Why does God allow suffering? If he is all-good and all-powerful couldn’t he stop injustice? We’ve all asked this question. For all of human history people have wrestled with question of why does God allow suffering.
Much of the pain and suffering that we experience or see others going through is undeserved. It’s hard to accept. Let’s consider what the Bible says about suffering. But first we need to consider the appropriate context to study this issue.
The Context for the Question
If you share your suffering with someone it hurts to be told things like, “God works all things together for good” (Romans 8:28). If you’re talking with someone who is hurting physically or emotionally don’t use this Bible study to give them advice! If you are personally going through a painful struggle right now don’t try to fix things with these Bible teachings.
These Bible verses on the topic of why does God allow suffering are generally not helpful as comfort for those who are hurting. They are best used for study and meditation prior to going through suffering. Once you find yourself in a crisis whatever is inside of you will come out. During a time of desolation we’ll get through it with whatever faith and character we had at the start. In the midst of intense emotion and extreme stress it’s hard to learn a new worldview or develop a more mature faith that will help us at that time. Of course, we can grow through times of trial, but the learning pays of later.
The hope is that prior to a crisis we grow in our understanding of God and his ways, our trust in his constant goodness, our submission to his Lordship in good and bad situations, and our readiness to delight in his heavenly kingdom which is always in our midst. Then in pain and suffering we have a deep foundation of mature faith and an inner strength of character to help us deal with things.
The Real Question
Why does God allow suffering? We’re going to consider a number of aspects to this issue. But as we do, keep in mind that the most question is not why! Throughout the Bible people in suffering like Job, the Psalmist, and Jeremiah ask the Lord why. God understands this. He doesn’t condemn them or us for asking why he lets us suffer. But he doesn’t directly answer this question. Not even when Jesus Christ asks the question on the cross.
We ask why does God allow suffering because we need to express our emotions. This is how we come to understand our experience and to receive comfort and strength from those who listen and care for us. But with time — and it may take us a long time — we need to get to the place where we stop asking why and ask what. What is good for me to do in my trial?
The Lord Jesus shows us how to deal with suffering and injustice by loving God with our whole person and loving our neighbor as ourselves, including those who are difficult or mistreat us. Of course, this requires maturity and strength and that’s a main reason why we need to go through hardships and tribulations — to learn about ourselves and how we can become more like Jesus.
Bible Verses on Pain and Suffering
What does the Bible teach on pain and suffering? (All Bible verses are from the NIV84 unless indicated otherwise.)
We all Experience Troubles and Need to Learn to Find our Peace in Christ
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
In Pain we Often Struggle to Feel God’s Love
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1, )
Generally we Suffer Because We’re Separated from God and His Glory
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:20-21)
Our Choices Lead to Pain or Blessing
“The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8)
To Sin or Be Sinned Against is Destructive and Painful
“When tempted, no one should say, `God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:13-15)
Because He Loves us God Disciplines us when we Sin
“In your struggle against sin… you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: `My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.’” (Hebrews 12:4-6)
God Uses Trials to Help Fruit-Bearing Christians Bear More Fruit
“Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:2)
God Allows Undeserved Tragedies as Agents of Spiritual Change
“Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them — do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:4-5)
God Allows Undeserved Disabilities to Display His Glorious Work
“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, `Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ `Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, `but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’” (John 9:1-3)
God Allows Undeserved Sicknesses to Reveal His Grace
“There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, `My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
Choose the Pain of Denying Lesser Desires to Follow Jesus and Gain Real Life
“Then he said to them all: `If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.’” (Luke 9:23-24)
When in Pain Look to be Embraced by God
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” (Matthew 5:4, Msg.)
When We’re Hurting we Need God’s Love through People
“No one has ever seen God; but if we love each other, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:12)
It’s Through Pain that God Makes us Glorious
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
Growing Spiritually Can Bring Joy to Those in Pain
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4; See also Romans 5:3-5)
Trials Bring Grief and the Glorious Joy of Growing Faith
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:6-9)
Pain can Strengthen us to Resist Sin and Choose God
“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1-2)
To be Mistreated for Being a Christian is a Blessing and a Witness for Christ
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:10-11; See also 1 Peter 2:19-20)
God Comforts us in Pain so we can Comfort Others
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Rely on God to Resist Sin
“And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Try to Avoid the Pain of Being Sinned Against
“A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 22:3)
We’re to Confront Christians who Sin Against Us
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along.” (Matthew 18:15-16; see also Leviticus 19:17, Ezekiel 3:18-21)
We’re to Entrust to God your Anger over Being Sinned Against (Don’t Get Resentful or Seek Revenge!)
“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: `It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
Rely on God for Help with Forgiving
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)
Christ on the Cross is the Best Answer and Comfort for Pain
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit… It is finished!” (Luke 23:46, John 19:30)