The world is filled with suffering of every kind. In fact, countless millions know little else. Yet God allows this. Why has He not stopped the terrible suffering that afflicts so many, and since men have existed? Is there a reason God does not intervene? Does suffering have a great unseen purpose that can be understood?
You can know the answers to these questions. There is a cause for human suffering. The Bible reveals it—and it is so plain a child can understand. After reading this Personal, you will understand.
A Haitian child in tears stands in front of United States soldiers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Feb. 5, 2010).Source: Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty Images
Look at conditions the world over. Vast numbers of human beings are suffering.
Every day, almost 25,000 people starve to death—and only after long, horrible agony. This is not limited to physical pain, but includes psychological and mental anguish of parents often having their children die in their arms. Starvation is so awful death can be longed for.
We ask: why doesn’t God stop this?
Even more people die each day from disease. The very word disease means lack of ease. At this moment, untold suffering, trauma and pain, due to crippling conditions, infections and sickness of every sort, is occurring around the world. Just in sub-Saharan Africa, half a million children are orphaned every year due to AIDS alone.
Why isn’t God intervening?
Consider poverty, which affects a third of all people on Earth. The lack of even the most basic necessities (sufficient water, sanitation, clothing, shelter and food) brings untold suffering to over 2 billion people—day after day after day. And conditions are growing worse instead of better.
Why does God allow this to continue?
War ravages much of the world, with some nations experiencing near complete destruction of their economy, property, homes and businesses, including injury or death to large numbers of their civilian populations.
Why doesn’t God banish war?
Earthquakes, fires, floods, volcanoes, tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, other violent storms, drought, blights and insect infestations due to weather, also add to the human misery index.
Why doesn’t God better control the weather and nature?
Of course, much could be written about self-inflicted suffering that so many—in fact, in this case all people—periodically endure, from accidents to fall-out from wrong decisions, from financial disasters to all forms of worry, fear and anguish.
Yes, why does God allow war, terrorism and violence? Why must men endure disease and famine? Why poverty and misery in the wake of natural disasters? Just think how often these come. Ask, WHY do these things happen, and almost routinely, on planet Earth?—and why does God not end them?
If God is working out an unseen purpose through these conditions, what is it? Is there a great—transcendent—reason for the almost constant state of affliction encompassing, to one degree or another, most of humanity?
The God of the Bible describes His tremendous mercy. He speaks of His kindness to, and compassion for, all mankind. If God is all-powerful, and a God of love, why does He not stop—completely!—the terrible human suffering billions experience?
The ministers and theologians of traditional Christianity cannot explain the purpose of human suffering. Many theorize that Adam and Eve were created perfect and complete, until they “fell” because the devil overthrew God’s Plan by tempting them into sin. This popular idea continues with the explanation that God’s Plan is to restore men to their pre-fall condition—but the devil keeps slowing things down and disrupting God’s progress.
Is this true? Is God desperately trying to repair damage brought by Satan’s unforeseen attack on a Master Plan that God did not think through carefully enough?
There is no use trying to remove wrong effects when the causes are ignored. Grasp this. In all physical and spiritual matters, man only addresses the bad effects engulfing the world today. He does not understand, and cannot explain, the causes—the true meaning and purpose—behind the world’s woes and ills. Our many free magazines, books, booklets, lessons and articles address and explain the true causes of the almost endless bad effects throughout the world. If you have a question on virtually any spiritual matter, you will almost certainly find that we have addressed it from about every angle and perspective.
The God of the Bible possesses infinite understanding and perfect character. A Christian is to develop that same spotless character, while growing in God’s understanding.
The Holy Spirit, given at conversion to those who obey God (Acts 2:38 and 5:32), defines God’s character. Notice: “But the fruit of the [Holy] Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance...” (Gal. 5:22-23).
Did you see that God describes His Spirit—His divine nature—as “longsuffering”? How can God’s character include longsuffering? Most can understand God is love. Most also recognize God experiences unbounded joy! Certainly, none doubt God has absolute faith in His own Plan and purpose—or that He has complete peace and self-control (temperance) in all matters. The same is true of the remainder of this description of God’s nature.
But why does God list suffering (actually suffering long) as part of His character?
How does God suffer?
Before He flooded the world in Noah’s time, “it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart” (Gen. 6:6). Does it surprise you that God felt mental pain (grief) at what mankind had chosen—and become? God brought the Flood to put man out of his misery, stating He would never again do this.
