Why would a loving God allow suffering in the world? That can be a difficult question to answer when you are in ministry, especially when asked by someone who is suffering in illness and pain, or is watching a loved one do so. If the person is a believer, it may be testing their faith as they struggle to cope with something that is incredibly hard for them to bear. If the person has not trusted Christ as their Savior, it may be asked in great anger. At times like these, hitting someone with a Bible verse is not necessarily going to cut it:
As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one – Romans 3:10
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – Romans 3:23
Try one of those on someone who has just lost a parent, a spouse, a child or a sibling and you will probably be called an insensitive fool or much, much worse. Probably with good justification. Let me be clear, I am not saying not to share the Gospel with those suffering or in need. If they do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior, if they do not have a personal relationship with Him, they need that more than anything else. But understand the context you are talking to them in. Suffering people need comfort and companionship, not verses thrown at them at a time of weakness or despair. They need the Gospel that is certainly true, but they need the Truth spoken in love, they need a sensitive approach that will open their hearts and not close their ears.
Take a look at the second chapter of Job, when his friends, after hearing of the adversity that had beset Job, came to visit. For seven days they just sat with him, for they recognized the depths of his grief, and as friends, just being there was some comfort to Job. And as you look at the subsequent chapters when all three try to give Job an answer for his suffering, you realize they were all much smarter when they just kept their mouths shut and sat with Job as he struggled with his anguish. They seemed more intent on proving themselves right than with helping Job through his difficult time. In the end, God had nothing good to say about them as He reminded Job who He was, and who was Job to question Him.
The plain truth of it is that there is pain and suffering in the world, at some point we all face a tragedy in our lives. I can tell you from personal experience that facing it without Jesus to lean on and call out to is no easy matter. God loves us more than we can truly comprehend, loves us enough to allow us to make choices. Sin entered the world through the choice of the first members of humanity, and we have dealt with it ever since. But God loved us enough to allow His Son to suffer on this earth as well, and as a result we have a choice to accept Christ as Lord and Savior and so avoid eternal suffering separated from the divine Presence. But that love allows choice, even if choices (our own or those of others) permits incredible amounts of suffering into these short, temporary lives (or so they are when compared to eternity). As children of God we are promised an eternal life in the very presence of God. As children of God we are not promised an easy life while in this world. We live with our choices, and we live with sin and evil, and all the attendant pain, as a result of that first choice made in the Garden.
There must be something in the personally choosing Christ that makes the joy awaiting us in eternity fuller and richer. Something we cannot comprehend now, but one day will, and when we do, it will be forever. Something that in God’s perfect plan allows suffering today as He permits the sin that is in the world and the sin nature within us to continue as He works forward in His purposes. There is divine purpose to the fact we are given choice.
So if dealing with that question, either from a believer or a non-believer, try to show God’s love, try to share God’s love. And when the moment is right, give them the Gospel if they haven’t trusted Christ; remind them of the Gospel if they have. But most of all, be there for them. Seek the Lord and ask that the Spirit give you the right words to say at the right time. We can be wise in Christ, and we can draw upon that as needed. But I believe the most important thing to start with is to remind those suffering that God loves them; a believer can rely on the promises made to all children of God, one who has not accepted Christ can draw comfort from the fact that He wants them to accept Him. A rock solid belief that a loving God loves me is the most powerful thing for anyone to draw upon when working through a trial, when dealing with suffering.
If it asked by someone more interested in debating your beliefs or denying the one true God, the question of why does God allow suffering will most likely be asked in a mocking tone. Something along the lines of how can a loving God allow people to starve, allow children to be harmed, allow bad things happen to “good” people. Starting with Bible verses may not be the best approach either. I find Bible verses work best when the person asking the question is sincerely seeking answers, is craving the wisdom and comfort of Truth. If you are seeking the Lord’s guidance, you will know when to turn to His Word directly. For the mocker or the derisive, dismissive type you may want to start in another place that will eventually lead to Scripture as you engage in conversation and people see your belief is sincere, even if they don’t agree with it. Passion for your belief and sincerity to share what you have may overcome the objections to your quoting from the Bible. An atheist may respect you more if your integrity is obvious, or at least be willing to hear you out. Engage in conversation, question how they arrived at their beliefs (or disbeliefs), explain a bit how you arrived at your current place in the journey that is your life. Scripture will fall into the conversation as and when it should, trust in the Spirit, trust in the Lord’s timing.
As I think about engaging in those type discussions my mind sometimes goes in a different direction from when I am speaking to someone dealing with the immediate effects of pain, with suffering. (But I believe the mockers are dealing with pain, but it may be from the past or at least not so directly obvious at the time). When you look at what has gone on in the world from those first days in the Garden to now, you may want to ask why didn’t the Lord wipe the slate clean and start over again. Love. He loved us too much to do that. But beyond that you would have to ask the following question, which is of paramount importance. Why would a sovereign God allow His perfect plans be defeated? God cannot permit evil to win, it is not in His character to do so. God also has His own timing, which we cannot begin to understand. And given the choice He has allowed us, and how we chose to use it, we will struggle with sin, with pain, with suffering until Jesus returns to restore God’s Kingdom on earth and right the wrongs in the world. God loves us too much to have made us robots. We are made in His image, and one day that will be restored as it should.
Do I wish I had the perfect answer to give someone when they ask why would a loving God…
Yes, but I do not. But I know that He is Lord.
That is good enough for me.
But I pray that when faced with someone’s pain and suffering, I find the words, placed in my heart and mind by the Lord, that enable them get take some comfort and strength from what I say, to see that knowing the Lord is who He says He is good enough for them too. And if it is someone who appears to be mocking my Lord, I try to remind myself that they are blinded by the God of this world, and I pray that their eyes may be opened and they may feel the drawing call of the Spirit upon them.
Why would He do anything in this world? Because of His love for us and His wish that all come to His Son. For once there, no one can pull them from His grasp.
No one, not ever.