Young People Ask . . .
Why Does God Let Us Suffer?
“God is up in heaven where everything is pleasant, while we are down here suffering.”—Mary.a
TODAY’S young people have been born into a cruel world. Tragic earthquakes and natural disasters that snuff out the lives of thousands seem to be commonplace. Wars and terrorist attacks dominate the news. Sickness, disease, crime, and accidents rob us of loved ones. For Mary, quoted above, evil hit close to home. Her bitter words were uttered after the death of her father.
When tragedy touches us personally, it is only human to feel frustration, loss, or even anger. ‘Why did this have to happen?’ you may wonder. ‘Why me?’ or ‘Why now?’ Such questions deserve satisfying answers. But to get the right answers, we must go to the right source. Granted, as a youth named Turrell observed, sometimes people are “hurting too much to think things through.” So you may need to find a way to calm your emotions a bit so that you can think—logically and rationally.
Facing Unpleasant Realities
It may be unpleasant to contemplate, but death and suffering are facts of life. Job put it well when he said: “Man, born of woman, is short-lived and glutted with agitation.”—Job 14:1.
The Bible promises a new world in which “righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:3, 4) Before those ideal conditions are realized, however, mankind must go through a time of unprecedented wickedness. “Know this,” says the Bible, “in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here.”—2 Timothy 3:1.
How long will these difficult times last? Jesus’ disciples asked more or less the same question. But Jesus did not give them a specific day or hour when this misery-stricken system of things would end. Instead, Jesus said: “He that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.” (Matthew 24:3, 13) Jesus’ words encourage us to take a long-range view. We must be prepared to endure many unpleasant situations before the end finally comes.
Is God to Blame?
Does it make sense, then, to be angry with God because he permits suffering? Not when you consider that God has promised to end all suffering. Nor does it make sense to feel that God causes bad things to happen. Many tragic happenings are simply the result of random events. Imagine, for example, that the wind blows a tree down and it injures someone. People may call this an act of God. But God did not make that tree fall down. The Bible helps us to appreciate that such things are simply the sad result of “time and unforeseen occurrence.”—Ecclesiastes 9:11.
Suffering may also stem from poor judgment. Suppose a group of youths indulge in alcoholic beverages and then go for a drive. A serious accident results. Who is to blame? God? No, they have reaped the consequences of their poor judgment.—Galatians 6:7.
‘But isn’t God powerful enough to end suffering now?’ you may ask. Some faithful men in Bible times wondered about that. The prophet Habakkuk asked God: “Why is it that you look on those dealing treacherously, that you keep silent when someone wicked swallows up someone more righteous than he is?” However, Habakkuk did not jump to hasty conclusions. He said: “I shall keep watch, to see what he will speak by me.” Later, God assured him that at an “appointed time,” He would end suffering. (Habakkuk 1:13; 2:1-3) We must therefore be patient, waiting for God to end wickedness at his appointed time.
Avoid jumping to the rash conclusion that God somehow wants us to suffer or that he is personally testing us. It is true that suffering can bring out the best in us and that the Bible says that the trials God allows can refine our faith. (Hebrews 5:8; 1 Peter 1:7) Indeed, many people who undergo trialsome or traumatic experiences do become more patient or compassionate. But we should not conclude that their suffering was God’s doing. Such thinking does not take God’s love and wisdom into account. The Bible plainly states: “When under trial, let no one say: ‘I am being tried by God.’ For with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone.” On the contrary, from God comes “every good gift and every perfect present”!—James 1:13, 17.
Why God Permits Evil
From where, then, does evil come? Remember that God has opposers—principally the “one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth.” (Revelation 12:9) God placed our first parents, Adam and Eve, in a trouble-free world. But Satan convinced Eve that she would be better off without God’s rulership. (Genesis 3:1-5) Sadly, Eve believed Satan’s lies and disobeyed God. Adam joined her in this rebellion. The result? “Death spread to all men,” says the Bible.—Romans 5:12.
Rather than immediately squashing this rebellion by destroying Satan and his followers, God saw fit to allow time to pass. What would that accomplish? For one thing, it would allow Satan to be exposed as a liar! It would allow proof to accumulate that independence from God brings nothing but ruin. Is that not exactly what has taken place? “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) Furthermore, “man has dominated man to his injury.” (Ecclesiastes 8:9) Mankind’s religions are a maze of conflicting teachings. Morals have fallen to an all-time low. Human governments have tried every conceivable form of rule. They sign treaties and adopt laws, but the needs of the common people are still unfulfilled. Wars add misery on misery.
Clearly, we need to have God intervene and end wickedness! But this will happen only in God’s due time. Until then, it is our privilege to support God’s rulership by obeying his laws and principles as found in the Bible. When bad things happen, we can take comfort in the confident hope of life in a trouble-free world.
Still, when suffering touches us personally, we may find ourselves asking, ‘Why me?’ The apostle Paul reminds us, however, that we are not alone in suffering evil. Paul says that “all creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together until now.” (Romans 8:22) Knowing this fact can help you to cope with suffering. Nicole, for example, was emotionally traumatized by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington, D.C. “I was horrified and scared,” she admits. But as she read accounts of how her fellow Christians coped with that tragedy, her viewpoint changed.b “I realized that I’m not alone at all. Slowly I’ve begun to recover from my pain and grief.”
In some cases, it is wise to seek out someone you can talk to—a parent, a mature friend, or a Christian elder. Pouring out your feelings to someone you trust will allow you to receive a “good word” of encouragement. (Proverbs 12:25) A young Brazilian Christian recalls: “I lost my father nine years ago, and I know that Jehovah will resurrect him one day. But something that helped me was putting my feelings in writing. Also, I talked things out with my Christian friends.” Do you have any ‘true companions’ in whom you can confide? (Proverbs 17:17) Then benefit from their loving help! Don’t be afraid to cry or express your emotions. Why, even Jesus once “gave way to tears” over the tragic loss of a friend!—John 11:35.
The Bible assures us that one day we will be “set free from enslavement to corruption” and enjoy “the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21) Until then, many good people may suffer. Take comfort in knowing why such suffering takes place—and that it will not last long.
a Some of the names have been changed.
b See the series “Courage in the Face of Disaster,” in the January 8, 2002, issue of Awake!
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It may be helpful to express your grief