The Problem of Suffering

Probably the most frequently-voiced complaint against faith in God has to do with the issue of suffering.  How can a God who is supposedly all-good and all-powerful allow so much suffering?  This seems especially poignant when we see little children suffer, or other innocent victims experiencing great pain.  Does God not care (is He really all-good?)?  Does He not have the ability to end their suffering (is He really all-powerful?)?

I believe that it is important to first recognize that it is not necessarily true that an all-good and all-powerful God could NOT create a world in which suffering exists.  In other words, no one can demonstrate that an all-good and all-powerful God MUST create a world where suffering is absent.  We may prefer it that way, but there is no logical reason to insist that it must always be true.  Therefore, from a logical standpoint, we must recognize that it is certainly possible that God could be all-good and all-powerful and still allow suffering to occur – even great suffering. These are not inconsistent. The question really becomes “why?”

I believe the answer has to do with the differences between our perspective and God’s viewpoint.  Many years ago I took off from an airport in a passenger jet.  It was cloudy and raining as we lifted off.  However, in a very short time we broke through the clouds to a completely different, overriding view.  Above the clouds the sun was shining brilliantly, and it seemed a gorgeous day.  Yes, it was still raining below us, but above and beyond us it was not.  From the airport it was not a nice day.  From above the clouds it was stunning.  This illustration helped remind me that God has a much wider-reaching, encompassing viewpoint than ours.  Our field of vision is more narrow and limited.

It is completely possible that God views suffering in a different way than we do.  I believe that God sees suffering as a means to an end. It helps accomplish a goal.  It is a tool in His shed that serves a purpose for Him.  This is what Job understood (Job 23:10).

I am certain that most of us can recall a difficult time that we passed through.  At the moment it seemed pointless and awful.  However, we can often look back and realize how much we gained from that time of our lives.  In fact, sometimes we even look back and because of the good in our lives now, are thankful for that time!  In those instances it is easy to see a value to suffering.

But what about suffering that seems pointless?  What about a little child born with a terrible sickness or handicap and who never survives to learn the value of suffering?  How can that be seen as good? How can God seem so removed from senseless suffering?

My first response to this would be to suggest that what we deem as “senseless suffering” may not be senseless at all.  Just because we do not see a point to a particular person’s suffering does not mean that the point does not exist – but only that we cannot see it.  This is similar, I believe, to the illustration that I gave earlier.  Just because it is raining at the airport does not mean that it is raining everywhere.  A different vantage point might reveal a different understanding of the situation.  But, we cannot deny that a vantage point does not exist because we cannot see it.

Secondly, I would suggest that I do not believe God is as distant to our suffering as we might feel that He is.  The Apostle Paul wrote that “when one member suffers, the whole body suffers,” (1 Cor 12:26).  Since Jesus is the head – and therefore part of the body – we can be sure that God takes part in our suffering.  Therefore, God is not a disinterested observer of our suffering, but rather a participant in it.  This knowledge ought to bring us comfort.

I believe God is actively working in the course of human history.  I believe time and again that the Bible teaches that God allows suffering to fulfill a greater purpose.  I also believe that we can take great comfort in recognizing that God is not immune to our cries, but suffers right along with us.  These conclusions lead me to greater faith, not less.





Leave a Reply