Why Does God Allow Suffering?
Has God caused the suffering in the world?
What issue was raised in the garden of Eden?
How will God undo the effects of human suffering?
AFTER a terrible battle in one war-torn land, the thousands of civilian women and children who had been killed were buried in a mass grave surrounded by markers. Each marker bore this inscription: “Why?” Sometimes that is the most painful question of all. People ask it sadly when war, disaster, disease, or crime takes their innocent loved ones, destroys their home, or brings them untold suffering in other ways. They want to know why such tragedies befall them.
2 Why does God allow suffering? If Jehovah God is all-powerful, loving, wise, and just, why is the world so full of hatred and injustice? Have you ever wondered about these things yourself?
3 Is it wrong to ask why God allows suffering? Some worry that asking such a question means that they do not have enough faith or that they are showing disrespect for God. When reading the Bible, however, you will find that faithful, God-fearing people had similar questions. For example, the prophet Habakkuk asked Jehovah: “Why is it that you make me see what is hurtful, and you keep looking upon mere trouble? And why are despoiling and violence in front of me, and why does quarreling occur, and why is strife carried?”—Habakkuk 1:3.
4 Did Jehovah scold the faithful prophet Habakkuk for asking such questions? No. Instead, God included Habakkuk’s sincere words in the inspired Bible record. God also helped him to get a clearer understanding of matters and to gain greater faith. Jehovah wants to do the same for you. Remember, the Bible teaches that “he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) God hates wickedness and the suffering it causes far more than any human does. (Isaiah 55:8, 9) Why, then, is there so much suffering in the world?
WHY SO MUCH SUFFERING?
5 People of various religions have gone to their religious leaders and teachers to ask why there is so much suffering. Often, the response is that suffering is God’s will and that he long ago determined everything that would ever happen, including tragic events. Many are told that God’s ways are mysterious or that he brings death upon people—even children—so that he can have them in heaven with him. As you have learned, though, Jehovah God never causes what is bad. The Bible says: “Far be it from the true God to act wickedly, and the Almighty to act unjustly!”—Job 34:10.
6 Do you know why people make the mistake of blaming God for all the suffering in the world? In many cases, they blame Almighty God because they think that he is the real ruler of this world. They do not know a simple but important truth that the Bible teaches. You learned that truth in Chapter 3 of this book. The real ruler of this world is Satan the Devil.
7 The Bible clearly states: “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) When you think about it, does that not make sense? This world reflects the personality of the invisible spirit creature who is “misleading the entire inhabited earth.” (Revelation 12:9) Satan is hateful, deceptive, and cruel. So the world, under his influence, is full of hatred, deceit, and cruelty. That is one reason why there is so much suffering.
8 A second reason why there is so much suffering is that, as discussed in Chapter 3, mankind has been imperfect and sinful ever since the rebellion in the garden of Eden. Sinful humans tend to struggle for dominance, and this results in wars, oppression, and suffering. (Ecclesiastes 4:1; 8:9) A third reason for suffering is “time and unforeseen occurrence.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) In a world without Jehovah as a protective Ruler, people may suffer because they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
9 It is comforting for us to know that God does not cause suffering. He is not responsible for the wars, the crimes, the oppression, or even the natural disasters that cause people to suffer. Still, we need to know, Why does Jehovah allow all this suffering? If he is the Almighty, he has the power to stop it. Why, then, does he hold back? The loving God that we have come to know must have a good reason.—1 John 4:8.
A VITAL ISSUE IS RAISED
10 To find out why God allows suffering, we need to think back to the time when suffering began. When Satan led Adam and Eve into disobeying Jehovah, an important question was raised. Satan did not call into question Jehovah’s power. Even Satan knows that there is no limit to Jehovah’s power. Rather, Satan questioned Jehovah’s right to rule. By calling God a liar who withholds good from his subjects, Satan charged that Jehovah is a bad ruler. (Genesis 3:2-5) Satan implied that mankind would be better off without God’s rulership. This was an attack on Jehovah’s sovereignty, his right to rule.
11 Adam and Eve rebelled against Jehovah. In effect, they said: ‘We do not need Jehovah as our Ruler. We can decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong.’ How could Jehovah settle that issue? How could he teach all intelligent creatures that the rebels were wrong and that his way truly is best? Someone might say that God should simply have destroyed the rebels and made a fresh start. But Jehovah had stated his purpose to fill the earth with the offspring of Adam and Eve, and he wanted them to live in an earthly paradise. (Genesis 1:28) Jehovah always fulfills his purposes. (Isaiah 55:10, 11) Besides that, getting rid of the rebels in Eden would not have answered the question that had been raised regarding Jehovah’s right to rule.
12 Let us consider an illustration. Imagine that a teacher is telling his students how to solve a difficult problem. A clever but rebellious student claims that the teacher’s way of solving the problem is wrong. Implying that the teacher is not capable, this rebel insists that he knows a much better way to solve the problem. Some students think that he is right, and they also become rebellious. What should the teacher do? If he throws the rebels out of the class, what will be the effect on the other students? Will they not believe that their fellow student and those who joined him are right? All the other students in the class might lose respect for the teacher, thinking that he is afraid of being proved wrong. But suppose that the teacher allows the rebel to show the class how he would solve the problem.
13 Jehovah has done something similar to what the teacher does. Remember that the rebels in Eden were not the only ones involved. Millions of angels were watching. (Job 38:7; Daniel 7:10) How Jehovah handled the rebellion would greatly affect all those angels and eventually all intelligent creation. So, what has Jehovah done? He has allowed Satan to show how he would rule mankind. God has also allowed humans to govern themselves under Satan’s guidance.
