God’s Permission of Suffering Nears Its End
EVERYWHERE you look, there is suffering. Some people bring it on themselves. They contract sexually transmitted diseases or experience the effects of drug or alcohol abuse or of smoking. Or they may encounter health problems because of poor eating habits. However, much suffering results from factors or events beyond the control of the average person: war, ethnic violence, crime, poverty, famine, disease. Something else that humans basically cannot control is suffering related to aging and death.
The Bible assures us that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Why, then, has a loving God allowed all this suffering to continue for so many centuries? When will he remedy the situation? To answer such questions, we need to examine God’s purpose with regard to humans. This will help us to understand why God has allowed suffering and what he will do about it.
The Gift of Free Will
When God created the first human, he produced more than just a body with a brain. Further, God did not create Adam and Eve to be mindless robots. He implanted in them the faculty of free will. And that was a fine gift, for “God saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) Yes, “perfect is his activity.” (Deuteronomy 32:4) All of us appreciate this gift of free will because we do not want all our thoughts and actions dictated to us without ever having a choice in anything.
However, was the fine gift of free will to be used without limits? In directions given to early Christians, God’s Word answers: “Be as free people, and yet holding your freedom, not as a blind for badness, but as slaves of God.” (1 Peter 2:16) For the common good, there must be boundaries. Hence, free will was to be regulated by the rule of law. Otherwise, anarchy would result.
Whose law was to determine the proper limits of freedom? The answer to this question has to do with the fundamental reason why God has permitted suffering. Since God created humans, he knows best what laws they need to obey for their own good and for the good of others. The Bible puts it this way: “I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit yourself, the One causing you to tread in the way in which you should walk.”—Isaiah 48:17.
Clearly, a vital point is this: Humans were not created to be independent of God. He made them in such a way that their success and happiness depend on obedience to his righteous laws. God’s prophet Jeremiah said: “I well know, O Jehovah, that 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.
God made mankind subject to his physical laws, such as the law of gravity. Similarly, he made humans to be subject to his moral laws, which are designed to result in a harmonious society. For good reason, then, God’s Word urges: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding.”—Proverbs 3:5.
Thus, the human family could never be successful in regulating itself without God’s rulership. Trying to be independent from him, people would devise social, economic, political, and religious systems that would conflict with one another, and ‘man would dominate man to his injury.’—Ecclesiastes 8:9.
What Went Wrong?
God gave our first parents, Adam and Eve, a perfect start. They had perfect bodies and minds and a paradise garden for a home. If they had submitted to God’s rule, they would have remained perfect and happy. In time, they would have been the parents of an entire perfect, happy human family living on a paradise earth. That was God’s purpose for the human race.—Genesis 1:27-29; 2:15.
However, our original ancestors misused their free will. They wrongly thought that they could be successful independent of God. Of their own free will, they stepped outside the boundaries of his laws. (Genesis, chapter 3) Because they rejected his rulership, he no longer was obligated to sustain them in perfection. ‘They acted ruinously on their own part, did not remain his children, and the defect was their own.’—Deuteronomy 32:5.
From the time they disobeyed God, Adam and Eve began to degenerate in body and mind. With Jehovah is the source of life. (Psalm 36:9) So because of cutting themselves off from Jehovah, the first human couple became imperfect and eventually died. (Genesis 3:19) Consistent with laws of genetic inheritance, their offspring could receive only what their parents themselves possessed. And what was that? It was imperfection and death. The apostle Paul therefore wrote: “Through one man [Adam] 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 Main Issue—Sovereignty
When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, they challenged his sovereignty, that is, his right to rule. Jehovah could have destroyed them and started over with another couple, but that would not have settled the issue of whose rulership is right and best for people. Granted time to develop their societies according to their own ideas, humans would demonstrate beyond any doubt whether rulership independent from God could ever be successful.
What do thousands of years of human history tell us? For all those centuries, people have tried many kinds of social, economic, political, and religious systems. However, wickedness and suffering have continued. In fact, ‘wicked men have advanced from bad to worse,’ especially in our time.—2 Timothy 3:13.
The 20th century saw a peak of scientific and industrial achievements. But it also saw the worst suffering in the entire history of the human race. And no matter what medical advances are made, the law of God still holds true: Humans separated from God—the source of life—get sick, grow old, and die. How clearly it has been proved that humans cannot ‘direct their own steps’!
