Why Does God Permit Suffering?
SOMETIMES a person asking the question “Why?” seeks comfort as well as answers, for when the question springs from severe loss, there is a great need for solace. Does the Bible offer such comfort? Consider three important Biblical truths related to this matter.
First, it is not wrong to ask why God allows suffering. Some people worry that posing such a question implies a lack of faith in God or disrespect for him. On the contrary, if you ask this question out of a sincere heart, you are in good company. The faithful prophet Habakkuk asked God: “Why do you make me watch such terrible injustice? Why do you allow violence, lawlessness, crime, and cruelty to spread everywhere?” (Habakkuk 1:3, Contemporary English Version) Jehovah God did not rebuke Habakkuk. Instead, he had that faithful man’s questions recorded for all of us to read.—Romans 15:4.
Second, it is important to understand that God feels for you in your plight. He is not aloof and mysterious; he is “a lover of justice,” and he detests wickedness and the suffering it causes. (Psalm 37:28; Proverbs 6:16-19) Back in the days of Noah, God felt “hurt at his heart” because of the violence spreading in the earth. (Genesis 6:5, 6) God has not changed; he does not feel differently about what is occurring today.—Malachi 3:6.
Third, God is never the source of wickedness. The Bible makes this quite clear. Those who attribute such things as murder and terrorism to God are maligning him. Note what Job 34:10 says: “Far be it from the true God to act wickedly, and the Almighty to act unjustly!” Similarly, James 1:13 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.” So if you have suffered evil, rest assured that God is not the cause.
Who Rules the World?
The foregoing still leaves us with the question, If God is loving, just, and powerful, why are we surrounded by evil? One common misperception needs to be cleared up first. Many people think of Almighty God as the ruler of this world, the one who is in direct control of everything. “Not one atom or molecule of the universe is outside his active rule,” said the president of one theological seminary. Does the Bible really teach that?
Not at all. Many are surprised to learn what the Bible actually says about who rules the world. For example, 1 John 5:19 states: “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” Who is this wicked one? Jesus Christ identified him as Satan the Devil, whom he called “the ruler of the world.” (John 14:30) Now, does that not make sense? Satan is cruel, deceptive, and hateful—traits that underlie much of the suffering that people experience. Why, though, does God allow Satan to rule?
An Issue Raised in Eden
How would a loving and capable parent feel if he was publicly accused of lying to his children, abusing his authority over them, and withholding good things from them? Would he disprove those slanderous accusations by physically assaulting his accuser? Of course not! In fact, by reacting in such a manner, he might give credibility to the accusations.
This illustration helps to explain Jehovah God’s way of handling a challenge raised against him at the dawn of human history in a place called Eden. There God announced to the first two humans, Adam and Eve, a wonderful project for his earthly children. They were to fill the earth, subdue it, and turn it into a global paradise. (Genesis 1:28) Moreover, hundreds of millions of spirit sons of God were keenly interested in this exciting project.—Job 38:4, 7; Daniel 7:10.
Being a generous God, Jehovah gave Adam and Eve a beautiful garden home with all its delicious fruits. Only one tree was out of bounds for them—“the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.” By not eating from this tree, Adam and Eve would demonstrate their full trust in their Father, recognizing that he had the right to decide what was good and bad for his children.—Genesis 2:16, 17.
Sadly, though, one of God’s spirit sons, motivated by the desire to be worshipped, told Eve that if she ate the forbidden fruit, she would not die. (Genesis 2:17; 3:1-5) Thus, this wicked angel, Satan, blatantly contradicted God, essentially calling him a liar! Satan also went on to accuse God of withholding vital knowledge from Adam and Eve. Humans, Satan implied, should be able to decide for themselves what is good and what is bad. Simply put, Satan accused God of being an unfit Ruler and Father and implied that he, Satan, could do a better job.
By means of those cunning and malicious lies, the angel made himself Satan the Devil. These names mean “Resister” and “Slanderer.” What did Adam and Eve do? They sided with Satan, turning their backs on God.—Genesis 3:6.
Jehovah could have destroyed the rebels on the spot. But, as mentioned in our illustration, such issues cannot be settled by violent retaliation. Keep in mind too that when Satan challenged God, millions of angels were listening. In fact, a significant, but undisclosed, number later joined Satan in his rebellion, making themselves demons.—Mark 1:34; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6.
Why Has God Not Intervened?