14 The teacher in our illustration knows that the rebel and the students on his side are wrong. But he also knows that allowing them the opportunity to try to prove their point will benefit the whole class. When the rebels fail, all honest students will see that the teacher is the only one qualified to lead the class. They will understand why the teacher thereafter removes any rebels from the class. Similarly, Jehovah knows that all honesthearted humans and angels will benefit from seeing that Satan and his fellow rebels have failed and that humans cannot govern themselves. Like Jeremiah of old, they will learn this vital truth: “I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.”—Jeremiah 10:23.
WHY SO LONG?
15 Why, though, has Jehovah allowed suffering to go on for so long? And why does he not prevent bad things from happening? Well, consider two things that the teacher in our illustration would not do. First, he would not stop the rebel student from presenting his case. Second, the teacher would not help the rebel to make his case. Similarly, consider two things that Jehovah has determined not to do. First, he has not stopped Satan and those who side with him from trying to prove that they are right. Allowing time to pass has thus been necessary. In the thousands of years of human history, mankind has been able to try every form of self-rule, or human government. Mankind has made some advances in science and other fields, but injustice, poverty, crime, and war have grown ever worse. Human rule has now been shown to be a failure.
16 Second, Jehovah has not helped Satan to rule this world. If God were to prevent horrible crimes, for instance, would he not, in effect, be supporting the case of the rebels? Would God not be making people think that perhaps humans can govern themselves without disastrous results? If Jehovah were to act in that way, he would become party to a lie. However, “it is impossible for God to lie.”—Hebrews 6:18.
17 What, though, about all the harm that has been done during the long rebellion against God? We do well to remember that Jehovah is almighty. Therefore, he can and will undo the effects of mankind’s suffering. As we have already learned, the ruining of our planet will be undone by the turning of the earth into Paradise. The effects of sin will be removed through faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, and the effects of death will be reversed by means of the resurrection. God will thus use Jesus “to break up the works of the Devil.” (1 John 3:8) Jehovah will bring all of this about at just the right time. We can be glad that he has not acted sooner, for his patience has given us the opportunity to learn the truth and to serve him. (2 Peter 3:9, 10) Meanwhile, God has been actively seeking sincere worshipers and helping them to endure any suffering that may come upon them in this troubled world.—John 4:23; 1 Corinthians 10:13.
18 Some might wonder, Could all this suffering have been prevented if God had created Adam and Eve in such a way that they could not rebel? To answer that question, you need to remember a precious gift that Jehovah has given you.
HOW WILL YOU USE THE GIFT FROM GOD?
19 As was noted in Chapter 5, humans were created with free will. Do you realize what a precious gift that is? God has made countless animals, and these are driven largely by instinct. (Proverbs 30:24) Man has made some robots that can be programmed to follow every command. Would we be happy if God had made us like that? No, we are glad to have the freedom to make choices about what kind of person to become, what course of life to pursue, what friendships to form, and so on. We love to have a measure of freedom, and that is what God wants us to enjoy.
20 Jehovah is not interested in service performed under compulsion. (2 Corinthians 9:7) To illustrate: What would please a parent more—a child’s saying “I love you” because he is told to say it or his saying it freely from the heart? So the question is, How will you use the free will that Jehovah has given you? Satan, Adam, and Eve made the worst possible use of free will. They rejected Jehovah God. What will you do?
21 You have the opportunity to put the marvelous gift of free will to the best possible use. You can join the millions who have taken a stand on Jehovah’s side. They make God rejoice because they take an active part in proving Satan a liar and a miserable failure as a ruler. (Proverbs 27:11) You too can do that by choosing the right course of life. This will be explained in the next chapter.
WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES
▪ God does not cause the bad conditions in the world.—Job 34:10.
▪ By calling God a liar and saying that He withholds good from His subjects, Satan questioned Jehovah’s right to rule.—Genesis 3:2-5.
▪ Jehovah will use his Son, the Ruler of the Messianic Kingdom, to end all human suffering and to undo its effects.—1 John 3:8.
1, 2. What kind of suffering do people face today, leading many to ask what questions?
3, 4. (a) What shows that it is not wrong to ask why God allows suffering? (b) How does Jehovah feel about wickedness and suffering?
5. What reasons are sometimes offered to explain human suffering, but what does the Bible teach?
6. Why do many people make the mistake of blaming God for the suffering in the world?
7, 8. (a) How does the world reflect the personality of its ruler? (b) How have human imperfection and “time and unforeseen occurrence” contributed to suffering?
9. Why can we be sure that Jehovah has a good reason for allowing suffering to continue?
10. What did Satan call into question, and how?
11. Why did Jehovah not just destroy the rebels in Eden?
12, 13. Illustrate why Jehovah has allowed Satan to become the ruler of this world and why God has permitted humans to govern themselves.
14. What benefit will come from Jehovah’s decision to allow humans to govern themselves?
15, 16. (a) Why has Jehovah allowed suffering to continue for so long? (b) Why has Jehovah not prevented such things as horrible crimes?
17, 18. What will Jehovah do about all the harm that has resulted from the rule of humans and the influence of Satan?
19. What precious gift has Jehovah given us, and why should we value it?
20, 21. How may we use the gift of free will in the best possible way, and why should we want to do so?
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Jehovah will end all suffering
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Is the student more qualified than the teacher?
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God will help you to endure suffering