To understand the sorrows and hardships of life, we must trace the history of the world from the beginning and follow God's plan for mankind as it unfolds. That plan involves not just what happens in our earthly lifetime but what happens beyond the grave. Explore the big picture through the eyes of God and come to appreciate the reasons why God patiently tolerates the cruelty of this world.
Earthy Sorrows Can Challenge Our Faith.
Virtually every day, the news media carries stories about the suffering or economic loss from wars, natural disasters, acts of violence, and accidents of all sorts. In fact, the sorrows of sickness, injury, death, and destruction have touched all of us in one way or another. With this environment, it’s easy to see why some might ask, “How could God possibly allow this to happen?” After all, isn’t He supposed to be a God of love?
The human point of view is clear. We see what is taking place around us, and often life just isn’t fair. Sometimes, it is enough to make people wonder whether they have misjudged God’s existence or His compassion. Such important questions of faith deserve answers, and these answers must come from what God has revealed in the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16-17). As we search for answers to why there is so much pain and suffering in the world, let’s begin by considering some important facts.
God Is Not Dead Nor Is He Unaware.
God does exist.
Even from a purely pragmatic point of view, one should acknowledge the existence of God. Our universe and the life therein is simply too vast and too complex to have evolved by itself. Intelligent design is the only thing that makes sense. The mathematical probabilities of achieving the order, balance, and life in the world today are unbelievable by any reasonable standard. The Bible reveals the Truth - a Spirit (Gen. 1:2; John 4:24) known as God willed into existence the entire universe and everything in it (Gen. 1; Exod. 20:11; John 1:1-3), and He upholds and maintains all things by the word of His power (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).
God does care.
Indeed, God is love (1 John 4:8) and by His very nature and essence is good (Psalm 31:19), gracious, merciful, patient (Psalm 145:8-9), righteous, and just (Psalm 89:14). The Bible clearly teaches these things. Moreover, His love for humankind is so great that He was willing to sacrifice Jesus, His only begotten Son, on our behalf to regain fellowship with sinful humanity (John 3:16).
God is in control.
God is sovereign (Psalm 103:19; 1 Tim. 6:14-15). He rules over all the creation (Psalm 22:28; 66:7; Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 2:10) and has the power (Jer. 32:17) and knowledge (Psalm 147:5) to do so. Furthermore, the Bible tells us that God is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-12). As such, nothing is beyond His reach. He is aware of everyone and everything that takes place in the world, even to the point of knowing the very number of hairs on each head (Matt. 10:30).
The World Is Not What It Used To Be.
How could God create a world filled with such pain and suffering?
The answer is – He did not! In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1) and made a “very good” world for humankind (Gen. 1:31). Not only did God make provisions for the physical needs (Gen. 1:29), but He also assigned roles and responsibilities (Gen. 2:15) and established expectations and bounds on the behavior of Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:16-17). It was God’s desire for them to live in this paradise eating freely of the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:9; 3:22) and having fellowship with God forever.
Adam and Eve rebelled against God.
Initially, Adam and Eve shared a special relationship with the Creator, enjoying perfect harmony and full fellowship with God. They were equipped with the intellect to perform the tasks God had assigned to them and were granted the free will to make choices for themselves. In that setting, God imposed only one restriction. They were not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:16-17). When tempted by the devil, acting through the crafty serpent (Gen. 3:1-5; Rev. 12:9), Eve disobeyed God’s command by eating the forbidden fruit and giving to Adam who also ate (Gen. 3:6). In so doing, they “missed the mark” (sinned) and fell out of favor with the Creator.
Sin destroyed God’s relationship with humankind.
When Adam and Eve lost their innocence by sinning against God (missing the mark), they alienated themselves from the Creator. Because God is just and righteous (Psalm 89:14), lawbreaking must be punished. Without punishment, there can be no justice, and God is a just God. Similarly, because God is Holy (i.e., sanctified, pure, set-apart from sin), He cannot have fellowship with sin and sinners (Lev. 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:15-16; Isaiah 59:1-2). To do so would taint God making Him unholy. In other words, sin and God are like oil and water. They do not mix. As a result, Adam and Eve lost fellowship with God when a barrier of sin separated them from Him.
The consequences of sin have affected all humanity.
