10 Biblical Reasons God Allows Suffering

By Sean McDowell Published on April 11, 2018

The existence of human suffering is arguably the most common and difficult problem raised against the existence and goodness of God. It is a particularly thorny issue because people experience it both emotionally and logically.

The problem of suffering has been with us since the Garden of Eden and it will be with us until Christ comes back. But suffering is not just a problem for Christians. Every belief system has to account for suffering in some fashion or another.

10 Ways the Bible Addresses Suffering

The purpose of this post is not to attempt a theodicy, that is, a defense of why God allows suffering. Many fine books have done this, including the classical book The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis or Why Does God Allow Evil? by Clay Jones. Rather, I simply want to highlight ten ways the Bible addresses suffering. These answers are not exhaustive, but they provide some biblical perspective for the inquisitive believer and non-believer:

1. Suffering is the result of mankind’s sin and rebellion against God (Genesis 3). Mankind chose to reject God’s one command, the world became corrupted by sin, and humans have suffered ever since.

2. God’s chosen people (the Hebrews) suffered when they disobeyed the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 28).

3. People sometimes suffer from the wrong choices of other human beings, even though God uses the resulting suffering for good (Genesis 50:20).

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4. Suffering brings faithful believers into deeper understanding and relationship with Him (Job).

5. Believers suffer because of the jealousy and hatred of certain people who reject the Christian faith (Acts 7:54-60).

6. Believers suffer as a testament of faith to others (Hebrews 11).

7. God allows people to suffer so they will turn to Him in repentance and not perish for eternity (Luke 13:1-4).

8. Christians suffer so they can be conformed more closely to the character of Christ (Romans 8:28-30, James 1:2-4).

9. Believers suffer so they can know Christ more fully (Philippians 3:10).

10. To prepare followers of Christ for the glory of Heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Each of these points deserves much more explanation. And each point raises further questions as well. Remember, there is no single answer to suffering. But wrestling through these passages, and others, can help provide a biblical perspective on suffering.

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D., is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

Originally published at SeanMcDowell.org. Reprinted with permission.


Live in the Dallas area? On Tuesday, April 17, Sean’s father and co-author Josh McDowell is scheduled to shoot an episode of Life Today at our studios here in Euless. Lee Strobel will also be here, along with Marshawn Evans Daniels. To reserve a seat, call 817-354-3655 or email audience@lifetoday.org. Why don’t you come by?

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  • me, myself & I r all here

    The heading of the article is a bit misleading, the substance is greater… Sacred Scripture is a good place to start (see the movie: Paul).. Then the lives of the saints, the Church throughout history…
    To be deep in history….

  • Ray

    Christians suffer just seeing and hearing the ungodliness of sinners also.

  • brothergc

    From what I am reading here , and to paraphrase . God allows Us to suffer to teach Us something or to teach others something ? If that is true then I strongly and respectfully disagree . Sounds more like some religious hogwash that the devil has been trying to sell the Church for years . The Word says God is love , and That He is our Heavenly father so what loving father allows suffering ? Or could it be , that it is just people make bad choices and that You reap what you sow ?
    I think that the latter is more the case and people make bad decisions out of ignorance of the Word .

    • brothergc

      Seeing that I did not add any foundation to my view I though I would add a few things
      John 14:27
      Jesus said ” My peace I give You”
      Isaiah 53:5
      The chastisement of our peace was apon Him.
      Now everyone should know that the english and the hebrew meaning of “Peace” is different . In that day Jesus spoke Hebrew and the word for peace in hebrew is “Shalom” loosley translated “nothing missing nothing broken or being whole . So seeing that Our Lord is the ” Prince of peace” does that sound like suffering to You ?
      Jesus came so We could be whole , mind body and soul, and to have a right standing with the father

    • Bryan

      What of those believers who suffer due to no fault of their own? Like the blind man at the pool who Jesus healed. Or Lazurus whom Christ raised from the dead? Not all suffering is to teach a lesson. Sometimes it’s just so that God can be glorified. Sometime we suffer because the world is broken.

      • brothergc

        hum , believer who suffer thru no fault of their own or could it be thru ignorance of what The Word says ? And did Lazuras have a covenent Thru Jesus Christ ?
        You said ” sometimes We suffer because the world is broken , well My Bible says in romans 8:2 That We are free from the law of sin and death . Respectfully who Are You going to believe ? Waht are You putting Your faith in the Word ? Or some hogwash the devil is trying to sell you ?

        • Bryan

          First, Lazuras was under either the first covenant or the second. Which does not really matter. Unless you believe that Abraham, David, Elijah, Moses, being themselves under the first covenant, were not saved because they did not know Jesus. Then you disagree with Hebrews where it says that their faith was credited to them as righteousness.
          Second, we are free from the law but that does not mean that the world is healed yet. Part of our job as Christians is to help heal the world and the people in it by bring Christ to the people and fulfilling our original intent as stewards of the world. The world will remain broken until Christ returns.
          Here’s an example of “sometimes we suffer because the world is broken”: The Christian mother and father whose Christian son is killed by a stray bullet in a drive by shooting a block away. How is that either the parent’s fault or the son’s?
          I believe the Bible and the God of the Bible. I’m not falling for hogwash regardless of who sells it.

