cannot claim good as a right: it is not for him to decide what God shall do.

Bible believers: Suffer with resignation whenever God wants to play with you.

"since sin entered into human life these must involve suffering. The suffering, however, may not be directly related to the sin of the sufferer but may result from the acts of former generations."

In other words, humankind was/is punished because Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil sow by God; beguiled by a walking-talking snake created by that same God.

Divine discipline, as sweet as the chastisement given to the guy from Numbers 15:32-36.

Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp."

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, look how much God loves his sons:

Deuteronomy 21:18-21
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard." 21 Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

I'm glad my parents didn't stone me to death for not doing the household chores!

January 12, 2007 4:52 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

1. God will save the righteous as a result of Jesus’ actions (his sacrifice), not as a result of our own.
2. The punishment of Adam and Eve doesn’t show that God is responsible for poverty, homeless, rape, murder, and every other act of wickedness mankind commits. Adam’s punishment was that he was going to have to work hard for his food (e.g. till the ground). Do you think this proves that God is responsible for a corrupt government in South America?
3.Where does the Bible say God broke the natural law and who fault was it that Adam and Eve sinned?
4. Animals and plants. Wow…Animals and plants die because they’re animals and plants. If animals and plants had an understanding of God and if Jesus died to also save the flora and fauna, we could probably have this conversation. But we're not.

If you’d like to have a serious discussion about this topic (why does God allow human suffering), then at least try to understand the God I believe in by reading this post in relation to the subject. Other then simply poking fun at God for the sake of poking fun, you're not really saying much.

January 13, 2007 12:06 PM  
Anonymous Jacques said...

1. God will save the righteous as a result of Jesus’ actions (his sacrifice), not as a result of our own.

People are not automatically saved because of Jesus death and almost immediate resurrection. They still have to be baptized, believe in Christ, live accordingly to the Bible, attend Church, partake the Sacraments, hope their good works outweigh their evil works, etc. Righteousness without acknowledgment of Christ plays little to no role in saving.

2. Do you think this proves that God is responsible for a corrupt government in South America?

No. I don't believe the above.

Jeremiah 1:4-5
4Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 5Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

Isaiah 44:2
Thus saith the LORD that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chose

According to the Bible it looks like every life is preordained, though.

3.Where does the Bible say God broke the natural law and who fault was it that Adam and Eve sinned?

According to the Bible, God broke the natural during the Flood; confusing the languages of the men building the Tower of Babel; bringing the plagues to the Egyptians; separating the Red Sea's waters; killing Aaron's sons; taking Elijah to Heaven; Revealing the future to prophets and seers; when Jesus resurrected Lazarus; when Jesus ascended to Heaven, etc. That's what I can remember right now.

About Adam and Eve, to me The Fall seems a set up, first God put the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil amidst Eden, then He tells Adam and Eve not to eat from it, then out of curiosity they go to said Tree, about the same time there's a talking snake created by God tempting them by telling that they wouldn't die like God said, but become like Gods.

4.Animals and plants. Wow…Animals and plants die because they’re animals and plants. If animals and plants had an understanding of God and if Jesus died to also save the flora and fauna, we could probably have this conversation. But we're not.

Cool, but you forget what your Paul wrote:

"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Romans 5:12).

Animals and plants are unable to sin, since death is consequence of sin, animals and plants shouldn't die.

Poking fun? Do you mean those two lines about stoning? Aw, shucks! Heh. Do you think it's right to stone a stubborn child to death? I kinda know what your response would be, God commands it so it must be good. Saul fell from god's grace for failing to kill the king of the Amalekites, blah, blah, blah. You-know-who would kill his mom if God commands him to do so.

January 17, 2007 4:15 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

1. I totally agree with your point. My comment wasn’t that we’re automatically saved, the comment was that the righteous will be saved because of Christ’s sacrifice. Being righteous in this sense means going through the neccessary steps (baptism, etc.).

2. If you think Adam & Eve’s punishment means God is responsible for the suffering of mankind, then why don’t you think God is responsible for a corrupt government in South America that would result in the population suffering?

