Why Does God Permit Suffering?
1, 2. How do people often react to human suffering?
WHEN disasters strike, destroying property and claiming lives, many cannot understand why such terrible things happen. Others are troubled by the extent, cruelty, and wantonness of crime and violence. You too may have wondered, ‘Why does God permit suffering?’
2 Because they have found no satisfactory answer to this question, many have lost faith in God. They feel that he is not interested in mankind. Others who accept suffering as a fact of life become embittered and blame God for all the evil in human society. If you have had such feelings, doubtless you will be very interested in the Bible’s statements on these matters.
SUFFERING NOT FROM GOD
3, 4. Why can we be sure that evil and suffering are not from Jehovah?
3 The Bible assures us that the suffering we see around us is not caused by Jehovah God. For instance, the Christian disciple James wrote: “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.” (James 1:13) That being so, God could not have caused the numerous hardships plaguing mankind. He does not bring trials upon people to make them fit for life in heaven, nor does he make people suffer for evil deeds they supposedly committed in a past life.—Romans 6:7.
4 In addition, even though many terrible things have been done in the name of God or of Christ, there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that either of them has ever approved of such actions. God and Christ have nothing to do with those who claim to serve them but who cheat and swindle, kill and plunder, and do many other things that cause human suffering. In fact, “the way of the wicked one is something detestable to Jehovah.” God “is far away from the wicked ones.”—Proverbs 15:9, 29.
5. What are some of Jehovah’s qualities, and how does he feel about his creatures?
5 The Bible describes Jehovah as being “very tender in affection and merciful.” (James 5:11) It proclaims that “Jehovah is a lover of justice.” (Psalm 37:28; Isaiah 61:8) He is not vindictive. He compassionately cares for his creatures and gives all of them what is best for their well-being. (Acts 14:16, 17) Jehovah has done that from the very origin of life on the earth.
A PERFECT BEGINNING
6. How do some legends allude to mankind’s early history?
6 All of us are accustomed to seeing and feeling pain and suffering. It may therefore be hard to imagine a time without suffering, but that was how things were at the beginning of human history. Even the legends of some nations allude to such a happy start. In Greek mythology, the first of the “Five Ages of Man” was called the “Golden Age.” In it humans lived happy lives, free from toil, pain, and the ravages of old age. The Chinese say that during the reign of the mythological Yellow Emperor (Huang-Ti), people lived in peace, enjoying harmony even with the elements and the wild beasts. Persians, Egyptians, Tibetans, Peruvians, and Mexicans all have legends about a time of happiness and perfection at the beginning of mankind’s history.
7. Why did God create the earth and humankind?
7 The myths of the nations merely echo the oldest written record of human history, the Bible. It informs us that God placed the first human pair, Adam and Eve, in a paradise called the garden of Eden and commanded them: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28) Our first parents enjoyed perfection and had the prospect of seeing the whole earth become a paradise occupied by a perfect human family living in lasting peace and happiness. That was God’s purpose in creating the earth and humankind.—Isaiah 45:18.
A MALICIOUS CHALLENGE
8. Adam and Eve were expected to obey what command, but what happened?
8 To remain in God’s favor, Adam and Eve would have to refrain from eating from “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.” (Genesis 2:16, 17) If they had obeyed Jehovah’s law, there would have been no suffering to mar human life. By obeying God’s command, they would have demonstrated their love for Jehovah and their loyalty to him. (1 John 5:3) But as we learned in Chapter 6, things did not turn out that way. Urged by Satan, Eve ate fruit from that tree. Later, Adam also partook of the forbidden fruit.
9. What issue involving Jehovah did Satan raise?
9 Do you see the seriousness of what happened? Satan was attacking Jehovah’s position as the Most High. By saying, “You positively will not die,” the Devil contradicted God’s words, “You will positively die.” Satan’s further words implied that Jehovah was keeping Adam and Eve ignorant of the possibility of becoming like God, thus not needing Him to decide what was good and bad. Satan’s challenge therefore brought into question the right and validity of Jehovah’s position as the Universal Sovereign.—Genesis 2:17; 3:1-6.
