Why does God allow bad things to happen?
If you could ask God one question, what would it be? Our team surveyed thousands of people, and we asked them if they could ask God anything, what would they ask? In fact, there was a national survey done just a few years ago, and this same question was the number one question asked. The one question that came up is, why does God allow evil, pain, and suffering in the world.
It would be nice if we could have this discussion about suffering on a theoretical, philosophical, or academic level. But the truth is, tragedies are happening in our world right now like what is happening in Israel, events like 9/11, seeing children starving, hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, and terrorist attacks. It is hard to wrap our heads around such awful news.
But when it happens on a personal level we all ask WHY?! Why do we have to experience suffering, pain, and evil? Why did my parents get a divorce? Why do children get leukemia? Why do miscarriages and death happen to innocent children? Why was I abused in a home where I should have been protected? Why did the only person that I ever really love leave? Pain takes on a whole different level when it’s my pain, my suffering, my spouse, my marriage, my child, my family, my hurt.
It’s okay to ask why, even Jesus asked why. As he was hanging on the cross, suffering an excruciating death, he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Sometimes people who follow Jesus think that it’s wrong to ask why. And so we show up at church with the smiles and we pretend like everything’s okay and we kind of cover it up.
But asking why is normal and it is a normal reaction to wrestle with the why! Honestly, this question raises some troubling questions about God. Is God powerless to do anything about this stuff and change it? Is God indifferent? Does he just not care? Did he just kind of create the world and leave it to run on its own and not be involved? Is God to blame? Is God the one that’s causing the pain, suffering, and evil?
Why does God permit suffering?
The truth is God doesn’t want people to suffer. Lamentation 3:33 reminds us God does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone. God wants the utmost good for people, so if that is the case then where does suffering come from? Here are three reasons we experience evil:
- Some of the suffering that we experience comes as a result of our sin. If you cheat on your spouse and they want a divorce, that’s no big mystery why they want to divorce. If you drink too much, if you eat in unhealthy ways, it’s not a mystery why you have health challenges in your life. Some of our suffering is just the result of our own sin.
- Sometimes our suffering is the result of other people’s sin. The person you’re dating cheats on you. If your spouse abuses you, if your son or your daughter rejects you, goes down a self-destructive path, you hurt. You experience pain because of someone else’s sin. Sometimes we look at the news and think where is God? This is not God’s plan. The truth is, this planet produces enough food for every man, woman, and child to have over 3,000 calories a day. How can it be God’s fault when it’s not a lack of food in the world that is causing starvation and suffering? If I pick up a gun and then shoot someone and then I say, why does God allow this suffering evil in the world?
- Last, some suffering is the result of Satan’s attack. While Satan has limited power in this world, this world is his domain, and the Bible in John 10:10 explains that Satan has come to kill, steal, and destroy. We read about Job, who lost everything that he had, all 10 of his children were killed. He experienced a great physical misery all at the same time, and it wasn’t because of his sin, it wasn’t because of someone else’s sin. It was a direct attack from Satan. We read in II Corinthians how Paul says his physical problems were from Satan. God didn’t cause that to happen to Paul or to Job, Satan did.
No matter what causes the pain and suffering, here’s the reality you need to understand. Most suffering comes because we live in a fallen world. Well, then why doesn’t God just create a perfect world? And the answer is he did. God created a world and it was good, and in this perfect world, he gave Adam and Eve and you and me, free choice. Why did God give us free choice if it would lead to so much pain in the world? Because God is love and instinctively we know you can’t love authentically and have it be real if somebody doesn’t have the choice to love or not love. I’ve often said, I don’t want my wife Barbara to love me because God computer programmed her to love me and to be faithful to me. It’s meaningful to me that she loves me because out of the three billion guys on the planet, she chose me. It’s meaningful to me because she had the freedom not to choose me. That’s love.
The suffering started with Adam and Eve exercising their free choice to sin. The perfect world was no longer perfect. Nature was corrupted. Everything was now out of kilter and ever since then, the world has been out of sync with droughts, famines, wars, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, and disease. The air is polluted, the water is contaminated, and the ground is poisoned because, from the time sin came into the world, this whole world is out of balance. This is why we live in a world where the Bible says the rain falls on the just and the unjust because the whole world is out of balance.
That means the same knife that will cut bread can also cut your finger. The same hurricane that can wipe out a strip club can wipe out a church. Jesus was honest about this. In John 16:33 He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Even Jesus asked why and didn’t get an answer right away, and that may happen to us. The longer I’ve been a pastor, the more I wonder. I don’t know why some people are endlessly unemployed. I don’t know why some African children get aids just from drinking their mother’s milk. I don’t know why sons and daughters get abused in homes where they should be loved. There are so many things I just don’t know.
I heard someone say even if you had an answer to the “why,” you would still have to deal with the “what.” Think about that. Even if Jesus had an answer to the “Why have you forsaken me?” he still had to deal with the what? At some point, you have to deal with the what, so when you or someone you love suffers, there are four things that I want you to remember.
3 THINGS TO REMEMBER
You are not alone.
