If the Creator Cares, Why So Much Suffering?
AS YOUR watch ticks off 60 seconds, more than 30 people die from infectious diseases, 11 lose the battle against cancer, and 9 are cut down by heart disease. And you know that those are just some of the diseases afflicting people; many suffer and die from other causes.
In 1996, a clock in the lobby of the United Nations building in New York City symbolically ticked for each baby born into a poor family—47 times a minute. From another perspective, every time the earth rotates, 20 percent of its population goes to bed hungry. And what if you tried to calculate the amount of crime where you live?
We must face the fact that suffering abounds in the world around us today.
“Yet,” says an ex-police officer “many of us remain untouched at a heart level to the injustices everywhere around us.” The impression that we are untouched, though, may last only until our life or the life of a loved one is involved. For instance, put yourself in the place of Masako, who nursed her mother and her father as both suffered with cancer. While they lost weight and groaned in pain, Masako felt enwrapped in helplessness. Or think of the despair of Sharada, an Asian girl who was nine years old when her father sold her for $14 (U.S.). Taken from her village to a foreign city, she was forced to offer sexual favors to six men a day.
Why does such suffering abound? And why does the Creator not stop it? Because of such suffering, many turn their back on God. The mother of the ex-policeman mentioned above became the victim of a psychopath. He explains his reaction: “The thought of a sovereign, loving God who controlled the universe had never been farther from my mind.” You too may ask, ‘Why?’ Yes, why does such suffering exist? What is the cause, and is the Creator concerned about it?
Is a Previous Life Causing Suffering?
Around the globe, millions believe that the cause of suffering is a person’s past; his present suffering is punishment for what he did in a past life. “Human suffering is due to our being bound in Karma, for all of us, as soon as we are born, carry a heavy burden of past Karma.”a That view was offered by Daisetz T. Suzuki, a philosopher who popularized Zen in Western society. Hindu sages had devised “the law of Karma” as they groped to explain human suffering. But is their explanation of suffering reasonable or truly satisfying?
One Buddhist woman said: “I thought it did not make sense to have to suffer for something I was born with but about which I knew nothing. I had to accept it as my destiny.” She found this explanation of suffering unsatisfactory. You may also. While the idea of rebirth may not be common where you live, underlying it is a teaching that can be found throughout Christendom and elsewhere—the teaching that humans have an immortal soul that survives the body. This “soul” is said to be involved in suffering—either in a present life or in an afterlife.
Such ideas are widespread, but what proof is there that they are valid? On important matters like this, is it not wiser to be guided by what our Creator says? While human ideas and strong convictions can be mistaken, we have seen that God’s statements are reliable.
As we noted in the preceding chapter, the sin of our first human parents brought on the ultimate human tragedy—death. The Creator warned Adam: “In the day you [disobey, or sin] you will positively die.” (Genesis 2:17; 3:19) God said nothing about Adam’s having an immortal soul; he was a human. In Biblical terms this means that he was a soul. Thus, when he died, the soul named Adam died. He was not thereafter conscious or suffering.
Our Creator does not promote or agree with teachings of Karma, rebirth cycles, or an immortal soul that may suffer in a later existence. Yet if we realize what the effects of Adam’s sin are, we can better understand why suffering exists today.
From Where Did Suffering Come?
While it is hard to comprehend the whole scope of human suffering, using the right instrument can help. Just as using binoculars helps us to see distant objects more clearly, using the Bible enables us to discern the cause of suffering.
For one thing, the Bible alerts us to the fact that “time and unforeseen occurrence” befall all humans. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) For example, Jesus referred to a news item of his day—18 people were killed when a tower fell on them. He made it clear that these victims were not worse sinners than others. (Luke 13:1-5) They suffered because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the Bible goes beyond that, providing satisfying information as to the prime causes of suffering. What information?
After the first humans sinned, the divine Judge, Jehovah, ruled that they had forfeited any right to continue living. In the years until they actually died, Adam and Eve faced considerable suffering. It was suffering that they had brought upon themselves—the effects of aging and sickness, the struggle to eke out a living, and the grief of seeing their family shattered by jealousy and violence. (Genesis 3:16-19; 4:1-12) It is important to fix in mind where the blame for all that suffering primarily rested. They brought it on themselves. Even so, how can we understand why suffering continues down till our day?
