By Calvin Barber
There is no single argument that challenges the Christian faith more than that of human suffering. Skepticism and doubt originate in the minds of many when they observe human suffering which results from war, poverty, injustice, natural catastrophes, disease, etc. The skeptic’s arugument may be worded something like this: “Sufffering is a fact; therefore, God either does not care for man or is powerless to prevent suffering.” They conclude that God must be loving and not powerful or powerful and not loving. Many disbelieve because of a failure to understand how a loving God could allow human suffering.
Many who profess to be Christains often have doubts and charge God falsely when suffering confronts them. Remarks like, “Why is God doing this to me?” “What great sin have I done to deserve this?” “God has caused this to happen to our child to punish us!” are heard frequently by Christian ministers. This writer does not question the sincerity of such remarks but does believe they denote gross misunderstanding of the nature of God and are false charges against God.
The problem of suffering is very complex and perplexing. It is complex in that its entire scope cannot be fully understood or explained. It is perplexing when we personally, are faced with its reality. When suffering comes, there are many bewildering questions that come to our minds, especially, “Why do people suffer?” Perhaps the reader of this tract is now suffering and pondering this question. Though we cannot comprehend all the ramifications of suffering, we believe the Bible furnishes us reasonable answers to our questions. The objectives of this study are to understand why we suffer and to vindicate God of the false charges often attributed to him.
GOD DOES NOT CAUSE HUMAN SUFFERING
The Bible nowhere pictures God as the one who causes or even disires that man suffer. On the contrary, God has always had man’s ultimate good in mind in all his dealings with him. The first three chapters of Genesis teach us that God had man’s best interest in mind in the creation of all things. He created man a superior being and gave him dominion over all living creatures. (1:26) He placed him in a garden that was a utopia in which to live, “And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden and there put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that was pleasant to the sight, and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (2:8,9) Many could eat of the tree of life and live forever. (3:22) He had not eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, therefore, he knew not the pain and guilt brought about by evil. (2:25) God wanted man to serve Him; therefore, He created within man the ability to choose and be a free moral agent. God said to man, “Of all the trees of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (2:16,17) Then cames the sad story of man’s choice to disobey God and eat of the forbidden tree. Therefore man had to suffer as a consequence of his disobedience. Man died spiritually (seperated from God) as a consequence of his sin. (2:17) God placed sorrow and pain on both man and woman. (3:16-21) He drove them from the tree of life and man began to die physically. (3:22-24) Paul declares, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed on all men for that all have sinned.” Rom. 5:12) In a general sense most all human suffering is a result of man’s disobedinece and the entrance of sin into the world. However, not all suffering can be traced to this source.
Even after man fell in the garden, God had man’s best interest at heart. He made provision for man to be spiritually re-united with Him. The long line of blood sacrifice to atone for man’s sin is evidence of the love of God for man. The ultimate proof of that love was sending His only begotten Son to die as an atoning sacrifice for all men. (John 3:16) Man can be re-united with God by believing in His son, repenting of sin and being baptized for the remission of sin. (Lk. 13:3; Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38)
The beautiful description of Heaven is evidence that God does not desire man to suffer. (Rev.21:1-22:5) The streets of gold and gates of pearl describe its beauty. The quality of life denotes no kind of suffering in heaven. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.” (21:4) Does this sound like a mean, unloving God as we often accuse Him of being?
We suggest that sometime God may allow suffering or that He may use suffering to discipline us, but He does not cause it, nor does He desire that we suffer. Most all suffering comes as a result of man’s choice to disobey or ignore the spiritual, natural, or physical laws of God.
MAN SUFFERS WHEN HE VIOLATES GOD’S SPIRITUAL LAWS
This we call punitive suffering, this kind of suffering is inflicted by God because of man’s disobedience. God is love, but He also is a God of wrath and justice. (Rom.11:22) God’s nature is completely incompatible with sin. (James 1:13-14; Isaiah 59:1-2) Therefore, God wants man to know he does not tolerate sin and man will suffer if he disregards God’s laws. Punitive suffering, though inflicted by God, is motivated by the love of God. This is a paradoxical statement but nevertheless true. “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth – Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grevious; nevertheless afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised therby.” (Heb. 12:6,11) Punitive suffering is for the purpose of chastening and disciplining us. The present chastening is not joyous but the end result is to bring about righteousness on our part. Let us apply this principle.
