Why do good people suffer? Why does God allow suffering?
When God created humankind, He wanted a perfect life for us. But sin entered into the picture. So now we get to have a rough life; people suffer because of sin. Oppression, illness, death, broken relationships and trauma are all forms of suffering.
God allows us to suffer, not to punish but to refine us. So when you feel you’re in the furnace of affliction, remember God’s promise to bless those who persevere under trial. He told us that whoever endures the test will receive a crown of life.
What is Suffering?
In a broad sense, it is a state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship. It affects people either mentally or physically.
From a medical standpoint, it is a state where the individual’s condition is threatened.
From a biblical perspective, it is universal. It is written, “For we know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs together until now.”
Different Views on Suffering
When misfortune strikes, we tend to bring God into the picture. We can’t help but ask why He has “allowed” this painful hardship.
The ugly truth about pain can either be good or bad.
For Bible believers, the Almighty hears the literal “groans” of those who suffer. They understand that without God human life is futile. It may seem unfair to those who are clueless about God’s power and glory but this is the only natural way for people to learn.
Some may believe that suffering can make the best of an even worse situation. Others discern that it is necessary in order to improve one’s character.
To be specific, here are some reasons why people believe suffering occurs:
- Result of the fallen world
- Consequence of sin
- Process of correction
- Builds faith
- Part of persecution
Humans have the power to be optimistic. Despite the pain, they see the following positive effects:
- Empowers us to face the pain in the knowledge that we can survive.
- Prompts compassion within us towards others who experience similar difficulties.
- Enlightens and instills a deeper appreciation for what we have and renews our sense of purpose.
- Strengthens the belief that our characters are being refined and our faith increased.
Effects of Suffering on the Human Condition
Scientific research shows that hardship brings psychological distress and physical deterioration. Depression, anxiety, worry and agitation are the apparent effects.
Studies confirm that when we are on the verge of depression, our judgement is impaired. Some people resort to avoidance and isolation. Others become quiet, introverted, lose appetite and overload the mind with negative thoughts. Then the physical effects become manifest, such as emotional pain, nausea and difficulty in breathing.
Where is God when we Suffer?
Yes, our human nature questions this every time we feel down. Let’s learn from true stories of suffering set in the ancient world:
Abraham and the Sacrifice of his Son
The account of Abraham’s life story is enlightening. His wife was too old to bear a child but God promised Abraham that he would have a son and was destined to become the father of all nations. And so it was; his wife Sara conceived and Isaac was born. One day, the Almighty asked Abraham to sacrifice his long-awaited son on Mount Moriah. As instructed, he set off with a heavy heart.
Imagine yourself in this father’s situation. Could you obey and give your one and only child as a burnt offering? Who could bear the pain?
Abraham was greatly distressed and yet completely trusted his Creator and did not doubt the promise that he would one day be the father of nations. The altar was prepared and everything explained to the boy. Abraham prepared to slay his son but God cried out and stopped him, providing a ram as an offering in Isaac’s place. God multiplied this faithful patriarch’s offspring as the stars in the sky.
This story shows that hardship tests our faith and hope. Pain moulds the character and makes us stronger. Our mighty and merciful Redeemer delivers us just in time.
How do we cope with suffering? Can we still rejoice and praise the heavenly King? Can we hold on to our faith? Or will we turn away from it? These questions are worth consideration.
Job was a very wealthy and powerful man from the land of Uz. He lived a peaceful life until Satan summoned God to test his loyalty.
The battle for Job’s life began. He suffered for no valid reason. All at once he lost his entire wealth as well as his wife, children and friends. Not only did he lose all his possessions, but he was cursed with leprosy—a grievous illness without cure in those days. Yes, he was tortured in flesh and spirit, in total innocence.
Are you in the same boat? Have you ever asked why good people suffer? Learn from Job and overcome your doubt.
Despite his great misfortune, Job’s faith remained. He did not doubt the Almighty and never considered his condition as being God’s will. Instead of questioning his Creator, he praised and acknowledged His presence. What great faith! Eventually, when Job had endured every evil and agony, God restored everything to him, and twice as much wealth as before.
Joseph’s Journey from Pit to Throne
Overwhelmed with jealousy, his brothers threw young Joseph into a pit but later, when a group of merchants passed by, they sold him. Joseph was taken to Egypt where he was traded as a slave to work in the household of Potiphar, a captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Potiphar’s wife was attracted to Joseph and tried to entice him with her charms. Knowing this would be sinful, Joseph refused to comply. Scorned, she then accused him of impropriety and had him thrown into jail.
Joseph was godly, hating and shunning evil. He didn’t deserve to suffer.
His trials included not only separation from his family, physical and financial, but he was also persecuted for his righteousness. Do you think it is fair if someone who acts like Joseph is persecuted because of their faith? Our answer is obviously no!