God proclaimed the punishment for disobedience (lawbreaking) when He told Adam and Eve that in the day they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would surely die (Gen. 2:17). The immediate effect was not sudden, physical death for Adam lived to be 930 years old (Gen. 5:5), and he had many sons and daughters born later (Gen. 4:1-2; 5:4). Instead, Adam and Eve experienced spiritual death – spiritual separation from God (Isaiah 59:1-2). God could no longer maintain fellowship with sinners. Rather than have humans continue to live in the Garden of Eden where they could eat from the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:9; Gen. 3:22-23) and live forever in a state of disfellowship, God banished humanity from the garden (Gen. 3:24). Being denied access to the Tree of Life, the human body eventually was to die (Gen. 3:19). The life that once was blessed now became a struggle (Gen. 3:16-19). God greatly multiplied the woman’s pain in childbirth (Gen. 3:16) and increased the toil and sweat required for the man to support himself and his family (Gen. 3:17-19).
Life and the world itself are impacted by sin.
Sin not only altered God’s relationship with humanity, but it also brought about changes in the physical creation. These changes affect us even today. God’s creation, that was said to be “very good” in the beginning, now was brought under a curse (Gen. 3:17; Rev. 22:3). This degraded the creation (Rom. 8:20-21) and eventually shortened the human life span (Psalm 90:10). With such ruin have come genetic defects, disease, and natural disasters resulting from an imperfect environment. These calamities are over and above the tragedies and pain brought about by people’s sinful life styles and crimes committed against one another (e.g., emotional hurt, murder, adultery, stealing, etc.) The latter troubles are not imposed by God, but rather arise from our free will. We are allowed to choose what we do (Joshua 24:15). Often, we choose poorly affecting our own lives as well as the lives of innocent others. Sin has caused so much grief and misery in the world today.
Personal calamity is not God’s immediate response to our sin.
The pain and suffering we experience in life is not necessarily a measure of our sinfulness. Bad things do happen to good people (e.g., Job). God does not invoke physical misfortunes as an immediate and direct punishment for every sin. Consider the example in John 9:1-3. Here a man was born blind, not from his sin or the sin of his parents, but rather that the works of God might be displayed in him. Jesus disavowed the connection between the earthly suffering of individuals and the magnitude of their sin in Luke 13:1-5. To understand why God allows catastrophes and personal hardships to continue, we must broaden our point of view to see the big (whole) picture.
We Are Threatened by Something Far Worse Than Physical Death.
There is more to life than flesh and blood.
Our earthly existence is only part of the overall picture. Humans are different from animals. Unlike other living creatures, humankind was created in the image and likeness of God. In addition to our physical body, God gave us a spirit that is eternal (Gen. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 2:11; James 2:26) just as He is eternal. As such, we have a dual nature, being both physical and spiritual beings. When the physical body dies after a brief existence on earth, our spirit continues to live on in eternity (Eccl. 12:7).
Spiritual death is far worse than physical death and earthly suffering.
If we have the right relationship with God, our fellowship with Him can continue in Heaven forever (John 10:27-28; Rom. 2:6-7; 1 Pet. 1:3-4). However, if we die while separated from God by sins, our spirit is eternally removed from the presence of God (Rom. 2:6-8; Matt. 8:12; 25:41-46). Since all spiritual blessings are in Christ (Eph. 1:3), those alienated from God and Christ are separated from all Godly things forever. That leaves only an ungodly environment in the place called Hell. Being without God and His loving blessings makes Hell a place of eternal torment and suffering (Matt. 8:12; 25:41) with no hope of relief (Luke 16:19-26). Since we have only lived in the presence of God and His earthly blessings, we cannot possible imagine the anguish of eternal separation. That is a condition far worse than anything that could be encountered in the brief 80, 90, or 100 years of life on earth.
God’s priority is saving us from Hell.
If we could see clearly through God’s eyes, we would understand His perspective and priorities. Then, we would realize our earthly life is like a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4:14). In the whole scheme of things, physical pleasures or suffering vanish quickly. Our future and destiny really lies in eternity, be it with God in Heaven or without God in Hell. Jesus taught that we should not fear those that can kill the body but rather fear the destruction of our soul in Hell (Matt. 10:28). Eternity is God’s priority, and it should be ours also. In Mark 8:36, Jesus asked: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”
God Wants Humanity to Live with Him for Eternity.
God implemented a plan to save humankind.
Unfortunately, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Because God loves us, He wants to break through the barrier of sin and bring us back into full fellowship with Him. However, a holy and just God cannot overlook or unconditionally forgive our sins. Justice must be served with a price paid for the guilt of humankind. To pay that price, God created a sacrificial offering in our place. That sacrifice was someone Holy, innocent, and pure (without sin) who willingly agreed to take the consequence for the sins of humankind.
- God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins (Luke 23:46; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 3:18).
