Recently, a reader brought up perhaps the most difficult possible question about God. Multiplied millions of people, over thousands of years, have asked this same, very serious, question. You probably have asked it yourself—or at least thought deeply about it:
Why doesn’t God do something about suffering?
Almost exactly a year ago, I responded to a similar concern by another reader at How Can God Allow Suffering? But Linda comes from a somewhat different angle and requires a different response. The interchange is slightly edited (including her name).
I love the thought that the OT God is misrepresented by it’s authors. But the NT God of love, forgiveness, and compassion has never stopped human pain and suffering; it just continues. It’s been two thousand years since Jesus paid the price. The explanation of the reward of eternal life that Jesus provided for believers is supposed to give us so much joy. But the hard truthful reality remains: the unbelievable suffering that He allows, watches, and does nothing.
I’m still searching for this God of love, as a caring Father.
My Response to the Question
Linda, you have touched on what many consider the most important question of all: Why does God allow suffering?
I don’t have an answer to this; I don’t think anyone does. But I wonder what we expect from God. What specifically is he supposed to do?
Most of our suffering comes from two main sources–nature and people. Should God control the forces of nature so that no one is affected by tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning, and floods? Should he magically provide food for the hungry or stop car accidents? Should God counteract the effects of nature that produce aging, defects, and disease?
Should God take away our freedom of will in order to prevent us from harming each other? Should he micromanage relationships so that no one hurts another? Should he take sides in conflicts to protect one group from another?
The question you ask is a serious one, but my question is: What is it we expect God to do?
What God has already done is to send his son with the good news that God loves us and wants us reconciled to him and to each other to eliminate that unnecessary suffering. God wants to bring peace and happiness to our personal, natural lives right here on earth. The promise of eternal life is a big bonus, but it is not the main element of the good news.
I certainly don’t belittle your important question, but I am interested in your thoughts on what God should do. I am serious. Can you share them?
I appreciate your comments. You mention, “God wants to bring peace and happiness to our personal lives here on earth.” (I wish I could believe that, I really do. I feel like Mulder on X Files…..I WANT TO BELIEVE.) But how is that possible with miscarriages, infant death syndrome, cancer killing even children not just the elderly, deformities, Downs Syndrome, Dementia, etc.?
I so often wonder why our Christian prayers for healing of other Christians doesn’t work. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if sick Christians were prayed over with faith, anointed with oil, and got up and walked right out of the hospital being healed like James mentions? I also wondering why God lets the havoc of nature exist at all, when Jesus could calm a storm instantly? And I’m also wondering why God does not provide food for His children that are in need; Jesus said to pray for our daily bread.
Christians in third world countries are praying that every day but, instead, they and their children die. It was announced in church a few years ago that a pastor in Africa, known indirectly by our pastor, committed suicide because the members of his congregation were dying off due to lack of water and starvation.
Why doesn’t water just spring up out of the earth or a rock? Why doesn’t He bless their crops and animals to multiply? This pastor believed God would provide as Jesus said. It didn’t happen. God sent bread and meat from heaven to the Israelites; where are these miracles today? I just don’t understand.
You asked, “What is it we expect Him to do?” Wouldn’t it be fantastic if he did some of the things he used to do in both Testaments? I just don’t understand why he is so silent now. He did it then—why not now?
My Response to Her Reply
Linda, suffering is an awful experience—often heart-wrenching. Life is not perfect, and things go terribly wrong all the time. You might have experienced unusual suffering yourself, perhaps even a great loss, and I would never discount that pain.
It would be great–fantastic!–if these things were not so. People throughout history, including the Old Testament, have considered such scenarios where there is no suffering or conflict.
The Garden of Eden is a beautiful example of an imaginative story of a place without suffering. Yet that story ends with the reality of human experience. The story of the Garden is reflective of the human condition everywhere and in every age. Much suffering is caused by other people, but God does not force us to make good choices toward others, nor does he prevent us from acting out of our own selfishness.
But you focus more on suffering from natural causes such as illness and defects, especially in children. You also wonder why God does not heal sick Christians who receive prayer (just curious but why just Christians?) and why he does not control nature as Jesus did and provide food for all Christians everywhere as he did for the Israelites in the wilderness.
I wonder these things too. I think all of us do. It would, indeed, be fantastic if God made our lives perfect and free of suffering. But that would require God to micromanage the Universe instead of allowing it to function according to natural physics.
Jesus did heal people, and he did provide food for them. But these were isolated incidents; he did not do this for everyone. It had to do with his personal presence among them and the bringing of the kingdom of God to earth.
It would be great if we lived in a perfect world like Eden with everything handed to us, but we would be forever dependent and unable to mature as individuals. I yearn for a world without suffering, but I cannot blame God for not making my wish into reality here on earth today.
I did not hear further from Linda. Her anguish is real, and her question is more than legitimate. I am afraid I did not answer to her satisfaction. How can any of us answer that? Pain and suffering are always with us, and God never swoops in and changes the way the world is in order to eliminate suffering.
Perhaps you can offer a better answer.