Human Suffering—Why Does God Permit It?
AT THE start of man’s history, there simply were no tears of sorrow or of pain. Human suffering did not exist. Mankind was given a perfect start. “God saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good.”—Genesis 1:31.
But some object, ‘The story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden is just an allegory.’ Sadly, many clergymen of Christendom say this. However, no less an authority than Jesus Christ himself confirmed as historical the events in Eden. (Matthew 19:4-6) Furthermore, the only way to understand why God has permitted human suffering is to examine these events of man’s early history.
The first man, Adam, was given the satisfying work of caring for the garden of Eden. Also, God set before him the goal of expanding his Edenic home into a global garden of pleasure. (Genesis 1:28; 2:15) To help Adam accomplish this great task, God provided him with a marriage mate, Eve, and told them to be fruitful and multiply and to subdue the earth. Yet something else was needed to ensure the success of God’s purpose for the earth and mankind. Being made in God’s image, man possessed free will; hence, it was necessary that man’s will never clash with God’s. Otherwise, there would be disorder in the universe, and God’s purpose to fill the earth with a peaceful human family would not be realized.
Submission to God’s rule was not automatic. It was to be a loving expression of man’s free will. For example, we read that when Jesus Christ faced a severe test, he prayed: “Father, if you wish, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, let, not my will, but yours take place.”—Luke 22:42.
Likewise, it was up to Adam and Eve to prove whether they wanted to submit to God’s rule. To this end, Jehovah God arranged for a simple test. One of the trees in the garden was called “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.” It represented God’s right to determine the standards of correct conduct. In plain language, God forbade the eating of fruit from this particular tree. If Adam and Eve disobeyed, it would result in their death.—Genesis 2:9, 16, 17.
The Start of Human Suffering
One day a spirit son of God presumed to question God’s way of ruling. Using a snake as a mouthpiece, he asked Eve: “Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?” (Genesis 3:1) Thus a seed of doubt was planted in Eve’s mind as to whether God’s way of ruling was right.* In reply Eve gave the correct answer, which she had learned from her husband. However, the spirit creature then contradicted God and lied about the consequences of disobedience, saying: “You positively will not die. For God knows that in the very day of your eating from it your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.”—Genesis 3:4, 5.
Sadly, Eve was deceived into thinking that disobedience would result, not in human suffering, but in a better life. The more she looked at the fruit, the more desirable it appeared, and she began eating it. Later, she talked Adam into eating it too. Tragically, Adam chose to retain his wife’s favor rather than God’s.—Genesis 3:6; 1 Timothy 2:13, 14.
By instigating this rebellion, the spirit creature turned himself into an opposer of God. He thus came to be called Satan, from the Hebrew word meaning “opposer.” He also lied about God, making himself a slanderer. Hence, he is also called Devil, from a Greek word meaning “slanderer.”—Revelation 12:9.
Thus, human suffering began. Three of God’s creatures had misused their gift of free will, choosing a selfish way of life in opposition to their Creator. The question now arose, How would God handle this rebellion in a just way that would reassure the rest of his intelligent creation, including faithful angels in heaven and future descendants of Adam and Eve?
God’s Wise Response
Some might argue that it would have been best if God had immediately destroyed Satan, Adam, and Eve. But that would not have settled the issues raised by the rebellion. Satan had questioned God’s way of ruling, suggesting that humans would be better off independent of God’s rule. Also, his success in turning the first two humans against God’s rule raised other questions. Since Adam and Eve sinned, did this mean that there was something wrong with the way God had created man? Could God have anyone on earth who would remain faithful to him? And what about Jehovah’s angelic sons who witnessed Satan’s rebellion? Would they uphold the righteousness of His sovereignty? Obviously, sufficient time was needed to settle these issues. That is why God has allowed Satan to exist until our day.
As for Adam and Eve, on the day of their disobedience, God sentenced them to death. So the dying process began. Their descendants, who were conceived after Adam and Eve had sinned, inherited sin and death from their imperfect parents.—Romans 5:14.
Satan started off with the first two humans on his side of the issue. He has used the time allowed him to try to keep all of Adam’s descendants under his control. He has also succeeded in seducing a number of angels into joining in his rebellion. However, the majority of God’s angelic sons have loyally upheld the righteousness of Jehovah’s rulership.—Genesis 6:1, 2; Jude 6; Revelation 12:3, 9.
At issue was God’s rule versus Satan’s, an issue that was very much alive in the days of Job. This faithful man proved by his conduct that he preferred God’s righteous rule to satanic independence, as such God-fearing men as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph had already done. Job became the subject of a conversation that took place in heaven in front of the faithful angels of God. In support of His righteous rule, God said to Satan: “Have you set your heart upon my servant Job, that there is no one like him in the earth, a man blameless and upright, fearing God and turning aside from bad?”—Job 1:6-8.