Although many people would object to being considered sinners, the Bible puts the facts in proper perspective, saying: “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) The first human couple reaped the consequences of their own harmful course, but their offspring were affected too. (Galatians 6:7) Their progeny inherited imperfection, leading to death. Some find this more understandable when they consider the scientific fact that even now children may inherit diseases or defects from their parents. This can be so with hemophilia, thalassemia (Mediterranean anemia), coronary artery disease, one type of diabetes, and even breast cancer. The children are not personally at fault, yet they may suffer as a result of what they have inherited.
Our genetic ancestors, Adam and Eve, chose to reject Jehovah’s way of ruling mankind.b You know from history that humans have tried all sorts of governments in an effort to rule the earth. Some men and women involved in these efforts were well-intentioned. Yet, how do you evaluate the results of man’s self-rule? Has most human suffering been relieved? Hardly. On the contrary, many policies and national wars have amplified suffering. Some 3,000 years ago, a wise ruler observed: “Man has dominated man to his injury.”—Ecclesiastes 8:9.
Do you see the situation as being much different now, perhaps better? Most would answer no. Many men, women, and children suffer not only because of inherited sin and imperfection but because of what they or others have done. Think of the human mismanagement of the earth, which is often due to greed. Men are guilty, too, of causing pollution, creating poverty, and contributing to hunger or to disease epidemics. Even some natural disasters, which many call acts of God, are man-made. There is another major cause of suffering that is usually overlooked.
The Person Behind the Suffering
One book of the Bible is especially revealing as to what the prime cause of suffering is and why the caring Creator has permitted it. This book, Job, can clarify any blurred vision on the matter of suffering. It does so by offering insight into the invisible realm, where certain key events occurred.
Some 3,500 years ago, shortly before Moses wrote the first Bible books, the man Job lived in what is now Arabia. The record shows that Job was upright, benevolent, and well respected. He had great wealth in the form of livestock, even being called “the greatest of all the Orientals.” On a personal level, Job had a fine family—a wife, seven sons, and three daughters. (Job 1:1-3; 29:7-9, 12-16) One day, a messenger rushed in to report that some of Job’s valuable herds had been plundered by a raiding band. Soon another reported the loss of flocks of Job’s sheep. Then the Chaldeans took away his 3,000 camels, killing all but one of the attendants. Finally came the worst news. An unusual wind devastated the house of his firstborn and killed all his children, who were gathered there. Faced with such suffering, would Job blame God? How would you have felt in his place?—Job 1:13-19.
More calamities were to come, though. Job was afflicted with a horrible disease that covered him with malignant boils.c He became so sick and repugnant that his wife blamed God. “Curse God and die!” she said. Job did not know why he was suffering, yet he would not accuse God of causing it. We read: “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”—Job 2:6-10.
Hearing of Job’s vexations, three acquaintances came to him. “Where have the upright ever been effaced?” asked Eliphaz, who assumed that Job must have acted wickedly. (Job, chapters 4, 5) He accused Job of secret sins, even of denying bread to the needy and having oppressed widows and orphans. (Job, chapters 15, 22) The two other sham comforters also berated Job as though he were responsible for his sufferings. Were they correct? Not at all.
The book of Job helps us to identify the root cause of Job’s suffering and to see why God allowed it. Job Chapters 1 and 2 reveal what had recently taken place in the invisible heavens, in the spirit realm. The rebellious spirit called Satand assembled with other spirits in God’s presence. At the mention of Job’s blameless course, Satan challenged: “Is it for nothing that Job has feared God? . . . For a change, thrust out your hand, please, and touch everything he has and see whether he will not curse you to your very face.”—Job 1:9-12.
In other words, Satan accused God of bribing Job. This defiant spirit creature claimed that if Job was stripped of his wealth and his health, he would curse Jehovah. By extension, Satan was asserting that no human would love and be loyal to God in the face of suffering. That challenge had global and enduring impact. The issues that Satan raised had to be settled. Thus, God gave Satan freedom to act against Job, and Satan brought those various forms of suffering on the man.
Understandably, Job did not and could not know of the universal issue that was raised in the heavens. And Satan arranged things so that it appeared as if God were causing all of Job’s calamities. For example, when lightning struck Job’s flocks of sheep, the surviving attendant concluded that it was “the very fire of God.” Although Job did not know why these things were happening, he would not curse or reject Jehovah God.—Job 1:16, 19, 21.