3. So it’s not the Bible that says God broke natural laws, it’s you :) Do you think God is restricted by the very laws he created for us...? And which ones did He 'break' and what makes it a 'broken' law?

As for Adam & Eve’s sin, how is it a setup? God told them not to eat of the Tree. Seems pretty basic to me…?

4. The problem with your argument is that you’re assuming plants and animals were originally created immortal. The animals were eating plants and herbs in the Garden. Abel sacrificed the firstlings of his flock and it was pleasing to God. It’s all good.

Stoning a child? Where does Deut 21 talk about stoning a child? My version calls the individual “son” and it says he’s a “drunkard”. Do you have drunk children? Is this section really talking about not doing household chores? A closer, serious reading of these references would prove most helpful.

January 21, 2007 9:13 PM  
Anonymous Jacques said...

1. My point was that Jesus' death and resurrection were pointless granted that Christians still need to go through the sacraments.

2. I said that "according to the Bible" it looks like every life is preordained.

So it’s not the Bible that says God broke natural laws, it’s you

So, it was me who confused the languages of the men building the Tower of Babel; It was me who sent the plagues to the Egyptians; I separated the Red Sea waters; I killed Aaron's sons; I took Elijah to Heaven; I revealed the future to prophets and seers; I resurrected Jesus, it was me all the time!?

Do you consider the parting of the Red Sea waters by God with the assistance of Moses to be a natural phenomenon?

Do you think God is restricted by the very laws he created for us...?

If we take into account that God couldn't "save" humankind by uttering a single phrase like "Let humankind be saved" like he/they did in Genesis, but instead he/they had to send his/their "son" to suffer and die for the task to be done; one can assume that God can't break his own laws.

As for Adam & Eve’s sin, how is it a setup? God told them not to eat of the Tree. Seems pretty basic to me…?

According to the Bible Adam and Eve were naive, they were like children because they didn't know the difference between good and evil.

What happens when one tells children not to eat the cookies left on the counter? They eat them anyway because they can.

The Tree of Knowledge etc., was amidst Eden, and even worse there was a talking serpent telling them they wouldn't die but be like God.

4. Yes, I assumed that animals and plants were created immortal based on what Paul allegedly wrote in Romans 5:12. Animals didn't kill plants, they eat the leaves. Abel was conceived after Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden.

Stoning a child? Where does Deut 21 talk about stoning a child?Do you have drunk children? Is this section really talking about not doing household chores? A closer, serious reading of these references would prove most helpful.

Yes, Deut. uses "son". But bear in mind that "Children of Israel" is a biblical term for the Israelites both kids and grown-ups.

Would you rather kill your son for coming drunk late or help him break free of the addiction?

"If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother"

Also, Deuteronomy didn't prescribe stoning for a drunkard but for a "stubborn and rebellious son" his parents shall bring him to the elders and tell them that besides being stubborn and rebellious the chap is also a glutton and a drunkard regardless if he was actually a drunkard or not.

January 24, 2007 3:46 PM  
Anonymous jacques said...

On #4 what I meant was that before the Fall in Eden there was no death; animals could eat the leaves and the fruits of the plants so as to not kill them. I'm playing the apologist there, walking in Paul's shoes. Work can be distracting sometimes.

January 24, 2007 4:32 PM  
Anonymous Jacques said...

I was thinking about death in Eden, how the fangs and digestive tract of (for example) a lion, are unsuitable for eating plants. If God provided plants for food (Genesis 1:29-30) this implies that animals, Adam and Eve could die of starvation. Also what was the Tree of Life for if Adam and Eve were created immortal?

Seems like Adam and Eve were created mortal. If death didn't enter the world because of sin, was Jesus death unnecessary?

January 27, 2007 7:57 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

God made snakes that talked and that walked upright. If talking and waking was taken away from snakes, it's not a stretch to envision a lion's digestive tract being altered.

Could Adam & Eve have died of starvation? I don't know because the Bible doesn't say. You're asking questions that don't have answers.

Regardless, I question the relevance of these points. The subject of this post is human suffering.

January 28, 2007 1:08 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Jacques has vanished.

February 15, 2007 3:24 PM  

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