Back to Basics: Why Does God Allow Suffering?

If you were God, would you end all pain and suffering? Think about that for a moment. If you could instantly remove all the immense suffering in the world, why wouldn’t you do it? How could you confront the suffering child or the grieving parent and tell them that you could have stopped this but chose not to? That’s the question many still ask about God. The problem of evil is one of the most common and basic objections to Christianity. Theologians have spent thousands of years addressing it. However, this issue requires more than merely evidence and logic. This objection confronts us emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially. Let’s all step back, take a deep breath, and go back to basics on why does God allow suffering?

Can God End All Suffering?

We may disagree on the nature of evil. A Christian would say that evil is the absence of or a deviation from God’s perfect standard. An atheist might see evil as merely random chance. But we can all agree on the existence and prevalence of suffering. Because there is so much suffering in the world, one of two things must be true. God either cannot end all suffering or chooses not to.

Obviously, if God does not exist, then he cannot end suffering. If there is an all-powerful God, shouldn’t he be able to rescue us from this pain? Physically speaking, yes, he could. A timeless and omnipotent being could intervene in every single moment of evil and change it. However, doing so would fundamentally change our ability to act and choose. Think of every bad thing you’ve ever thought, done, or said. In every situation, you would not have the choice to do those things.

Further, think of where God fits into this. If God is the source of all goodness, as Christians believe, this would mean forcing everyone to follow God. Being forced to choose good over evil would be forcing us to choose God rather than reject him. Is that freedom or a cage? The first answer to why God would allow suffering is because it is a necessary consequence of the great good of our being able to choose God.

Not A Matter of Power

The problem with this decision is not a matter of power. Yes, God can create a system without evil. But God cannot create a system without evil that doesn’t alter our free will and ability to choose him. The two are logically incompatible. It’s like asking God to create a rock so big that he can’t lift it. It’s not a limit on God’s power; it’s just absurd.

Does God Want to End All Suffering?

If God is all-loving, he would want to end suffering, right? Wouldn’t God want to protect at least the Christians who have already chosen him? Why doesn’t he reward our faithfulness by taking away his people’s suffering?

When considering this objection, we need to understand God’s goal for us. Simply put, God is not interested in making us comfortable. The sooner prosperity gospel preachers figure that out, the better. God wants to grow our character, draw us closer to him, and make us more like him. Those do not tend to happen when we are perfectly happy and content. If everything is great, why would you need to rely on God? No, seemingly, the most effective way to achieve those goals is through suffering.

Christianity promises salvation and a relationship with the creator of the universe, not physical prosperity.

Love Means More than Protection

Any parent should understand this tradeoff. There are times when the child may not understand why a parent subjects them to painful situations. Shots at the doctor’s office, gross tasting vegetables, finishing math homework, take your pick. As kids, we wonder why our loving parents would make us go through these horribly unpleasant moments. And yet it is the loving thing for the parent to do. Love would not spare them momentary pain for long term safety or knowledge.

Why Do I Suffer?

That’s all very well and good, but it’s also very distant. I may academically understand why evil is necessary or how suffering can grow our character. But how am I supposed to explain that to a person who just lost their loved one to cancer? I don’t know why most individual circumstances happen. I’m not in God’s position to know or say.

But we are told that God will end all suffering. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4 NIV).

When going back to basics on why does God allow suffering, always remember the ending of the story. If Christianity is true, this life is a tiny fraction of our eternal existence. Does your story end by throwing your hands up in the air, declaring everything is meaningless, and the universe is cruel and pitiless? Alternatively, does your story end with God solving the problem of evil?

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