Why Would God Permit Suffering?
1. What is a common reason many people give for doubting the existence of a Creator?
A COMMON reason many people give for doubting the existence of a Creator is the prevalence of suffering in the world. Throughout the centuries there has been so much cruelty, bloodshed and outright evil, bringing great suffering to millions of innocent people. Thus many ask: ‘If there is a God, why does he permit all of this?’ Since, as we have seen, the Bible’s account best fits the facts about creation, can the Bible also help us to understand why a powerful Creator would permit so much suffering for such a long time?
2. How does the Bible describe the setting in which the first human pair were placed?
2 The opening chapters of Genesis provide the background for answering this question. They describe the creation of a world without suffering. The first man and woman were put in a paradise setting, a beautiful gardenlike home called Eden, and they were given pleasant and challenging work. Regarding the earth, they were told “to cultivate it and to take care of it.” They also had supervision of “the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the earth.”—Genesis 1:28; 2:15.
3. What prospect was placed before Adam and Eve?
3 In addition, since the first humans were created with perfect bodies and perfect minds, they were not defective in any way. Hence, there was no reason for them ever to suffer from sickness, old age or death. Instead, they had the prospect of an endless future in an earthly paradise.—Deuteronomy 32:4.
4. What was God’s purpose for humans and for the earth itself?
4 The first pair were also told to “be fruitful and become many and fill the earth.” As they would bear children, the human family would increase and extend the boundaries of the Paradise so that it would eventually encompass the entire earth. Thus, the human race would be a united family, all living in perfect health on a paradise earth.
The Need to Accept God’s Rule
5. Why were humans required to accept God’s rule?
5 However, for this harmony to continue, the first human pair had to accept their Creator’s right to govern human affairs. That is, they had to accept his sovereignty. Why? First of all, because it was proper. The maker of anything surely has a right to exercise a measure of control over what he has made. This principle has been reflected in ownership laws for centuries. In addition, humans needed to accept the direction of their Maker because of this crucial fact: They were not designed with the ability to govern themselves successfully apart from their Creator, any more than they could stay alive if they did not eat, drink and breathe. History has proved the Bible correct in saying: “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) As long as humans stayed within the guidelines set for them by their Creator, life would be continuous, successful and happy.
6, 7. (a) What kind of freedom did God grant to humans, and why? (b) What bad choice did the first humans make?
6 Also, humans were created to be free agents. They were not made to react like robots, or compelled to do certain things primarily out of instinct, as are animals or insects. But this freedom was to be relative, not absolute. It was to be exercised responsibly, within the boundaries of God’s laws, laws that worked for the common good. Note how the Bible sets out this principle: “Be as free people, and yet holding your freedom, not as a blind for badness, but as slaves of God.” (1 Peter 2:16) Without law to govern human interrelations, there would be anarchy, and the lives of all persons would be affected adversely.
7 Thus, while relative freedom is desirable, too much freedom is not. If you give a child too much freedom, it may lead to his playing on a busy street, or putting his hand on a hot stove. Total freedom to make all of our own decisions without considering our Maker’s direction can cause all kinds of problems. That was the case with the first humans. They chose to misuse their gift of freedom. They decided, wrongly, to grasp for independence from their Creator and thereby “be like God.” They felt that they could determine for themselves what was right and what was wrong.—Genesis 3:5.
8. What happened when Adam and Eve pulled away from God’s rule?
8 When the first humans pulled away from their Creator’s direction, what happened to them is similar to what happens when you pull out the plug of an electric fan. As long as the fan is plugged into a power source, it runs. But when disconnected, it slows down and eventually comes to a dead stop. That is what happened when Adam and Eve pulled away from their Creator, “the source of life.” (Psalm 36:9) Since they willfully chose a course of independence from their Maker, he let them learn the full meaning of their choice by leaving them on their own. As a Bible principle states: “If you leave [God] he will leave you.” (2 Chronicles 15:2) Without their Creator’s sustaining power, a gradual breakdown of mind and body began. In time, they grew old and died.—Genesis 3:19; 5:5.
9. How has all mankind been affected by the bad choice of the first humans?
9 When Adam and Eve chose to be independent of their Maker, they fell from perfection. This was before they had any children. As a result, when they later had children, these reflected what the parents had become—imperfect. So the first humans became like a defective pattern. Everything produced from them was also defective. Hence, we are all born imperfect and inherit the disabilities of aging, sickness and death. This imperfection, along with separation from the Creator and his laws, opened the floodgates of human folly. Thus, mankind’s history has been filled with suffering, sorrow, sickness and death.—Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12.
