If there is a God, why does he allow suffering? IS GOD TO BLAME?
Patrick A Parnell
If there is a God, why does he allow suffering?
WRITES an older teenager in a letter to a syndicated columnist: "Our Father who art in Heaven, where have you been? Our leaders are all lunatics and the world is full of sin." This senior went on to thank God for tooth decay, cancer, nuclear waste and a plethora of other ills. Like many, he blames God for humanity's heartaches and difficulties. It seems the tendency most of us have is to blissfully enjoy life, without a care in the world, when things go right. And not give God a thought one way or the other. Then, when things don't go our way or when difficulty or tragedy strikes, we wonder why God allows it — why God lets it happen!
Why does God allow humanity to suffer? I know a sweet 11-year-old girl, seemingly healthy enough now, but suffering from cystic fibrosis. She'll be fortunate to live past teenage. I'm sure you have seen pictures of little children in impoverished places around this world, walking in a daze, their little bodies emaciated, their bellies bloated, diseased and dying of starvation. Why? On top of all these personal miseries, world peace is shaky. Nations continue to arm themselves to the hilt, teetering on the brink of a worldwide holocaust. Is this God's fault? Why doesn't God stop it now? There is a reason why humanity suffers, why God allows people to have problems. It's time to understand why all this suffering and set the record straight.
Back to the Beginning
To understand the underlying cause of humanity's sufferings, we have to go back to the beginning of human experience. That beginning is recorded in the pages of the Bible — and it has to do with choice. Despite the speculation of agnostics and atheists the Bible unequivocally states: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). There is no other logical explanation for the existence of our universe! An all-powerful, all-mighty God began it all! Those who say God's existence is unknowable have blinded themselves spiritually from comprehending the meaning of this ordered universe! Says God: "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20). God, indeed, began the universe. God created also the first human beings. We read: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Gen. 1:27). God created humans in his own image, in his own likeness — godlike! The significance of this fact is tremendous and overwhelming. God made man like himself, but infinitely limited in comparison, and physical, composed of the elements of the earth, subject to death and decay: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7). Note, man became a living soul, not an immortal soul inside the man. What's most important is that God put before the first humans a far-reaching choice.
Man Must Choose
God placed the first humans in a beautiful, protected garden area in a region called Eden. In that garden was every kind of tree "that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food" (Gen. 2:8-9). Two special trees God placed in the middle of the garden; one called "the tree of life," the other "the tree of knowledge of good and evil." Those two special trees in the midst of the garden in Eden had symbolic meaning. Those two trees represented two differing life-styles and accompanying knowledge and attitudes to go along with them. The tree of life represented God's way of life, the way of giving, of loving one's neighbor. It symbolized the spiritual understanding God makes available to live a happy, peaceful life, and, above all, it stood for God's eternal life. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represented the way of disobedience, reasoning apart from God, acquiring knowledge through experimentation and a way of life of outright rejection of God's revealed knowledge. The first humans were given a choice to take either of God's way of life and his Spirit through the tree of life, or of the way of selfishness, of determining for oneself good and evil. God went so far as to direct them to choose correctly with a firm warning, saying they would surely bring certain death on themselves if they took of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:16-17).
God and His Way Rejected
Picking up the story in Genesis, chapter three, we read about the choice the first two human beings made. In verse one we find a serpent on the scene, but more than a serpent — a super powerful being, who, in times past had rejected God and God's way of life, permanently establishing himself as an adversary against God. He was the harbinger of a negative spiritual attitude. He's known in the Bible as "the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan" (Rev. 20:2). Our free article Did God Create a Devil? details the story behind Satan's existence. It is this Satan who "deceiveth the whole world" (Rev. 12:9). This Satan subtly twisted what God told our first parents, Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1). Eve listened and Adam, it seems, stood tacitly by without comment (verses 2 and 3). The first humans now listened to Satan instead of God! The woman believed this Satan — she became deceived and chose the wrong way of life by taking of the tree of the
The tree of life represented God's way of life, the way of giving, of loving one's neighbor. It symbolized the spiritual understanding God makes available to live a happy, peaceful life, and, above all, it stood for God's eternal life.
