Why does God let innocent people suffer?
One of the biggest barriers to belief in God is the question of suffering. The general argument is that, if God is good and benevolent, He would not permit innocent people to endure suffering and pain. But the Bible reveals that God is good and that He allows suffering. There are several reasons the two are not mutually exclusive.
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First, there is no one who is truly innocent in that there is no one without sin. Romans 3:23 tells us that we are all sinners. Colossians 3:13-15 tells us that we are dead in our sins apart from Christ. The result of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and this death has pervaded all of creation. Sometimes suffering is a direct result of the sufferer's sin. At other times suffering is caused by the sinfulness of another. Sometimes suffering has to do with the general fallen nature of our world. Ever since the judgment of Adam and Eve, "the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now" (Romans 8:22). Natural disasters, food and water shortages, violence, disease, and other problems in the world are, ultimately, the result of sin.
Of course, God still has control over the amount of suffering, and He does not allow it unnecessarily. God redeems our times of suffering to use them for His glory (Romans 8:28). Suffering can be a means through which God refines our faith (Romans 5:3-5). We often draw closer to God during times of suffering as we realize that He alone is our refuge (Psalm 91:2). Suffering also helps us remember that we do not belong to this world; so we fix our eyes on Jesus and long for His work to be complete (Philippians 3:20-21).
Not only does God work in us personally through suffering, He uses it to display His glory to the world. Second Timothy 3:12 teaches, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." Those who follow the teachings of Jesus and do what is right often experience suffering, including persecution (John 3:19-21; 15:18-21). Rather than detract from the character of God, this suffering draws attention to the fact that followers of Christ are not part of this fallen world. When we can delight in God even in the midst of our sufferings, we bring God glory. Paul knew persecution firsthand. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, he wrote, "Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." Despite his hardships, Paul wrote extensively on joy (Romans 5:3-5; Colossians 1:23; Philippians 4:4).
Jesus truly was innocent (2 Corinthians 5:21). Yet He endured the cross. Hebrews 12:2-3 says, "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." We need not doubt God is with us during times of suffering. God does not delight in our suffering, nor is He its author. Yes, God does allow us to suffer. But rather than doubt Him, we can trust in His love and see ourselves identifying with Christ, who suffered before returning to the eternal joy of the heavenly Father.
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