Why Is There So Much Suffering in the World?
If God is fair, just, and loving, why is there so much suffering? I want to believe in His goodness, but the injustices of life have convinced me that, if He does exist, He must not care very much about what goes on in this world. Just recently, my neighbor, a good and generous man, lost his little girl in a collision with a drunk driver. As fate—or God—would have it, the drunk driver survived the accident unscathed. As I’m sure you realize, this is not an isolated incident. How can things like this happen so often if God is the loving Creator that Christians make Him out to be?
The first thing you need to know is that many others have wrestled with this difficult question. We’re not just talking about atheists, skeptics, or detractors of Christianity. We’re referring to some of the greatest saints in history. These people were heroes of the faith. They staked their entire lives on the grace and goodness of God. Several biblical authors were included in their number.
Take the prophet Jeremiah, for instance. Like you, Jeremiah had days when he seriously questioned the justice and fairness of God: “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” he cried out in a moment of intense confusion and anguish. “Why are those happy who deal so treacherously? You have planted them, yes, they have taken root; they grow, yes, they bear fruit” (Jeremiah 12:1, 2).
The psalmists also complained of apparent inequities in the Lord’s administration of human affairs: “I was envious of the boastful when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pangs in their death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like other men” (Psalm 73:3-5).
The prophet Habakkuk is another biblical writer who struggled mightily to understand God’s dealings with His people: “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ and You will not save… The law is powerless and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds” (Habakkuk 1:2-4).
Perhaps the most extensive and best known scriptural treatment of this problem is found in the Book of Job. Like your neighbor, Job was a “blameless and upright” man (Job 1:1). In spite of this, he experienced terrible sufferings. He lost seven sons, three daughters, and all his property in a single day. After that, he was deprived of his health and his self-respect. It all came about simply, because Satan thought it would be interesting to see how he’d respond. And God allowed it to happen.
Was that fair? Was it just, loving, and kind of the Creator to stand aside and let this avalanche of tragedy and pain come crashing down on the head of a good man? This is the question the rest of the book seeks to address.
The remarkable thing is that the question never receives a direct answer. In fact, when God finally speaks to Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38:1), He treats the question as if it’s beside the point. Justice is not the issue, He seems to say. Life in a fallen world can never be “fair.” It’s not about “balancing the scales” or “getting your just deserts” (we’d all be in trouble if it were). On the contrary, it’s about relationship. It’s a question of embracing mystery along with mercy and grace. It’s a matter of clinging desperately to the hand of Someone who, while He is obviously neither safe nor predictable, is unquestionably trustworthy and good. This is what we need to remember whenever we find ourselves in Job’s position. Job expresses it this way in the final chapter:
I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You… I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know… I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:2-6)
That’s not the last word, of course. Because when all’s been said and done, the ultimate key to this puzzle is not found with Job, Jeremiah, or Habakkuk. It comes to us in the Good News of the Gospel. In the final analysis, God does not resolve the problem of unjust human suffering by explaining it. Instead, He enters into it. In the person of Jesus Christ, He experiences what it is like to be unfairly accused, arrested, tried, condemned, beaten, reviled, spit upon, and put to death. An innocent man, He bears the penalty while Barabbas, a criminal and an assassin, goes free. He takes upon Himself the burden of our anguish and pain. He drinks the cup to its dregs. He does not murmur or complain. In so doing, He demonstrates His love for us and sends us this unmistakable message: the answer to the question with which you’re wrestling can’t be discovered by means of theological rationalization. The answer to your question is Jesus.