How can God allow such suffering?

I recently received a question about God and suffering.  The respondent asked how a good and loving God could allow so much suffering in the world.

My response is below:

I can empathize with your difficulties.  There are not only unimaginable tragedies that we read about in the news, but we experience personal heartache and loss in our own lives.  In these moments we often cry out and wonder how God could allow so much pain.

First, I think we should remember the person of Jesus.  Jesus is God become a man to join us in our suffering.  Whatever reasons God has for allowing suffering and pain in the world, he has not exempted himself from it.  In Christ we have a personal answer to suffering and a hope to endure it.

Second, it is also helpful to think through suffering in intellectual terms.  We should recognize that the argument from suffering is part of a family of arguments that all share the same form, the most popular of which is called the “Problem of Evil.”  These arguments go something like this:

1) Nothing happens apart from God’s allowing it.

2) X happens.

3) Therefore, God allows X. (from 1 and 2)

4) If God were to allow X, then there is a morally sufficient reason (MSR) that he should do so.

5) There is no MSR.

6) Therefore, God does not allow X (from 4 and 5).

7) Therefore, God both allows and does not allow X, which is absurd (from 3 and 6).

You will see a number of different things plugged into X (evil, suffering, unbelief, etc), but they all share the form of argument above.  No matter what the X is, the critical failure occurs at premise 5.  We just aren’t in a position to know that God does not have a morally sufficient reason for allowing the things that he allows.  They may feel horrible to us, but we are too limited to fully appreciate the consequences of anything in our world.  It is doubtful that we would even be able to understand God’s reasons for what he does given the scope of his plans.

So I don’t know why God allows suffering and pain.  At best I could come up with guesses.  What I do know, however, is that suffering and pain do not give us a good reason to doubt God.  Rather, in Jesus, we are given every reason to trust him.  Whatever his reasons for allowing heartache into our world, he is not standing by idly as we experience it.  In Jesus, God joins us in our pain.


Matt Bilyeu

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