If There is a God, Why is There Physical Suffering?
The disease of Covid-19 has brought physical suffering into view in a way not seen perhaps since the Spanish flu. Statistics of infections, hospitalizations and deaths have been continually placed in front of us for over two years. Few of us have not been touched in some way.
Less lately in the media forefront, but occurring as always, have been countless other diseases, as well as accidents, birth defects and natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, fires, floods, droughts, and pestilence.
All of the above, even if they do not bring immediate death, bring tremendous suffering to us and our loved ones and are reminders that death is coming. As is the case with the moral evil that is rampant in the world (discussed in the May, 2022 issue), the grievous physical suffering in the world has caused some to wonder, “How could there be a God?”
Some refuse to believe in God, while others doubt He exists because of the physical “evil” of suffering in this world. They wonder, “How could there be One who is ‘Almighty’ if the world is full of so many defects?” “And, if there is a God, how can it be said that He cares for man when He has placed him the middle of tragedy, sorrow, and death?”
These questions may have crossed your mind as well or you have wondered how to answer the questions of others. Let us look to the Scriptures for answers…
Does God Lack Power? Job says, “No!!”
The book of Job provides us with the most extensive discussion in the Bible of the problem of suffering. The writing begins with a “behind the scenes” look at what transpired in heaven before Job’s suffering began.
God asked Satan if he had considered His upright servant Job. Satan replied that Job served God because of the abundant possessions He had given to him. So God gave Satan permission to take away His possessions to see if, when he had nothing, he would curse God or continue to worship Him (1:6-12). When Job did not renounce God, Satan asked to afflict Job personally and this, too, God granted. But God did not permit him to take his life. Satan then afflicted Job with boils all over his body. (2:1-7)
This background information to Job’s troubles lets us know that suffering is something that God is in control of, but that it actually stems from Satan. Satan seeks to turn men against God with the “evil” of affliction, but God controls the “if” and “to what extent” such suffering is allowed to occur.
After Job and his friends debated the reasons for his suffering, God spoke to Job out of a whirlwind. He asked Job where he was when He laid the earth’s foundations and set the bounds of the sea. Had he ever brought the dawn of the day to the world? Had he caused it to rain, hail, lightning, or snow? Had he set in order the constellations? Had he created and cared every day for the animal kingdom? (chapters 38-41)
God’s answer to Job showed him that the tragedies he suffered were not due to His lack of power to prevent them. The Creator’s answer also showed Job that he was just a small powerless creature who should not question how the Almighty worked in his life.
When God finished speaking Job replied, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted… Hear now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me. I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (42:1-6).
We do not have to have God appear to us in a tornado to understand that He exists. We, too, can clearly see the attributes of a Creator, His eternal power and divine nature, by looking at the things which He has made (Rom 1:20). The suffering that we experience and that we see in the lives of everyone around us does not occur because there is no one who exists who is powerful enough to stop it….
Suffering Happens Because God Does Care
So, if there is an Almighty God who could stop suffering, then why doesn’t He? Doesn’t He care? The Scriptures point out that the evil of suffering is present in the world because God does care. The world was made “good” and man, the crown of God’s creation, was said to be “very good” (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, and 31). The “evil”, that is, all the things that cause man pain and tears, came into the world after Adam and Eve’s sin. The physical consequences of their sin (Gen 3:16-19) were more than a punishment to them for their personal disobedience. God wanted all succeeding generations to understand the serious consequences of sin.
When women have pain in childbirth, when men work with sweat in the midst of thorns to feed their families, when people die as the result of defects, sickness, accidents and natural disasters God is shouting, “Think about the consequences of sin!” He shouts this continually at the hospital, the nursing home and the cemetery.
Physical disease reminds us of our spiritual disease. Physical death points us toward the much more to be feared spiritual death- separation from God, now and forever in hell. Temporal suffering makes us want to avoid sin and the worse, eternal suffering that it brings (Jn 5:14).
As God sent Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, He subjected the world to “evil” in hope (Rom 8:18-25). His subjection of the world to suffering was both temporary and purposeful. Even when God sent the sinful pair out of the Garden, He was looking forward to the glorious revealing of His sons in new bodies that would no longer suffer misery. To see “evil” in its proper perspective, we must look at it from an eternal perspective. When compared to eternal glory, all earthly pain and suffering is “light” (2 Cor 4:16-5:10).
God uses “evil” to discipline His sons so that they may experience eternal glory. The same trials that Satan uses to try to destroy our relationship with God, God intends to work for our spiritual good- to draw us closer to Him. What we see as “disorder” in the world is part of His “order”. What we see as a lack of His care is actually part of His care. (Rom
Through experiencing the “evil” of suffering, Job learned patience (Js 5:11), David corrected his life (Ps 119:67, 71, 75), Solomon understood the meaning of life (Eccl 1:12-15 & 12:13-14), and Paul remained humble despite receiving glorious revelations (2 Cor 12:7-10). To the servant of God, the “evil” of this world that brings tears is part of God’s care and, in the spiritual growth that results, he can rejoice…
O, Yes He Cares!
God says there is nothing that can separate His child from His love- “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecutions, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Rom 8:35)
Suffering should not cause us to disbelieve or to doubt, but to be drawn closer to God. If He gave us His Son, will He abandon us in suffering? (Rom
So, when suffering we must turn to God in prayer (Js 5:13). The Holy Spirit will speak to God on our behalf that the will of God be done; what is best for our eternal salvation will happen (Rom 8:26-30). Jesus, who is on the right hand of God, will also intercede to the Father for us (Rom 8:34). Having lived here on earth, He understands and sympathizes with whatever we are going through.
We can be comforted by the Scriptural truth of the hymn of Frank Graeff: “O yes, He cares, I know He cares, His heart is touched with my grief; When the days are weary, the long night dreary, I know my Savior cares.”
If you are not a child of God, become one by believing and confessing Jesus is Lord and repenting of your sins and being baptized (Rom 10:9-10; Acts 2:38) Then enjoy the blessing of His care through good and bad times followed by a home in heaven when trials are over.
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