God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil lest they be seperated from God. (Gen. 2:17) When they disobeyed God, they were seperated from God, knowledge of good and evil entered into the world and man immediately began to feel the pains of shame, fear, and guilt because he had disobeyed God. (Gen. 3:1-13) These are the spiritual consequences of sin’s entrance into the world. (Rom. 6:23) As cruel as this may seem, the Bible teaches that this corrective discipline is necessary before man will desire to be re-united with God. Knowledge of sin, guilt of sin and the fear of being eternally lost are painful emotions that drive man back to God. The Biblical description of Hell and the possibilities of going there are but disciplinary incentives to bring men back to God.
Physical pain entered the world because of sin. Woman was subject to pain in child birth. (Gen. 3:16) The ground was cursed, that man, by the sweat of his face and in sorrow, would eat of it all the days of his life. (Gen. 3:17-19) Physical death passed on all mankind because of sin’s entrance into the world. (Gen. 3:19-24) Therefore, man suffers because he lives in a world into which sin has entered. Man has brought this on himself because of his choice to disobey God. We charge God falsely when we accuse him of being responsible for the physical pain we bear often draws us nearer to God. We often rise to great spiritual height through pain. The reality of the brevity of life and the certainty of physical death are incentives that cause us to make preparation for our eternal abode.
MAN SUFFERS BECAUSE OF THE SINS OF OTHERS
War is a means by which many innocent victims suffers. History reveals that most wars are motivated by greed and lust for power by a few on both sides. Poverty usually is caused by greed and affliction from the rich. Innocent victims often suffer at the hands of a drunken driver. Women and children are often born blind or deformed because of sins of the parents. The list could go on and on. It is sad when we see the innocent suffer but they suffer at the hand of sinful man not God.
MAN SUFFERS BECAUSE OF HIS OWN SINS
Many suffer from the use and abuse of alcoholic beverages. Many successful businessmen and fathers have lost their businesses, families and reputations because of alcohol. They may suffer because of its effect on the brain and central nervous system. Habitual users suffer with stomach, liver, and kidney ailments, and various forms of neuritis. A gluttonous person usually suffers the complication of overweight. Physicians constantly battle the many problems of overeating. The tobacco user will likely suffer diseases and/or cancer of the lungs, stomach and kidney. Dear friend, how dare any honest person, who may be suffering from one of these self-inflicted ailments say, “It is the will of God.”
Many suffer because of what they think and feel. Emotional stress in the form of frustration, discouragement, depression, worry, doubt, insecurity, etc. are common forms of human suffering. “She worried herself sick,” is a common and true expression. It is a medical fact that unusual fatigue, hives, asthma, and high blood pressure can result from emotional stress. Many hospital beds are filled with physical ailments that have a psychosomatic cause. Some have gone insane and even committed suicide because of mental stress. WE cannnot blame God for this suffering because it is usually, but maybe not intentionally self-inflicted.
SOME SUFFERING IS UNRELATED TO SIN
Perhaps the most difficult form of suffering to understand is that which comes to us by natural catastrophe, such as storms, floods, earthquakes, and epidemic diseases. We ask, “If God is so Powerful, why doesn’t He stop these things?” It is not a matter of His not being able to stop a catastrophe, but should He set aside the laws of nature just for the protection of man? Have you wondered what an unpredictable world we would have if God did such a thing? For example, the law of gravity… If a man fell from a building, what would happen if God momentarily suspended His law of gravity to save him? This would cause chaos all over the world. The wind that causes the storm is the same wind that regulates temperature and many other factors in man’s existence. If God broke all the laws of nature for the protection of man, we would suffer more from this chaos than we would from natural catastrophes. God has created the best world posssible for us to live in because it is regulated by natural laws and protect himself from them when possible.
We are a part of a great but sinful world, whether we understand it or not, or whether we like it or not. Sin and its consequences have caused much of the suffering of mankind. While we understand that generally all sickness and death are a result of sin, it is not for us to endeavor to establish a connection between special sin and special sickness. We have no infallible way of establishing a connection, therefore, we only add anxiety to our suffering by trying.
Above all, we should not charge God with being the cause of our suffering. Though God may allow man to suffer or even inflict suffering for disciplinary purposes, he still has man’s best interest in mind. David said, “It is good for me that I was afflicted; that I might learn they statutes.” (Psa. 119:71) Again, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept thy word.” (Psa. 119:67)
Our concern should be not so much to understand which of our distresses are of our own working or which might be permitted of God to test and try us, but to accept ALL of our trials graciously and utilize them to strengthen our faith in God.