Suffering, what is it? There are two types of suffering, mental and physical. Anguish, distress, torment of mind, no sense of peace; these are aspects of mental suffering. With physical suffering there is the experience of pain. Over long periods of time pain is extremely debilitating. Even thinking straight while experiencing pain is difficult, and sometimes one can only try to exist from moment to moment.
For Christians who have to face questions from nonbelievers, the topic of suffering is perhaps the most difficult to answer. They ask, “Why should a God of love (1 John 4:8) allow suffering?” Does God’s Word, the Bible provide the answer?
Natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, tsunamis and drought all bring suffering – both mental and physical.
In this day and age of global warming many of these natural disasters are on the increase, both in intensity and frequency. The scientists tell us we humans are the main cause of global warming. Of course, as a Christian, each one of us is responsible before God to honour His Word in this respect. We are to look after His world and have ‘dominion’ over it (Genesis 1:26, :28). He put Adam in the Garden of Eden, ‘to tend and keep it.’ (Genesis 2:15)
Both physical and mental suffering can directly be brought about by persons; for example, a husband who bullies and dominates his wife, might also abuse her physically. A person who tortures another, directly causes pain: physical and mental.
Ill health, defects of birth, inherited faulty genes; they can all cause suffering. Physical and chemical defects of the brain can be a direct cause of mental illness, as can the taking of certain drugs.
Why does God allow suffering?
His own Son suffered on the cross to pay for our sins. Without suffering He could not have done it. He suffered (1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 13:12) so that we should not have to suffer in Hell. That is great love. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13) He went on to say, “You are My friends if you do whatever I ask.”
Before the fall of Adam, there was no sin and no suffering and no pain. Everything was good. God made a perfect world. (Genesis 1:31) Adam’s sin marred everything and brought death and decay. (Genesis 3:17-19)
There will come a time when Jesus returns to earth to call to Himself all who trust and believe in Him. (Matthew 25:21–45; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10) He will take them to a new world where there will be no more suffering and pain. Here’s the relevant text:
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow; nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passes away’ (Revelation 21:4).
Meanwhile, God allows ALL to suffer the consequences of Adam’s sin, which include mental and physical suffering. There is no distinction between those who love Him and those who hate Him. At some time in our life we all suffer, whether it is from toothache, a fractured wrist, a severed leg, headache, depression, mental anguish or schizophrenia.
It must be pointed out that the outcome of suffering is not all bad. Great love is shown by those with compassion for the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless and the impoverished, all of whom suffer (Matthew 25:31-45).
For the Christian who shows such love there is the reward of eternal life. The distinction between those who do it as to Jesus and those who don’t, is that they reap the reward of eternal bliss where there is no pain, no suffering and no more tears. (Revelation 21:1-4)
Why God has decreed this, I cannot answer. (Job 40:1-5) I can only trust Him, the Judge of all the earth. He is the righteous God. Abraham said of Him,
“Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis18:25)