If you could ask God any question and receive an answer, what would you ask? For many people, the question would be about the existence of pain and suffering in the world. It’s a question that has been around for a long, long time.
Classically stated, the problem of evil goes like this: If God is all-powerful and all-good, then why does evil exist? The idea is that if God is powerful, then He must not be very loving. Or, if He’s loving, then He must not be very powerful. Because suffering exists, many people have drawn the conclusion that God is either loving and powerless or powerful and heartless. But are those really the only options?
While these might seem like questions that only interest philosophers and theologians, they’re actually the main questions being asked by spiritual seekers today. So, what does the Bible tell us about God and suffering?
God is powerful.
The Bible clearly tells us that God is powerful. In the beginning, God used His power to bring the world into existence Genesis 1.1 ESV. He is described as “Almighty” fifty-eight different times in Scripture. Throughout the book of Psalms, He is praised for His abundant power.
Jeremiah 32.17 NLT says, “O Sovereign LORD! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!” There is simply no room to conclude that God is not all-powerful.
God is good.
The Bible also clearly tells that God is good. 1 Chronicles 16:34 ESV says, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” God is loving, gracious, merciful, and abounding in faithful love. Psalm 145.9ESV makes this clear: “The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that He has made.” The biblical testimony doesn’t allow the conclusion that God isn’t all good.
Why do pain and suffering exist?
First, it’s important to recognize our limited perspective. There remains a lot that either hasn’t been revealed to us or that we can’t comprehend in our finite human understanding 1 Corinthians 13.12 ESV. It’s like trying to see through the fog.
We do, however, have some insight to offer about this longstanding question. In particular, the Bible points to three different sources of suffering:
1. Free Choice
When God created the world and placed humans in it, He gave humans freedom. They could choose to obey God and enjoy blessings or disobey God and endure suffering. This choice was necessary for the sake of love. Without the freedom to choose, there could be no genuine love. Unfortunately, the consequence of the first humans’ choice is still with us today.
2. Fallen World
When humans chose to sin, they unleashed sin’s effects throughout all of creation. Genesis 6:5 NLT says, “The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.” The world as we know it is much different from the world as God originally created it. Disease, disaster, and death are all signs that the world is fallen and broken.
3. Forces of Evil
There is a real, yet unseen, spiritual world of evil that motivates and contributes to evil in our world. Ephesians 6.12 NLT says, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
Despite the existence of evil and suffering, Christians are able to maintain hope because of the promise that Jesus is coming again to reverse the curse and make things right in the end: “He will set right every wrong and wipe away every tear, and suffering will be no more” Revelation 21.4 ESV.
This blog features an excerpt from one of our student series books, Reach Your World.