We have to be honest, life on earth is not all ‘sweet and easy’ and the Bible doesn’t imply that it is, nor will be. On the contrary. There are a variety of hard things (causing suffering) to deal with along the way. The daily news seems to be full of them.
∞ drugs ∞ murders ∞ cancer ∞ rapes ∞ bank misconduct ∞ corruption ∞ robberies ∞ diseases ∞ shootings ∞ floods ∞ fires ∞ drought ∞ financial crises ∞ volcanic eruptions ∞
All of these and many more cause suffering, for us, to those close to us or in our observations. In Christian and non-Christian circles alike, suffering raises questions. The most common questions include ones that have this form …….
“I don’t understand, if God is a God of Love then how could He …….?” OR
“If God is Good then why does He ……..?”
Of course, when life is ‘sweet and easy’ God is often not even thought of let alone appreciated. None the less, times of trouble or suffering seem to make just about everyone bring God into it. In any case ……questions built around these two forms don’t have a quick answer because they are “loaded”. There are four matters that need to be clarified before we can handle an answer
A question of doubt in God’s character
These types of questions implicitly query God’s character and that makes them loaded. They either imply a possibility that God may not be a God wholly of Love or they express an uncertainty that God is fully Good.
Maybe there is a chance that He could be mean, heartless or ruthless or have some other human trait that could cause suffering. Such a load is added into the question by the simple “IF … ”, “IF God is … ”
A question of God’s responsibility
Should these types of questions continue with “ ….. how could He DO …….?” or “ ….. why does He DO …..?” they have a built-in premise which must also be addressed. The assumption being that “God is to blame (is directly responsible) for all the horrible things” that happen. Things that cause suffering across the planet and/or to us personally – see suffering part II
A question of God’s provision
Is God just watching us suffer from afar? Does He care? These kinds of perceptions add to the loading of the reactionary questions on the tip of most humans’ tongue in the midst of sufferings – see suffering part III
A question of God allowing
Finally, if the questions finish up with a LET “ ….. how could He LET…….?” or ALLOW “ ….. why does He ALLOW …..?” then we must first be sure of His character, particularly His Love and His expressed plans. This fourth matter is possibly the most difficult for us humans to come to grips with. Why does God allow suffering at all? – see suffering part IV
In this post we will see what we learn of God’s character from the Scriptures that might help us with the premise behind the big
“IF … ” part of the questions
God is Love – … a source of suffering?
For one thing, Paul explains ….. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1Corinthians 13:4-7)
So how confident are you that God is fully loving? As always, what does the Bible say? After all, can we be confident?
Twice in the one letter John declares “God is Love” (1John 4:8, 4:16). Can we comprehend what that is saying, to us? How did the Israelites see Him?
The Israelites – Old Testament
“If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers” (Deuteronomy 7:12)
[Covenant is a very strong word for agreement or contract – so it’s like God pledged His Love]
“… But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them” (Nehemiah 9:17)
[This was the Levites talking with God on behalf of the people. God had been with his people for a long time. His people had rebelled against him, over and over. Generations of rebellion yet he did not forsake them proves how much he still loves them]
“You are Good and what you do is Good…” (Psalm 119;68)
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1)
[each of the 26 verses in this Psalm have the same second line … His love endures forever … I guess the Psalmist believed it]
Many of the Psalms speak so strongly of God’s Love and Goodness but they are too numerous to all be included in this space
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken, ….. ” (Isaiah 54:10)
[Isaiah is saying God’s love for us is eternal (more permanent than the mountains and hills)]
“Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail” (Lamentations 3:22 )
[The New Living Translation has this verse as “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease”]
Jesus among the people – New Testament
It must be remembered that Jesus loved the sinners and all who were suffering so much He had compassion. Compassion is described as the strongest word in Greek for love. It refers to a deep inward affection derived from the Greek word for ‘innards’ or ‘guts’. When He saw people in need and had compassion on them, we could say His Love was so strong that He was ‘gutted’ to see their needs
As an illustration of His Love Jesus:-
- did not isolate himself from sinners as was the Pharisees’ custom. Not only that but He allowed them to crush against Him
(Luke 8:40-48) [as a result a woman, suffering for 12 years, touched Him and was healed immediately]
- spent His time travelling to where sinners lived – teaching, preaching and healing every disease and sickness because He had so much compassion (Matthew 9:35,36)
- ate and drank with sinners (Matthew 9:11) [tax collector Matthew] as well as received hospitality from sinners
(Luke 19:5-7) [Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector]
- saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things & ended up feeding 5000 hungry men instead of sending them away to buy food themselves
(Mark 6:30-44). [an unknown number of women and children would have also been fed in the crowd]