The Bible plainly says, “The Lord is longsuffering” (Num. 14:18). God wants all to understand that even He suffers. But this verse does not reveal why this is necessary.
Let’s grasp what God is saying.
All those with children stop and think! When you see your child hurt or sick, how do you feel? It grieves you. You suffer your own anguish at their pain.
God is no different. He is a Parent with children. When His children disobey Him, directly hurting themselves in the process, it hurts Him. He feels pain—grief!
Having no idea what God’s purpose is for mankind, most assume life is probably about “getting to heaven,” but have no more idea than this. Actually, salvation has nothing to do with going to heaven.
A book you must read is The Awesome Potential of Man. Revealing the truth of salvation, it will open your thinking beyond what you have ever dreamed. Not a book of mere helpful hints or tips for life, every chapter is loaded with real meaning you can sink your teeth into—and straight from God’s Word!
To discover God’s purpose, on any matter, you must go to the Source—His Instruction Manual— sent along by the Creator with His creation (man). God’s Word reveals the answers to life’s greatest questions—all of them. Surely the reason for human suffering is one of the greatest answers of all.
Mankind’s suffering is no accident. It is actually one of the most marvelous tools within God’s Plan of producing sons who have developed His character within them. The purpose for every human being’s life is to develop the perfect, righteous character of Almighty God. Suffering is tied to character-building. Since God is longsuffering, it is also obvious then, that no person is complete in the development of His nature and character until he has learned the value of suffering!
Wise King Solomon recorded one of the Bible’s great truths: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider:
[Now notice] God also has set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him” (Ecc. 7:14).
Did you know of this verse? God did this! God designed life so we would face “adversity,” and be forced to “consider” our circumstances. Certainly adversity is no fun. It is sometimes very difficult, hard, painful, even traumatic, to endure. Yet, God said He engineered human existence to include adversity! This seems strange to the human mind that wants a free pass to sail through life, experiencing only the good life—good times!
Solomon revealed more of God’s purpose for suffering: “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than...the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay [this] to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better” (Ecc. 7:2-3).
Does this passage surprise you? Does it make sense that “sorrow is better than laughter” or mourning is better than feasting? Yet these statements are God’s plain words about how He views suffering—and that He actually designed this physical life to require it.
Understand. If one is mourning, it is usually because something terrible has happened—serious illness, painful divorce, death of a child or loved one, loss of property through a disaster or bankruptcy, or similar things. Therefore, this passage seems absolutely backward to the human mind. This is why Solomon says, “Feasting…is the end [goal] of all men” (Ecc. 7:2). The goal of the average person is to make life one long, never-ending party—or “feast.”
The world gives much attention to the suffering of Jesus. But how many know what the Bible says about why He suffered? Here is God’s answer—and it has a direct bearing on you: “Though He [Christ] were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8).
Christ was sinless—without fault, blameless. If He were otherwise, we would have no Savior. Yet this passage reveals that even Christ learned from the suffering He endured. This is what God says.
Suffering completed Christ’s learning process. Yes, even Jesus (as God incarnate) could learn as a result of being made of flesh. This allowed Him to learn lessons He would otherwise not have known. The reason Christ learned from suffering is—grasp this!—pain kicks the mental learning mechanism into gear! This is why Solomon said “consider” when facing or undergoing adversity.
For instance, serious physical pain stops people in their tracks. They begin searching for the cause of the pain. Whether the discomfort of an oncoming heart attack, an acute headache or the inflammation of arthritis, people want to know why they hurt.
The apostle Paul begins connecting suffering to the process of God’s purpose in making sons who reflect His character. Notice: “For it became Him [Christ]...in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb. 2:10).
Jesus’ suffering actually perfected Him—made Him full, mature, complete, as a begotten Son. This is what it says. Notice more: “And being made perfect, He became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that OBEY Him” (Heb. 5:9). Christ qualified to “author eternal salvation” because He was willing to endure and learn from God’s prescribed suffering process for all who are His sons—those who obey Him.
The salvation process involves obeying Christ. Let’s see more plainly something else obedience includes. The apostle Peter explains, “For even hereunto were you [Christians] called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (I Pet. 2:21).