Modern Day Stories of Suffering
Have you read the book ‘Gifted Hands’ by Ben Carson? If not, we suggest you read it and be inspired by this success story.
Dr Ben Carson is a retired neurosurgeon and politician. He rose to fame when he led the first surgical team to successfully separate conjoined twins, joined at the back of the head. But success did not come easily. As a child, he was not considered to be very bright. He encountered racial discrimination and humiliation but this only served to challenge him to prove his worth.
What was his secret? How did he overcome the unjust treatment of society? Despite the odds, Carson had a God-fearing mother who believed in his ability and gave him encouragement. His mother’s Christian faith and witness led him to follow the same path.
As we strive against painful experiences, let’s not leave God out of the picture.
One Woman’s Success Despite Racism
The story of a courageous black woman named Eva Dykes is worth sharing.
Eva was a victim of racial discrimination, especially where her education was concerned. Despite receiving a B.A. summa cum laude from the predominantly black Howard university, when she enrolled at Radcliffe College (the female counterpart to Harvard) for further studies, she was required to redo the bachelor degree. Undeterred, she undertook her studies with renewed vigour, gaining a second B.A. magna cum laude, followed by an M.A. In 1921 she became the first African-American woman to complete her doctoral degree in English Philology.
Eva Dykes suffered from racial and gender discrimination. Her treatment was undeserved but she humbled herself and allowed God to work through her. Her faith in God and love for humanity always came first. Eva’s academic achievements and career spanned the decades of the twentieth century. Her life story continues to inspire others to reach greater heights within society, even to this day.
What is the Connection
Between Faith and Suffering?
Affliction is a depressing reality in this world. Yet God, our creator and sustainer, holds the future. So why does He allow us to suffer? Is He testing our faith?
Pain Refines the Purity of our Being
Different ethnic groups have a different conception of hardship, depending on faith beliefs. For example, Hinduism teaches that karma is the result of actions. Buddhists, on the other hand, believe it is an integral part of everyday life. In contrast, Christians have a variety of opinions, based on the type and intensity of the suffering.
Many believe it is a consequence of hasty decision making. Karma is when a person suffers as a result of their own wickedness. There is a connotation that if you are terrible you deserve to suffer but when a good person suffers, it is unfair.
There is an interrogation as to why good people suffer. The question is asked whether suffering is God’s requirement in order to enter His kingdom. But obviously this is not the case! Remember, God wants to restore us. He is not immune from suffering but was deeply wounded when His only-begotten Son was sacrificed.
Let’s consider ourselves in the position of God. We are His creation in His own image and, as such, He feels our pain when we suffer. God is a loving Father and only wishes good for His earthly children.
Contemplate that despite the bitterness we suffer in this life, our perseverance and trust in God will refine our characters for an eternity with Him.
Test of Faith in Times of Pain
When we suffer our faith is put to the test. The natural human tendency will either lean more on, or turn away from our faith. Misery causes us to look at our faith from a different perspective, depending on its intensity or impact. Many will come to the realization that we are helpless and hopeless without God.
The truth about hardship is it’s not ours to face alone. Remember Paul’s famous reminder, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” This tells us to rejoice in affliction for not only does it purify the character, but also strengthens our faith.
God's Promises in Times of Pain and Sorrow
All creatures suffer. There is no exception. Thus, we often find it hard to reconcile with God when peril strikes. The ordinary human condition longs for immediate solutions. Our patience is too short to wait for the right answer from God. We tend to make hasty decisions that can lead to destruction. We even compromise our faith in God. Despite His goodness, we still doubt His promise.
The Apostle Peter wrote, “After your season of suffering, God with all His grace will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Likewise, the Apostle Paul claimed, “The pain that you have been feeling can’t compare to the joy that’s coming.” Both of these men were no strangers to unimaginable suffering. Let’s trust God wholeheartedly and we will not fail. No matter how many times we suffer we will be triumphant in the end. God is miraculously working out His plan within us, not to harm but to prosper us in the future.
Hope in God's Promises
Even now, there is no precise answer as to why people suffer. Even good people suffer. No one is exempt, not even God but His Word teaches us how to face and cope.
There are more than enough stories of success through adversity, from Abraham to Job and Joseph to Jesus, to aid us in our strife. God clearly intends to accomplish good things through the test of faith. Consider these words from a song, “What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?”
It is tough to discern how God works in our misery. Yet His sacrificial love is the ultimate illustration of enduring agony. Remember, God loves you! When you are in great distress, He shares the same burden. Families, friends and events may cause us misery, but God remains faithful to His promise. He will never abandon us and will be with us to the very end of the age. Rest secure in the knowledge that there will be an end to violence, affliction and sin when God returns to restore righteousness and peace forevermore.