Why Does God Allow Suffering?
"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets before you."
Matthew 5:11,12 NKJV
In one of my books, a teenage girl struggling to cope with the trauma and loss she endured throughout her life hears this verse and poses a question. "Why does God like seeing people suffer?" She goes further by saying, "I mean, what you just read sounds like He actually wants to see people persecuted." A friend tries to encourage her by saying, "He doesn't like seeing us suffer. We suffer because we live in a sin fallen world . . . a world that hates God. It's not that He wants to see us suffer. It's that he gives us the assurance and the peace we need when we do face suffering and persecution, and He enables us to come out that much stronger."
I'm sure every one of us has asked this question at some point in our lives. We've all heard the clean cut answer . . . that God doesn't like to see us suffer, rather, we live in a sin fallen world. Even if that does bring some level of peace to us when dealing with persecution or suffering imposed by others, we're still left with those harder cases where things simply happen and we can't explain why. No one commits an act of sin or violence when a young child is diagnosed with terminal cancer, or a young husband and father drops dead of a heart attack with no warning. It's impossible not to ask the question, "why would God let that happen?"
I've always had a strong drive to protect others. Even when I was seven or eight years old, I remember a music video from a kid show resonating in my mind about America's heroes and our founding fathers. I dreamed one day of being one of America's heroes . . . fighting injustice and protecting my country and community. Now being pregnant with our first child, I feel that protective drive all the more. Sometimes I find myself in deep thought, creating a quite awful list of all the things I would do to someone who ever tried to hurt that little, innocent, squirming baby girl inside me that I grow to love deeper and deeper every day. I must admit, my revengeful list is definitely not Christlike, though I'm sure any parent reading this could totally relate. But then there are times like the other day when I looked into the eyes of a young woman my age who told me her little daughter had recently died in her arms of a debilitating disease. For a split second, I wanted to look up to the sky and lash out in vengeance for justice and demand, "why God?" Then I think of my parents, who for years had to watch me suffer in debilitating pain with no other answer but, "she'll eventually outgrow it." For years they prayed that God would heal me and remove my suffering, yet it wasn't until a decade later that their prayer was answered. So how do we explain these instances where things in life are completely out of our control, and it feels as though God and not man is committing the injustice against us. Truly, I don't believe there is a clean, cut and dry answer, though I have found that several thoughts on this have helped me over the years.
First, and probably the hardest pill to swallow is summed up in this passage. "'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,' says the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.'" Isaiah 55:8,9 NKJV. That can certainly be a tough concept to understand. At eight years old, popping Motrin every four to six hours and wondering why God simply refused to answer my and my parents prayers to take the pain away, I simply didn't understand. As I grew into my teens, I became hardened, accepting the fate that God had chosen for me, but viewing Him as more a tyrant wanting to impose His will upon me rather than a loving God who wanted to see me healed. Now looking back, I can see more of the picture that I couldn't see then. It wasn't that God delighted in watching me suffer, but rather, it was part of His unique plan to see me become the person I am today. Had I not known pain, I couldn't relate to the pain of others. Had I not known depression and desperation, I would not have a driving passion to help others in that same place. I once told a woman who asked if it still bothers me that I didn't have a normal childhood due to my condition this. "If I had been a normal child, then I would now be just be a normal adult." Sometimes we simply can't see or understand why something happened until years later . . . even until we reach eternity.
Second, and perhaps a bit more comforting to some is the fact that suffering is a result of our sin fallen world. This can also be a tough pill to swallow because it admits that deep down it is a result of our choice and not His. Genesis 1:26 says, "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'" God created us unique from all the other creatures with a will and a freedom of choice. He didn't create us as mere puppets, rather, He saw fit to make us in His own image. Sadly, our own pride crept in, and we chose to disobey, desirous to become like gods ourselves. The result was suffering, and ultimately death. God didn't just decide on a whim to make us suffer. In giving us that freedom of choice, we placed suffering upon ourselves. God is just and perfect and could not let sin go unpunished.
After those two points, you may be thinking, "well that sure isn't comforting!" This is why I always keep this third and final point in mind, especially in those tough times when nothing seems to numb the pain. God loved us enough to send His only Son to live and die for us. Many times we reference Jesus' death and suffering on the cross with our own sorrows, but it goes even beyond that. Jesus lived a life here on earth as a man . . . God in human flesh. This means he faced pain, sorrow, doubts, and struggles just as we do, even as it says in Isaiah 53:4,5. "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed." Even more, through his death and resurrection, we now have the power of His Spirit imparted in us, giving us strength and comfort through every trial we face. Though we may not understand everything in this life, we have the comfort and peace to know He will never leave or forsake us. We are never alone, in the good times and bad.