God’s Sovereignty Asserted
Once and for all time, this tragic experiment in independence from God has demonstrated that rulership by humans apart from him can never succeed. Only God’s rulership can bring happiness, unity, health, and life. Moreover, Jehovah God’s infallible Word, the Holy Bible, shows that we are living in “the last days” of human rule independent from God. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Jehovah’s toleration of this and of wickedness and suffering is nearing its end.
God will soon intervene in human affairs. The Scriptures tell us: “In the days of those kings [human rulerships now existing] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom [in heaven] that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people [never again will humans rule the earth]. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms [present rulerships], and it itself will stand to times indefinite.”—Daniel 2:44.
The vindication of Jehovah God’s sovereignty by means of the heavenly Kingdom is the Bible’s theme. Jesus made this his foremost teaching. He said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matthew 24:14.
When God’s rulership replaces man’s rule, who will survive and who will not? At Proverbs 2:21, 22, we are assured: “The upright [who uphold God’s rule] 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 [who do not uphold God’s rule], they will be cut off from the very earth.” The divinely inspired psalmist sang: “Just a little while longer, and the wicked one will be no more . . . But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace. The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”—Psalm 37:10, 11, 29.
A Marvelous New World
Under the rulership of God’s Kingdom, survivors of the end of the present system of things will be ushered into an earth cleansed of wickedness and suffering. God-given instruction will be provided for mankind, and in time “the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.” (Isaiah 11:9) This upbuilding, positive teaching will result in a truly peaceful, harmonious human society. Thus, there will be no more war, murder, violence, rape, theft, or any other crime.
Marvelous physical benefits will flow to obedient humans living in God’s new world. There will be a canceling out of all the bad consequences of rebellion against God’s rule. Imperfection, sickness, old age, and death will be things of the past. The Bible assures us: “No resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” Moreover, the Scriptures promise: “At that time the eyes of the blind ones will be opened, and the very ears of the deaf ones will be unstopped. At that time the lame one will climb up just as a stag does, and the tongue of the speechless one will cry out in gladness.” (Isaiah 33:24; 35:5, 6) What a thrill it will be to enjoy vibrant health every day—forever!
Under God’s loving direction, the inhabitants of that new world will use their energies and skills in building an earth-wide paradise. Gone forever will be poverty, hunger, and homelessness, for Isaiah’s prophecy states: “They will certainly build houses and have occupancy; and they will certainly plant vineyards and eat their fruitage. They will not build and someone else have occupancy; they will not plant and someone else do the eating.” (Isaiah 65:21, 22) Indeed, “they will actually sit, each one under his vine and under his fig tree, and there will be no one making them tremble.”—Micah 4:4.
The earth will respond to the loving care of God and obedient humans. We have these Scriptural assurances: “The wilderness and the waterless region will exult, and the desert plain will be joyful and blossom as the saffron. . . . In the wilderness waters will have burst out, and torrents in the desert plain.” (Isaiah 35:1, 6) “There will come to be plenty of grain on the earth; on the top of the mountains there will be an overflow.”—Psalm 72:16.
What about the billions of people who have died? Those in God’s memory will be brought back to life, for “there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) Yes, the dead will be restored to life. They will be taught the wonderful truths regarding God’s rulership and be given the opportunity to live forever in Paradise.—John 5:28, 29.
By these means, Jehovah God will completely reverse the awful condition of suffering, sickness, and death that has held mankind in its grip for thousands of years. No more sickness! No more disabilities! No more death! 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 [will] have passed away.”—Revelation 21:3, 4.
That is how God will end suffering. He will destroy this corrupt world and usher in an entirely new system of things in which “righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Peter 3:13) What good news this is! We desperately need that new world. And we will not have to wait long to see it. From the fulfillment of Bible prophecies, we know that the new world is at the door, and God’s permission of suffering is nearing its end.—Matthew 24:3-14.
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The Failure of Human Rule
Regarding human rulership, former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt stated: “We humans . . . have always only partially governed the world, and most of the time very badly. . . . We have never governed it in total peace.” Human Development Report 1999 noted: “All countries report erosion of their social fabric, with social unrest, more crime, more violence in the home. . . . Global threats are increasing, outgrowing national abilities to tackle them, and outpacing international responses.”
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“They will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.”—Psalm 37:11
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Third from top, mother and child: FAO photo/B. Imevbore; bottom, explosion: U.S. National Archives photo