Refusing to admit defeat, Satan claimed that Job served God only for selfish reasons, since God had richly blessed Job with material prosperity. So Satan charged: “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 1:11) Satan even went further, calling into question the integrity of all of God’s creatures. “Everything that a man has he will give in behalf of his soul,” he charged. (Job 2:4) This slanderous attack involved not only Job but all of God’s faithful worshipers in heaven and on earth. Satan implied that they would give up their relationship with Jehovah if their lives were at stake.
Jehovah God had full confidence in Job’s integrity. Giving evidence of that, he permitted Satan to bring human suffering upon Job. By his faithfulness Job not only cleared his own name but, more important, upheld the righteousness of Jehovah’s sovereignty. The Devil was proved to be a liar.—Job 2:10; 42:7.
However, the best example of faithfulness under test was Jesus Christ. God had transferred the life of this angelic Son from heaven to the womb of a virgin. Therefore Jesus did not inherit sin and imperfection. Instead he grew up to be a perfect man, the exact equivalent of the first man before that one lost his perfection. Satan made Jesus a special target, bringing many temptations and trials upon him, climaxing in a humiliating death. But Satan failed to break Jesus’ integrity. In a complete way, Jesus upheld the righteousness of his Father’s rule. He also proved that the perfect man Adam had no excuse for joining Satan’s rebellion. Adam could have been faithful under his much smaller test.
What Else Has Been Proved?
About 6,000 years of human suffering have passed since Adam and Eve’s rebellion. During this time God has allowed mankind to experiment with many different forms of government. The ghastly record of human suffering proves that man is not capable of ruling himself. In fact, anarchy now prevails in many areas of the earth. Independence from God, as advocated by Satan, is calamitous.
Jehovah has not had to prove anything to himself. He knows that his way of ruling is righteous and in the best interests of his creatures. However, to answer all the questions raised by Satan’s rebellion satisfactorily, he has allowed his intelligent creatures opportunity to show their preference for his righteous rule.
The rewards for loving God and being faithful to him far outweigh the temporary period of suffering at the Devil’s hand. The case of Job illustrates this. Jehovah God healed Job from the sickness that the Devil had brought upon him. Furthermore, God “blessed the end of Job afterward more than his beginning.” Finally, after a 140-year extension of life, “Job died, old and satisfied with days.”—Job 42:10-17.
The Christian Bible writer James calls attention to this, saying: “You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome Jehovah gave, that Jehovah is very tender in affection and compassionate.”—James 5:11, footnote.
The time is now up for Satan and his world. Soon, God will reverse all the suffering that Satan’s rebellion has brought upon mankind. Even the dead will be raised. (John 11:25) Then, faithful men like Job will have the opportunity of gaining everlasting life on a paradise earth. These future blessings that God will pour out upon his servants will vindicate him forevermore as a righteous Sovereign who is indeed “very tender in affection and compassionate.”
A lawyer and author of the early 20th century, Philip Mauro, who examined this question in his discussion of “The Origin of Evil,” concluded that this was “the cause of all the trouble of mankind.”
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CRUEL GODS OF MEN
ANCIENT gods were often depicted as bloodthirsty and lustful. To placate them, parents even burned their children alive in fires. (Deuteronomy 12:31) At the other extreme, pagan philosophers taught that God was without such feelings as anger or pity.
The demon-inspired views of these philosophers influenced God’s professed people, the Jews. The Jewish philosopher Philo, a contemporary of Jesus, asserted that God is “not susceptible to any passion at all.”
Not even the strict Jewish sect of the Pharisees escaped the influence of Greek philosophy. They adopted Plato’s teachings that man is made up of an immortal soul trapped in a human body. Furthermore, according to the first-century historian Josephus, the Pharisees believed that the souls of wicked people “suffer eternal punishment.” The Bible, however, gives no basis for such a view.—Genesis 2:7; 3:19; Ecclesiastes 9:5; Ezekiel 18:4.
What about the followers of Jesus? Did they allow themselves to be influenced by pagan philosophy? Recognizing this danger, the apostle Paul warned fellow Christians: “Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.”—Colossians 2:8; see also 1 Timothy 6:20.
Sadly, a number of professed Christian overseers of the second and third centuries ignored that warning and taught that God does not have feelings. The Encyclopedia of Religion states: “On the whole, God’s attributes were understood much as they were affirmed in Jewish and philosophical thought of the time . . . The idea that God the Father could have feelings such as pity . . . has been generally regarded as unacceptable at least until the late twentieth century.”
Thus, Christendom adopted the false teaching of a cruel god who punishes sinners by making them suffer conscious torment forever. On the other hand, Jehovah God plainly states in his Word, the Bible, that “the wages sin pays is death,” not eternal conscious torment.—Romans 6:23.
Above: Acropolis Museum, Greece
Courtesy of The British Museum
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God’s purpose to transform the earth into an Edenic paradise must be fulfilled!