If God is Loving, Why Does He Allow Suffering?
Why, God, why? Global pandemic, floods, fires, and famines. In the face of widespread suffering, the looming question grows louder. How can a loving God allow these?
Kristine Lee reflects on TCA College Lecturer Dr Richard Goetz's views during Trinity Academy's seminar on Trinity Broadcast TV.
So, the Bible states that God is love (1John 4:8). In fact, John 3:16 states that "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." He loved enough He gave us Jesus to lay down His life for us.
But large scale disasters and personal tragedies sure do not look like love to me. So, why does God allow the pandemic or the locust swamps? Is the suffering because of our personal choice? Then what about that newborn who suffered complications and died, or that child who starved and was abused? Why doesn't a loving and all powerful God put an end to all suffering now, rather than wait till the return of Jesus?
These are popular questions and all the more so now in this pandemic. There are no easy answers but Dr Richard Goetz shares his views.
Evil and suffering
Dr Goetz started by setting out the common logical argument that suffering exists because evil exists.
But what is evil? Dr Goetz broke it down to two forms of evil:
moral evil, where God is not responsible (e.g., someone choosing to harm someone else)
natural evil, where God is responsible (e.g., natural disasters or genetic deficiencies)
And what then, constitutes suffering?
According to Dr Goetz, the perspective on suffering changes with the times.
How true this is! When I think of how my father used to have to work as a young child, and cook to feed his younger siblings, I think of how he must have suffered a lot. But to him, it was just normal life. Many children were living that way then. Going along the same thread, one's environment or cultural context will shape what is deemed as suffering. Just because houses in rural areas in Cambodia or Thailand may not have flush toilets doesn't necessarily mean the villagers are suffering.
I think one's perspective on suffering also changes with age. Not being able to play with his/her favorite toy may constitute as suffering to a child, but not so to an adult.
Biblical explanations of and responses to suffering
What does the Bible say are the reasons for suffering?
Deutoronomy 30:5-20 - suffering is the result of a divine response to sin (though we must be careful not to say we caused the suffering upon ourselves).
Genesis 4:1-18 - we suffer because we made a bad choice.
Luke 22:31-34 - the accuser, the Devil is the one who causes suffering.
Job 40:8-14 - it's a mystery. In our finite minds, we will not understand why but can take comfort that God is in control, and will be with us.
Hebrews 12:1-3 - suffering trains us. It causes us to draw closer to God. God disciplines us because we are His children. All the giants of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11 received their training in their suffering. Hence they could be called giants of faith. This does not mean that God is sadomasochistic. He doesn't delight in our suffering. I think of how often parents say it hurts them to see their children suffer and would rather take their place. But some training, like physical exercises, cannot be done by someone else.
Exodus 17:1-7 - suffering as a form of testing of our faith.
Genesis 45:4-8 - by God's sovereignty and for His purposes, the suffering occurs. In the case of Joseph's suffering, God meant for it to happen in order for Joseph to save his family. Although God wills it, He did not leave Joseph alone. He was with Joseph throughout.
Whoa! Many of these reasons imply there will be suffering. And Jesus did actually say there will be trials and tribulations in this world (John 16:33).
So what is a loving God doing about our suffering?
He journeys with us! Deutoronomy 31:6
He comforts us. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 And in the same way we can then comfort others.
He will end all suffering and will wipe away every tear. Revelation 21:4
More questions, and answers
The far-reaching topic drew many questions in the lively live Q&A session. The following are some questions that were answered.
Why does God allow Satan to rule the world? It is our sin that gave Satan the rule of this world, but we can choose to empower Satan or dis-empower him in our lives. For example, when we believe in lies, like how Eve did in the garden of Eden, we empower Satan.
Why doesn't God just eradicate evil now?
Natural law of cause and effect. God has to allow natural laws to run for the laws to be reliable.
Soul making. God allows suffering to build our soul. And I think, a large part of that relates to how we behave towards others in the midst of our own suffering. Do I go all bitter on God and bail out? Or do I continue to thank Him, and reach out to others around me who are also suffering, just like what Jesus did?
God allows free will. If God stopped every free will choice, including the choice to do evil, then there will be no free will. Consequently, when we choose good and God, we glorify God.
Love. Love cannot be forced. We can't fully or freely love unless we have free will.
If heaven is a place where there is no suffering, why don't we just skip earth and go straight to heaven?
God's original design of earth isn't like how it is now. We are not here because God ordained it. We are here because we have sinned. Hence, we live in this fallen world.
God could have just wiped out all life and start all over. But God's love did not allow Him to do that. Instead, He sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins so we can be redeemed from this fallen world.
I'm both baffled and overwhelmed by the immensity of God's love. Even with foreknowledge of how we would mess up, He chose to give us free will, and instated a rescue and restoration plan for us right from the beginning. A plan that would cost not just His beloved Son, but God Himself dearly. And even as we continue to mess up, He continues to pick us up, dust off our mess, cheer us on and even partner with us. Only love, unconditional love does that.
Why do good things happen to bad people, and bad things to good people? Nobody is all good because we have all done some wrong, and we all have a sinful nature. We should all be punished, but some of us are spared because of God's mercy. And all of us can be spared when we choose to turn away from our wrongdoings and believe in Jesus, who has taken on the punishment for us on the cross.
Like how sensationalized news captures attention, negative news draws more attention. There is actually a lot more goodness and grace from God than what we usually see. This is not downplaying the present suffering, but the Spanish flu that claimed 50 million lives was much more lethal than COVID-19.
The question of suffering is a tough one. And like what Dr Goetz shared, while we may wrap our heads around a tragedy, or calamity, we cannot, and should not negate the pain.
A child suffering in poverty or the sudden loss of a loved one should not be callously brushed off. God Himself doesn't take our pain lightly. No loving Father would.
Yet out of the suffering He miraculously brings forth beauty. My own darkest hour was also the moment when I knew I could no longer deny Jesus. And as He stayed so close to me through my suffering, I received a love and purpose I never had. And as I was comforted, I too could comfort others. My catastrophe was transformed into a eucatastrophe (a happy ending). My suffering, only just a moment in the span of the eternal joy I am designed to live with.
It struck me when Dr Goetz mentioned how a person could give glory to God, even in the face of death from illness. The peace and hope the person experiences and displays, even in the midst of suffering is a testament unto God. Was the suffering pleasant? Not one bit. But I do not fear for when I next have to go through it. Because Jesus will be with me, every moment of the way.
I look forward to the day when God will so tenderly wipe away every tear. But like what the President of TCA College, Rev Dr Dennis Lum said during this Trinity Academy Seminar, until then, we already have the answer to suffering. And He is a person — Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Through His life, death and resurrection there is hope. Hope of a life beyond death. In His sovereignty there is peace, regardless of circumstances. And in His love we are invincible.
Reflect & Respond
In what ways are you allowing Satan to influence your life because of the lies you believe in?
How has God seen you or is seeing you through your suffering?
What truths about God have you learnt from this article gives you hope or brings you comfort? Is there someone you can share this hope with?
Like to know more about Jesus, the answer to suffering? Find out more about Him here, or read about His life, death and resurrection in the Gospel of John. You can also email us or join in for a chat on our online altar call after each service.
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