10. What insinuations did Satan make regarding humans?
10 Satan the Devil also insinuated that people would remain obedient to Jehovah only as long as obeying God was to their advantage. In other words, human integrity was brought into question. Satan charged that no human would voluntarily remain loyal to God. This malicious claim by Satan is clearly revealed in the Bible’s account about Job, a faithful servant of Jehovah who underwent a great test sometime before 1600 B.C.E. When you read the first two chapters of the book of Job, you can gain insight into the reason for human suffering and why God permits it.
11. What kind of man was Job, but what charge did Satan make?
11 Job, “a man blameless and upright,” came under Satan’s attack. First, Satan imputed bad motives to Job by raising the question, “Is it for nothing that Job has feared God?” Then, the Devil cunningly maligned both God and Job by charging that Jehovah had bought Job’s loyalty by protecting and blessing him. “But, for a change,” Satan challenged Jehovah, “thrust out your hand, please, and touch everything he has and see whether he will not curse you to your very face.”—Job 1:8-11.
12. (a) What questions could be answered only if God permitted Satan to test Job? (b) In what did Job’s test result?
12 Was Job serving Jehovah simply because of all the good that he received from God? Could Job’s integrity stand up under test? In turn, did Jehovah have enough confidence in his servant to allow him to be tested? These questions could be answered if Jehovah would permit Satan to bring upon Job the severest of tests. Job’s faithful course under the test allowed by God, as narrated in the book of Job, proved to be a thorough vindication of Jehovah’s righteousness and man’s integrity.—Job 42:1, 2, 12.
13. How are we involved in what happened in Eden and to Job?
13 What happened in the garden of Eden and to the man Job, however, has a deeper implication. The issues Satan raised involve all mankind, including us today. God’s name was maligned, and his sovereignty was challenged. The uprightness of God’s creation, man, was called into question. These issues had to be settled.
HOW TO SETTLE THE ISSUES
14. When confronted with a malicious challenge, what might an accused person do?
14 For the sake of illustration, let us say that you are a loving parent with several children in a happy family. Suppose one of your neighbors spreads lies, accusing you of being a bad parent. What if the neighbor says that your children do not love you, that they stay with you only because they do not know any better, and that they would leave if someone showed them the way. ‘Preposterous!’ you might say. Yes, but how would you prove it? Some parents might react in rage. Besides creating more problems, such a violent response would lend support to the lies. A satisfying way to deal with such a problem would be to allow opportunity for your accuser to prove his claim and for your children to testify that they sincerely love you.
15. How did Jehovah choose to deal with Satan’s challenge?
15 Jehovah is like the loving parent. Adam and Eve may be compared to the children, and Satan fits the role of the lying neighbor. God wisely did not destroy Satan, Adam, and Eve immediately but permitted these wrongdoers to continue living for a while. This allowed our first parents time to start the human family, and it has given the Devil a chance to prove whether his claim was true so that the issues could be settled. From the start, however, God knew that some humans would be loyal to him and would thus prove Satan a liar. How thankful we are that Jehovah has continued to bless and help those who love him!—2 Chronicles 16:9; Proverbs 15:3.
WHAT HAS BEEN PROVED?
16. How has the world come to be in Satan’s power?
16 During nearly all human history, Satan has had a free hand to work out his schemes of domination over mankind. Among other things, he has wielded influence over the political powers and has promoted religions that subtly direct worship to him rather than to Jehovah. Thus the Devil has become “the god of this system of things,” and he is called “the ruler of this world.” (2 Corinthians 4:4; John 12:31) Indeed, “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) Does this mean that Satan has proved his claim that he could draw all mankind away from Jehovah God? Certainly not! While permitting Satan to remain in existence, Jehovah has proceeded to carry out his own purpose. What, then, does the Bible reveal concerning God’s permission of wickedness?
