Perhaps some of the greatest difficulties and least answerable questions in life arise on account of suffering. All human beings, in some form or another, experience suffering in their lives; we all must find ways of grappling with it. Why do people suffer? How can a loving God allow people to suffer? These questions are constantly asked, and answers are often difficult to provide. Nevertheless, let us see what the Scriptures have to say about suffering.
People suffer in different ways for different reasons. Many suffer physically from illness, chronic conditions, inherited difficulties, self-inflicted difficulties, or simply on account of natural physical decay (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:1-5). People also experience mental or psychological suffering based on traumatic experiences or on account of mental problems. Emotional suffering is prevalent; human beings often inflict emotional pain on one another. Suffering takes many different forms, then, and many suffer from multiple sources of pain.
The Bible reveals that the origin of suffering is the consequence of the sin of Adam and Eve. God established that His creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31); pain, death, and therefore suffering were introduced after Adam and Eve transgressed God’s command (Genesis 3:16-19; Romans 5:11-17). Sin, therefore, is the ultimate origin of suffering, and because of it everyone suffers.
Sin itself is a major cause of suffering. Violence leads to much physical suffering (Galatians 5:19-21); the physical, psychological, and emotional suffering caused by sexual sin is great indeed (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). Sin can lead to the suffering of the sinner on account of the consequences of his sin; sin also causes the victim of sin to suffer, and also all those who love the sinner and/or the sinner’s victim. Indeed, it is likely that the majority of suffering experienced in the world is caused by sin.
While sin explains the origin of suffering and the cause of much suffering, it is not sufficient to explain all forms of suffering, as seen with Job. Job is a righteous man who suffers greatly, but not on account of anything that he has done (Job 1:1-2:10). Nevertheless, Job’s friends charge him with wrong, believing that God causes sinners to suffer but blesses the righteous (Job 4:1-37:24). In the end, God establishes that Job’s friends did not speak correctly (Job 42:7). Good people sometimes suffer; bad people are often blessed (Job 21:7-14). Rain falls upon the good and the evil (Matthew 5:45). To the chagrin of many, therefore, blessings and sufferings in and of themselves do not indicate divine approval or condemnation.
Why do people suffer? How can a loving God allow people to suffer? While sin explains why suffering is present and often explains why people suffer, there are times when suffering cannot be explained. The question must not focus on the reason for suffering, but on how we will react to difficulties that cause us to suffer. Will we give up on God and lose everything, leading to eternal suffering (cf. Luke 13:28)? Or will we hold to faith, discovering that persevering through suffering has some positive consequences (James 1:2-3)?
Suffering should not distance us from God; indeed, it should bring us closer to Him. God has extended the promise of eternity with Him for those who obey His Son Jesus Christ, and suffering with its pain and death will not be there (Revelation 22:1-6). Let us be obedient to God, and be healed!
Ethan R. Longhenry