Why doesn’t God stop suffering?
Part 1: The question everyone is asking
This world is full of suffering and pain, and God does allow it. And while we may understand to a point why God had to allow suffering, why doesn’t he end it now? Why has he allowed it to continue so long? That is a troubling question.
A perfect and holy God created a perfect world. He “looked over all he made, and he saw that it was excellent in every way” (Genesis 1:31 nlt). Yet not for long. Because of free will, humans had a choice of God’s way or their way. They chose their way, and sin and evil entered the world. The perfect paradise God had created was destroyed. And from that moment forward—multiplied thousands of years—hunger, disease, hatred, wars, and untold heartache have plagued the human race. It is true God has promised to redeem those who trust in his Son for salvation and to restore creation back to his original design. But why is God taking so long to correct the tragic mess humans have made of this world?
A difficult question
We confess that we cannot satisfactorily explain why God has allowed suffering for as long as he has. We agree with agnostic Bart Ehrman that the question “Where is God in all this?” is a valid one, even though we disagree with his answers and conclusions.
But why God is taking so long to end pain and suffering is truly a perplexing question. Over 2500 years ago Habakkuk, a prophet of Judah, had the same question. He lived at a time when Judah was violent and wicked, and many innocents suffered. The prophet asked, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! ‘Violence is everywhere!’ I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery?” (Habakkuk 1:1-3). It appeared to Habakkuk that God was ignoring the problem of pain and suffering.
Job had a similar complaint. He had a large stock of animals that were stolen, and all his farmhands were killed. His house was destroyed and all of his children died. He contracted a terrible case of boils from head to foot. And as he sat in misery scraping his running sores with broken pieces of pottery, the only comfort and advice he got from his wife was, “Curse God and die” ( Job 2:9).
Instead, Job cursed the day he was born and asked, “Why is life given to those with no future, those destined by God to live in distress?...I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest; instead, only trouble comes” ( Job 3:23,26 nlt). He could not understand why God would allow such suffering for those without a future.
King David had his questions for God too. He was misunderstood, mistreated, and betrayed, and he suffered at the hands of his enemies. He cried out,
O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day?...Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! (Psalm 13:1-3).
What is God’s answer? Why doesn’t he stop the madness? Today in the twenty-first century violence is everywhere. Life is also given to those with no real future. We see the misery and hopelessness of the starving and broken. Where is God? Why does he let it go on?
Even Jesus asked why
One final question before we offer an answer. Jesus, who was very God and very man, also had a question. He knew he was to suffer and die a cruel death for the sins of the world. Yet just before his crucifixion he prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Matthew 26:39). It is not strange that on a human level Jesus didn’t want to suffer. It is clear that he was struggling with the knowledge that he would experience great pain and suffering. Humanly he didn’t want to endure the torturous death of the cross—yet he would do it for his Father.
And hours later Jesus asks perhaps the most perplexing question of all time. While he is hanging on the cross, dying a hideous death, he musters the strength to ask, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46). What a question to come from the Son of God to his Father! Jesus was actually quoting Psalm 22:1, where King David asked that question. David followed up that question with, “Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief” (Psalm 22:1-2).
It is as if Jesus spoke on behalf of the entire human race with this question: “Why, God, have you abandoned us?” It was as if his cry was amplified to echo back to the expulsion of the first couple from the Garden of Eden and forward to the end of time, asking, “Why don’t you do something about this now?”
Did God answer Jesus' question? Does he answer our own cries of "when will it all end?". To find out more, come back tomorrow for part two.