Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?
... and does He have a plan to get rid of them forever?
In yesterday's post, we took a look at the problem of evil. And we discovered that moral evil exists because of human choice, even though God continues to warn us of the consequences of choosing evil. Part of those consequences is suffering. We have all suffered because of things people have done to us, and many suffer greatly around the world through war, greed, oppression and other evil human acts. So, why does God allow this suffering to continue, and does he have a plan to remove evil and suffering for ever?
God allows suffering to show us that something is wrong
Although evil existed at the time God created the world, the consequences of evil such as human death, pain, and suffering did not. By continuing to allow suffering in this world, God shows us every day that something is wrong. Suffering is a painful reminder to us that we have been separated from Him because of sin.
God allows suffering to help us grow
If you've ever been through a difficult time, you know that sometimes you look back and see how you have grown through the experience. Here are just a few examples of how suffering can sometimes produce good qualities in us.
Strength. In the same way an army captain puts his soldiers through intense training to make them tougher, sometimes God allows us to go through pain so we become stronger and discover how much we can endure with Him. Romans 5 says that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character” and as Christians, the Bible tells us that we will suffer through trials and tribulations but that we would carry on as good soldiers of Christ. (2 Timothy 2:3)
Comfort. God may allow us to suffer so we are better able to comfort others in their suffering. Paul writes that we suffer to receive our Father’s comfort, which in turn enables us to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Knowing people who have gone through something similar is both consoling and uplifting as they understand us and usually have the words to speak directly to the troubles we are facing.
Humility. God allows us to suffer to realise our limitations. The human race is developed and intelligent, made in God’s image, and able to achieve almost anything it sets its minds to. In such circumstances it is easy to forget not only the Giver of life and talents, but also our own limitations. Our ability to live is dependent on a number of factors - health, love, people, and most importantly God. And sometimes we suffer so we may learn our limitations and our need for something bigger. Ecclesiastes 3:11 states that God set eternity in our hearts, and with this imprint we rebel against the inevitability of death and the limitations imposed by our mortality.
God allows suffering to save lost souls
God may allow suffering to enable people to look to Him for salvation. I once knew a young man who stood strongly for Jesus and later died from a tragic accident. At his funeral, many of his friends came to pay their respects and, incidentally, heard the Gospel message preached in his unwavering stand for Jesus. At that funeral people came to know God and subsequently gave their lives to Him.
The Bible is full of stories of people who would not have turned to God and experienced His glory in all its fullness had they not experienced tragedy:
- the leper in Matthew 8 may not have come to Jesus if he had been in perfect health
- the cripple in John 5 would not have experienced the full majesty of God had he been able to walk
- Lazarus died so that many of the Jews who saw Jesus raise him to back to life believed (John 11:45)
Tragedy sometimes occurs so that the people experiencing the tragedy (or the individuals surrounding them) may be brought to Christ. Jesus died so that we may be reconciled with God. God’s glory can be displayed, sometimes more prominently and painfully, when tragedy occurs.
God will eventually remove all pain and suffering
When God has brought the days of our world to an end, those who have trusted him have the promise of eternal life without evil or suffering.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore…” Revelations 21:4
God works for the good of those who love Him. He is not the source of evil, and neither does He enjoy seeing us suffer. However He allows us to suffer for reasons that speak to us and, more importantly, highlight our undeniable need for him.
God’s plans are not to harm us but to prosper us. He has promised that though we will face tribulation in this world, but He has overcome the world, and we can bring our cries for peace and our longing for eternity to Him.