It may feel like you are all alone. In John 14, Jesus promises us that we won’t be left alone, that God the Father, is sending His Holy Spirit who will be with us and comfort us. The Bible talks about a peace that passes understanding. It’s impossible to explain because it’s supernatural. Have you ever seen someone go through some horrible suffering of some kind and you look at them and think, I could never handle that. I’ve watched someone bury a child – I don’t know if there could be any greater pain in the world. I can’t imagine burying one of my kids and I think I could never do that. I’ve watched some of you bury your spouse from cancer and I think if Barbara was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I would be inconsolable. Yet I’ve done funerals for people who’ve lost children or spouses who’ve and I’ve witnessed incredible strength in those moments. I could tell you story after story, where people found strength when they needed it most. When they thought they couldn’t take another step. God was there for them in that moment and He gave them the strength when they needed it. Isaiah 43 reminds us, “When you go through deep waters, God says, I’ll be with you. When you pass through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned up. It will not consume you. God also says in Hebrews 13, he says, I will never leave you. I will never abandon you again. Another promise is found in Isaiah 49, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast or the child she is born?” Even if that were possible, I will never forget you. Look, I’ve engraved you on the palm of my hands, so remember when you’re standing at the graveside of someone that you dearly loved, that you are not alone and God is with you. When you’re sitting next to the edge of a hospital bed and you’re waiting for test results, you are not alone and God is with you. He goes with you through deep waters. He goes with you through the fire and he’s with you. He’s with you.
God knows how you feel.
There is something that strengthens us when we talk to others who have gone through what we’re going through. Allow me to paraphrase probably the most well-known scripture in the world, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he let go of his one and only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” I don’t think there’s a parent who would let go of their child knowing they’re headed into a certain tragedy. What loving father would walk his daughter down the wedding aisle, knowing that she was headed to a marriage where she was going to be abused or betrayed? What parent would toss the keys to the car to a teenager knowing that they were headed to a fatal accident? Yet God loved you so much, that He let go of his one and only son. God knew Jesus was headed into a world where Herod was going to try to take this little baby’s life, one of his closest friends would betray him, and He would experience the most excruciating, painful death known to humanity, crucifixion, and yet God let go of his only son for you. God is able to sympathize with us and we can approach his grace with confidence, knowing that when we approach Him we’ll find grace and mercy.
The ultimate answer to the question of tragedy and suffering is not an explanation. It’s the incarnation. It’s the God who became flesh and came into our world and experienced life and experienced suffering. We have a God who says, I know how you feel and I will enter your world and I will enter your pain. He’s with us. Even when you say to yourself, nobody knows the hell I’m going through in my home right now and in my family.” God knows and he’s with you! Even when you are struggling to break this habit, this hurt, this addiction in your life. This God knows! Even when you assume, no one knows the depression, the fear, the hopelessness that you are feeling right now. God knows how you feel!
Pain can serve a purpose.
It’s so hard to see at those moments. Keep in mind, that it may take some time and perspective to discover the reality of this. Can I be honest with you? Maybe, just maybe, you can be open to the idea of how God can work a purpose through your pain. Know that God never wastes a hurt. The reality is there are many people right now who would tell you that it was through a season of pain, through a season of loss in their life, that they found their way back to God. They found their way into a deeper relationship with God. I talked to a man a while back. He was going through a divorce. It was the absolute worst thing in his life. They had been married for decades but he shared that through the brokenness he found his way back to God. He shared, “God took the worst thing in my life and turned it into the most important thing in my life.” Paul wrote in II Corinthians 7:10, “God can use sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek salvation.” Notice we will never regret that kind of sorrow. That’s an unusual perspective, isn’t it? Radical thought that we should never regret the sorrow that comes our way in life. Why? Because if that sorrow causes us to seek God, go deeper with God, find God, the value of that experience is so much greater than whatever pain we ultimately experience.
Maybe God allows pain to come into our lives for our greater good. Maybe God allowed the cancer to teach us to value what is eternal. Maybe God allows that difficult boss to teach us self-control. Maybe God allows a baby who sleeps all day and cries all night to teach patience. Maybe God allows the unemployment to teach us faith. He doesn’t cause all things but Romans 8:28 reminds us, “He works all things together for good, for those who love him”. God never wastes a hurt.
Why does God allow evil?
I’ve shared these reminders because I think it is enormously powerful in your life. The dark days won’t last forever. Not if, but when you go through dark days remember they are temporary.
I know some of you are in a dark season right now so please let me say that not for one second do I want to minimize the level of pain that you’re in. He patiently waits for you to use your free choice to say, God, I’m coming in your direction. I’m going to love you back.
The reality is, if God were to come back right now, some of you wouldn’t be ready, and you’d miss out on the place that Jesus has been preparing for you for 2,000 years, and so God patiently waits. He holds back the curtain of history, and he’s waiting for you right now. Maybe you just need to be encouraged today to hear him say, dark days don’t last forever because one day in the glory of eternity, you’re going to look at the challenges of this life as light and momentary when you’re in heaven forever. Maybe some of you’re ready to say yes to Jesus today and you’re so thankful God’s been patient with you and he’s been holding back the curtain of time for you, and this could be the most important turning point in your life right now. If this is what you want, just tell him today a prayer like this.
Jesus, I want what you did on the cross for the sins of the world to be applied to me. Thank you for being a God who knows how we feel, a God who works all things together for good and brings a purpose out of our pain. Thank you for being a God who promises that pain will be over one day and that you have prepared a place for us that is beyond description.
If you were inspired by this message, we would love to tell you more about Eastside. We have a relentless love and commitment for all to know God. We are committed to finding unique ways to serve in our local communities and help our global neighbors. We are passionate about finding solutions, building bridges, and bringing the love and hope of Jesus to hurting communities. We would love to invite you to join us in person or online. At Eastside we believe that this is a place for everyone, wherever you are on your journey. If you would like to find out more about Eastside, please visit eastside.com.