Why would a good God allow His children and others to suffer?
The Problem of Suffering
A man who was very aggressive about his atheistic beliefs once asked me, “Why does God allow all this suffering in the world if He is God?” For one thing, God gave us the freewill to choose what to do, and if He stopped evil, He would be destroying freewill in most cases. Remember, mankind rejected God’s rule over them, and they decided to choose for themselves the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3), so God is not the reason for suffering in the world. I say to my atheist friend, “Okay, you believe there is no God. Since there is no God, then it is humans who are responsible for suffering in the world, right?” Who else is there to blame but mankind, and in fact, mankind is the very reason there is suffering in the world, so even though mankind is responsible for all of the suffering in the world, God can use evil for good (Gen 50:20), so even suffering can bring about much good.
God’s Will to Suffer
There is suffering that comes as a result of our own causes, but then there is suffering we and others go through that is no fault of our own. And then there is suffering for being a Christ-follower as the Apostle Peter wrote, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1st Pet 3:17). Even more, Peter writes, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1st Pet 1:6-7). Suffering allows us to give comfort to others the very comfort we received from God. It is God “who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (.2nd Cor 1:4). Isn’t that a good reason to suffer? We can “pass on” this same comfort to those around us. In this way, suffering is never wasted and always has a purpose, just as the Apostle Paul wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). All things means everything that happens, suffering included, works out for the purposes of God, and that always means it is what is best for us.
Suffering Causes Reflection
A person who is broken by suffering is a heart that is open to God. In our prison ministry, many of these men are crushed by the consequences of their actions. They have come to the end of themselves. Their backs are now against the wall, but that’s good, because that is when God can finally step in and penetrate the stony heart, and by His Spirit, create in them a new heart and desire for God (2nd Cor 5:17-20). Feeling crushed lately? Consider this; “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18), so if that’s you, you’re nearer to God than most of us are, and isn’t that a good thing? What if suffering brought us closer to God in order to become more holy like God? It seems that afflictions can humble us to the point that we’re open to the gospel and have a renewed desire to live in obedience to God. By the way, how can we compare the gift of eternal life to a few years in prison? What is that against eternity (Rom 8:18)? What is the price of a human soul compared to the world’s possessions? It is infinitely more valuable than anything. You can use your suffering experience as an evangelistic tool to help other people see their need for the Savior. God will use your sins and consequences to help others see that God gives His grace only to the humble (James 4:6), so in this way, that’s why God allowed you to suffer.
Praise Him in the Storm
I remember the account of Jesus sending out His disciples in a boat, and that was with Jesus likely knowing that they were heading into a storm. Jesus not only sent them into the storm, He met them in the storm. He even rebuked the storm, because He is the Creator of the storm, and everything else (John 1:1-3). Jesus sent them into the storm but He sovereignly brought them out of it. He may not bring you around a storm, over one, or even under a storm, but He will be with you in the storm, whether you feel like He’s there or not. During great times of suffering, many of the greatest ministries are birthed. Great pain causes great passion, and this often translates into great things for the kingdom. God cannot use a man greatly until He has first wounded him deeply. Of course, the same thing applies to a woman of God. Amazingly, George Mueller built a series of orphanages and never once asked for money to help provide for the children. He trusted God, even on one night, when at supper time, there was nothing there on the table…until that knock on the door, and someone who felt moved to bring them some food said, “they had more than enough.” That phrase kept being repeated; “more than enough,” meaning there was always more than enough for the children. It was like George Mueller’s cup was running over (Psalm 23:5) being poured out by God’s sovereign hand. And He uses others as a means to do that. God is most pleased when we praise Him in the storm or seasons of doubt. Perhaps we could ask Him in our suffering: “God, how can I most glorify You in this suffering I’m going through, because You are most worthy to be glorified in all things, good and bad.” The pastor who missed church from a flat tire would have never had the chance to witness to the police officer that pulled over to assist him. That momentary suffering, although not that bad, was still used by God, as He used the pastor as a means to share the gospel to the Highway Patrol officer. Isn’t the potential of a new child of God worth that momentary affliction like a flat tire? Of course it is!
When someone asks you, “Where was God when all of this suffering took place in that earthquake” (or whatever else it was), say, He was in the same place when His One and only Son, Jesus Christ, took upon Himself the sins of the world, and died for the guilty (Rom 5:6-7), although He was perfectly innocent and sinless. There He suffered the most excruciatingly painful and most humiliating death there was, and that was the shame of the death on the cross. Jesus suffered and died for you. This was the greatest example of why God allows suffering.