By seducing Adam and Eve into choosing independence from their Creator, in effect, Satan founded a family that was not truly independent but under his authority. Influenced, knowingly or unknowingly, by their “father,” the Devil, this family would choose its own goals and standards of conduct. (John 8:44) But would that way of life bring them true freedom and lasting happiness? Jehovah knew full well that it would not. Still, he allowed the rebels to pursue their independent course, for only in this way would the issues raised in Eden be fully settled for all time.
For over 6,000 years now, mankind has built a world system of things, trying all kinds of rulership and codes of conduct. Are you delighted with the result? Is the human family truly happy, peaceful, and united? Clearly, the answer is no! Instead, wars, famines, natural disasters, sickness, and death have plagued mankind, causing “futility,” “pain,” and “groaning,” just as the Bible states.—Romans 8:19-22; Ecclesiastes 8:9.
Still, some may ask, ‘Why has God not prevented tragedies?’ Really, that would be an injustice, and it would cloud the issue by making it seem that rebelling against God is without consequence. Hence, Jehovah has not been behind the scenes preventing all the crimes and tragedies that result, directly or indirectly, from disobedience to him.* Jehovah would never be party to the harmful lie that Satan’s system can succeed, that it has found the key to happiness! Nevertheless, Jehovah has not been indifferent to events. In fact, he has been very active, as we shall now see.
“My Father Has Kept Working”
Those words of Jesus show that God has not been sitting idly by, watching events unfold. (John 5:17) Rather, since the rebellion in Eden, he has been very busy. For instance, he inspired Bible writers to record his promise that a future “seed” would crush Satan and all who stuck with him. (Genesis 3:15) Additionally, by means of that Seed, God would form a government, a heavenly Kingdom, that would bless obedient humans and end all causes of suffering, even death itself.—Genesis 22:18; Psalm 46:9; 72:16; Isaiah 25:8; 33:24; Daniel 7:13, 14.
As a step in the fulfillment of those wonderful promises, Jehovah sent to the earth the One who would become the primary Ruler of that Kingdom. This one was none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Galatians 3:16) In accord with God’s purpose for him, Jesus focused his teaching on God’s Kingdom. (Luke 4:43) In fact, Christ provided a living preview of what he will accomplish as King of that Kingdom. He fed hungry thousands, healed the sick, resurrected the dead, and even showed his power over the natural elements by calming a violent storm. (Matthew 14:14-21; Mark 4:37-39; John 11:43, 44) Concerning Jesus, the Bible states: “No matter how many the promises of God are, they have become Yes by means of him.”—2 Corinthians 1:20.
Those who listen to Jesus and come “out of the world”—the system of things that is estranged from God and ruled by Satan—are welcomed into Jehovah’s family. (John 15:19) This global family of true Christians is governed by love, committed to peace, and marked by determination to eradicate any trace of bigotry and racism in its midst.—Malachi 3:17, 18; John 13:34, 35.
Instead of upholding the present world, true Christians support and proclaim God’s Kingdom in obedience to Jesus’ command recorded at Matthew 24:14. Think: Who preach the “good news of the kingdom” worldwide? Who have refused, as a worldwide spiritual family, to engage in warfare and divisive national and tribal disputes? And who let God’s Word guide their conduct, whether its lofty standards are popular or not? (1 John 5:3) Many have observed these traits in Jehovah’s Witnesses. Please examine the evidence for yourself.
Decide for God’s Rule!
Mankind, alienated from God and misled by Satan, has built a world system that breeds more and more misery and hopelessness. Even the earth itself is being ruined! Jehovah, on the other hand, has set up a heavenly government that has changed the lives of millions for the better and that has given each one a sure hope. (1 Timothy 4:10) Which will you choose?
Now is the time to decide, for God will not allow Satan and his wicked world to go on indefinitely. God’s original purpose to make this earth a paradise has never altered. To that end, his Kingdom and its supporters will go from strength to strength, while the world under Satan’s control will experience increasing “pangs of distress” until God brings it to an end. (Matthew 24:3, 7, 8) So if you have sincerely cried out, “Why?” to God, listen to him by taking to heart the Bible’s message of comfort and hope. Even now, your tears of sorrow can become tears of joy.—Matthew 5:4; Revelation 21:3, 4.
Although God has intervened in human affairs on occasion, his acts have not been in support of the present system. Rather, they have related to the outworking of his purpose.—Luke 17:26-30; Romans 9:17-24.
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Are you satisfied with the results of human rule?
Baby: © J. B. Russell/Panos Pictures; crying woman: © Paul Lowe/Panos Pictures
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Jesus will restore Paradise—and even raise the dead back to life