Comfort for Those Who Suffer
OVER the centuries, the question of why God allows suffering has challenged many philosophers and theologians. Some have asserted that since God is all-powerful, he must ultimately be responsible for suffering. The writer of The Clementine Homilies, an apocryphal second-century work, claimed that God rules the world with both hands. With his “left hand,” the Devil, he causes suffering and affliction, and with his “right hand,” Jesus, he saves and blesses.
Others, unable to accept that God could permit suffering even if he does not cause it, have chosen to deny that suffering exists. “Evil is but an illusion, and it has no real basis,” wrote Mary Baker Eddy. “If sin, sickness, and death were understood as nothingness, they would disappear.”—Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures.
In the wake of the tragic events of history, especially from the first world war until our day, many have reached the conclusion that God is simply unable to prevent suffering. “The Holocaust has, I think, dismissed any easy use of omnipotence as an attribute appropriate to God,” wrote Jewish scholar David Wolf Silverman. “If God is to be intelligible in some manner,” he added, “then His goodness must be compatible with the existence of evil, and this is only if He is not all-powerful.”
However, claims that God is somehow an accomplice to suffering, that he is unable to prevent it, or that suffering is a mere figment of our imagination offer scant comfort to those who suffer. And more important, such beliefs are utterly at odds with the just, dynamic, and caring God who is revealed in the pages of the Bible. (Job 34:10, 12; Jeremiah 32:17; 1 John 4:8) What, then, does the Bible say about the reason why suffering has been permitted?
How Did Suffering Begin?
God did not create humans to suffer. On the contrary, he endowed the first human couple, Adam and Eve, with perfect minds and bodies, prepared a delightful garden to serve as their home, and assigned them meaningful, satisfying work. (Genesis 1:27, 28, 31; 2:8) However, their continued happiness depended on their recognizing God’s rulership and his right to decide what was good and what was bad. That divine prerogative was represented by a tree called “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.” (Genesis 2:17) Adam and Eve would demonstrate their subjection to God if they obeyed his command not to eat from that tree.*
Tragically, Adam and Eve failed to obey God. A rebellious spirit creature, later identified as Satan the Devil, convinced Eve that it was not in her best interests to obey God. In fact, God was supposedly depriving her of something highly desirable: independence, the right to choose for herself what was good and what was bad. Satan claimed that if she ate of the tree, ‘her eyes were bound to be opened and she was bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.’ (Genesis 3:1-6; Revelation 12:9) Seduced by the prospect of independence, Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, and Adam soon did the same.
That same day, Adam and Eve began to experience the results of their rebellion. By rejecting divine rulership, they lost out on the protection and blessings that subjection to God had afforded them. God evicted them from Paradise and told Adam: “Cursed is the ground on your account. In pain you will eat its produce all the days of your life. In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground.” (Genesis 3:17, 19) Adam and Eve became subject to sickness, pain, aging, and death. Suffering had become a part of human experience.—Genesis 5:29.
Settling the Issue
Someone may ask, ‘Could God not have simply overlooked Adam and Eve’s sin?’ No, because that would have further undermined respect for his authority, perhaps encouraging future rebellions and resulting in even greater suffering. (Ecclesiastes 8:11) In addition, condoning such disobedience would have made God a party to wrongdoing. The Bible writer Moses reminds us: “God’s works are perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4, footnote) To be true to himself, God had to allow Adam and Eve to suffer the consequences of their disobedience.
Why did God not immediately destroy the first human couple along with Satan, the invisible instigator of their rebellion? He had the power to do so. Adam and Eve would not have produced offspring subject to a legacy of suffering and death. However, such a demonstration of divine power would not have proved the rightfulness of God’s authority over his intelligent creatures. Furthermore, had Adam and Eve died childless, that would have signaled the failure of God’s purpose to fill the earth with their perfect descendants. (Genesis 1:28) And “God is not like men . . . Whatever he promises, he does; he speaks, and it is done.”—Numbers 23:19, Today’s English Version.
In his perfect wisdom, Jehovah God decided to allow the rebellion to proceed for a limited time. The rebels would have ample opportunity to experience the effects of independence from God. History would demonstrate beyond doubt mankind’s need for divine guidance and the superiority of God’s rule over man’s or Satan’s. At the same time, God took steps to ensure that his original purpose for the earth would be fulfilled. He promised that a “seed,” or “offspring,” would come who would ‘bruise Satan in the head,’ eliminating once and for all his rebellion and its damaging effects.—Genesis 3:15, footnote.
Jesus Christ was that promised Seed. At 1 John 3:8, we read that “the Son of God was made manifest . . . to break up the works of the Devil.” This he did by laying down his perfect human life and paying the ransom price to redeem Adam’s children from inherited sin and death. (John 1:29; 1 Timothy 2:5, 6) Those who truly exercise faith in Jesus’ sacrifice are promised permanent relief from suffering. (John 3:16; Revelation 7:17) When will this happen?