If you analyze the circumstances behind Job’s experience, you will see that the issue is, Will humans serve Jehovah out of love, despite troubles? Job helped to answer that. Only true love for God could have moved a person to remain faithful to Jehovah, which is what Job did. What a testimony against Satan’s false accusations! This case, however, did not begin and end with Job back then; it has extended for centuries. We are involved too.
How do many react when they see or face suffering, whatever its cause? They may be unaware of the issues raised in Job’s day, or they may not believe that Satan even exists. Hence, often they doubt that there is a Creator, or they blame him for the suffering. How do you feel about this? From what you know of the Creator, would you not concur with the Bible writer James? Despite suffering, he had this conviction: “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.
We have a valuable aid in getting the wise view. That is, our considering Jesus’ case. We know that Jesus is esteemed for his insight, knowledge, and ability as a teacher. Where did he stand regarding Satan and suffering? Jesus was certain that Satan the Devil both exists and can cause suffering. Satan, who tried to break Job’s integrity, overtly tried to do the same to Jesus. Beyond proving that Satan is real, this shows that the challenge raised in Job’s day was continuing. As did Job, Jesus proved faithful to the Creator even at the cost of riches and power and although it caused him physical suffering and death on a torture stake. Jesus’ case shows that God was still allowing humans to demonstrate that they would be loyal to him despite problems.—Luke 4:1-13; 8:27-34; 11:14-22; John 19:1-30.
Time Passes—For Good Reason
In understanding suffering, we have to recognize that accidents, sinful human tendencies, man’s mismanagement of the earth, and Satan the Devil are causes for suffering. However, knowing what is behind suffering is not enough. When one is afflicted, it would be easy to feel as did the ancient prophet Habakkuk when he said: “How long, O Jehovah, must I cry for help, and you do not hear? How long shall I call to you for aid from violence, and you do not save? Why is it that you make me see what is hurtful, and you keep looking upon mere trouble? And why are despoiling and violence in front of me, and why does quarreling occur, and why is strife carried?” (Habakkuk 1:2, 3) Yes, why does Jehovah ‘keep looking upon trouble’ without seeming to act? As the Almighty, he has the power and the love of justice needed to end suffering. So when will he do so?
As was mentioned earlier, when the first human couple chose total independence, the Creator was sure that some of their offspring would act differently. Jehovah wisely allowed time to pass. Why? In order to prove that rulership apart from the Creator leads only to unhappiness and, conversely, that living in harmony with the Creator is right and brings happiness.
In the meantime, God has maintained the earth as a reasonably pleasant environment. The apostle Paul reasoned: “In the past generations he permitted all the nations to go on in their ways, although, indeed, he did not leave himself without witness in that he did good, giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts to the full with food and good cheer.” (Acts 14:16, 17) Clearly, the Creator does not bring suffering, but he has permitted it so as to settle issues of the utmost importance.
When Will Relief Come?
Actually, the fact that human suffering is on the increase shows that the time for it to end is near. Why can that be said? The Bible reveals what happened in the invisible realm in Job’s day, and it does so again regarding our day. Its last book, Revelation, focuses on a conflict that took place in the heavens. The result? Satan “was hurled down to the earth” with his demon hordes. “On this account,” that Bible book continues, “be glad, you heavens and you who reside in them! Woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.”—Revelation 12:7-12.
A detailed consideration of Bible prophecy points to this century as the time when that event took place. As you may know, respected historians acknowledge that there was a major turning point in history in 1914, when World War I began.e Since then, suffering and woes have increased. Jesus pointed to this same time period when his intimate disciples asked him about “the sign of [his] presence and of the conclusion of the system of things.” Jesus said: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another pestilences and food shortages; and there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs.” (Matthew 24:3-14; Luke 21:5-19) These words, indicating great suffering, are having their full-scale fulfillment for the very first time in history.
The Bible describes these events as a prelude to a “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” (Matthew 24:21) This will be God’s decisive intervention in human affairs. He will act to end the wicked system of things, which has caused suffering for ages. But this will not mean the ‘end of the world’ by a nuclear holocaust that destroys mankind. God’s Word assures us that there will be survivors. “A great crowd . . . out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues” will come out of that tribulation alive.—Revelation 7:9-15.
