How could God allow suffering in this world? Why do bad things happen to innocent people? The presence of suffering, injustice, tragedy is a problem for everyone. Most people, regardless of their culture or background, agree that human beings ought not to suffer, be excluded, die of injustice. So how do we make sense of these realities?
The evolutionary world is based on the survival of the fittest. In other words, the very essence of natural selection is exploitation and destruction of the strong against the weak. The non-believers in God therefore do not actually have a good basis for being outraged at injustice. If we are convinced that this world is unjust, we are assuming the reality of a different or extra standard to natural selection by which to make our judgement.
Abandoning belief in God does not make the problem of suffering any easier to handle. The human mind is still longing for the answer.
Then what about the believers in God? We know that some of the greatest satisfactions in life came through overcoming most difficult and painful experiences. Through most of us are hardly grateful for the suffering and pain in and of themselves, we know that insight and joy in overcoming them are priceless. With time and perspective, most of us can see good reasons for at least some of the suffering and pain that occurs in life.
Wouldn't it be possible then, from God's vantage point, there might be good reasons for all of them? If we believe that God is omniscient and His ways are higher than our ways, wouldn't it be also possible that God chooses not to make all the reasons accessible to our mind, at least for the time being?
The story of Job unveiled
What does the story of Job in the Bible tell us? God allowed bad things to happen to even the most righteous, blameless and upright person. Job lost all his possessions, all his children and suffered severely from bodily affliction of sore boils. As a result, he was ostracised by society and those he loved turned against him. His wife discouraged him from trusting God and his three friends misunderstood him. Can we even imagine this kind of ‘suffering package’ given to the man of complete integrity during his time?
Before this trial, it was easy for others to recognise that Job was blessed and God's favour was upon his life. But when appearance and reality did not match, it was difficult for them to understand what was taking place and how Job was handling the situation. Many thought Job was no longer in God's favour and that he was being punished for his sins. Even Job himself misunderstood the situation, thinking that God was against him. When the outward circumstances and unfavourable, we tend to conclude that people have done something wrong. But is it always the case?
Did the trial come upon Job because God was not pleased with his life? Quite contrary. God had such confidence in Job that He even allowed Satan to put him to the test (Job 1:8-12). Did Job handle the trial well? Some tend to answer 'no' because of his responses to suffering. Some of Job’s remarks were clearly improper which he later repented. Though Job did falter to some degree, on the whole, he handled it quite well. He did not curse God as Satan had predicted, and was committed to truth and righteousness. Of course, Job could have done better. But given the situation that he was in, God was still pleased with him.
Our focus should not be on what happens to us. Instead, we should focus more on inward qualities, our trust in God and our responses to the situation. In James 5:11, Job is described as an outstanding example of one who endured and was blessed. Even though what Job went through was extremely difficult, he came through it well on the whole. So God blessed Job even more when the trial was over.
A different emphasis
True worship of God and true righteousness are independent of outward blessings in our lives. We need to worship God simply for who He is, not for what we can get from Him. If we love God and rejoice in Him only when He blesses us with material advantages and the comforts of this life, this kind of relationship with God is superficial and short-lived. Likewise, we should walk in truth and righteousness out of the conviction that it is the right way to live.
If we again ask the question: “Why does God allow suffering and injustice?”, we still do not know all the answers. But we know what the answer isn't. It can't be that God does not love us because God himself suffered excruciating pain and rejection to make us right with Him. So if we truly believe that Jesus is God and He died for us, then we can have the source of strength for facing suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair.
What we do know is that one day all evil and suffering will be defeated. When God makes everything new, He will so radically cleanse them that any suffering that has ever happened to us will only serve to make our joy even greater.
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever." – Revelation chapter 21 verse 4
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." - 2 Corinthians chapter 4 verses 16-18
*** This article was originally published in 2012 and now republished with minor updates.
Daniel Jang is a senior advisor with Ministry of Health New Zealand. He is an experienced writer, speaker and mentor to Press Service International (PSI) community. Daniel holds an MA in Applied Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute and GradDip in Theology from Laidlaw College.
Daniel Jang's previous articles may be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/daniel-jang.html