Why does God allow human tragedy? Why do innocent babies suffer? If there is a God, why does he allow accidents, crimes and wars? These questions have perplexed the greatest theologians for centuries — yet the answers are simple.
• The U.S.A.: Little Johnny was only 20 months old almost out of diapers and reaching that delightful, early talking stage. While his parents were chatting with grandma and grand-dad — they had just dropped Johnny by for the day — the lad, unnoticed, slipped out the front door. Within seconds tragedy struck! By the time his parents and grandparents realized he was gone. It was too late. Little Johnny continued through the front yard into the street. Coincidentally his grandparents' neighbor across the street was backing her car out of the driveway. She couldn't see little Johnny. He was clinically dead before the ambulance reached the hospital. • Merceuil, France ("Black Saturday"): France's worst road disaster saw 44 children in one bus perish in massive highway accident southeast of Paris. "Where was God during the night?" asked one woman upon learning that four of her grandchildren had perished. The 44 children were from a small farming village in the north and en route to summer camp.
Where Was God?
Why did little Johnny and the 44 French children have to die? Why does God let healthy little children suffer such tragedies? Overwhelmed and emotionally distraught, on the verge of total frustration because of a heartrending accident similar to Johnny's, some people question God: "I can't believe in a God who would let that happen!". Or, "I can't worship a God who allows such accidents!" An older teenager not long ago wrote in a letter in similar vein to a syndicated columnist. It read: "Our Father who art in Heaven, where have you been? Our leaders are all lunatics and the world is full of sin." This high school 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 is common 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 right, when difficulty or tragedy strikes, we wonder why God allows it — why God lets it happen!
Why does God allow humanity to suffer? Why the little children in impoverished places around this world, walking in a daze, their little bodies emaciated, their bellies bloated, diseased and dying of starvation? On top of all these personal miseries is the question of the survival of world peace. Nations continue to arm themselves to the hilt, teetering on the brink of a worldwide holocaust. 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 makes plain: "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 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, created the universe. God created also the first human beings. "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. God made man like himself, but finite, limited by 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 human 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). It is this Satan who "deceiveth the whole world" (Rev. 12:9). Satan subtly twisted what God told our first parents, Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:1). Eve listened and Adam 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 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! Going their own way meant that 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, 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're all 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).
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 carelessnesses 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 seems right to 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 kind. 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? 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, doing 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 "passes 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 bring us health, happiness and peace.
Things We Can Do Now
But back to Johnny's tragic accident. Are there things we can do here and now to avoid needless tragedies? Indeed there are! Before we blame God for accidents, or for any of the multitude of terrible tragedies afflicting people worldwide, we need to stop and understand. There are explanations for accidents. Any number of factors cause accidents. Faulty equipment, carelessness, human miscalculations, lack of training, drunkenness. How many fires occur because children play with matches? How many small children die, drinking caustic, deadly solutions negligently left within their little reach? Thousands. Harmful toys, loaded guns, unguarded swimming pools and you can name others, claim children's lives almost daily. Parents, often, are either careless or fail to teach children proper precautions. Sadly, almost every day, as in the case of little Johnny, we read about a small child killed or injured upon darting into the path of an oncoming vehicle. If you have small children, by all means teach them and discipline them. Don't allow them to cross the street without permission and supervision. Especially teach them not to dart into the street. Impress the seriousness of your teaching on their developing little minds. Do teach your children. Be aware where they are and what they are doing. Instruction pays off even for older children. Learn to properly discipline your children for disobedience (Prov. 19:18). God expects parents to fulfill this responsibility. If you heed this sound biblical advice you'll not only help save your child's life, but save yourself unnecessary heartache.
God Can Intervene
It's not that God can't intervene personally or in the whole of this world's affairs. And it's not that God can't save children, or adults for that matter, from death or injury in accidents. He can! God can intervene and God does intervene to help and protect those choosing to live life his way. Jesus, the very personification of God, lived life on this earth exactly as God the Father would have, had the Father himself become human. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9), Jesus said. Jesus openly showed his love for children. God the Father loves children, too! "Suffer [allow or let] little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me" (Matt. 19:14), said Jesus. He opened his arms to little children, put his hands on them and prayed for them, verse 13. Jesus, who is at the right hand of God the Father this very minute, Acts 7:56, receives little children today! So does God the Father. Parents, choosing to live life God's way, according to his commandments and Bible instructions, can bring their children to God through his ministers today and, in prayer, ask him to protect them. And he will! He does! But the world, as a whole, is cut off from God. The world does not practice God's way of life and teachings in the Bible. Therefore, God keeps hands off this world and stays out of the lives of those who reject him and his teachings, just as he's done for the nearly 6,000 years of human history. Because of it, the world in general is having to learn a lesson — the painful lesson of what happens when the human race is cut off from God's protection, guidance and contact. That's why there are so many heartrending personal and world ills! That's why there is so much suffering!
Even the Righteous Suffer
Our world is on a course of life contrary to God's wholesome way of living. All humanity is suffering, including those who decide to choose correctly and live God's way. All of us affect each other. Others' mistakes and actions can and often do hurt. Others' selfishness and inconsideration, sometimes outright disrespect, persecution and hatred, cause pain. And often they are not another's actions, but our own. The poet-musician Asaph mentioned how saddened and bewildered he became after noting those living contrary to God seemed to prosper and get ahead. They scoffed at the idea that God even took note of their self-centered conduct. Their money, they thought, could buy them anything (Ps. 73:1-15). Said Asaph: "But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (Ps. 73:2-3). It was a trial for him. "When I thought to know this [understand it]," he said, "it was too painful for me" (verse 16). But when Asaph considered the end of it all, he knew better than to be envious of wrongdoers: "Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end" (verse 17). Once Asaph got his mind back in gear and on God's truth, he remembered we humans eventually are responsible to God for what we do in this life — and we are eternally rewarded accordingly. Says God in Scripture: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:7-8). God has allowed even those who serve him to suffer the world's hatred and persecution since the very first murder of Abel by his brother Cain. Says the Creator God of those who chose to live the way of joy and giving that God set in motion: "And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth" (Heb. 11:35-38). Jesus Christ himself suffered. People of his day tried to kill him more than once. He was accused and maligned, spit upon, slapped in the face, beaten unmercifully and cruelly crucified. And so God makes it plain to even those choosing right, not to think it strange when difficult trials strike, causing suffering: "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (I Pet. 4:12-13). But he adds this to make sure that any suffering isn't from breaking his law but from seeking to do his will: "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf" (verses 15-16). Why does God let the righteous suffer? Because it gives absolute proof where their loyalty is, and it allows those so tested to build godly character that will last for all eternity — character that continues on into eternal life when Christ returns to reward individuals who serve him. "And, behold," says Jesus, "I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.... Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life..." (Rev. 22:12, 14).
God is Fair and Just
And the beauty of God's way is that all who have ever lived or ever will live will have an opportunity to choose right and have "right to the tree of life." Johnny's parents can take heart. All of you who have lost a loved one can take heart. Little Johnny will live again by a resurrection! All who have ever lived and died in ignorance of God's way of life, or ever will live will be given their opportunity to live a normal, right way of life. God is righteous! God is just! He is merciful! These thousands of millions of people, including little Johnny and other small children who did not know God and did not have the opportunity to understand and choose his way of life, will have their opportunity in a resurrection described by the apostle John in Revelation 20:12: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened [books of the Bible revealing the right way to live]; and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." How fair! They will live again! They will be taught Bible truth on how to live, and then be given an opportunity to live God's way. What comforting words for all of us!