Ned Anzers: It doesn’t seem fair that a loving God would allow bad things to happen. Why does God allow so much suffering?
This is an honest question.
I have often wondered the answer to this question myself. Years ago as a young boy, I would visit the nursing home to see my great grandmother Loretta. I remember these visits to this day. I was enamored by my great grandfather Roman’s care for his wife. They had been married for over half a century, but for many years she had been degenerating from the disease of Alzheimer’s. It was incredibly painful to see such a wonderful, witty woman who was so alive, not recognize who you were. As a young boy and even now as an adult it is still hard to understand why God allows this to happen, especially to one so undeserving. I will talk more about this in my conclusion.
I hear the stories my girlfriend Sarah, who tells me about where she grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. How the authorities have raped and pillaged a beautiful land. I see and feel the emotion she bears from the scars of her home land.
Jesus tells a story in the Bible about a real life catastrophe. It was about landmark tower took years to build, and seconds to fall. It stood as a powerful symbol of strength, security and prosperity, but in only moments became cloud of dust that blanketed the neighboring streets. As the dust and debris settled and the death toll rang out to the shaken city (18 people), the skyline was now empty and mournful. People were trying to make sense of the calamity. When Jesus talked about this tragedy at Siloam He knew it wouldn’t be the last (Luke 13:5).
We want explanation for the disaster, injustice, abuse, sickness, poverty, pain and suffering. So did people of the Bible (Jer.12:1, Hab.1:2-3, Ps.6:3). Where are you now God? Have you forgotten? Don’t you care?
Sometimes people think that the presence of suffering means the absence of God. Does suffering mean there is no God?
Certainly not. I would certainly be more fearful of the consequence of believing there is no God. Jesus says there is significance to the human life (Luke 12:6-7, 24). Those who die are not forgotten by God. If we reject God because of suffering then we have to face a world that is much worse: meaningless suffering. Without God there would be no justice (Ecc.3:16ff; Acts 17:31; Mal.4:5), and no future (Ecc.3:20; John 11:25-26). Death would be the end of life. No after life. Without God there would be no significance to life (Ecc.3:18). We would be just animals with clothes on. Killing becomes like that of a lion killing a antelope. The killings of Cambodia, Columbine, Congo, Auschwitz, Manhattan, Virginia Tech and others would be without pity or horror. That is a scary world to me. A world without hope or meaning.
What is the meaning of suffering?
Going back to the story of Jesus and the collapsed tower we learn some very practical principles about suffering (Luke 12:54-13:5). First, we see the reality of sin. Suffering is not always caused because of man’s sinfulness or lack of acknowledgment that there is a God. God is not a bully trying to pressure His creation into submission. Second, through suffering we see the fragility of life. Life is short and we must trust God with our eternal destiny’s. Third, we see that God is with us through the suffering. Fourth, we see that suffering cause us to depend upon God.
We have a God that knows all about suffering. He is a God that has experienced suffering Himself. Jesus experienced abuse, betrayal of friends, gossip, hunger, alienation from family, torture, thirst, homelessness, religious persecution, bullied, death of close friends, unfair trial, excruciation prolonged execution. He wept and saw suffering like we do and gave up his own life to do something about it. The cross represents forgiveness for all those who cause suffering or experience suffering. On the cross we see a suffering God, suffering for His own people because He loves them and wants to free them from all suffering in eternity (John 3:16). God’s suffering was for our greater good and a proof of His love.
What does this love in suffering look like in real life?
Going back to the story of my great grandmother Loretta Rothe: I the mist of her suffering I saw an amazing picture of love that I would only wish to aspire for one day. My great grandfather would care for her when most in his shoes would bail. He would comb her hair, feed her dinner, read to her and prove that his love for his wife was “in sickness and health, until death do us part.” Suffering shows our true colors. I would only hope to have a similar perseverance in the midst of pain.