10. (a) What rebellion took place in the spirit realm? (b) How could such a thing happen?
10 Is this to say that wickedness originated entirely with humans? No, there is more to it. The creation of intelligent creatures was not limited to humans. Already God had created countless spirit creatures in the heavens. (Job 38:4, 7) They too were free agents and also had a choice in accepting their Creator’s direction. One of those spirit creatures chose to dwell on a desire for independence. His ambition built up to such a degree that it moved him to challenge God’s authority. He told Adam’s wife, Eve, that they could break God’s law and yet, as he assured her, “You positively will not die.” (Genesis 3:4; James 1:13-15) His statements implied that they did not need their Creator in order for them to have continued life and happiness. In fact, he said that lawbreaking would actually improve matters for them, enabling them to be like God. Thus he called into question the validity of God’s laws and cast doubt on God’s way of governing them. Indeed, he cast doubt on their Creator’s very right to rule. For this misrepresentation he came to be called Satan, which means “resister,” and Devil, meaning “slanderer.” For the past 6,000 years this attitude of Satan has influenced mankind, advancing a policy of ‘rule or ruin.’—Luke 4:2-8; 1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9.
11. Why did God not wipe out the rebels at the start?
11 But why did God not destroy these lawbreakers, both human and spirit, at the start? The answer lies in the fact that profound issues had been raised before all intelligent creation. One of the issues involved questions such as: Would independence from God’s sovereignty ever bring lasting benefits? Would God’s direction of people be better for them, or would man’s own direction be better? Could humans successfully govern this world independent of their Creator? In short, did humans really need God’s guidance? These questions required answers that only the passing of time could supply.
Why So Long?
12. Had God interfered at the beginning, what charge could have been brought against him?
12 However, why has God permitted so much time to go by before settling these matters—about 6,000 years now? Could they not have been settled satisfactorily long ago? Well, if God had intervened long ago, the charge could have been made that humans were not given enough time to develop a workable government and the necessary technology to bring peace and prosperity to all. So, in his wisdom, God knew that it would take time to settle the issues that had been raised. He allowed that time.
13, 14. What are the results of independence from God?
13 Throughout the centuries, all types of governments, all types of social systems and all types of economic systems have been tried. In addition, humans have had enough time to make many technological advances, including harnessing the atom and traveling to the moon. With what results? Has all of this brought about the kind of world that is a real blessing to the entire human family?
14 Far from it. Nothing that men have tried has brought true peace and happiness for all. Instead, after all this time, conditions are more unstable than ever. Crime, war, family breakdown, poverty and hunger ravage country after country. Mankind’s very existence has been jeopardized. Nuclear missiles of awesome destructive power could annihilate most of, if not all, the human race. So, in spite of thousands of years of effort, in spite of many centuries of human experience to build upon and in spite of reaching new peaks of technological progress, mankind still grapples unsuccessfully with its most basic problems.
15. What has happened to the earth as a consequence of man’s rebellion?
15 Even the earth itself has been adversely affected. Human greed and neglect have turned certain areas into deserts by stripping protective forests. Chemicals and other waste products have polluted land, sea and air. The Bible’s description, 2,000 years ago, of the condition of life on the earth is even more accurate today: “All creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together until now.”—Romans 8:22.
What Has Been Proved?
16, 17. What has been proved by the passing of so much time?
16 What have events during all this time proved beyond a doubt? That human rule independent of man’s Creator is unsatisfactory. Clearly it has been demonstrated that successful management of earth’s affairs is impossible apart from man’s Maker. History continues to confirm the Bible’s candid appraisal of human attempts to govern when it says: “Man has dominated man to his injury.”—Ecclesiastes 8:9.
17 How disastrously human endeavors have worked out, compared with the order and precision found in the universe as it is guided by the laws of its Creator! Clearly, humans also need this kind of guidance in governing their affairs, because ignoring God’s supervision has been disastrous. It truly has been demonstrated, for all time, that we have a need for God’s direction just as surely as we need air, water and food.—Matthew 4:4.
18. How has allowing time to settle the questions provided a permanent precedent for the future?
18 Also, by allowing enough time to settle the issues relative to human rule, God has established a permanent precedent for the future. It could be likened to a fundamental supreme court case. For all time the issue has been settled: Human rule apart from God cannot bring about desirable conditions on the earth. Thus, in the future, if any free agent should challenge God’s way of doing things, it would not be necessary to allow thousands of additional years to try to prove his contention. Everything that needs to be proved has been proved in this period of about 6,000 years that God has allowed. So, throughout the eternity of time ahead, no rebel will ever again be allowed to mar the peace and happiness of life on the earth, or to interfere with God’s sovereignty anywhere else in the universe. As the Bible emphatically states: “Distress will not rise up a second time.”—Nahum 1:9.