knowledge of good and evil. "... she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat" (Gen. 3:6). The man knew better, but he followed his wife's lead. They both rejected God's command. They chose to do their own things apart from God and apart from his vital, revealed knowledge — spiritual knowledge on how to get along with others, knowledge on how to live to produce and maintain genuine, lasting peace and happiness. Adam and Eve rejected life and chose death! Most tragic, they rejected God's Spirit and his government and chose Satan's influence and government instead. They made a decision for the whole human family that has descended from them. Their choice brought on terrible heartache! Giving birth to children, raising a family and maintaining that family would now become a problem. Through toil and labor, surrounded by weeds that would produce "thorns and thistles," man would live out his life until he returned "to the ground" from where he was originally taken (Gen. 3:16-19). Even worse, their choice cut humanity off from access to the tree of life (3:23-24), which symbolized continued direct access to God and his Spirit. That's why all this suffering and hardships today! That's why man has suffered throughout history! Just like father Adam and mother Eve, mankind as a whole has chosen to reject God and his ways. Except for a very select few, to whom God has revealed his truth, humanity as a whole has gone contrary to God and rejected right knowledge from God on how to live in harmony and peace. That's why the world has its troubles and heartrending ills. It is a cause-and-effect relationship.
Had Man Chosen Correctly
Ponder this. Had Adam and Eve chosen correctly there would have been established on this earth an entirely different way of life. The earth itself wouldn't have been cursed. God's way of life, summed up in the Ten Commandments — the first four showing love toward God and the last six love toward neighbor — would have been established. The earth would have become a utopia! Instead of lying, cheating, stealing, greed, killing, disrespect for parents, coveting, adultery, fornication and other selfish actions, the opposite would have existed! Love and consideration for others would fill the earth. God with all his healing and problem-solving power would have been in the picture. There would have been continuous world peace, peace of mind, with real health and prosperity. Human greed as we see it today would have been eliminated, doing away with such things as industrial pollution of the earth's air, water and soil and the chemical polluting of foodstuffs, a major cause of many of today's degenerative diseases. Though God has made available to man knowledge about his way of life through the published pages of the Bible, humans since the beginning have persisted in doing their own thing, experimenting and testing, deciding for themselves right and wrong.
Time and Chance
Indeed, Adam and Eve's choice set the pattern for all their offspring — all mankind — and the record lists mistake upon mistake, war after war. But none of us has the right to throw stones at someone else. We can't condemn the other fellow, because all of us at some time or another have made wrong choices. We've all had our heartaches, problems and pains. We've all made mistakes and still do. None of us has been perfect. In addition, "time and chance" does happen to all of us, as the Bible reveals in Ecclesiastes 9:11. Other people's mistakes can also affect us depending on time and circumstance. But the majority of our difficulties we bring on ourselves by wrong choices, carelessness and bad judgment. Like Adam and Eve we've all made mistakes. Worse, like them, we've all been guilty of breaking God's law, and of continually breaking it, maintaining an attitude of rejecting God. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). We've all sinned! We've all broken God's law! "For sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4).
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represented the way of disobedience, reasoning apart from God, acquiring human knowledge through experimentation and a way of life of outright rejection of God's revealed knowledge.
You can't blame God for your sins or for the sins of others. "Let no man say," says the Bible, "when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man" (Jas. 1:13). Man's plight is not God's fault. But God is responsible for how it will be solved. Our wrong choices, our mistakes, our carelessness's and sins have caused the world to suffer the way it has. "Behold," says God, "the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear" (Isa. 59:1-2). Because sin reigns on this earth and has reigned from the beginning, suffering has been the result and death the end for everyone. "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). It's like the proverb says: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Prov. 14:12). God doesn't want humanity to suffer. He never wanted Adam and Eve to suffer. God is love (I John 4:16). He is compassionate, full of mercy, long suffering and kindness. He cares about you and me. God is everything that love portrays and more — concern, care, kindness, warmth, help, consideration, gentleness, patience, giving, unselfishness. He embodies all that true love is and means. He has outgoing concern for others. Though Adam and Eve rejected God and though all mankind has been guilty of disobeying God, God has provided hope. God is merciful, forgiving and compassionate. He has in these "latter days" given us a second Adam and through him an opportunity for mankind to be put back in contact with God and his Spirit.