An End to Suffering
The rejection of God’s authority has caused untold suffering. It is fitting, then, that God should use a special expression of his authority to end human suffering and accomplish his original purpose for the earth. Jesus mentioned this divine provision when he taught his followers to pray: “Our Father in the heavens, . . . let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.”—Matthew 6:9, 10.
The time that God has allowed for humans to experiment with self-government is about to end. In fulfillment of Bible prophecy, his Kingdom was established in the heavens in 1914 with Jesus Christ as its King.* Shortly, it will crush and put an end to all human governments.—Daniel 2:44.
During his brief earthly ministry, Jesus provided a foregleam of the blessings that the restoration of divine rule will bring to humanity. The Gospels provide evidence that Jesus showed compassion for members of human society who were poor and discriminated against. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and resurrected the dead. Even the forces of nature obeyed his voice. (Matthew 11:5; Mark 4:37-39; Luke 9:11-16) Imagine what Jesus will accomplish when he uses the cleansing effect of his ransom sacrifice to benefit all obedient mankind! The Bible promises that by means of Christ’s rule, God “will wipe out every tear from [mankind’s] eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.”—Revelation 21:4.
Comfort for Those Who Suffer
How heartening it is to know that our loving and all-powerful God, Jehovah, cares for us and that he will shortly bring relief to mankind! Usually, a seriously sick patient willingly accepts treatment that will cure him even if it is very painful. In the same way, if we know that God’s way of handling matters will bring eternal blessings, that knowledge can sustain us no matter what temporary difficulties we face.
Ricardo, mentioned in the preceding article, is one who has learned to draw comfort from the Bible’s promises. “After my wife’s death, I felt a strong desire to isolate myself,” he recalls, “but I soon realized that this would not bring my wife back and would only worsen my emotional state.” Instead, Ricardo stuck to his routine of attending Christian meetings and sharing the Bible’s message with others. “As I felt Jehovah’s loving support and noticed how he answered my prayers in seemingly small matters, I drew closer to him,” says Ricardo. “It was this awareness of God’s love that enabled me to endure what certainly was the worst trial I had ever faced.” He admits: “I still miss my wife very much, but I now firmly believe that nothing Jehovah allows to happen can cause us lasting harm.”
Do you, like Ricardo and millions of others, yearn for the time when mankind’s present sufferings “will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart”? (Isaiah 65:17) Be assured that the blessings of God’s Kingdom are within your grasp if you follow the Bible’s advice: “Search for Jehovah . . . while he may be found. Call to him while he proves to be near.”—Isaiah 55:6.
To help you do this, make the reading and careful study of God’s Word a priority in your life. Get to know God and the one whom he sent forth, Jesus Christ. Strive to live in harmony with God’s standards and thus show that you are willing to submit to his sovereignty. Such a course will bring you greater happiness now despite the tests that you may have to face. And in the future, it will result in your enjoying life in a world free of suffering.—John 17:3.
In its footnote to Genesis 2:17, The Jerusalem Bible explains “the knowledge of good and evil” as “the power of deciding . . . 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.” It adds: “The first sin was an attack on God’s sovereignty.”
For a detailed discussion of Bible prophecy relating to 1914, see chapters 10 and 11 of the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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HOW CAN WE COPE WITH SUFFERING?
“Throw all your anxiety upon [God].” (1 Peter 5:7) Feelings of confusion, anger, and abandonment are only natural when we endure suffering or see someone we love suffer. Still, be assured that Jehovah understands our feelings. (Exodus 3:7; Isaiah 63:9) Like faithful men of old, we can open our heart to him and express our doubts and anxieties. (Exodus 5:22; Job 10:1-3; Jeremiah 14:19; Habakkuk 1:13) He may not miraculously remove our trials, but in response to our heartfelt prayers, he can grant us the wisdom and strength to deal with them.—James 1:5, 6.
“Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12, New International Version) Here Peter is speaking of persecution, but his words apply equally well to any suffering a believer may endure. Humans suffer privation, sickness, and loss. The Bible says that “time and unforeseen occurrence” befall everyone. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Such things are part of the human condition at present. Realizing this will help us to deal with suffering and misfortune when it occurs. (1 Peter 5:9) Most of all, recalling the assurance that “the eyes of Jehovah are toward the righteous ones, and his ears are toward their cry for help” will especially be a source of comfort.—Psalm 34:15; Proverbs 15:3; 1 Peter 3:12.
“Rejoice in the hope.” (Romans 12:12) Instead of dwelling on lost happiness, we can meditate on God’s promise to end all suffering. (Ecclesiastes 7:10) This well-founded hope will protect us as a helmet protects the head. Hope cushions the blows in life and helps to ensure that they do not prove fatal to our mental, emotional, or spiritual health.—1 Thessalonians 5:8.
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Adam and Eve rejected divine rulership
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God promises a world free of suffering