Let Peter’s words speak to you. Christians do not just believe in Christ, they copy Him—they pattern their lives after His life! This was the whole purpose of His “example.” This verse also shows that copying Christ means being willing to suffer as He did! We have seen that it is this very suffering that causes one to learn and to become perfect. Peter explains that God’s servants are actually called to an entire life that involves periodic suffering.
He also explains that people sometimes have to “endure grief, suffering wrongfully”—that they must “take it patiently” because “this is acceptable with God” (I Pet. 2:19-20). (Also see Ecclesiastes 8:14.) It is acceptable with God because He knows suffering builds character—it strengthens the person who is enduring it.
I do not enjoy pain—of any kind. Neither do you. But, for those God is calling, it is only through suffering that we can learn what He intends in order to achieve salvation. Paul also wrote, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him...” (II Tim. 2:11-12).
I repeat, suffering is absolutely essential to the character-building process. Therefore, because it is a process, time and experience are involved.
Paul recognized that suffering was tied to the resurrection of the dead, and actually looked forward to suffering, seeing it as a way of drawing closer to what Christ endured—as literally fellowshipping with Christ. Here is how God inspired him to record this connection: “That I may know Him [Christ], and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 3:10-11).
Paul certainly did not seek out suffering, as do those who participate in fanatical crucifixion rituals each spring. This is terribly wrong, and not what the verse intends.
The author of Psalm 119, possibly King David, learned crucial lessons during his life, some involving great pain. Adversity and suffering was a pattern to the writer. He grasped the purpose of what he had to endure: “Before I was afflicted [suffered] I went astray: but now have I kept Your word” (Psa. 119:67).
The writer knew exactly what suffering was intended to produce. It brought him back into line with God’s Word—and purpose in his life. And further: “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn Your statutes” (Psa. 119:71). Suffering teaches us to obey God’s laws.
Suffering certainly did not feel good to the writer, but he knew it was good! Mankind is now suffering terribly, but, in the end, it will be to its good. Six thousand years of suffering will eventually teach all humanity the central lesson that it cannot ignore God and still be happy. Many other vital lessons are byproducts of painful trials and tests.
The psalmist grasped the great truth that those who obey God—who practice righteousness—often suffer affliction. Many know of this next verse, recorded by David, but how many truly believe it, or the promise that accompanies it?—“Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones: not one of them is broken” (Psa. 34:19-20).
Most know of the patriarch Job, but little of the crucial lessons his life holds about how God works with His servants—even His greatest ones. Though Job lived thousands of years ago, his experience bears directly on us today.
The book of Job is fascinating, and contains an almost endless number of principles and lessons—in all 42 chapters. Our focus is merely on the first two. In Chapter 1, Satan appeared before God. God asked Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that fears God, and eschews [or shuns] evil?” (Job 1:8). This establishes Job’s extraordinary character. While Solomon was the wisest man ever, Job was certainly the most righteous—and we will see most patient.
Also, what follows could not be considered punishment for evildoing because God described Job as “perfect.”
The account continues with Satan boasting he could turn Job from God, if he were permitted to bring terrible suffering upon him. Because Job was one of the richest men in the world, Satan argued that he merely obeyed God because it was in his best interest. In effect, God was paying him to be righteous!
Next, Satan caused tremendous destruction in Job’s life, killing all of his 10 children and causing the death of all his servants and animals through four separate disasters. The devil wiped out the most precious things—people and possessions—in Job’s life.
Yet Job’s reaction to this devastating turn of events was not to attack or blame God. He acknowledged that all his blessings had come from God. In no way did he show a wrong attitude.
Chapter 2 records that Satan again came before God: “One day the angels again came to present themselves before the Eternal, and among them the Adversary. ‘Where have you been?’ said the Eternal to the Adversary; and the Adversary answered, ‘Roaming here and there, roving about the earth.’
“Then the Eternal said to the Adversary, ‘Have you noticed that there is no one like My servant [Job] on earth, a blameless and an upright man, who reverences God and shuns evil? He still holds to his loyalty: it was idle of you to entice Me to undo him.’ But the Adversary answered, ‘He has saved his own skin! A man will let all he has go, to preserve his life. Only put out Your hand, touch his flesh and bones, and see if he will not curse You to Your face!’ So the Eternal said to the Adversary, ‘There! He is in your power; only, spare his life’” (Job 2:1-6; Moffatt translation).
