Why Sin and Suffering?
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Once when I was talking to a travel agent, during the course of our conversation we began to talk about God. “I don’t believe in God,” she said. “If there is a God, why is there so much suffering in the world today? Why do thousands die of starvation every day in Africa? What kind of God would allow terrible diseases to run rampant? Why was my best friend just crippled in an automobile accident?”
I replied, “You can’t blame God for all the suffering in the world. Much of the suffering in the world is caused by man’s inhumanity to man or disobedience to God’s laws.”
The young lady was quiet for a moment and then she shot back with the atheists’ trump-card question which they always try to stump Christians with. “If there is a God, and He’s all-powerful, why doesn’t He stop evil and not allow all this suffering? Why does He allow evil in the world? For example, why didn’t He stop Hitler?”
“That’s a very good question,” I answered, “but you see, if God had put a stop to Hitler, He also would have to put a stop to every person’s free will. The Bible says, ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’1 So He would have had to stop everybody in the whole world from doing anything wrong or bad!
“From the very beginning, God would have had to step in and stop Adam and Eve from eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. He would have had to interfere with our free will and the majesty of personal choice that He’s given each of us to choose good or evil.”
“But wouldn’t it have been better if He had made us all to be good?” she challenged.
“If the Lord had wanted robots, He could have made everybody only do good and love Him. But He made us with free choice and free will, so we could choose to love Him! You wouldn’t enjoy your children as much if they had no choice but to love you, would you?” I questioned.
Puzzled, she replied, “Well, no, but what does this have to do with suffering?”
I went on to explain, “Because man was put here to choose between good and evil, between doing things God’s way or his own, and that’s a root cause of why there is so much suffering, misery, pain, ill health, wars, and economic troubles in the world today. Instead of choosing to love and obey God, man has chosen to do things his own way, and is suffering from the consequences of his wrong choices. The Bible tells us that ‘there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.’”2
This exchange prompted me to think about how much of the world’s suffering is caused by humankind. Look at the untold suffering that humankind has caused by continually fighting wars in which millions have been killed and maimed. Martin Luther called war “the greatest plague that can afflict humanity; it destroys religion, it destroys states, and it destroys families. Any scourge is preferable to it.”
Is God to blame for man’s wars? The Bible says, “What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you?”3 God is not to blame for the suffering caused by war, but rather humankind’s destruction of others for greed or power or selfish gain causes wars.
In our current age, the stress and rush and tension of modern living often brings on psychosomatic diseases such as severe headaches, stomach ulcers, and heart problems. We have not learned to cast all our cares upon God, as we are advised to do in 1 Peter 5:7, and so we allow our worried and harried minds to make us physically sick as we strive to keep up with the ever-increasing pace of modern society! Meanwhile, we can also make ourselves sick by smoking, drinking, and taking substances that harm our minds and bodies.
For another example of ways in which humankind causes suffering, look at the millions who are starving each year in some parts of our world, when there is a surplus of food in other parts of the world. God has provided more than enough so that no one need go hungry! While the Western world spends hundreds of millions of dollars on storing or destroying these surpluses and on exercise and diet programs to lose weight, and they pay farmers to not grow crops, the poor nations of the world starve.
Of course, much of the reason that millions of people around the world suffer deprivation, want, and squalor is because of the selfishness of the rich. Most of the rich simply do not share their wealth or lands as they should, or invest it in jobs and industries to employ the poor, or pay the poor living wages or fair prices for their labor and produce so that they can make a decent living. If they did, there would certainly be enough to go around, as the Lord intended for there to be. In His Word He repeatedly advises and even commands the rich to share with the poor because He doesn’t want the poor to suffer.
But believe it or not, the rich also suffer. Many of them got their riches by robbing and cheating the poor. This is contrary to God’s laws for happiness and spiritual prosperity, which say that we must show love and concern for others and give and share with our fellow man. Consequently, the rich usually suffer from a bad conscience as well as fear that someone will try to take away their riches.
“Why does God allow suffering?” is one of the great questions of life. Though we can understand many of the reasons through reading God’s Word, there are some things we won’t fully understand until the next life, when we are able to see things as God sees them.
Doctor Handley Moule once said: “It is very difficult for us to understand why God should let … tragedy happen. But I have at home an old bookmarker given me by my mother. It is woven in silk, and when I look at the wrong side of it, I see nothing but a tangled mass of threads. It looks like a big mistake! One would think that someone had made it who did not know what she was doing. But when I turn it over and look at the right side, I see there, beautifully embroidered, the letters, God is love. We are looking at this today from the wrong side. Someday we shall view it from another standpoint, and we shall understand.”
God always has a purpose and a plan in our suffering, even though we can’t always see it right away. Sometimes, “His ways are past finding out,”4 and we just have to trust God, knowing that whatever we don’t understand now, we will understand later! “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”5
Lastly, we must also remember the ways God can use suffering for good in our lives. Sorrow and suffering often bring out the best in people, the compassion, love, and concern for others. Suffering is meant to be a strength-giver and to equip us for giving strength to others. The Bible says, “We comfort others with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”6 For Christians, it gives us the desire to share the eternal solution to people’s problems and suffering—Jesus!
Suffering often turns people to God and inspires them to plead with Him for forgiveness and to repent and ask God to save them. As King David said, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but in my suffering I cried unto the Lord and He saved this poor man out of all his troubles.”7 Suffering and affliction draw us closer to the Lord.
God’s Word promises us that all the suffering for those who love God will come to an end, and He “will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there will be no more pain, for the former things are passed away.”8
Until that perfect day, we will have to endure some suffering, but our compensation, our reward waiting for us in heaven, far outweighs the temporary pain and suffering we may experience down here. As the apostle Paul said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”9
From an article in Treasures, published by the Family International in 1987. Adapted and republished May 2021. Read by Jerry Paladino.
1 Romans 3:23.
2 Proverbs 14:12.
3 James 4:1 HCSB.
4 Romans 11:33.
5 1 Corinthians 13:12.
6 2 Corinthians 1:4.
7 Psalm 18:6; 34:6; 119:67.
8 Revelation 21:4.
9 Romans 8:18.