Why does a loving God allow suffering?
Why does God let bad things happen to good people?
These are questions almost everyone asks at some point in their lives.
I wrestled with these questions in my mind for many years and in my search for answers I ended up reading over 20 books on suffering. Then later, in the midst of personal tragedy, I was forced to wrestle with these questions once again.
The fact is, these are serious questions.
We dare not take them lightly.
But while answering these questions may not be easy, I am writing today to give Christians confidence that there are, in fact, very good answers.
In summary, I’m going to cover:
The difference between answering these questions intellectually and emotionally
How suffering and tragedy are not good reasons to become an Atheist
Who deserves the blame for tragedy
How a question can answer the question
When I first began my journey researching “The problem of suffering” it was primarily an intellectual exercise. I genuinely wondered how all the suffering and evil in the world made sense within my Christian faith. I was ready to dive into the material, research, and think about all the possibilities.
The stakes were low.
But just as most people experience personal tragedy at some point in life, my time eventually came. I already “knew all the answers” in my head, but they didn’t comfort me as my heart was broken in two.
I didn’t need answers. I needed love.
This is critical for you to understand: If someone is reeling in shock from a recent tragedy, don’t jump into intellectual justifications for the existence of evil.
If you do… you’re a jerk.
It is very important that when someone is asking why God has allowed suffering, to ask them why they are asking.
If they are asking out of intellectual curiosity, give them your best logical answers.
But if they are asking in light of current, personal suffering in their life, you need to be a conduit for Jesus’ love in their life. Go out of your way to be a friend, be available, be a good listener, and help care for their needs. The time for answers comes later.
As a general rule, we should engage deeply in the intellectual answers before and after tragedy strikes. In the midst of tragedy, make sure the person knows they are loved.
The next two points address the intellectual problem, and the last addresses the emotional.
It just doesn’t.
Let me explain.
When skeptics or atheists bring up the problem of evil and suffering, the core of their argument usually surrounds these 3 premises:
1) God is all powerful
2) God is all good
3) Suffering exists
Then they conclude that these three premises cannot all be true.
Skeptics often lob this argument into the Christian’s court and challenge them to come up with a way to make these 3 truths logically consistent.
In other words, they demand that the Christian makes sense of how an all-good, all-powerful God could allow suffering.
Then as the Christian tries to propose a system which explains how these three premises can all be true, the skeptic attempts to poke holes in the Christian’s reasoning.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
There are very good explanations as to how these three things can exist together in harmony, but I’m not even going to try to do that yet.
I just want to point out one fatal flaw in the skeptic’s logic.
Say as Christians we didn’t even try to defend ourselves against this attack. Say we just gave up, admitted that they are right and we are wrong.
Even if they were right, here’s the fact: they would still utterly fail in their attempt to claim God doesn’t exist.
If their argument is successful, all it does is “prove” that God is either not all-powerful or not all-good.
In other words, all it does is attack an attribute of God, not God’s existence.
God not being all-good and God not existing are two very different things.
To say, “I don’t believe in God because of all the suffering in the world” is actually an irrational jump in logic.
Even if the Christian admits defeat, God still exists.
But here’s the thing, we don’t.
I believe there are good reasons as to why God allows tragedy. Let me share one with you.
Not God’s. Of that I’m quite sure.
In the September 11 bombing of the World Trade Center buildings, it was not God who crashed those planes—it was the terrorists.
When God created mankind, he gave us a meaningful degree of freedom to make decisions and take actions. Mankind has always had a choice to love their neighbor or commit atrocities.
Whatever actions man takes, he does so willingly and is responsible for his own actions.
Much more has been said on the issue of evil being a result of man’s freedom to choose, but in short I believe it is a biblical and logical explanation. God doesn’t cause us to commit atrocities, we choose to do so ourselves.
But what if tragedy isn’t a result of human choice?
Like when people are killed by avalanches and rockslides?
While it may not seem like human freedom impacts natural catastrophes, I believe it still does and in two different ways:
1) The laws of nature that allow us to choose good or evil also make natural catastrophes a reality. For example, in the same way a man can decide to kill another man by smacking him in the head with a rock, a similar rock can fall from a cliff and be equally deadly.
The mechanisms that allow for the man to kill (gravity, momentum, etc.) also allow for falling rocks to kill. Simply being in a world that allows for freedom makes natural tragedies possible.
2) The Genesis account clearly shows that the natural world was impacted by man’s sin. In Genesis 3:17 it says, “…cursed is the ground because of you.”
While many disagree on how to interpret Genesis, most would agree that man’s sin did, in fact, affect the world we live in. So in this way, the blame of natural catastrophes lay at the feet of mankind once again, and not on God.
In summary, why does God allow tragedy?
I believe one reasonable answer is that in God's wisdom, he determined that a world where mankind has meaningful freedom to choose good and evil was better than a world filled with puppets who had no freedom or autonomy whatsoever.
So far, we have been discussing intellectual problems of suffering, but in the next section I will address the emotional problem.
The short video below does a great job illustrating how freedom allows for suffering.
Everyone experiences different kinds of suffering and responds to it differently.
That’s why there’s no single, silver bullet answer that will resolve every person’s emotional suffering in the midst of tragedy.
Usually, people who are suffering need a counselor, a pastor, or a friend—not a philosopher. And that was true in my case.
When my wife and I were newly married, we were so excited when she became pregnant for the first time. We made announcements, prepared a room, and expectantly waited for our baby boy. Then out of the blue, our son died in the womb.
My wife had to give birth. The memory of looking at the lifeless body of my son scars me to this day.
We left the hospital with no baby and drove home in a blizzard on a cold, dark night. That cold and darkness seeped into my soul and didn’t really begin to go away until nearly a year later.
In many ways, I wasted my suffering but by God’s grace I eventually healed and found hope again.
The most comforting answer to me during that time was not an answer, but rather a question.
And that question was, “Why does Jesus love me?”
I’ve heard it said that there are two great questions in life: one is, “Why does God allow suffering?” the other “Why does God love us?”
One question overcomes the other. The latter overcomes the former.
Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
And John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
While I did not ultimately know why I had to go through the suffering I did, I knew my savior had suffered with me. He suffered and died to save me from ultimate suffering and death. And he did this because he loves me.
Why does he love me?
I have no idea.
But I’m so glad he does.
To anyone suffering right now I want to say that I am so sorry. Please don’t let the suffering drive you away from God. Rather draw closer to him. Healing can be a long journey, but ultimate healing comes from his hands.
Trust Jesus. He loves you.
Tim is the senior editor for the ABC Voices blog. He also writes for Apologetics315 where he is a team leader. He is the chapter director of Ratio Christi, an apologetics ministry, at Grand Valley State University and has a BA in Worldviews and Apologetics from Boyce College. Tim, his wife Alexandra, and children MaryKate, Oliver, and Sunny attend Allendale Baptist Church where Tim also works as an administrative assistant. Anyone who meets Tim easily remembers him as the tallest Filipino they've ever met.