Why does suffering exist?
This question, I suspect, is as old as time. It has caused many believers to stumble, whether momentarily or permanently. It’s a question I started asking at a young age, as I experienced my own suffering and witnessed those suffering around me.
For years this question left me feeling unsettled, never reaching an answer or a point where I was satisfied with the answers given to me. I watched sermons, read apologetic pieces and chatted to my church community. But as it is with many heart-issues, we need God to come in and give us His revelation. But first, we need to surrender our questions and the lack of answers to Him.
In this article I will give my best effort to put words to my understanding of why suffering exists and where God is in it. I pray that as you read this, God speaks to you and peace settles in your heart as you continue your own journey of understanding suffering.
What is Suffering?
According to the Oxford dictionary, suffering is “the state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship”. It’s not a new thing, it’s as old as life itself. If you look through the world’s history books, you’ll see stories and testimonies of great suffering throughout recorded time. But as time has passed and societies have changed, so has the way we experience suffering. And each of us experiences suffering in different ways.
Examples of suffering: being lost in the depths of depression, married off as a child bride, caught in an abusive relationship, living in a war torn country, facing hunger and poverty each day, losing a loved one, losing financial security and facing bankruptcy, being cheated on, divorce, debilitating anxiety, chronic illness, and the list goes on.
Each of the above examples includes pain, distress and hardship. There is very real evidence of this suffering all around each of us: The homeless person at the traffic light, the desperate mother knocking on your door for food, the friend lamenting a loss, the child having experienced trauma of some kind, the orphan being passed from foster home to foster home…
They’re all heartbreaking situations. And they all break God’s heart.
How Did Suffering Enter Our World?
In Genesis 1 we read about Paradise. Adam and Eve lived sin-free and in community with God. They lacked nothing and wanted for nothing. And then Satan tempted them, perverting God’s goodness… and sin entered the world.
The way I see it, sin and suffering are almost synonymous. They can’t exist without one another. But there’s a beautiful truth within the evil that happened in the Garden that led to the fall – love is not love without a choice. Would God really love us if He didn’t give us any choice but to love Him? If that were our only option? That wouldn’t be love.
God gives us a choice on a daily basis. He did the same with Adam and Eve, that’s why the tree was in the Garden – so that they had a choice. God wants us to choose Him. When we don’t, it breaks His heart. But He honours our decision between right and wrong, our free will, because He loves us. When we don’t choose Him or His way, we’re probably sinning. And there are serious
Why Do We Suffer?
If God loves us, and created us in His image, and is all-knowing, why would He create a world where we could make decisions that lead to suffering? As I mentioned above, He loves us. Love is not love without a choice.
We (the general we) choose sin (Romans 3:23); therefore, we suffer.
Of course, as Christians, we are transformed by Christ and we try to live a sinless life. But we still sin. And we still live in the world and experience the consequences and suffering of other people’s sin (Job2:7, Luke 10:25, Luke 23:34).
I also believe that, although God takes no pleasure in our suffering, He uses it for our good. When we’re suffering, we tend to fall to our knees before God and rely on Him with everything we have because we feel like we don’t have a choice (2 Cor 1:8-9). And in those moments of dependency of God, our faith is developed and our relationship with Him deepened. And ultimately, that is good in the context of eternity (Romans 8:18). The more we know Him, and He knows us, the better off we are considering eternity. And the more we experience joy despite the suffering.
Is God Good?
In my experience, yes. Based on the Word, yes. Based on the testimonies of others, yes. I truly, whole-heartedly believe that God is good. I have experienced a fair share of suffering and I have wrestled with God through it. In hindsight, I can see where God was in it all. I can see the safe places He made available to me, the people He intentionally placed in my life, and how my experiences are now being used to help others (1 Cor 12:21-26).
At times I need to remind myself of God’s goodness and seek out His joy in the hard moments still, because it is easy to become consumed by it. But God is always there, waiting for us to choose Him, and waiting to bestow His gifts and blessings upon us (James 1:2-4, 2 Tim 2:6).
We’re not exempt from suffering, but through the victory on the Cross, we have access to His redemptive goodness (1 Cor 1:30-31, Isaiah 53:5).
We haven’t been in Paradise for centuries, but one day we’ll return. The world is becoming less inclined to rely on Him, and the evidence of that is clear. Truth, gender, and logic have become subjective rather than objective. Sin has become normalised and more often than ever, encouraged as healthy. Nuclear families, men’s authority in Christ and womanhood is under major attack. The world is defiling our God-given identity and turning their backs on His truth and goodness. And we, Christians and non-Christians, are suffering the consequences thereof.
My hope and my strength through everything is God’s joy – despite the seasons of heaviness and suffering. It’s His peace despite the turmoil. It’s the way He pursues me even when I turn away from Him.
I’m not sure what the future holds for our nation, or for our world. But I do know that nothing we experience on Earth will be comparable to the goodness and glory of eternity with God. And the mere thought of an eternity with no suffering, only joy, helps get me through hardship here on earth.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)
As a closing thought, John Piper is well known for his saying: He is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him. No matter what we’re going through: if we remain satisfied in Him and His promises, then He’ll be glorified, and the evidence will be tangible through His fruit in our lives.