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If There Is A God, Why Is There Suffering?

March 12, 2010

“If there is a God, why is there suffering?” I remember being asked that question many times, one of the times which has continued lingering with me was when a former classmate from high school grilled me over the droning voice of one of the administrative staff during our weekly Chapel in high school (I was from a Methodist school). I couldn’t adequately answer her question – how is a holy and just God holy and just if there was suffering and poverty to good people, and innocent children?

I gave her the same answer I tend to give any apologetic argument on Christianity, that “our baseline is death and hell, because by default we are sinners and that’s where we go. But it’s God’s grace that lifts us from those dire straits.” I say this to the other question which thrust Romans into serious contemplation – “How can God be fair if he chooses his people?”

Honestly speaking, as a Christian, it’s only at rare points that one possesses unshakable faith. Everyone, every human being, has a natural tendency to doubt what he cannot see. And that’s what the Christian faith demands. And that’s why Christianity isn’t easy. I know there is a God, but whether I am always obedient, always fearful, always a good Christian – that’s another question (I can safely say I’m not). Have I been hurt by Christians? Of course. Have I been hurt more by Christians than non-Christians? I don’t know, but I remember being hurt by Christians much more strongly because there is an expectation.

Anyway, here’s John Piper’s answer to that question, he’s definitely much, much more informed than I:

Scott Simon interviewed the Jesuit priest James Martin on NPR Saturday morning, March 6. Martin just published The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life(Harper One, 2010). The last question Simon asked was this: “If there is a God, why do little children suffer?”

Martin answered, “That is the hardest question, and I think the answer is, we don’t know.” To his credit, Martin did go on to say that, for the Christian, Christ has entered into our suffering and gives consolation. He also asks wisely, “Can we believe in a God whose ways we don’t understand?” He answers Yes.

I am glad that Martin pointed to Christ’s sufferings. And I am glad he affirmed that we can believe in a God whose ways may be inscrutable to us. But the Bible does not want us to say “We don’t know,” when the overarching Why questions are asked about suffering and death.

It is true, we may not know for sure why any particular child suffers in this particular way. But the Bible wants us to speak what it says about death and suffering.

Hungry children

Why do little children suffer and die? We ask it with the awareness that it is happening this very moment by the hundreds, and we ask it through tears of personal experience and empathy. Here is one biblical answer: “Just as sin came into the world through one man, anddeath through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—” (Romans 5:12).

Death came into the world through sin.

That is the fundamental biblical answer for where all suffering and death came from. Or to use the words of Romans 8:20, “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope.”

In other words, because of sin, God subjected the entire creation to the futility of mortality with all its suffering and death. The whole creation groans under the judgment.

If the interviewer says, “That seems a bit harsh, to bring the whole creation under the judgment of suffering and death, including little children, because of one man’s sin?” we answer,

“That is how outrageous sin against an infinitely wise and good and holy God is. We don’t measure the outrage of our suffering by how insignificant we think sin is; we measure the outrage of sin by the scope of suffering.

The really amazing thing is that you and I, as sinners, are sitting here talking, when we deserve to be in hell. God is remarkably patient. And he gave his Son to die in our place so that everyone who believes may escape from this judgment and have eternal life.”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 12, 2010 11:52 pm

    One thing that suffering is sometimes not, but which many Christians think it is, is a punishment for sins committed.

    Luke 13:1-5 as well as the book of Job simply point out that this is not true. Sometimes, the cause of suffering is a) you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, b) you are suffering because of no reason you can understand. You also learn that God owes you no answers. This is the essence of faith — to never have certainty and yet believe.

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