17. What should we keep in mind regarding the cause of wickedness and suffering?
17 Wickedness and suffering are not caused by Jehovah. Since Satan is the ruler of this world and the god of this system of things, he and those on his side are responsible for the present condition of human society and all the misery that mankind has suffered. No one can rightly say that God is the cause of such hardship.—Romans 9:14.
18. What has Jehovah’s permitting wickedness and suffering proved regarding the idea of independence from God?
18 Jehovah’s permitting wickedness and suffering has proved that independence from God has not brought about a better world. Undeniably, history has been marked by one disaster after another. The reason for this is that humans have chosen to pursue their own independent course and have shown no real regard for God’s word and will. When Jehovah’s ancient people and their leaders unfaithfully pursued “the popular course” and rejected his word, the results were disastrous. Through his prophet Jeremiah, God told them: “The wise ones have become ashamed. They have become terrified and will be caught. Look! They have rejected the very word of Jehovah, and what wisdom do they have?” (Jeremiah 8:5, 6, 9) Having failed to follow Jehovah’s standards, mankind in general has become like a ship without a rudder, tossed about in a turbulent sea.
19. What proof is there that Satan cannot turn all humans against God?
19 God’s permission of wickedness and suffering has also proved that Satan has not been able to turn all mankind away from Jehovah. History shows that there have always been individuals who have remained faithful to God no matter what temptations or adversities were brought upon them. Over the centuries, Jehovah’s power has been manifested in behalf of his servants, and his name has been declared in all the earth. (Exodus 9:16; 1 Samuel 12:22) Hebrews chapter 11 tells us about a long line of faithful ones, including Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses. Hebrews 12:1 calls them ‘a great cloud of witnesses.’ They were examples of unwavering faith in Jehovah. In modern times too, many have given their lives in unbreakable integrity to God. By their faith and love, such individuals prove conclusively that Satan cannot turn all humans against God.
20. Jehovah’s allowing wickedness and suffering to continue has proved what with respect to God and mankind?
20 Finally, Jehovah’s allowing wickedness and suffering to continue has provided proof that only Jehovah, the Creator, has the ability and the right to rule over mankind for their eternal blessing and happiness. For centuries, mankind has tried many forms of government. But what has been the result? The complex problems and crises facing the nations today are ample evidence that truly, as the Bible points out, “man has dominated man to his injury.” (Ecclesiastes 8:9) Only Jehovah can come to our rescue and fulfill his original purpose. How will he do this, and when?
21. What will be done to Satan, and who will be used to accomplish this?
21 Right after Adam and Eve fell victim to Satan’s scheme, God announced His purpose regarding a means of salvation. This is what Jehovah proclaimed regarding Satan: “I shall put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He will bruise you in the head and you will bruise him in the heel.” (Genesis 3:15) That proclamation guaranteed that the Devil would not be allowed to do his evil deeds forever. As the King of the Messianic Kingdom, the promised Seed, Jesus Christ, will ‘bruise Satan in the head.’ Yes, “shortly,” Jesus will crush the rebel Satan!—Romans 16:20.
WHAT WILL YOU DO?
22. (a) What questions must you face? (b) Though Satan vents his wrath on those faithful to God, of what can they be certain?
22 Knowing the issues involved, on whose side will you stand? Will you prove by your actions that you are a loyal supporter of Jehovah? Since Satan knows that his time is short, he will do all he can to vent his wrath on those who want to keep integrity to God. (Revelation 12:12) But you can look to God for help because “Jehovah knows how to deliver people of godly devotion out of trial.” (2 Peter 2:9) He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, and he will make the way out so that you are able to endure temptations.—1 Corinthians 10:13.
23. To what can we confidently look forward?
23 Confidently, let us look forward to the time when the King Jesus Christ will take action against Satan and all who follow him. (Revelation 20:1-3) Jesus will do away with all those who share responsibility for the woes and turmoil that mankind has suffered. Until that time, one especially painful form of suffering is the loss of our loved ones in death. Read the next chapter to find out what happens to them.
TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE
How do we know that Jehovah does not cause human suffering?
What issues were raised by Satan in Eden and made clear in Job’s day?
God’s permission of suffering has proved what?