Q: Why does a loving God permit suffering to exist in His Creation?
A; The question of suffering is a common one, but the Bible has the answer. In short, the answer for why suffering exists is sin.
Sin is disobedience to God and a departure from living in the counsel of God’s word. When Adam decided to disobey God’s word in the Garden, he brought sin into the nature of mankind:
Romans 5:12 (NKJV)
Death in Adam, Life in Christ
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—
Adam’s decision to sin set in motion of chain of events that plunged the world into every suffering imaginable, as Paul explained:
Romans 1:21-32 (NKJV)
21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
As Paul explains, the sin of mankind eroded men’s ability to know God and follow His word. In a short time, men had ceased to acknowledge and worship the Creator God, and in His place men adopted false gods. False worship produced impure hearts in mankind, which succumbed to degrading passions. From generation to generation, depravity consumed mankind leading to hatred, disobedience and all the sin we experience today.
Every act of cruelty, selfishness, depravity and violence finds its source in the sin of one man, which was passed down to every human being through procreation. The world is filled with sin because the very nature of every human being is inherently sinful. We act in keeping with our fallen nature, yet God has patiently tolerated the suffering created by humanity’s sin because He loves the world.
This statement may seem paradoxical, but it’s true. God loves the world too much to act against its sin – at least not yet. Were God to judge sin and put an end to its existence, then He must by necessity put an end to all humanity since sin lives in each person. So God enacted a plan to end sin without wiping out all humanity, as He declared subtly to Adam and Woman immediately after the Fall:
Genesis 3:15 (NKJV)
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
To address Adam’s sin, the Lord promised to bring a “seed” from woman to defeat the serpent’s seed. God was saying He would bring a Messiah, a Christ, to conquer Satan and reverse the effect of Adam’s sin. Notice however that the Lord promised to bring this solution to a future day. The Lord’s plan works through procreation (i.e., “seed”) so that over time the Lord will preserve some within the human race from the destruction required by His inevitable judgment against sin.
The solution is centered in Christ, as Paul teaches:
Romans 7:24-25 (NKJV)
24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
As the Bible teaches repeatedly, the solution to our sin is found only in faith in Jesus Christ. First, our faith in Jesus Christ saves us from the eternal penalty of sin, which is judgment in the eternal fire. Secondly, our faith brings Christ to live inside us through His Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells every believer convicting them of sin and providing them the power to live according to God’s word. Finally, in a day to come we will be resurrected into a new eternal body that will be sin-free and will never die again (like Christ), which will remove sin from our experience altogether, as Paul explains:
1 Corinthians 15:53-57 (NKJV)
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the Lord has the plan to end all suffering in Creation by ending all sin, but before the Lord bring His plan to a conclusion, He must wait for the birth of every person He intends to save through faith. Obviously, He must wait patiently for generations of humanity to come to pass, so that all those intended for salvation would be permitted to live and come to faith in Christ. The Lord is long-suffering, patiently enduring the sin of so many in order to reach a few. As Peter explains:
2 Peter 3:8-9 (NKJV)
8 But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
Once the last soul God intends to rescue has been born and has come to repentance, then He will bring an end to all sin and the suffering it causes by removing all sinners from the earth. As Jesus described:
Matthew 25:31-34 (NKJV)
The Son of Man Will Judge the Nations
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
Matthew 25:41 (NKJV)
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:
Matthew 25:46 (NKJV)
46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Jesus uses a metaphor of sheep and goats to describe the believers and unbelievers who will be separated at His coming to reign. At that moment, the Lord will bring the sinners to an end in anticipation of the Kingdom. In the Kingdom Jesus begins to put suffering to an end, culminating with this conquering of Satan and death at the end of His reign, as Paul explains:
1 Corinthians 15:21-26 (NKJV)
21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.
So in summary, the suffering of life on Earth today is a result of sin reigning in the hearts of every human being. Nevertheless, the Lord has set a plan in motion to rescue His Creation from sin and suffering, but that plan waits for God’s elect to be born over the course of thousands of years of history. Meanwhile, the Lord is saving men and women in every generation by faith in Jesus Christ, and these who receive Christ will overcome suffering in their day of glory. And in a day to come, the Lord will return personally and bring an end to suffering and death for all His Creation.
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