19. What is God’s solution to the problem of wickedness?
19 Thus the Bible provides a reasonable explanation for the existence of suffering in a world created by God. Also the Bible clearly shows that the time is near when God will use his almighty power to remove those who cause suffering. Proverbs 2:21, 22 states: “The upright are the ones that will reside in the earth, and the blameless are the ones that will be left over in it. As regards the wicked, they will be cut off from the very earth; and as for the treacherous, they will be torn away from it.” Yes, God will “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” (Revelation 11:18) That will also include, finally, the elimination of Satan the Devil. (Romans 16:20) God will not allow the wicked to mar his beautiful creation, the earth, much longer. Any who do not conform to his laws will be uprooted. Only those who do God’s will are to continue living. (1 John 2:15-17) You would not plant a flower garden in a weed patch, nor place chickens and foxes in the same coop. So, too, when God restores Paradise for righteous humans, he will not let vandals run loose at the same time.
20. How will the suffering of the past be erased?
20 While the suffering of centuries has been very painful for those who have been victimized by it, it has served a good purpose. It could be compared to permitting your child to have a painful operation to correct a major health problem. The long-term benefits far outweigh any temporary pain. In addition, the future that God has purposed for this earth and humans on it will lift the weight of the past from memory: “The former things will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart.” (Isaiah 65:17) Hence, whatever suffering that humans have experienced will eventually be erased from the minds of those living when God’s rulership holds sway over all the earth. At that time the joys will crowd out all the previous bad memories, for God “‘will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.’ And the One seated on the throne said: ‘Look! I am making all things new.’”—Revelation 21:4, 5.
21. What opportunity will be given even to dead people?
21 Jesus Christ spoke of this coming New Order as “the re-creation.” (Matthew 19:28) The past victims of suffering and death then will learn that God does care about them, because that era will also see the literal re-creating of those who are dead in the grave. Jesus said: “All those in the memorial tombs . . . will come out” in a resurrection to life on earth. (John 5:28, 29) In this way, the dead also will be given the opportunity to submit to God’s righteous rule and gain the privilege of living forever “in Paradise,” as Jesus called it.—Luke 23:43.
22. What condition will be restored to the animal realm?
22 Even the animal realm will be at peace. The Bible says that “the wolf and the lamb themselves will feed as one, and the lion will eat straw just like the bull,” and even “a mere little boy will be leader over them.” The animals will “do no harm nor cause any ruin” in God’s New Order, to one another or to humans.—Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:25.
23. Into what condition will all of God’s creation come?
23 Thus, in every way, as Romans 8:21 states, “the creation itself also will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.” In time, the earth will become a paradise, inhabited by perfect people—free from sickness, sorrow and death. Suffering will be forever a thing of the past. All aspects of God’s earthly creation will come into complete harmony with his purpose, removing the ugly blot that has marred his universe for thousands of years.
24. What question may be asked about the Bible?
24 This is how the Bible explains God’s permission of suffering, and what he will do to solve the problem. Yet, some may ask: ‘How do I know that I can really trust what the Bible says?’
[Blurb on page 188]
Many ask: ‘If there is a God, why does he permit all of this?’
[Blurb on page 190]
Humans were not created to govern themselves successfully apart from their Creator
[Blurb on page 190]
Freedom was to be relative, not absolute
[Blurb on page 192]
Meditating on what is wrong can cause one to do the wrong thing
[Blurb on page 193]
It would take time to settle thoroughly the issues that had been raised
[Blurb on page 194]
“All creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together until now”
[Blurb on page 196]
The Creator will not allow the wicked to mar his beautiful earth much longer
[Blurb on page 198]
In every way “the creation itself also will be set free from enslavement to corruption”
[Picture on page 189]
The first humans had the prospect of living forever on a paradise earth
[Pictures on page 191]
As a fan slows down and stops when disconnected, so Adam and Eve grew old and died after they pulled away from their source of life
[Pictures on page 194]
After all these centuries, world conditions are more threatening than ever
[Picture on page 195]
By allowing enough time to answer the questions, God has established a precedent for the future, like a fundamental supreme court decision
[Picture on page 197]
Whatever suffering that people have previously experienced will be erased by the joys in God’s New Order