The problem of pain and suffering is emotional because we all experience it.  We lose loved ones, and we ourselves suffer with pain and sorrow.  Each of us knows that we will die, and even though we might hope to die in our sleep and without any advanced warning, most of us will not die that way.  There are many diseases that eventually cause death, and most of them cause real illness and suffering prior to death.  That is the human condition.

People have struggled with pain and suffering for eons, and it is clearly a barrier to faith for many people.  As an example of this, consider the questions that Epicurus (341-270 BC) posed regarding the existence of God in the presence of evil:
  1. Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able?  Then He is impotent.
  2. Is He able but not willing?  Then He is malevolent.
  3. Is He both able and willing?  Whence then is evil?
The problem of evil (where evil is defined as any human suffering) is an argument which concludes that atheism is more logical than theism because the theist holds onto contradictory beliefs about God.  Thus, atheistic philosophers conclude the following about God:
  1. Either God does not desire to eliminate evil or is not omnibenevolent.
  2. God does not know how to eliminate evil and is not omniscient.
  3. He does not have power to eliminate evil and is therefore not omnipotent.
  4. An omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent God does not exist. 1
There are problems with this kind of reasoning.  Consider these things:
  • We certainly do not have the wisdom of God so that we might know everything and be able to explain everything.
  • Atheists define evil as all pain and suffering.  However, not all pain or suffering is evil.  Some pain causes learning so that we avoid those things that cause pain, and thus that kind of pain is positive and protective.  Things such as gravity, fire and water must be respected.
  • Suffering for the Christian produces spiritual strength (James 1:3; 1 Peter 1:6-7; 5:10-11)
  • Suffering teaches the Christian humility and trust in God's power (2 Cor 12:7).
  • Suffering is God's discipline to train His children (Heb 12:10-11).
  • Atheists leave out of their considerations the justice of God. 2
For many with the western mindset, it is unacceptable that God would discipline us or in any way hurt us.  Therefore, when pain and suffering do come, and surely they will come, culturally we cannot attribute that to God, but to something like natural law--or perhaps Satan--anything that will not reflect on God.  For if it is God who brings pain and suffering to us...that thought is so unacceptable and represents a serious challenge to our faith.  Regardless of our sin before Him, God is always supposed to affirm, protect, and forgive, but never, never punish.  This western mindset against God's discipline has made discipline for children in this culture increasingly problematic, because someone who reasons in this manner will never allow any discipline for an unruly child, whether it is their child or not.  Thus the fruit of this mindset are schools that must be constantly patrolled by police officers.

Does the God of the Bible bring harm?  Let the Scriptures speak:

39 " 'See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand. Deut 32:39 (ESV)
1 "Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. Hosea 6:1 (ESV)

The God of the Bible is the only Sovereign, and he does what pleases him.  And what has pleased him is to send his own Son, Jesus Christ, to be an atoning sacrifice and thus take away our sins.  Jesus had to SUFFER and was made "...perfect through suffering":

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. Heb 2:10 (ESV)

God the Father sent his only Son to SUFFER, and we as Christians learn volumes from his suffering.  The 12 apostles were told that they would SUFFER because of Christ (Mark 10:30; John 15:20; 16:33).  Paul the apostle was chosen by God to SUFFER (Acts 9:16), and suffer he did (2 6:4-5; 11:23-28; Phil 1:20).  Not only this, but we also are called to SUFFER for the sake of Christ's name (Acts 14:22; 1 Thess 3:3-4; 2 Tim 3:12; ).  As Christians, we SUFFER with Christ " order that we may also be glorified with him," (Rom 8:17) and so that God may himself "...restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish..." us (1 Pet 5:10).  Suffering for the mature Christian who knows the apostolic teachings on this is not like that of someone who doesn't even believe.

In the Old Testament God punished Adam and Eve, he destroyed the world with a massive flood, and he delivered the people of Israel from Egypt and caused a massive defeat of Pharaoh and his armed forces.  God brought his people into Israel and with his strength all those idolatrous peoples were conquered or destroyed.  The atheists say that God was immoral to kill those people, forgetting that he is the author of life, that all life is his. and he is free to do with life as he chooses.  The atheists say God was evil to take away their land and give it to Israel, forgetting that God created all the land, that it belongs to him, and he gives it to whomever he chooses.  They also forget that God did the same things to Israel that he did to those evil nations because of their great sins against him.  The God of the Bible is the only Sovereign, and he does what pleases him.  Will you argue with the Creator of the universe face-to-face and tell him he has sinned?  I think not.