- Because Jesus was pure and innocent being without sin (1 John 3:5; 1 Pet. 2:21-22), He deserved no punishment and could willingly offer Himself in our place.
- While on the cross Jesus became sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24) and bore the consequence of spiritual separation from God the Father (Mark 15:34).
- In this loving plan, God created a way to buy us back - redeeming us (1 Pet. 1:18-19) and reconciling us to God (2 Cor. 5:18-21).
- The sacrifice of Jesus satisfied God’s need for justice (Rom. 3:24-26).
Jesus created the way to obtain forgiveness and eternal life.
The Gospel message is God’s “Good News” telling us how to claim the sacrifice of Jesus to pay the price for our sins. It brings an opportunity for forgiveness restoring fellowship with God. Truly, salvation is a gift from God, not to be earned through works (Eph. 2:8-9). However, even a gift must be claimed. God does not force salvation on anyone. We lay claim to the sacrificial offering of Jesus through the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:4-5; 16:25-27; Heb. 5:9) when we hear the Word of God (Rom. 10:17) and:
- Believe in Jesus as the Son of God who saved us through His death, burial, and resurrection (John 8:24)
- Repent of a sinful life by a change in heart and commitment to follow after a holy God (Luke 13:3, 5)
- Confess our belief in Jesus as our Savior who is the Son of God (Matt. 10:32-33)
- Are baptized by immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:21)
Following this, Jesus adds us to His Church, i.e., the body of the saved (Acts 2:47), where we wear the name of Christ (as Christians) and are to live a faithful life by walking in the light (1 John 1:7-9). The Gospel is the only means of solving the problem with sin for there is salvation in no one other than Jesus (Acts 4:12).
Physical Injustice and Sorrows Will Not Last.
God cares about what happens on earth.
Of course, He does. Jesus wept at the death of a dear friend, Lazarus (John 11:32-35), and He felt compassion for the widow who lost her only son (Luke 7:12-13). During His ministry, Jesus healed many physical ailments of people in need, but that was not His primary mission on earth. He was here for something even more important, spiritual life. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Matt. 18:11; Luke 19:10) by teaching about the Kingdom of God (Matt. 4:17; Luke 4:42-43; John 20:30-31).
Justice will be served.
This world often isn't “fair”, but in the afterlife, justice will be rendered. In Luke 16:19-26, Jesus tells about a poor beggar named Lazarus, who suffered a miserable life on earth while a rich sinner lived in luxury. In death, however, Lazarus was taken in comfort to Abraham’s bosom while the rich man suffered in agony and torment. God's judgment will be dispensed in the spiritual realm of eternity (Rom. 2:5-10; John 5:28-29).
Earthly sorrows will end one day.Jesus said this world would always have people who are poor (Matt. 26:11). From that remark alone, we know the hardships of poverty will continue on earth. However, this world will not exist forever. Jesus has promised to return one day (John 14:1-3; 1 Thess. 4:16-17) dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who have not obeyed the Gospel (2 Thess. 1:7-9). At that time, “the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10-12). Then the faithful will be joined with God in Heaven forever (1 Thess. 4:16-17) where all suffering will end (Rev. 21:4). When that happens, the last enemy (death) will be conquered (1 Cor. 15:20-26), and the curse will end (Rev. 22:3).
God tolerates this imperfect world to allow more time for sinners to repent.
Until Christ's return, there will be pain and suffering on the earth. That is the unfortunate consequence of human free will and sin, bringing death and decay to a world that once was a paradise. Through the unholy actions of some, life's sorrows will continue to the end. That end will come when Christ fulfills His promise to return. For now, we wait, not because God is being slow about His promise, as some count slowness, nor because God has forgotten to send Jesus back to earth. Rather, God delays because He loves all humankind and is being patient not wishing for any to perish in Hell (2 Pet. 3:9). God is giving sinners more time to repent and obey the Gospel. During that delay, evil continues to do harm. Our obligation is to remain Holy and share the Good News of the Gospel while we wait for the great Day of the Lord (2 Pet. 3:11-12).
God's People Must Endure Awaiting the Spiritual Victory to Come.
There is much we don’t understand about life. Job suffered sickness, poverty, and the loss of family without ever knowing why. James says: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4). The Apostle Paul was a man of great faith who endured many hardships (2 Cor. 11:24-28). No matter what the circumstances, he learned how to be content knowing he could do all things through God who strengthened him (Phil. 4:11-13). Paul endured with a good attitude and had great expectations for the life to come (2 Tim. 4:5-8) - so should we (James 1:12). No matter what happens, we must remember that we are not alone. Jesus is always with us (Matt. 28:20).