IAN’s father was a heavy drinker. Although Ian grew up with what he needed materially, he lacked the emotional support that he longed to receive from his father. “I never had much affection for him, mostly because of his drinking and the way he treated my mother,” says Ian. As Ian got older, he began to question God’s existence. “‘If God really exists,’ I reasoned, ‘why does he allow people to suffer?’”
Why ask the question?
Even if your life is relatively problem free, your sense of justice might be outraged when you see innocent people suffer. However, the question about suffering becomes especially significant if you, like Ian, personally experience hardship or if a loved one gets sick or dies.
What do some say the answer is?
Some believe that God permits suffering to teach us to be humble and compassionate. Others feel that people suffer in this life for sins committed in a past life.
What do those answers imply?
God is unmoved by human suffering, making it difficult to love him. God is cruel.
What does the Bible teach?
The Bible plainly states that God is not to blame for human suffering. “Let no man say when he is tested, I am tested by God; for it is not possible for God to be tested by evil, and he himself puts no man to such a test.” (James 1:13, The Bible in Basic English) In fact, the idea that God is to blame for suffering is out of harmony with the way that the Bible describes God’s personality. How so?
One of God’s primary qualities is love. (1 John 4:8) To emphasize that point, the Bible portrays God as having feelings similar to those of a nursing mother. “Can a wife forget her suckling so that she should not pity the son of her belly?” asks God. “Even these women can forget, yet I myself shall not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15) Can you imagine a loving mother deliberately harming her child? A caring parent, on the contrary, would try to alleviate a child’s suffering. Likewise, God does not cause innocent people to suffer.—Genesis 18:25.
Even so, innocent people are suffering. You may wonder, ‘If God cares for us and is all powerful, why doesn’t he get rid of the causes of suffering?’
God allows suffering to continue at present for good reasons. Consider just one: It is often people who cause suffering to others. Many bullies and tyrants who inflict pain are unwilling to change their ways. So for God to remove a major cause of suffering, he will have to destroy such people.
Explaining why God has not yet destroyed those who do wrong, the apostle Peter wrote: “Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Jehovah God’s patience is an expression of his loving and merciful personality.
Soon, though, Jehovah God will act. He will “repay tribulation to those who make tribulation” for the innocent. Those who inflict unjust suffering will “undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction.”—2 Thessalonians 1:6-9.
Ian, quoted earlier, found satisfying answers to his questions about suffering. What he learned changed his outlook on life. Read his account in the next article entitled “The Bible Changes Lives”.