Why is there pain and suffering in the world? This is one of the most frequently asked questions to those who believe in God. The question of pain and suffering provides the greatest challenge to the belief in God
We will all experience suffering in this life. Naturally we cry out why? If God is loving and all powerful and pain and suffering exists in this world, then something is wrong. We can approach this problem through logic and reason as many philosophers have, but that may not help.
There is absolutely no use trying to give a logical or rational answer to why pain and suffering exist to a person who is in the midst of terrible tragedy or personal suffering. People who are suffering with emotional or physical trauma need people to be there for them. In the ancient near east culture when someone was grieving for the loss of someone close, people would sit with them and not say anything until the grieving person spoke (Job 2:13). We need understanding people around us while we suffer. Suffering is a personal experience and we need to give compassionate love and care to those who are suffering.
Alone and Suffering
In western society we live very isolated lives. Increasingly people who are suffering and need someone to talk to turn to medical professionals. GPs are inundated with people with depression and anxiety. Mental health services overwhelmed with people with serious mental health problems. People often have no one to talk to when suffering. I remember working with an Indian professor of psychiatry who came to work in the UK and was astounded that patients came to see him alone. In his home practice in India the whole extended family would come to see him with the individual who was in distress. Distress of one person was seen as a community issue. In our western, rationalistic society individualism is applauded and we are so often alone.
Jesus Suffered Alone
Jesus suffered more that we could ever understand. He suffered all the normal human difficulties; exhaustion, distress, fear, rejection, loss, hunger, misunderstanding, temptation, discouragement, tears, false accusations, abandonment, then torture and execution. That would have been bad enough but humankind also rejected Jesus Christ, whose crime was loving his creation. Normally Jesus gained comfort from his Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. But, at the cross God poured out his wrath on Jesus, which he did not deserve (Isaiah 53:10). Jesus took the punishment we deserved, experiencing death for us (1 Peter 3:18). How it felt to have his loving Heavenly Father pour wrath on him is unimaginable. For the first time he was alone in his suffering.
The day before his crucifixion Jesus told his disciples “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38). Jesus was in such agony he could have died at that point. Luke records Jesus was in such agony that his sweat became like great drops of blood (Luke 22:44) a condition called Hematidrosis. But Jesus prayed to his Father that this situation would pass, so he could go to the cross.
This means that our Lord Jesus Christ understands totally what it means to suffer. Jesus knew grief (Isaiah 53:3). He learned obedience by the things he suffered (Hebrews 5:8) and he died for us:
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9)
So, God (in human form) in the Lord Jesus Christ suffered in every way that we suffer. But that still does not answer why suffering exists.
Why is there suffering?
The Bible takes the problem of suffering very seriously. God gave humans the ability to choose. Humankind, created in God’s image, needed to be able to make choices. But the risk was that people would make bad choices. God took that risk because he wanted people to be able to freely choose to love. The risk was they could choose to hate, rebel, reject and love themselves. This is what happened as we can see around us and within us. We experience suffering. We cannot deny it exists.
Sadly many philosophers use this to deny the existence of God. Their argument is that a loving, all powerful god would not allow people he loved to suffer. But very natural situations we face argue against this objection. It is a fair observation to say that children may not have the ability to understand why parents act in certain ways. Taking a toddler to the doctor to have an injection is a simple example. The child feels pain but does not understand the benefit of the vaccine. A surgeon has to inflict pain and suffering in order to treat cancer.
The Bible teaches God’s ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is wise and all knowing. He knows exactly what we need to build the character he wants us to have. The Bible reveals a God who does not do away with suffering but is willing to come down from his throne in heaven and fully experience human suffering.
Jesus Said we Would Suffer
Jesus told his disciples they would suffer (Matthew 5:10; John 15:20). Church history records that 10 of Jesus’ original disciples were martyred. Only John died a natural death but he faced torture and exile in his life time.
The Bible records throughout history that people experience suffering, and yet that suffering leads to them drawing nearer to God (Psalm 69). Trusting him when nothing else can be relied on (Psalm 31:14). We can trust God because he has shown us his grace, his love towards us that is not based on anything we can do. He loved us first (1 John 4:19) so we can love him – in our sufferings.
Paul wrote an extensive list of the things he suffered: beatings, stoning, shipwreck etc (2 Corinthians 11:23-28) stating:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-4)
Pain and suffering affect us all. But, we have a loving victorious saviour who will not let us face more than we can bear. He is always with us to be our comfort. We are not alone.