Why do we suffer, and more importantly, why does God allow us to suffer? Why doesn’t he just step in and stop bad things from happening?
Welcome to part two of an updated and improved version of a series I first wrote six years ago. I approach this subject from a Biblical point of view: how does scripture answer such fundamental questions?
So much of our suffering results from the way we humans act, towards others and towards ourselves. We can easily understand that. If a thief robs our house we’re suffering because of his deed. But the next thought that enters our mind once we realize that the house was robbed by a scoundrel is “Why did God allow this to happen to me?
An unavoidable issue to consider in the quest for answers to the opening questions is that of free will, because with free-will comes the likelihood that someone will suffer at the hands of someone else’s bad actions.
God clearly planned for mankind to have a mind of his own. According to Genesis, when He first made the world and everything in it he made one tree-and only one-which Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat from. It was called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. God warned them that if they ate from it they would die. It seems to have been a simple, easy choice in a simple world. Everything was created for their happiness: all they had to do was avoid that one tree.
What happened? They believed the lie fed to them that they would be better off not following their maker’s instructions, and they ate the forbidden fruit.
Why, we may ask, did God do such a thing as to make a deadly tree in an otherwise perfect world? The answer is really quite straightforward, if you think it through. With God’s intention to give mankind true intelligence and the ability to choose there had to be an opportunity to disobey, to make a wrong choice and to enact the decision. The potential for a wrong choice had to be real, the deed had to be allowed to happen, and there had to be real consequences, or free will would not be free will. Do we want to be pre-programmed like a robot, and be made to behave in a certain way, and be made to go to heaven and worship God, or would we rather make our own choices?
In any case, that particular decision has already been made for us: we have the conscience and the ability to choose, and we’re stuck with it!
True, some people don’t live long enough to think it all through, and some don’t have enough information to make a very informed choice about God or right and wrong: that’s a subject for another day.
Unfortunately Adam’s bad decision-making didn’t end at eating from the forbidden tree. From our ultimate progenitor until this day the history of man is marked with bad decisions and bad living. We harm each other, and we harm ourselves. As we look around our world and at our own lives we can see the affects of those decisions.
THE ULTIMATE PURPOSE OF FREE WILL
When God created the world he never wanted Adam and Eve and their descendants to disobey his warnings. However, even before he created the world he had “Plan B” ready (1 Peter 18-20). God didn’t “lose” his creation when Adam and his descendants disobeyed and essentially rebelled against his perfect nature. It wasn’t suddenly beyond his reach so that he gave up on it. Humanity didn’t become independent of him in the sense that the world is now ours to do what we want with it. Scripture speaks plainly of consequences for our actions, the ultimate one being the future judgment of all mankind before the world is restored to its pristine condition.
Humanity through the ages has included a mass of people who’ve willingly chosen to seek God. It’s these people who’ve used their free-will to try to obey and to love God who will populate his heaven and his universe for all eternity, and who will have incredible, intimate fellowship with their maker. This is the ultimate purpose of free-will. Please note that I’m not advocating salvation by works: salvation from our sin is found in the gift of God, his son Jesus Christ.
Jesus in a parable likened the world of mankind to a farmer’s field. The farmer waits patiently for his crop to grow, though there are weeds in with the good grain. Those who have rejected and opposed him are compared to weeds. The farmer tells his workers not to pull up the weeds too soon, as they may pull the good plants up with them-don’t forget that this parable was given before weed-killing chemicals and other intense farming methods were developed.
The workers were to wait until harvest, at which time the crop and the weeds would be separated. The harvest represents the end of the age of human government (see Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43). If you read about the return of Jesus Christ to bring both salvation and judgment (Matthew 24) you will find that these passages fit together perfectly.
God’s heaven will be populated by multitudes of people who were not necessarily perfect in their earthly lives, but who at some point acknowledged that God’s ways were right and theirs were not, and who then attempted to live in obedience. They will fit perfectly into the new world, and they’ll be happy there. In contrast, those who chose to reject him and his ways now would certainly not be happy there, and if they were sent there, they would only make heaven into the same confused, violent, cold-hearted, rebellious mess that we see around us now.
Yes I believe in answered prayer. However, God does not stop all suffering in this world, because his plan is not to patch up a fallen world (as an example, read about Paul’s physical ailment, for which he prayed for healing three times (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Instead, God’s “Plan B”, which is really part of the original plan, is for us to find salvation from our sin and bad decisions and actions through his Son Jesus Christ. God is preparing a ‘crop’ of followers for his heaven: people who love his ways and who choose his will above their own.