Why God Permitted Suffering
“It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step. Correct me, O Jehovah.”—Jeremiah 10:23, 24.
THOSE words were written thousands of years after humans were created. Jeremiah realized that up to his day, human history was a tragedy compared with the good start God gave our first parents.
Jeremiah’s observation has been reinforced by the record of over 2,500 additional years of history since his time. The human tragedy has even worsened. What went wrong?
Misuse of Free Will
Our first parents lost sight of the fact that they were not created to prosper apart from God and his laws. They decided to become independent of God, thinking that would improve their lives. But this was an abuse of their freedom. They stepped outside the God-ordained limits of free will.—Genesis, chapter 3.
Why did God not just destroy Adam and Eve and start over with another human pair? Because his universal sovereignty and his way of ruling had been brought into question. His being Almighty God and the Creator of all creatures gives him the right to rule over them. Since he is All-Wise, his rule is best for all creatures. But God-rule was now challenged.
Could humans do better than being ruled by God? The Creator certainly knew the answer to that question. A sure way for humans to find out was to allow them the unlimited freedom they desired. Therefore, one reason, among others, why God has permitted wickedness and suffering is to show beyond any doubt whether human rule independent of him can succeed.a
Adam and Eve brought suffering upon themselves and their offspring. They ‘reaped what they sowed.’ (Galatians 6:7) “They have acted ruinously on their own part; they are not [God’s] children, the defect is their own.”—Deuteronomy 32:5.
Our first parents had been warned that independence from God’s rule would result in their death. (Genesis 2:17) That proved to be the truth. By leaving God, they left their source of health and life. They degenerated until death overtook them.—Genesis 3:19.
Thereafter, God permitted enough time for the human family to demonstrate fully whether any political, social, or economic system they devised apart from his rule would prove completely satisfying. Would any of these systems usher in a happy, peaceful world free from crime or war? Would any develop material prosperity for all? Would any conquer sickness, old age, and death? God’s rule had been designed to accomplish all those things.—Genesis 1:26-31.
What the Passage of Time Teaches
History soon brought home the truth of Romans 5:12: “Death spread to all men.” This verse explains that “through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin.” When our first parents rebelled against God’s rule, they became defective, imperfect. This defectiveness was all they could pass on to their offspring. As a result, all of us have been born defective, prone to sickness and death.
The passage of time also has revealed how horribly sin-laden people behave toward one another. There have been vicious wars too numerous to count, ethnic and religious hatreds, inquisitions, awful crimes of all sorts, and acts of selfishness and greed. In addition, poverty and hunger have victimized countless millions of people.
During the past thousands of years, mankind has tried every conceivable type of government. Yet, one after another has failed to satisfy man’s needs. Recently, Communist governments have been rejected in many lands. In democratic nations there is rampant crime, poverty, economic instability, and corruption. Really, all forms of human government have proved deficient.
Further, God has allowed time for humans to come to their peak of scientific and material achievement. But is it genuine progress when the bow and arrow have been replaced by nuclear missiles? when people can travel into space but cannot live together in peace on earth? when millions of people fear going out at night because of crime?
What the test of time shows is that it is no more possible for humans to ‘direct their own steps’ successfully than it is for them to live without food, water, and air. We were designed to be dependent on our Maker’s guidance as surely as we were created to be dependent on food, water, and air.—Matthew 4:4.
By permitting wickedness and suffering, God has once and for all time shown the sad results of misusing free will. This is such a precious gift that rather than take free will away from humans, God has allowed them to see what its misuse means.
Regarding free will, the publication “Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism” says: “Without the real possibility of people making the wrong choice when confronted by good and evil, the entire concept of choice is meaningless. . . . Much of the world’s suffering directly results from our misuse of the free will granted to us.”
Surely, Jeremiah was correct when he said: “It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” And Solomon too was correct when he said: “Man has dominated man to his injury.”—Ecclesiastes 8:9.
Forcefully, that illustrates man’s inability to eradicate suffering. Even Solomon, with all his wisdom, wealth, and power could not straighten out the misery stemming from human rule.
How, then, will God bring an end to suffering? Will he ever compensate humans for their past suffering?
a For a fuller discussion of all the issues involved, see the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, chapters 11 and 12, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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God gave mankind a perfect start, but history shows that independent of God humans cannot ‘direct their steps’ successfully