The Problem of Pain
God exists, why doesn’t He get rid of all pain and suffering? He certainly could perform miracle after
miracle, nipping each eruption of pain, suffering, and evil in the bud. Or He could do a major miracle and get rid of
it all at one fell swoop.
God is not all-loving or is not all-powerful, it stands to reason there’s pain
and suffering; He either doesn’t care or can’t do anything about it if He does
care. But if God is all-loving and
all-powerful, why is this such a hurting world?
That’s the traditional way of expressing the problem of pain and
psalmist put it this way in his prayer to God: “Why do you hide your face and forget our
misery and oppression?” (Psalm 44:23-24) We struggle to believe in an all-loving and
all-powerful God in the face of pain, suffering, and evil in this world.
Sometimes when people face tragedy or suffering they wonder if they’re
being punished. The reality is that pain
and suffering is the common experience of all people of all time, both good and
said, “In this world
you will have troubles…” (John 16:33) If you study the great characters of the
Bible you’ll find that they all faced much grief and suffering, many times the
result of doing the right thing and being obedient to God. Even Jesus suffered. Referring to the coming life of Jesus, the
prophet Isaiah stated, “He was
despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering and familiar with pain.” (Isaiah 53:3) It’s good to note that
the key symbol of the Christian faith is the cross, a symbol of suffering. Author Tim Keller stated on the Fox TV
network, “Suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story.”
Kinds of Pain
It has been estimated that something like 90% of the pain and suffering in
this world is due to people hurting people.
Think of war and the uncounted numbers who flee from war, displaced,
hungry, and homeless, often living in the squalor of vastly overpopulated
refugee camps. Think of the selfishness
that results in economic injustices.
Think of the robberies, murders, and rapes. Think of the hurt we cause each other in our
relationships, particularly those nearest to us and those we love the
most. God gets blamed for a lot that’s
not His fault!
suffering is also caused by earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions,
hurricanes, tornados (one devastated my home town of Parkersburg, Iowa), and
floods. Such natural disasters are even
called acts of God, but God can’t be blamed for all the harm they cause. In some cases people have put themselves in
harm’s way (by building along a river that regularly floods, for instance).
in other cases people aren’t to be blamed; they’re innocent victims. The Bible indicates that this is a fallen
world, that because of the free choice of people to turn away from their
Creator creation itself has been profoundly affected in negative ways. The apostle Paul wrote about that. “We know that the whole creation has been
groaning as in the pain of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:22)
The Price of
has been argued, however, that God could have made us so that we wouldn’t do
bad things to each other, with the additional ramifications of that causing us
to live in a fractured, broken world.
But think about it: the same freedom that allows a person to pat another
person on the back is the same freedom that allows a person to stab another
person in the back.
God went around stopping all evil behavior among people, we really wouldn’t be
free. Just exactly whose freedom to do
what should God take away from us? If
God controlled all human behavior we would be puppets, not people. The freedom to do loving acts toward one
another, and to please God, only have meaning if we have the option to not do loving acts and to do evil. Evil,
pain, and suffering are the price of having free choice.
Those of us who believe in God believe that He helps us in this world of
pain. The psalmist declared, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and
saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) Let me repeat the
quote of Jesus I used earlier, but this time I’ll include His entire
statement. “In this world you will have troubles. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
does not always promise to keep us from trouble, but He promises to keep close
to us in trouble if we choose to take Him up on His offer. Tim Keller wrote, “Suffering is unbearable if
you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you.” (Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Tim Keller, p. 58)
Good from Evil
Great stories of love, unselfishness, and sacrifice are almost never the
result of ideal circumstances or played out against the backdrop of an ideal
setting. Rather, such inspiring stories
come out of circumstances that are difficult, life-threatening, horrendous, or
in some other way far from ideal.
of us who believe in God believe that He is always about the business of using
bad for good. “And we know that in all things God works for
the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
my 39 years of ministry as a pastor I can’t recall a single person who turned
to God or started attending church because of some good fortune such as winning
the lottery, coming into an inheritance, getting a great job, or going a year
with no major medical issues. But I have
seen many people draw near to God or start attending church for the first time,
or for the first time in a long time, because of some difficulty or tragedy
that came into their lives. Tim Keller
stated in a Fox TV network interview, “Suffering helps you reorder your
loves.” The great Christian thinker C.
S. Lewis stated that God whispers to us through our pleasure and shouts to us
through our pain.
Ortberg wrote, “If you ask people who don’t believe in God why they don’t, the
number one reason will be suffering. If
you ask people who believe in God when they grew most spiritually, the number
one answer will be suffering.” (Soul Keeping, E-book loc. 2658)
and suffering is a part of the human condition, but God has His reasons for
allowing it, reasons that we cannot fully comprehend. Our struggles in this fallen and broken world
can make us bitter or better. They can
drive us from God or to God. We often
can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to it. How we respond to pain and suffering is a
choice that each of us has to make.
by David J. Claassen
Copyright 2014 by David J. Claassen