          • brothergc

            Bryan I suggest You do a study on the athority of the believer if you want to know the answer to Your questions . This is hardly the format for Me to write a 10 page explaination , Their is devine protection available 😀
            Also I ask if the 1st covenent was so great then why the need for the second ? Jesus came to give us peace ( shalom ) He gave us the athority to use His name , the Legal Right to use His athority but as with any “right” if you do not use it or take advantage of it , what good is it ? ( hum did not see that in the old covenet, do you ? )
            What gets My goat is people who blame God and ask , why did He allow ( insert problem)
            I have heard it all , “God puts sickness on us to teach us something” Or ” God was lonley so that is why He took our child” or some other crazy religious , ignorant statment .
            You know that You can be a saved , baptised, spitit filled believer and go rob a bank ? And will God stop You ? No . Why ? Because We as Human beings have been given The God ordained right to choose . Just as the Guy who fired the stray bullet in a drive by shooting had the right to choose to do evil rather that good . The parents should have been holding Up their children under their athority as a beleiver . Thus the ignorance

  • Trilemma

    Epicurus’ trilemma:
    1. If God is unable to prevent evil, then he is not all-powerful.
    2. If God is not willing to prevent evil, then he is not all-good.
    3. If God is both willing and able to prevent evil, then why does evil exist?

    Concerning the points in the article.
    1. For mankind to have chosen to reject God’s one command, God had to create man with a sin nature in the first place. Eating the fruit merely revealed what God had created.

    2. Why does God punish the innocent for things other people did?

    4. What about the suffering experienced by Job’s children and servants? Did their suffering bring them into deeper understanding and relationship with God?

    7. Based on the Bible verse cited it would seem this should have been God allows some people to suffer so others will repent.

    Why does God allow natural disasters like a tsunami that kills 250,000 people? How did all those people benefit from their suffering?

    The most reasonable explanation for suffering is God is not omnipotent and is not able to prevent it.

    • Craig Roberts

      Poor God. He must be bummed to find out that he’s not omnipotent. And if he just found that out, he’s obviously not omniscient. And even if he was omnipresent, he’s probably slinking off right now to be alone and lick his wounds. Congratulations. You defeated God.

    • Patmos

      Spoken like a true ignoramus oblivious to scripture.

    • GLT

      Trilemma,

      “If God is unable to prevent evil, then he is not all-powerful.”

      This is a false dilemma. God is able to prevent evil but may, in certain instances, choose not to do so. Such is the right of an omnipotent being.

      • Trilemma

        If God is able to prevent evil and suffering but chooses not to, then He is not all-good.

        • GLT

          Trilemma,

          “If God is able to prevent evil and suffering but chooses not to, then He is not all-good.”

          This statement assumes God must stop evil in order to be good. Where does such an assumption originate? Obviously you believe there is some form of moral absolute which demands evil be stopped by anyone able to do so. If true, from where does this moral absolute originate? Is it not possible for an omnipotent God to allow evil for reasons we may not understand or of which we are unaware?

    • Bryan

      Tri, just to add to GLT’s comment and extend the logic back to your first point, God is not a robot, nor are we. When you have a choice between good and evil, you can choose evil and not because you have a sin nature, but because you are persuaded to think that the evil is better than the good or that it is necessary for good. If you want a better picture of this in the form of a story, read C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra. It’s a telling of the what might have happened with Adam & Eve if Eve’s choice had been different.

      • Trilemma

        I agree that neither God nor we are robots. I agree there are people who do evil and think they are doing good. In the case of Adolf Hitler, why couldn’t God have caused him to have a fatal heart attack and prevent all the suffering he caused?

        • Bryan

          Tri, I really think you should read the book I mentioned above. Original sin, knowledge without sin. Adventure, hate, righteous anger, purity, beauty. It’s pretty good. Maybe it’s just me but I find that fictional stories can speak truth to me in ways that non-fiction would make tedious.
          Anyway, first you did not address the issue of the faulty premise you asserted that God would create the first man and woman with a sin nature. Again, you do not need a sin nature to sin.
          Second, your point about Hitler, which translates to any historical bad guy figure (Nero, Pharaoh, Attila the Hun, Mao, etc.). There are is an infinite number of things God could have done to those men or around those men. He could have caused Hitler’s mother to have a miscarriage, or Mao could have contracted syphilis or some other STD and died of that at an earlier age. But all these things are beyond the point. We are not granted the knowledge of what could have happened or what would have happened.
          God’s goodness is not dependent on us and our perceptions. God is good because he is God. His goodness is outside of us but is extended to us.
          To bring your line of thought back to a personal nature, why didn’t God cause you to die the first time you sinned? Any sin is enough to separate you from God because it’s a rejection of God and because God is Holy. Therefore, each of us is worthy to be struck down at the first sin. But we aren’t. God’s love allows us to continue living. Even though we sin and sin continually, we are granted the general mercy of God to continue breathing. Could God wipe us from the face of the earth? Of course! Does the fact that he does not make him not all good or not all powerful, or not all knowing? Certainly not!

  • Patmos

    And the one reason you do not have to suffer: Jesus Christ.

    Ephesians 2:4-7
    But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
    Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, by (grace ye are saved)
    And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
    That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.

  • Matthew Wade

    It’s actually all summed up in the first point. God “allows” suffering because He gave us choice. There was no suffering, no death, no violence in the Garden of Eden until the choice was made to reject God’s command. From that point on, all the world, humans, animals, the environment, the Earth itself has experienced the effects of sin; pain, suffering, violence, lack of peace, rot, decay, destruction, death.

  • ernie pforr

    Abraham believed God;
    So do I.

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