To get a rounded-out picture, consider what the Bible says will follow. The gardenlike home originally purposed for mankind as their dwelling will be restored. (Luke 23:43) You will see no homeless people. Isaiah wrote: “‘They will certainly build houses and have occupancy; and they will certainly plant vineyards and eat their fruitage. . . . For like the days of a tree will the days of my people be; and the work of their own hands my chosen ones will use to the full. They will not toil for nothing, nor will they bring to birth for disturbance; because they are the offspring made up of the blessed ones of Jehovah, and their descendants with them. . . . The wolf and the lamb themselves will feed as one, and the lion will eat straw just like the bull . . . They will do no harm nor cause any ruin in all my holy mountain,’ Jehovah has said.”—Isaiah 65:21-25.
What of suffering on a personal level? There will be no war, violence, or crime. (Psalm 46:8, 9; Proverbs 2:22; Isaiah 2:4) Man’s Maker and Life-Giver will assist obedient humans in gaining and enjoying full health. (Isaiah 25:8; 33:24) There will be no more hunger, since the earth will be restored to an ecological balance and will produce abundantly. (Psalm 72:16) Indeed, sources of suffering that we now see will be things of the past.—Isaiah 14:7.
This certainly qualifies as the best of news. Yet, some might feel that there still are two dark clouds, so to speak. A person’s enjoyment of those blessings would be limited if he had to expect that after just 70 or 80 years he would die. And might he not feel sad about loved ones who died before the Creator ended human suffering? What is the answer?
Undoing the Worst Suffering
The Creator has the solution. He is the Maker of the universe and of human life here on earth. He can do what is beyond human ability or what humans are only starting to realize is possible. Consider just two examples of this.
We have the potential to live endlessly.
The Bible clearly holds out the prospect of receiving everlasting life from God. (John 3:16; 17:3) After studying the genes in human cells, Dr. Michael Fossel reported that the quality of male reproductive cells does not deteriorate with age. “The genes we already possess, properly expressed, can maintain our cells without aging.” That harmonizes with what we saw in Chapter 4, that our brains have a capacity hardly even touched in a present life span; they seem designed to function endlessly. These, of course, are just side points, supplemental to what the Bible says directly—Jehovah will make it possible for us to live forever without suffering. Notice what he promises in the final book of the Bible: “[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.”—Revelation 21:4.
The Creator is capable of helping someone who suffered and died—bringing him back to life, resurrecting him.
Lazarus was one who was resurrected. (John 11:17-45; see pages 158-60.) Professor Donald MacKay used the illustration of a computer file. He wrote that the destruction of a computer does not necessarily mean the permanent end of an equation or a process that was on it. The same equation or process could be put into a new computer and run there “if the mathematician so desires.” Professor MacKay continued: “Mechanistic brain science would seem to raise equally little objection to the hope of eternal life expressed in [the Bible], with its characteristic emphasis on the ‘resurrection.’” If a human died, the Creator could later bring him back to life, as he did with Jesus and as Jesus did with Lazarus. MacKay concluded that a person’s death would pose no barrier to his being restored to life in a new body “if our Creator so wishes.”
Yes, the ultimate solution rests with our Creator. He alone can fully remove suffering, reverse the effects of sin, and undo death. Jesus Christ told his disciples about an outstanding development that is yet ahead of us. He said: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.”—John 5:28, 29.
Just think of it! The Sovereign Ruler of the universe is ready and able to restore to life those in his memory. These will be given opportunity to prove themselves worthy of receiving “the real life.”—1 Timothy 6:19; Acts 24:15.
Are we, though, called upon to do anything now while we await full relief from human suffering? And if so, might this make our life even more meaningful today? Let us see.
a Karma is said to be “the influence of an individual’s past actions on his future lives, or reincarnations.”
b Genesis 2:17 presents God’s command to Adam against eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In a footnote on this, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) comments on what this knowledge represented: “It is the power of deciding for himself what is good and what is evil and of acting accordingly, a claim to complete moral independence by which man refuses to recognise his status as a created being, see Is[aiah] 5:20. The first sin was an attack on God’s sovereignty.”
c Other passages round out the picture of Job’s suffering. His flesh was covered with maggots, his skin formed crusts, and his breath was loathsome. Job was racked with pain, and his blackened skin dropped off.—Job 7:5; 19:17; 30:17, 30.
d In our earlier chapter “What Can You Learn About the Creator From a Book?” we considered the role of Satan the Devil in Adam and Eve’s sin.
e For a discussion of this prophecy, see chapter 9 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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No Immortal Soul
The Bible teaches that each person is a human soul; when a person dies, the soul dies. Ezekiel 18:4 says: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” The dead are not conscious or alive anywhere. Solomon wrote: “As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) Neither the Jews nor the earliest Christians originally taught that the soul is immortal.
