You have heard the question, and perhaps you have wrestled with it yourself: why does God allow suffering? For that matter, why does he allow the evil we see going on in the world?
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In the 3rd century BC, the philosopher Epicurus asked,
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?”
Some complete it: “Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”1
In the beginning, God created perfection and we were part of it,
but that perfection included free will.
Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been perfect love …
it would have been coercion.
At the end, all will be made right.
We are just in the middle of the story.
The question of suffering, combined with the question of evil is thrown up by many a person as a roadblock to believing in God. In seeking understanding of such a weighty matter, I start with the fact that I do not know God’s mind and if I could understand all of his thinking, I would be God . . . I am not. Isaiah reminds me that his thoughts are not my thoughts, nor his ways my ways.2
Interestingly enough, this question of suffering and why God would allow it, is almost always raised in the West, in the first world . . . yet rarely raised in the parts of the world where people seem to be suffering most. Somehow, it seems the people who suffer the most often have the greatest confidence in the goodness of God.3
Here’s what I know about my God. He is moved by my suffering, and he chooses to enter into it. O friend, do you not see what a staggering notion that is?! You and I do not serve a God who is far off and unmoved by our pain, he enters into our pain, if we will but let him. We have a loving Father - a parent, if you will - who stoops down to wipe our tears. After all, a loving parent is the One who is willing to suffer alongside his child.
In Islam, the idea of God suffering is nonsense; it is thought to make God weak. In Buddhism, to reach divinity is to move beyond suffering. Is it possible Gautama Buddha actually left his wife and infant to pursue detachment… wait, what?! So then, what do Buddhists do with suffering in this world?
Contrast this with Jesus Christ who did everything he possibly could to attach himself to us and to our suffering.
Aye, God enters into our suffering.
Jesus told us, In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.4
This was before Jesus had actually suffered, before he was arrested, tried, whipped and ultimately, crucified. After which, the writer of Hebrews looking at the totality of Jesus’ life wrote: Jesus has experienced everything we have . . . he has compassion; he alone has the empathy to get it.5
Whatever is breaking your heart right now, take it to your Heavenly Father in prayer. And whatever you are personally going through, Jesus alone fully understands. Look up, invite him to come into your situation. When I am overwhelmed, exhausted by life, I run to him and in his arms, find breath again, as he whispers, "Come...I will give you rest."6
And this song captures my weary mind and soul just now:
2 - Isaiah 55.8-9
3 - Why Suffering? a talk by Vince Vitale
4 - John 16.33
5 - Hebrews 4.15
6 - Matthew 11.29