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Why does God permit suffering and pain?

According to the Garden of Eden story, Satan was the first cause of his sin, which he passed down to humans.

One question that keeps repeating is: how can one relate all suffering in the world to the character of God, who is all good and all mighty? God is morally free. Nothing can cause Him to act against His nature. God created the universe with omnipotence and endowed His creatures with free will, which he would never deprive them of. However, misuse of this freedom causes evil that culminates in suffering. In a way, God took the risk of giving humans freedom of choice. It is said that God created the fact of freedom, and we perform the act of freedom.

According to the Garden of Eden story, Satan was the first cause of his sin, which he passed down to humans. Like Satan, the first couple brought sin upon them through their selfish choice disregarding God’s plan. However, evil is not left unchecked. God will triumph over all evils. Jesus assures, ‘here on earth you will have many trials; but cheer up, for I have overcome the world” (John 6:33[TLB]). Jesus has won the ultimate victory and tells us to take courage because He has deprived the world of its power to harm us. We need not permit suffering to defeat us; Christ enables us to triumph over it (Phil.4:13).
We may not fully know God’s purpose in allowing evil.

God would have a reason to create a world in which we find potential for both good
and evil. God can enter the arena of evil and turn it to His purposes. Romans 8:28 asserts that all things work together for the good of those who love Him; God can turn suffering into something
good. However, God does not employ evil means to bring about good.

Evil can be classified into two –
1) Evil committed by people and
2) Evil produced by natural processes, like earthquakes, that we cannot prevent. Absence of good also causes evil. Satan cannot do evil without God’s permission, and nothing can befall us without God’s approval. As finite beings, we cannot fully comprehend why God permits evil in His infinite wisdom.
However, Scripture teaches why bad things happen to us.

1. It can be punishment for sinful and evil actions. The sufferers lack awareness of violating God’s standards for holiness and justice and assume that God only has virtues like love, kindness, grace and forgiveness that lead them to get away with sins. However, a deeper understanding of the consequence of evil enables them to relinquish sinful acts, get right with God and enjoy godly life.
(Lam.3:39; Rom.1:27;1Pet 2:14)

2. It can alert those who live contrary to God’s laws that their sinful actions cause suffering to others and warn them to abstain from it. (2 Cor.2:6). It alerts people about their need for salvation through Christ. The suffering may lead to repentance and enjoying the blessings of becoming God’s child. (Acts.13:26, 47; Heb.2:3; 1Thess.5:9).

3. It can be to use lesser pain to save people from greater catastrophes. God chastens His children, hoping for the best for them.
Sometimes we need pain so that we are not overcome by evil. (Ps.119:71; Heb.12:5,6).

4. It can be a means to direct our thoughts toward God, who may be ignored otherwise.
It can be God’s megaphone to arouse those who follow sinful ways, especially those who ignore God and trust in science. It may manifest in the form of mechanical or electrical failure or feel helpless during natural calamities. We realize the need to trust in God, who is much bigger than our problems (Ps.118:8; Luke 13: 3,5).

5. It can be a means that motivates people to surrender their bodies and material blessings to God. Pain and suffering frequently remind God’s deep love toward people, allowing them to seek what God wants them to learn from it. (James 4:7; Rom.12:1; Heb. 12:5,6).

6. It reminds us that suffering, and glorification are part of the same growth process. Suffering helps us grow spiritually by dealing with it in God’s strength. It helps us experience God’s enabling power to bear adversities, progress in life and develop greater confidence about the future. Sharing in Christ’s suffering is inevitable for sharing His future glory. However, no suffering we encounter can be worth comparing to the greater price Jesus paid to save us. (Rom.5:3,4; 8:16,17).

7. It makes us realize that we are destined for eternity and help us set our priorities regarding our attachment to worldly matters. It helps us control the accumulation of wealth. (Acts.13:48; 2Cor.5:1).

8. It helps develop and refine a person’s faith and character. The character of Christ we develop will carry us into eternity. While God wants to get His work done through us, He also wants to produce His character in us. On God’s terms, character matters more than succeeding by means contrary to God’s will. (Rom.8:29; Gal.5:22,23; 1Cor.1:26).

9. It reminds us about the need to reach the goal of God’s call for us despite the sufferings and sacrificial services required to fulfil the unique task given to each of us. When we know that God has called us and entrusted the ministry with a purpose, pain is not felt with its severity. (Rom.8:18; 11:29; Acts.20:24).

10 .  It arouses compassion in the mind of those who happen to watch others suffer and get
involved in acts of mercy. Those responsible to God are equally responsible for doing their best to alleviate suffering (Matt.9:36; 1Pet.3:8).

11. It manifests God’s work, evident in Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ “why” question.
Jesus used this man’s suffering to teach about faith and God’s glory. True, innocent people sometimes suffer. Regardless of the reasons for suffering, Jesus has the power to help
us overcome it. Therefore, we can pray for strength to encounter trials, obtain a deeper perspective on what God does in our lives, and help us understand that ‘what happens
through us is more important than what happens to us’. (John 9:3; 16:33; Phil.4:13).

Suffering is also a training ground for Christian ministry. It develops our patience and makes our final victory sweet. (Heb.12:1-3). Genuine fathers correct, train, and even punish their children to teach them what is right.

DR GEORGE SAMUEL<br>Tiruvalla, India

Tiruvalla, India

Dr George Samuel is currently President of Olive Theological Institute, Thiruvalla, Kerala. He is also a promoter of value-based education. He formerly served as a scientist specializing in the application of radioisotope in medicine, both in Mumbai and in Los Angeles during 1960s and early 1970. He has had many stressful experiences, especially while caring for his two sons suffering from Cystic Fibrosis. He had to face the illness of his wife and eventually her death, the deaths of his younger son at age of 22 and that of the older son at 32 after their life long struggle between life and death etc. Although at age 84, he is facing old age challenges, he is serving the Lord by trying to encourage others through Bible based ministries. We can gratefully accept what God, our heavenly Father, does in our lives. God is like a demanding coach who pushes our limits and requires a disciplined life. We can draw strength from Christ by following Him and help those around us who are weak and struggling. We can seek the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to be an example for others to make it easier to believe, follow and become mature in Christ.

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