Malankara World

Suffering - Overcoming The Storms of Life

Facing Trials and Tribulations in Life with God

The Problem of Universal Suffering

by Doug Focht, Jr.

"If there is a god, why…?" is a common query by people of all time and ages. Typically, these apparently unanswerable questions are raised not only by skeptics but also by believers who have run "head-to-head" with life's injustices. A newborn infant dies a horrible death; a young man is cut down in his prime by accident or disease; villages and lives are destroyed by fire, flood, earthquakes and the ravages of nature. Why? In this and future articles, we will explore the Bible's answer to those questions. It is the only book that presents a logical answer with respect to God Himself and the reason He allows these things to happen. But there is a caveat, a warning: Discovering the answer is only part of the solution. If genuine peace of spirit is to be found, it is to be found not in the "why" of suffering, but in how to overcome it.

Suffering is both universal and personal. Nations at war, mass starvation and disease, these are examples of universal suffering. To be precise, all suffering is universal in that it happens to all, but when it happens to me it becomes personal. In this article, we will look at suffering in general and evaluate the arguments and questions which people raise.

Frequently, we hear or read a comment like this: "I simply can not believe in a god who permits innocent children to starve and suffer and men like Hitler and Stalin to murder millions of people." The examples may vary, but the thoughts are always the same. Supposedly, this is "proof" that either God doesn't exist, or that if He does He either doesn't care about our sufferings, or He is not powerful enough to do anything about them. But suffering is neither proof of God's non-existence nor evidence that He is. As a point of evidence or criticism, suffering has nothing whatever to do with the existence of God. It does, however, have everything to do with our perception of what we think God should be like if He exists. Saying, "If God exists, why is there suffering?" is like saying "If San Francisco exists, why are there earthquakes?" Do earthquakes occur because San Francisco causes them? Or do they occur in spite of San Francisco? Or do they have nothing to do with San Francisco? Well, we know the answer to that question because we know about San Francisco and we know about earthquakes. But how much do we really know about God? If we define Him by our own nature then He can not be of any greater character than ourselves. We may, like the ancients, ascribe to Him a greater power than ourselves, but when we suppose that God should or should not act like this or that, then all we are really saying is, "He should act like I would if I were God."

This last point, in fact, is good evidence that the Bible originated from a source higher than man. The Bible presents God as above ourselves in all things: Sovereign, yet reasonable; all-powerful, yet condescending; perfectly righteous, yet compassionate. And while the Scriptures plainly state, "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31), both His judgments and salvation are as predictable as they are certain. According to the Bible, He is not at all like us, but He wants us to strive to be like Him.

Now to the point of the issue. The answers to some of the questions which were raised in the beginning were introduced in a previous article. Here, we shall review them and expand upon them. First, let's look at starving children. The Bible says that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. That includes everything necessary to feed and provide for its inhabitants. Can anyone deny that the earth is capable of producing more than enough food to feed the entire globe? Well then, if people are starving, whose fault is that? If God made the earth, is He also supposed to plant and distribute our crops for us? Do you remember the tons of food that were shipped to Ethiopia, but did not reach the starving people who needed it? Whose fault was that?

As to Hitler, Stalin, street gangs and senseless murders: Would any of these things happen if people followed the teachings of Jesus? Now wait, I know what you may be thinking: What about the inquisition? What about the crusades and other "holy wars" that were fought in the name of Jesus? Show me in the Bible where Jesus or His apostles taught that He wants people to fight for Him with earthly weapons, and I'll quit preaching tomorrow! Here's what Jesus said:

When Peter tried to fight for Him, Jesus told him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword." (Matt. 26:52). And before Pilate He said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm" (John 18:36). Be careful not to judge the Bible by the way people live it.

Do you realize what this world would be like if people simply followed God's instructions? There would be no murder, no wars. There would be no welfare, because families would take care of their own (and families would stay together) and those who did not have families would be provided for by their fellow-members in Christ. There would be no laziness, no "freeloading." There would be no starvation… I could go on, but the point is: God has provided us answers; whose fault is it that we don't seek them or heed them when we find them? I suspect that those who use suffering as a "proof" of God's non-existence would not want to have their free choice taken away from them, but that's exactly what God would have to do if He were to enforce His will on the earth. For if God were to intervene in the matter of suffering, would He not also intervene in the matter of sin? If He did, He would have to be a dictator. Then how would we react? We would not want that, and according to the Bible, God doesn't want it either. He wants us to obey Him because we want to, not because we have to. And in order to accomplish this, He must allow two things to happen. First, in order to grant us free choice, He must provide us with graphic examples of the consequences of the wrong choice. Secondly, if He wants us to seek His perfect order, and this perfect order is not to be found in this life, then He must allow injustices and sufferings; for if everything in this life was fair, good and happy, what need would there be to seek a better life? Why would we seek a Deliverer, if there was nothing to be delivered from? If there is a heaven, then we must know that it is infinitely superior to our lives here; if there is a hell, then we must understand suffering now, so we can avoid it when we die. Seen from this perspective, suffering is not something that ought to turn people away from God, but draw them to Him.

The biblical view of suffering will not satisfy everyone. It probably isn't meant to anyway. But it must be admitted that if not satisfactory to all, it is reasonable. Consider Romans 8:20–21:

"For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." (NASB).

Translations of the above verse may vary, but two things are certain about suffering as presented in the context of Romans 8:18–25: We as God's creation have been subjected to futility (the ultimate futility being death itself), while being offered the hope of deliverance. But as the apostle states in verse 24, "…hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees?" And that is why God can not give us a perfect world without violating His desire for people to seek Him, trust Him and hope in Him. If we had it all now, there would be no faith, no hope, no choice.

Source: Growing in Grace, Vol. 1 #7 June 23, 1996

See Also:

The Problem of Personal Suffering -Part 1 by Doug Focht, Jr.
The understanding of suffering does not necessarily ease the pain, but it tends to shorten it, because we see our lives in a different and broader perspective. In this article, we will consider the relationship between universal and personal suffering. We will do this by seeing personal suffering as a microcosm of universal suffering because, after all, that's what it is!

The Problem of Personal Suffering - Part 2 by Doug Focht, Jr.
We all know of righteous men and righteous women who seem to have known little but suffering and sorrow most of their lives. Perhaps they have lost their spouses in tragic and sudden ways, or they may be suffering from debilitating diseases that waste away the body. In general, we know about them not because they succumb to their situations but because, like Job, they prevail.

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