13 February 2010

Question of the Week: Why Suffering?

by Anne Lang Bundy

Q: "Why does God allow suffering—for example, in Haiti?"
(from Daniela Holloway in Florida, formerly of Berlin, East Germany)

If there is a question asked about God more than any other, it is why a good God allows suffering. Volumes have been written in response. This article can't adequately address such a big question, but it may provide enough basis to reconcile the presence of suffering with the existence of a good God.

Foremost, suffering is a necessary element of free will.

There are those who believe we are no more than puppets upon the world’s stage, our every movement controlled by the sovereign God pulling our strings. If such were the case, suffering would indeed be a cruel element of the drama because it is forced upon us by God.

Because we really do have free will—to be exercised within the limits our sovereign God has set—our ability to choose between good and evil is real. God’s will is always good, but it is not forced upon us. It is right (or righteous) when we choose his will. It is evil (or sin) whenever we choose what is not His will. Sin will always result in suffering—to ourselves, to others, and to all creation.

Suffering does not exist because a good God causes it. Suffering exists because a good God allows mankind the freedom to choose the sin which causes suffering. And because He is good, God uses the suffering we choose for ourselves to achieve good anyway.

"The world owes you nothing; it was here first."
~ Mark Twain

Here are some ways God uses suffering for good:

• Suffering causes us to evaluate and determine what is most important in our lives.

• When suffering exists, and yet love, sacrifice, and compassion endure, these attributes of good and of God are shown to be more powerful than suffering.

• Common suffering draws people more tightly together in unity than does prosperity and ease.

• Suffering draws us to depend upon God, humble ourselves, and make peace with Him.

• Suffering proves what kind of person we are, which in turn brings us to discover our strengths and weaknesses.

• Suffering is not God’s judgment—yet. But suffering is a component of God’s discipline, to warn us to repent of sin before judgment is faced.

• Suffering compels us to rise to our potential to overcome it, and makes us strong to better contend with life’s challenges.

My plan is to discuss these last three points at more length on my blog "Building His Body" next week as follows:
Monday: The Test of Suffering
Wednesday: The Discipline of Suffering
Friday: The Overcoming of Suffering

I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
Psalms 119:75 (ESV)

© 2010 Anne Lang Bundy
Photo sources:
Fire in Haiti street:
Aid to boy in Haiti:
Katrina flood:
Katrina: Body Count


  1. cool post, anne.

  2. Powerful words regarding the powerful blows of life.
    Nicely done Anne.

    I especially found poignancy in "Suffering compels us to rise to our potential to overcome it, and make us strong to better contend with life’s challenges."

  3. During the early days of my faith, the suffering of the early followers, the apostles, prompted me to take a closer look at what Jesus has to offer.

    Why would people suffer for their faith if they do not truly believe? Suffering for our faith can be a a powerful witness.

  4. "Sin will always result in suffering..."
    but what did e.g. the Haitian people do that they had to experiance such a gigantic form of suffering ... it isn´t fair to "punish" all for evil that few have done ...

  5. Russell,

    I'm glad to have another example of suffering worked for good. I wish I'd thought to ask readers to share their own observations on this.

    Sorry to be MIA today—among other things we spent the afternoon at the funeral for a suicide victim.

  6. Thera ~

    Besides our tendency to think that we deserve an easy or pain-freee life, part of the difficulty in understanding suffering lies in the perception that mankind is mostly good with a little bit of evil thrown in. If we give evil its full weight, we understand that no one receives all the suffering we actually deserve.

    Consider a person who has been a law-abiding citizen and appears to be "good." That person decides to viciously torture and murder someone else out of simple hatred, then goes back to their everyday life of being law-abiding. Once brought to justice, the murderer is given the penalty for murder. The penalty of life imprisonment (or execution) is the same as the penalty for the serial-killer who might have raped and murdered numerous victims.

    It might be argued that one person was worse than the other, and the person who did "less" murder should receive a lighter sentence. But murder still receives the same penalty.

    Every person is sinful and deserves suffering. It might be argued that some of us deserve less suffering than others. But the fact is, none of us has a right to a life free of suffering. It might not seem right, but those who suffer more in this life may actually have greater potential to receive mercy in the next life. Their suffering may make them more inclined to be humble before God and ask Him for His mercy.

    This is perhaps the most often asked question in all human history, and perhaps the most difficult to answer. I won't pretend that in a single page I can provide a complete answer when so many others have put it in their own words, spread across entire books.

    And so I pray that you will to turn to God for yourself, and ask Him to help you see His goodness and mercy, to help you understand that however great the suffering we see here, its design is to prevent us an eternity of suffering.

    If you ask why a good God would create Hell, then I'll have to address THAT question another day.

  7. Anne - I'm very sorry for the suicide victim and the person's friends and family. That leaves so much heartache and confusion.

  8. Russell, the Lord has often placed me in direct contact with others when they died. I've also attended so many police funerals (both for officers killed in the line of duty and who otherwise died) that I've long ago lost count of them.

    This is the second funeral I've attended for a suicide victim. They are by far the saddest of all funerals. Sometimes one or two people at a funeral wonder if they might have done something to prevent a death. Today, countless people felt responsible. Children were left behind with unanswered questions. A mother asked over and over, "why?"—and returns home to where her son took his life. All these people are suffering because God gave a man free will, and he used it to end his life rather than seek out God. I do not think he had any idea what would happen today in the lives of all his loved ones because he chose a permanent action to put an end to a temporary problem.

    The devil is an enemy who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). As far as I can determine, two of his biggest objectives are to bring us to curse God, and to destroy life.

    Ironically, the devil uses suffering to do both. All the more important for us to look for how God uses suffering for good.

  9. this was a very helpful comment, anne. thank you so much.

  10. Thera, I'm very encouraged to know this was helpful. I doubt the Q&A here will tackle anything more difficult. Thanks for sharing that feedback.

  11. I know it is overly simplistic, but I often think of the verses that say the sun shines on the just and the unjust and rain falls on the just and the unjust ... we question why the rain, but seldom why the sun ...