“The soul in the O[ld] T[estament] means not a part of man, but the whole man—man as a living being. Similarly, in the N[ew] T[estament] it signifies human life . . . The Bible does not speak of the survival of an immaterial soul.”—New Catholic Encyclopedia.
“The idea of the immortality of the soul and faith in the resurrection of the dead . . . are two concepts on completely different planes.”—Dopo la morte: immortalità o resurrezione? by theologian Philippe H. Menoud.
“Since man as a whole is a sinner, therefore at death he dies completely with body and soul (full death) . . . Between death and resurrection, there is a gap.”—the Lutheran catechism Evangelischer Erwachsenenkatechismus.
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Has It Been So Long?
From Job’s day to Jesus’ might seem like a long time for suffering to continue—some 1,600 years. For a human, 100 years would appear a long time to wait for suffering to end. But we must recognize that the key issues that Satan raised reflected negatively on the Creator. In God’s view the subsequent allowance of suffering and wickedness has been brief. He is “the King of eternity” for whom ‘a thousand years are but as yesterday when it is past.’ (1 Timothy 1:17; Psalm 90:4) And for humans granted permanent life, this period of history in which suffering existed will seem quite short too.
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Turning Point in History
“Looking back from the vantage point of the present we see clearly today that the outbreak of World War I ushered in a twentieth-century ‘Time of Troubles’—in the expressive term of the British historian Arnold Toynbee—from which our civilization has by no means yet emerged.”—The Fall of the Dynasties, Edmond Taylor.
“It is indeed the year 1914 rather than that of Hiroshima which marks the turning point in our time, for by now we can see that . . . it was the first world war that ushered in the era of confused transition in the midst of which we are floundering.”—Dr. René Albrecht-Carrié, Barnard College.
“In 1914 the world lost a coherence which it has not managed to recapture since. . . . This has been a time of extraordinary disorder and violence, both across national frontiers and within them.”—The Economist.
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Resurrection of the Person Possible?
Neurologist Richard M. Restak commented about the human brain and its neurons. “All that we are and all that we have done could be read by an observer capable of deciphering the connections and circuits that have been established within our 50 billion nerve cells.” If that is so, would not our loving Creator, with the information that he has, be able to rebuild a person?
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Your Connections Are Numbered
Jesus said: “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Matthew 10:29-31) What about the gray matter inside your head? Brain cells (called neurons) are so small that they can be seen only with a powerful microscope. Imagine your trying to count, not just neurons, but the smaller interconnections (synapses), which may be up to 250,000 for some neurons.
Dr. Peter Huttenlocher, using the powerful electron microscope, pioneered the counting of neuronal connections from autopsies—of fetuses, of deceased babies, and of old people. Surprisingly, all the samples, each about the size of a pinhead, had roughly the same number of neurons, some 70,000.
Then Dr. Huttenlocher began counting the number of neuronal, or brain-cell, connections in such tiny samples. The fetus’ neurons had 124 million connections; those of a newborn had 253 million; an eight-month-old had 572 million. Dr. Huttenlocher found that thereafter as a child grew, the number gradually decreased.
These findings are of interest in view of what the Bible says about the resurrection. (John 5:28, 29) An adult has for his entire brain about one million billion neuronal connections, that is, 1 with 15 zeros. Does the Creator have the ability not only to count these connections but also to reconstruct them?
The World Book Encyclopedia gives the number of stars in the universe as 200 billion billion, or 2 with 20 zeros. The Creator knows all these stars by name. (Isaiah 40:26) Thus, it is well within his ability to recall and reconstruct the neuronal connections making up the memories and feelings of humans he chooses to resurrect.
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Many believe in the cycle of Karma, from birth to death
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Alexis, son of Czar Nicholas II and Alexandra, inherited hemophilia. We have inherited imperfection from our forefather, Adam
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Even while he has permitted suffering, the Creator has provided many delights for humans