While this passage concludes with God giving Satan authority to strike Job’s health, God retained final control over his life, with Satan unable to go one inch beyond what God expressly permitted. Studying the account shows specific limits to what Satan could do. Men’s ideas about the devil’s ability to disrupt God’s Plan for mankind collapse like the very fall of man theory that theologians invented.
The account continues with Satan smiting Job with horrible boils over his entire body. As a result, his wife tried to convince him to curse God. His response: “You speak as one of the foolish women...What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).
This is a remarkable passage. It reveals Job’s understanding that human beings must sometimes “receive evil” from God. Notice God does not correct Job for misstating the facts! Rather, the passage validates Job, stating, “in all this did not Job sin with his lips.”
Grasp what you have read in this abbreviated description. God permitted catastrophic suffering in Job’s life—terrible physical and emotional pain beyond imagination! Yes, God directly allowed and endorsed this nightmarish suffering—but it was for an awesome purpose in Job’s life within God’s Master Plan.
The next 34 chapters primarily describe Job’s three friends blaming him for what had befallen him. Throughout, Job refused to accept blame, while continuing to identify God as the source of what had occurred. He knew God was working out an incredible purpose, both in his life—and with all mankind. He had complete faith in God’s overall control of events.
This account is recorded for us to understand! True Christians have faith in God’s decisions about what they must endure. While God could stop Christians from suffering, He does not choose to, because it would thwart His purpose.
The last five chapters show how God eventually brought home certain lessons to Job about God’s greatness and Job’s insignificance in God’s sight.
Study this remarkable book for its application to your life!
Later, Job acknowledged, “No purpose of Yours can be restrained” (Job 42:2; ASV translation). He had previously said, “If a man die, shall he live again?…You will have a desire to the work of Your hands” (Job 14:14-15). Job knew God was working directly in his life, and that nothing could impede or restrain that purpose.
The same is true of you! Christians are purposed by God to develop His character. After a lifetime of overcoming, character development and spiritual growth, they are to be born as sons of God. This process involves suffering and affliction, sometimes both, and sometimes seemingly without end. But this is God’s purpose and no one can defeat it. God knows that life’s all-important learning process is inseparable from suffering.
While most wonder why God does not stop suffering, there is a related question some ask: “Can evil come directly from God?” God answers: “I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isa. 45:6-7).
Obviously, Isaiah agrees with Job. Evil can come from God, and, though always within God’s overall control and purpose, Satan is often the vehicle that brings it. I cannot stress enough how all true servants of God recognize the central role of suffering within the learning and character-building process, crucial to all whom God calls to His truth!
The apostle Paul lived what he taught! Take time to study what Paul’s ministry required him to endure. An astonishing passage—II Cor. 11:24-30—reveals that people can—with God’s help—handle far more discomfort, pain and suffering than they think—if they see its purpose.
Yet, in the grand scheme of things—when compared to the reward that God has in store for all His begotten sons and daughters—how really difficult was the suffering? Paul answers, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us [at the Resurrection]” (Rom. 8:18).
Nothing we endure in this life even remotely compares to the eternal life of supreme happiness in God’s kingdom awaiting those who serve Him. Nevertheless, suffering can be very difficult for the moment—for “this present time.” God understands this, as the One who designed the process, and knows exactly when to let up—when the intended lessons have been learned! God has promised to never allow you to be tried beyond what you can endure. Read I Corinthians 10:13.
Job knew God’s supreme wisdom was at work in all that happened to him—everything. After acknowledging God’s sovereign power over his life, he was blessed far beyond what he had before his long trial. Faith in God paid off in the end.
Remember, God alternates “days of prosperity” with “days of adversity” throughout life. Consider that this means either one will always be followed by the other. If you are enjoying good times, difficult ones are coming. If you are experiencing difficult times, good ones will follow. David knew this, stating, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning [or soon]” (Psa. 30:5).
This is God’s promise. If you submit to Him—if you obey Him in all points—this principle will be fulfilled in your life—both now and eternally! Those in the only Church that Jesus Christ built deeply understand this.
A booklet you need to read is Why Man Cannot Solve His Problems. You will learn knowledge that is so important, but known by so few. Another vital book Tomorrow’s Wonderful World– An Inside View! reveals how the abundant life will come to all people and nations tomorrow, but can be experienced by you today.