The Second Adam
Adam and Eve were given the opportunity to choose life by taking of the tree of life. They chose not to and mankind has followed the path of wrong choices ever since. But now, through a second Adam, Jesus the Messiah, we have the opportunity once again to have contact with God's Spirit and his way. God has given us a second Adam, an Adam who chose correctly every time, walking with God, a very Son of God. He was tempted by Satan just like Adam and Eve and us, but he did not obey the devil. He never sinned (Heb. 4:15). He resisted the devil, gave him orders and proved he could be subject to the government of God and administer it. Through this righteous Adam, Jesus Christ, we have the opportunity to be forgiven, to receive the gift of eternal life (Rom. 6:23, last half) with God, as God: "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.... And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.... The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.... And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" (I Cor. 15:21-22, 45, 47, 49). Jesus came to pay the penalty of death in our stead: "For the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23, first half). He tasted death for every man, purging our sins (Heb. 1:3) so that we could become "sons" of God (Heb. 2:9-10). God does care for us. He has given those whom he calls to a knowledge of his truth access once again to the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ. You have the opportunity to choose life through this second Adam, Christ. God's whole motivation has been to give us life, real life, eternal life. He didn't put man on this earth to live in misery and suffering. We were made in God's very image. We were put on this earth to choose to share in God's existence, with God, as God. Can you grasp it? God's plan for man is for man to become like God — in character, in mind, in very nature. This tremendous potential is explained in our free booklet Why Were You Born? Fully understanding this knowledge can change your life! God will not, however, give his eternal existence and God-Power to everyone indiscriminately. Godly character must be built and established first. It cannot be created by divine fiat. Godly character must be built through a process of choosing, and willingly, knowingly, choosing what is right as opposed to what is wrong, according to God's own standard of right and wrong. That's why Adam and Eve were given a choice. That's why Satan was allowed to enter the garden in Eden and pull them the other way. God required that Adam and Eve resist the devil and overcome his wiles, and in so doing establish right character. They didn't, as we have read. Nor has mankind since. So God allowed them to make wrong choices, if that was what they wanted to do. The results are heartrending suffering and misery. God chose not to force man to build godly character. If he forced us to choose correctly, we wouldn't be building character! We would be like robots. Man therefore has had to learn the hard way, through suffering and disobedience — and we have not learned the lesson yet. But that time will come! Sooner for some, later for others. In Acts 2 we read how the apostle Peter brought this fact to the attention of those in Jerusalem. When some of them realized what their sins had caused — the death and sacrifice of righteous Jesus, the Messiah — they asked, "What shall we do?" Peter's answer remains the same for us today: "Repent." In other words, stop sinning, stop breaking God's law, "and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy [Spirit]" (Acts 2:37-38). If you do what Peter admonishes, you will be choosing the way of the tree of life. You will receive God's Spirit and attitude of mind, giving you the desire to walk with God the way God wants you to, the way he himself walks. Your mind will gradually become like his. A whole new way of life, character-building life, will open up to you. Once you choose correctly you will receive a peace of mind that "passeth all understanding" (Phil. 4:7). No obstacle that may befall you will separate you from God's tremendous purpose for you. You'll be able to say, like Paul: "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39). As for the world, the time is coming when God will intervene in human affairs — but not until man reaches that place that no human life would survive except God does intervene (Matt. 24:22, Moffatt translation). Only then will human beings be willing to listen and to submit to God's government and his laws that will bring us health, happiness and peace.