Why is there suffering if God is all-loving and powerful?
Hurricanes have been hitting the U.S. recently in Houston and Florida. The images and news reports are shocking in how fast and how much suffering is in the cities. As I prayed about these cities, it made me think about a book from Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale entitled “Why Suffering?”
A common question for Christians is usually some variance of the following: If God is all-loving and all-powerful, then why is there evil and suffering in the world?
In fact, some people take it one step further and say, because evil exists, that means God doesn’t exist. It’s that conclusion that often turns people to atheism, because if I am experiencing suffering, then perhaps God is not there.
Ravi Zacharias points out different religions answer this question in different ways, usually very simply. Islam says suffering is the will of Allah, while Buddhism/Hinduism point to karma in that suffering is paying back debt.
The fact is that if there is evil, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist, it actually means God must exist. If you say there is evil, then you assume there is good. If you say there is good, you assume there is a moral law to differentiate good and evil. If there is a moral law, then there must be a moral law giver. That moral law giver is, of course, God. The opposite cannot be true, if there is no moral law giver, there is no moral law. If there is no moral law, then there is no good or evil. So the conclusion that because evil exists means God doesn’t exists is flawed.
The fact is, when people question God’s existence because of suffering, the reason why they are questioning is not on some logical basis, but on an experiential basis – I am experiencing suffering, so it feels like God is not there. The answer to the question is not that there is no God, the answer to this question comes from God Himself.
Therefore, the question still remains – If God is all-loving and all-powerful, then why is there evil and suffering in the world?
First, let’s look at the all–loving part of God . People often view God’s love in a one-dimensional way when they ask this question. If love is this compassionate, kind, caring emotion, then how can the loving God allow evil and suffering?
The love that the Bible teaches us goes beyond this one-dimensional emotion. In 1 John 4:8, it says that God is love, so love is really much deeper than a simple emotion.
What God values more than anything else is a relationship of love with all of us. For that relationship to be meaningful, it must be freely chosen, it can’t be forced. And for a relationship to be freely chosen, there must remain a possibility to reject that relationship. Whenever there is rejection, then there is pain and suffering.
The Fall of Man is recorded in Genesis 3, when the serpent casts doubt on God’s command not to eat of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The fact that the tree existed and that Adam/Eve could eat from its fruit, means they had freedom to disobey.
Love goes beyond one-dimensional emotion. Since God is all-loving means he allows the choice for sin and disobedience. In a true relationship of love, evil and suffering can exist. So really, this answer alone, the freewill in the all-loving God is enough to answer the question of suffering.
Still, how about the other part besides the all-loving God? Why doesn’t the all-powerful God stop suffering?
Ravi Zacharias thinks its interesting people so often use these two characteristics of God when asking this question. It really exemplifies how most of us phrase things in a way that fits our own logic. Basically if we only consider one-dimensional love and the all-powerful God, the fact that evil exists means there is some sort of logical incoherence. Perhaps the reason people bring this out is because there is a desire for God just to stop evil and suffering in its tracks.
But Christianity teaches much more than just these 2 dimensions of an all-loving and all-powerful God. Ravi Zacharias brings out two more – God is all-knowing and God is eternal.
Why is that important? If we just consider 2 dimension of love and power, then evil harder to explain. But if we consider a much more complex God beyond the 2-dimensions, we see a God who knows all, and has an explanation for the suffering in the context of eternity
God knows all and He is also eternal, meaning He was there in beginning, He is here now, and He is there at end of time throughout eternity. In Isaiah 55:8-9, it says God’s ways are higher than our ways. Therefore, God who is all knowing and eternal, knows the conclusion of evil and suffering in context eternity.
It’s not that God doesn’t want to stop evil and suffering, it’s that He already knows the end of it.
God was there when mankind was created, when we fell, and when Jesus Christ took up the cross to gain ultimate victory of death. Why doesn’t all-powerful God end the suffering? The truth is, He is ending it, we just can’t necessarily see it right now. The all-knowing and eternal God knows the end of suffering and deals with it in ways beyond our imagination.
Up until now, I’ve written about the logical understanding of God and suffering. But suffering is more than just logic. Suffering is something real and something we personally experience. Behind the question of why is there suffering, is the actual question of why am I suffering?
Another question might be, is there a way to take out the suffering I experience in my life? Vince Vitale gives an example that if his parents never met, he may not have been born. He gives that example to say one event has ripple effects that impact so many things.
We want to take the suffering in our lives, but the bottom line is that there is no way to just change one thing and keep everything else the same. Changing even one thing changes the things that happened, decisions that were made, and impact not only ourselves but the people around us. Changing one thing means living a completely different lives with different people.
Another variation of this hypothetical is the best life possible scenario. Everyone does this, they wonder how much money they could have made buying a certain stock. Or people think about ideas they had before they became big. For example, I could think that I could have been Mark Zuckerberg because I had the idea for Facebook before it even came out!
But again, that’s just now how things work. Paul speaks about suffering in Romans 5:3-5. He says that suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope.
Vince Vitale asks us to think about a great person in history we admire – their accomplishments, sacrifice, persistence, and righteousness they lived for. Now think about if you subtract all possible suffering from that person’s life. Subtract overcoming cultural/family background, suffering that formed their character, adversity they fought, and how they were there for other people in their sufferings as well. What happens to that great person? Suddenly, their life doesn’t look like anything to celebrate
Without the possibility of significant suffering, practically every great story in history is not great at all. There would be no one who would ever have made a significant sacrifice for anyone else. There would be no great moments of forgiveness and reconciliation. There no opportunities to stand for justice against injustice. There would be nothing to be compassionate about, no courage to be shown, no heroes to be made.
People criticize the world God created because of some suffering we are experiencing in our life, but is there an alternative world that we can live in? Is it so obvious that God would create that world rather than our own? Is there a more beautiful world that God could have created than this one? We can come up with millions of hypotheticals, but we live in this world and we live our lives.
That is why we must have the right perspective in our lives. The Bible teaches our current perspective is not the full perspective of God. We live limited in time/space. God is all loving, all powerful, all knowing, and eternal. God’s perspective on our lives is so much different from our perspective on our lives
In Romans 8:22, Paul uses the example of childbirth when it comes to sufferings. If you were to look at a woman giving birth, your perspective would be that it’s the most awful suffering a person could ever face. But if you look at the full perspective of that woman’s life – motherhood, love of her family, watching her children grow, becoming a grandmother, and expanding her family, then you get the full perspective of her life. Our live are a matter of perspective and we need to have a proper Christ-centered perspective
The Christian understanding of reality is that our lives are just a snippet of history. Not only that, the history until now has only been a snippet of the eternity to come. We who accept Jesus into our lives receive eternal life and our lives become a part of that eternity. All of our lives, all the suffering, and all the glory of our lives are given to the eternal God
Why is the cross the most important moment in the history of mankind and our lives? There is something to be said about Jesus, the son of God, God incarnate Himself suffering in world.
Islam would consider God Himself suffering complete nonsense because God is all-powerful. Buddhism says each of us are divine, so we should try reach a point of enlightenment beyond possibility of suffering
It’s only in Christianity, that we have Jesus, God Himself say “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death”. At the cross, we see the absolute uniqueness of the Christian response to suffering. In actuality, it’s true that God is all-powerful and is beyond suffering like Islam and Buddhism says He is. But at cross, God Himself was loving enough to suffer with us. Anyone who has experienced deep sorrow, suffering, or thought about dying, can know that Jesus is right there.
Receiving the comfort of Jesus Christ, be the ones who can comfort others in suffering as well.