- touched sinners whom society considered unclean (Matthew 8:2-3; Luke 7:36-50) [man with leprosy + sinful woman who washed His feet with her tears and poured perfume on them]
- showed His compassion for sinners by healing the sick and raising the dead (Matthew 9:35; John 11:38-44)
- freed sinners from the terrible control of demons (Matthew 8:16-17)
- was visibly moved by sinners’ lack of guidance and direction – “he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36)
The Gentiles (Us) – New Testament
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, [nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39)
“The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20)
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1John 4:9,10)
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him” (1John 4:16)
And who could forget …
Finally, the most famous verse ….. “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” (John 3:16)
[Try not to gloss over that last verse. How often does a judge get down from the bench and pay the ‘fine’ for the guilty? It’s this act of Justice and Mercy together that best testifies to the magnitude of God’s Love for us. Especially when the fine is death. Indeed, “….. the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). N.B. One might think the penalty is excessive. The simple truth is, sin can’t survive in the presence of Holiness. Death is inevitable like any type of shadow can’t exist in the presence of light]
Even more importantly, Jesus used the analogy of the vine (John 15:1-17) and us abiding in Him as branches in the vine. Similarly, Paul writes of the Gentiles being grafted into the olive tree as wild shoots (Romans 11:11-24). So, we share in the Love of God expressed in the Old and New Testaments along with the Israelites
God is Good – a source of suffering?
How can so much Love and such powerful expressions of Love come from a God who is not totally Good?
In particular, Paul says that ….. “the fruit of the Spirit (God’s Spirit) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23a). “’Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone‘” (Mark 10:18) . God is Good. By all means, check out the strength of confidence in God’s goodness and love in Psalms 135 and 136. One gets the idea fairly clearly. In fact if one uses a search routine on an online version of the Bible an enormous number of references will be found proclaiming God’s Goodness and Love. None even allude to Him being unjust, spiteful or even mean, unkind or anything close to unloving not Good
And also we have …
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ ….. in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7 ) “But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us ….. so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7) “The LORD, ….. the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. …..” (Exodus 34:6-7)
Therefore, the Bible declares God is Love and His Love is everlasting, that He is Good, all Good. From start to finish, the Bible also affirms – He is Love, He is Righteous, He is Just and He is Holy. In addition, John’s first letter contains “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, in him there is no darkness at all.” (1John 1:5)
Now, in that case, if there is no malice, no selfishness, no darkness at all in Father God from where else can the tragedies, violence, disasters, disease and suffering come?
Spoiler alert …
In the next post we’ll see what the Bible says, but a peek shows that the sources can be traced back to Genesis 3. That is, we’ll see how Satan, who despises God and all of His Creation, lured Adam to move. To move out of explicit, total trust in God’s character and unshakeable trust of God’s Words
In short, the source of the suffering we observe or experience is not our loving, good and perfect God but rather the outworking of sin and its curses which in effect, have four delivery ‘channels’:-
i) Depraved Humanity in Action. – humans are no longer fully reflecting God’s image. We are so tainted by the cumulative effects of sin that we are capable of all manner of evil. Paul describes the condition of the human heart in Romans 1:18-32
ii) Direct Action/Interference of Satan. – the work of the initial sinner, the adversary, destroyer, murderer, liar, the father of lies, the tempter
iii) Effect of SIN on the planet. – natural disasters, sickness and death were not part of Eden but only after Adam ‘blew it’ and placed the planet into the hands of the evil one
iv) Our own mistakes. – occasionally we may, out of ignorance or impatience or whatever, do something that causes us to suffer and/or live to regret
But don’t despair – have confidence in the Bible’s revealing of God’s character – He is Good, He is Love and He is Sovereign with a declared plan to end all suffering at the Right time! Moreover, God provides us with coping mechanisms and many promises for the meantime. None the least is His promise to never leave us nor forsake us (promised to the Israelites through Moses in Deuteronomy 31:6 and again to the New Testament church in Hebrews 13:5)
… just sayin’
[see separate post and booklet “… suffering part II – sources of suffering” (coming soon) for what the Scriptures tell us about the sources of suffering. In the meantime soak up the reality of this song ….. “Your Song Over Us”]
- The Holy Bible, New International Version®. Pradis CD-ROM Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984.
- Images from unsplash.com
- “Your Song Over Us” by Dan opdeVeigh (YouTube) also on Spotify
You can download an A5 booklet in pdf form containing this post
“… what’s with suffering? Part I”
Click on the image of the cover (left)
[The free Adobe Acrobat Reader can print these A5 pages into a booklet on half-fold A4 paper]