There was one who wanted to argue his case against God, and his name was Job.  The book of Job explores the idea of innocent suffering.  Job does not understand what is going on in heaven.  He was righteous, but God allowed Satan to attack him because of God's own honor.  Satan said that Job would crack and curse God, but God knew Job would be faithful.  Therefore, God allowed all of his possessions and his children to be taken from Job--now hear Job's response:

20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." 22  In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. Job 1:20-22 (ESV)

But Satan accused Job before God even more, and so God allowed Satan to take away Job's health.  Thus Job descended into deep distress and utter misery with the worst kind of pain and suffering.  Job knew of no other deity than God, and he didn't understand why God did this evil to him.  His friends who came to comfort him became his accusers, insisting that he must have been a sinner, or he would have blessing instead of pain and suffering from God.  Job maintained his innocence.  He longed for an opportunity to "...argue my case with God." (Job 13:3; 23:4).  But when God does come in the whirlwind (Job 38-41), Job is speechless.  Rather, it is God who is asking the questions, and it is God who is telling Job to answer him.  The Almighty is blunt:

1 And the Lord said to Job: 2 "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it."
3 Then Job answered the Lord and said: 4 "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. 5 I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further." Job 40:1-5 (ESV)

One of the most pointed questions God demands of Job is even more pointed for each one of us alive this day:

6 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: 7  "Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. 8 Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Job 40:6-8 (ESV)

Even now there are people who would put God in the wrong so that they may be right.  The very discussion of the problem of evil by those who do not believe is the finest example of putting God in the wrong so they can be right.  These people are atheists.  Let those of us who are Christian never be guilty of this, i.e., putting God in the wrong so we can be right in our own eyes.

The questions God asked Job could not be answered by Job, and cannot be answered by any man, because none of us have the knowledge or wisdom of God.  If there is one point God drives home to Job in that conversation, that is it.

God does wound, and God does heal.  Job was wounded by God's decision, and Job's broken life was healed by God's decision.

But some would not agree that God acts this way now under the New Covenant.  However, please consider the sufferings of Christ.  What about the sufferings of the apostles and all the early Christians?  What about the sufferings that we know may await us who are Christians?  I agree that the New Testament is clearly focused on salvation for men and not on retribution, and I thank God for that.  But we must understand that God is still sovereign, still is just, still judges, and he still disciplines.  See Acts 12:20-23 regarding Herod.  Read Revelation and know that God promised utter destruction to the Roman Empire, and know that it was fulfilled.  That's all in the New Testament, the New Covenant.

So when you are in pain, and in your suffering you cry out, hold onto God.  He is the one who can deliver you.  Christ who SUFFERED for us, he himself fully understands.  God the Father Himself understands.

The shortest verse in the New Testament is John 11:35, when Jesus was taken to the tomb of Lazarus, and the Bible says, "Jesus wept."  Again, in Luke, when Jesus came back to Jerusalem for the last time, knowing that his trial and death was imminent, we find this:

41  And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44  and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation." Luke 19:41-44 (ESV)

Christ's prophecy was fulfilled in 70 AD, yet he wept over what he saw would befall his rebellious and purposefully sinful people.  Although he knew he himself would die with great suffering, he wept for those who would die because of their own purposeful and unrepentant sin.

Does God weep with us when we weep, or grieve when we display our hard-heartedness, our stubborn will and unrepentant heart?  In John 10:30, Jesus said, "I and the Father are one."  Again he said in response to Phillip as follows:

8  Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." 9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? John 14:8-9 (ESV)

The Trinity by Coecke van Aelst

What we see in Christ, that is the very nature of the Father.

If the Father and the Son suffered for us, should we say that it is unfair that we should suffer?  Should we convict God of wrong so that we can be right?

  1. Stewart, Ted. Apologetics II: New Discoveries that Confirm the Bible. Sunset International Bible Institute, Lubbock, TX, © 2001, p 44.
  2. Stewart, ibid., p 45.