Why does God allow death and suffering?

C.S. Lewis calls it “the problem of pain” in his book by the same name.  Philosophers ask the question . . . but this is not a question that stays only in the realm of the intellect.  It is a question buried deep in our souls, from the instant tragedy bursts the fragile bubble of dreams we have when we start this life.

The question is not bound by class, age, ethnicity, culture, or religion.  It roams our souls, seeking an answer that can somehow patch up the holes blown through our hopes: Why would God allow death and suffering?

I lost my father to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, over a slow 21 months of dying.  Right after him, I lost a wonderful boy I’d met in college who had a degenerative muscle disease.  A few years ago my mother had a occurrence of CMV, a virus that nearly killed her when I was a toddler, and developed with it spinal meningitis, confined to bed, her strength broken like a delicate eggshell.

For most of my teenage and early adult years, I struggled with depression and terrifying anxiety attacks.  I didn’t understand why God allowed so much suffering to happen, from the small experiences of having someone cuss me out or belittle me . . . to the large experiences like coping with my father’s terminal illness or the way so many people seemed to abandon him.

And then there are the people whose lives seem to prove the case for an uncaring god, the people who have one tragedy after another tragedy hit, the people who lose until they go bankrupt and lose some more.

My mom told me a story of a little girl she never forgot from her teenage years.  Every time she saw the little girl on the bus, the little girl would come up to her and sit on her lap.  She was always bruised and shaking, terrified to go home.  My mom has no idea what happened to her.

Why would God allow suffering, and why this excruciating kind of suffering?  Why would He allow this little girl to go home every day and not strike her parents dead?  Why would He allow so many people around the world to suffer . . . for long times . . . in terrible ways?

We want the answer to this question so badly . . . but do we ever think of what the alternative would be?

What would happen if God didn’t allow suffering?  What would happened if He intervened? If He stepped in every time, the entire world would have to end, because we live in a broken world, or we would have to be puppets, unable to love.  If the world had ended the first time suffering had occurred . . . think of how many people would never even had had the opportunity to know God, would never even have been conceived?

If God is only to intervene some of the time, on our times, we must answer impossible questions: How great would the suffering have to be before He intervenes?  How many people can be lost by never getting  a chance at life because another person’s suffering was ended?  For example, suppose we ask God to come and strike dead the parents of the abused child I talked about earlier.  But what if these very parents will have another child a year later?  What about that child’s life, who will never even exist?  What if that child later brings a discovery to the world that saves a hundred thousand lives?  What if that child has a child who has a child who has a child?

And for that matter, how great does the sin have to be for God to strike someone dead?  If it were just for sin, would He not strike every one of our fallen race dead?  And how can we measure how great the sin?  And what if the person about to be struck dead later repents and, in later years, brings great joy to a hundred people?  To ten people?  To one person?  What if that person would later save the life of someone else?  What if because of that person’s wickedness, a person witnessing the events decides not to sin, but would have sinned otherwise, and sinned even more wickedly?

Suffering can make us wonder why we are even here. But we were not created to suffer. And our Creator cared about our suffering enough to die to bring us back to Him.

There is no way we can play God.  No way.

Why does God allow death and suffering?  So He can bring about hope to as many people as will receive Him.

The worst death, the greatest suffering, was brought upon the most innocent person of all, Jesus Christ.  If there was any time it seemed God should step it, it was when His own holy and perfect Son died, His Son who had spent His life bringing healing and salvation to so many people, so many people who were viewed nearly worthless or vile in His society: women, children, lepers, the crippled, the poor, the hated ethnic groups, as well as people who gave themselves reason to be disliked–thieves, swindlers, prostitutes, liars, and even a man who lived among the caves of the dead.

But God did not stop evil religious leaders, the angry mob, or the wicked government.  Because if He had, there would be no salvation for us.  God–God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit–chose this path of suffering that seemed as if it could only be a dead end, so that Jesus could make a way through the dead end for the salvation of all who trust Him.

I don’t have answers for why there is the suffering there is in this world, why some people suffer as they do, why some suffering is so particularly terrible.  But I know our suffering is part of the great price of sin that God didn’t want us to carry.

And I know the God who carried suffering.

Jesus called his disciples to him. He said, `I share the suffering of the people. They have been with me for three days and they have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry. If they go away hungry, they will get weak and fall on the way.’ (Matthew 15:31, WEB)

Jesus stopped and called the men to him. He asked, `What do you want me to do for you?’

They said, `Sir, we want to see.’

 Jesus was very sorry for them as he shared in their suffering. He touched their eyes, and right then they were able to see. They went with him. (Matthew 20:32-35, WEB)

It was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise again from death. And this Jesus, whom I am talking about, is the Christ. (Acts 17:3b, WEB)


1st Photograph (statue), by Jo Ann Deasy, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/7682623@N02/

2nd Photograph (You suffer, but why?) by Pankaj, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/pankaj/

3rd Photograph (house) by Vagabond Shutterbug, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/waikikiweekly/

4th Photograph (statue) by Mykl Roventine, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/myklroventine/

5th Photograph (question) by Quinn Dombrowski, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/quinnanya/

6th Photograph (Why am I here?) from the Creation Museum in Cincinnati, Kentucky, personal photograph.

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

Underlining of “suffering” is mine in each Scripture.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Published in: on February 17, 2011 at 11:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,