Article by: Sarah Koontz
One of the primary issues people have with the Christian faith is trying to understand how a good God can permit so much suffering upon this earth.
It’s a question I still grapple with regularly.
Today, I’d like to share a fresh approach to this question that offers a reasonable explanation for, at least, some of the suffering that occurs on the earth.
It’s a combination of helpful truths I’ve gleaned from reading Timothy Keller’s book entitled, “The Reason for God,” and listening to Dr. Vic Anderson teach on the subject.Have you ever wondered how a good God can permit so much suffering upon this earth? You are not alone!
Although most people are familiar with the general story of the Bible, I never want to assume that everyone has the same understanding of the biblical story as I do.
So, I’d like to begin this article with an overview of the gospel message, written in my own words.
I believe this is a crucial foundation-building step as we seek to answer the question, “How can a good God allow human suffering?”
The Bible teaches that God is the Creator of this world and everything in it.
He is perfect, holy, and set apart from every created thing.
Humans were originally crafted in God’s image, meaning the human spirit was uniquely equipped to connect with God and to reflect His character upon the earth.
It helps me to think of it in this way: We were created to mirror God’s image in such a way that anyone who looks upon us will see a reflection of God’s character and His rule over our lives.
Very much like an ambassador of a foreign country represents the ruler of that country while also remaining under the complete authority of that ruler.
An ambassador has no power apart from that which is given to them by the one they represent, and the same is true for us.
Our God created us for a particular purpose: to be in relationship with Him and, as a result of that relationship, to reflect His character on this earth.God created humans for a particular purpose: to be in relationship with Him and, as a result of that relationship, to reflect His character on this earth.
Sadly, the first humans God created rejected God’s original design.
Just like I rebelled against my parents’ authority as a teenager, they decided they wanted to write their own rules and be their own gods.
God’s measured, just response to this rebellion was immediate and complete spiritual death.
The part of us that was created to reflect God’s character died, and chaos ensued.
From that day forward, every human was born without spiritual life—without the ability to connect with God and reflect His character.
This lack of spiritual life has brought death, destruction, and evil to this planet.
Everything we do that is out of line with God’s character is sin (even the smallest thing, like being jealous of my friend’s new purse or raising my voice in anger when my children misbehave).
The pervasiveness of sin has damaged humankind and left us with an undeniable bent toward evil.The pervasiveness of sin has damaged humankind and left us with an undeniable bent toward evil.
Think about it. Have you ever had to teach your children how to lie, disobey, or treat others harshly?
Even when we do good things, we cannot escape the feeling that our best efforts can never fix the mess we’ve made of this world.
We feel guilty for our shortcomings and long for something better than this world because God established within us a desire for something more.
A craving only He can satisfy!
God is the only One who can turn darkness into light, create life from dust, and make right what is wrong in this world.
You see, we understand this world as “bad” only when we are willing to recognize that God created it “good,” and we messed it up.
This is why the existence of evil and the persistence of human suffering makes a good case for belief in God.
If God does not exist, where does our innate sense of right and wrong come from?
Thankfully, despite our rebellious ways, God persisted in His role as a loving Creator and Ruler over all the earth.
Throughout the ages, He has continued to reveal himself in different ways to His creation, repeatedly inviting humans to repent of their waywardness and submit to His rule in their lives.
No matter how many times we rebelled against His design, God patiently and consistently pursued us.
Not just on a broad, global scale—but also on a personal level.
Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (who I believe to be fully God and fully man), God literally showed up in the midst of human suffering and put himself on the hook for our rebellion against God.
Jesus paid the ultimate price for sin, so we wouldn’t have to, but that doesn’t mean that human suffering immediately stopped.Jesus paid the ultimate price for sin upon the cross, but that doesn't mean that humankind's suffering immediately stopped.
Jesus offers us new life, a spiritual rebirth that allows us to reconnect with God and also reflect His character on the earth.
To experience true hope and the full benefit of Jesus’ actions, we must find a way to put our faith in Him.
By faith, I simply mean full confidence, trust, and reliance.
The object of my faith, as a Christian, is the saving work of God through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
In other words, I put my faith in God’s promise that Jesus paid the price for all my sins and accepted the invitation to receive this gift of grace, even though I know I don’t deserve it.
My faith in Jesus Christ gives me something, beyond human suffering, to look forward to.
The hope of redemption, restoration, and eternal life is the light that guides my heart through seasons of darkness and suffering.
It gives me great hope to believe in a God who will not give up on us, no matter how many times we fail to live out the purpose for which He has created us.
My hope in God causes me to long for a future where everything wrong in this world will be set right again under the eternal rule of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This is why, despite the evil and suffering I see in this world, I chose to put my faith in a God I cannot prove (beyond a shadow of a doubt) exists.
Because with Him and His Word, I can at least make some sense of the topsy-turvy world we live in.
Without my belief in God, I would have nothing beyond this life full of evil and suffering to hope for.
Which brings me back around to the question we began this article with, “How can a good God allow human suffering?”Without my belief in God, I would have nothing beyond this life full of evil and suffering to hope for.
Many consider the reality of evil and suffering in the world to be tangible proof that there is no God.
People like to put Christianity on trial by demanding that our faith provide sufficient answers to all their questions about human suffering.
But our faith doesn’t provide all the answers, it simply teaches us about God’s character and God’s promises so that we can find peace in the midst of our unanswered questions.
Even those of us who embrace the Christian faith wonder why God allows suffering, but we don’t allow our lack of understanding to prevent us from believing that the Creator might possess some knowledge that the creation lacks.
Keller argues that eliminating God doesn’t make it any easier to cope with evil and unjust suffering, and I wholeheartedly agree with him!
Keller responds to the question of human suffering in this manner:
“There are two answers. The first is God made us with free will and we turned away from him. The fallenness of the world brings suffering. But the level most people are concerned with is, why does God allow my suffering? The Bible is insistent we not try to answer that question. When Job is suffering, he is never told why. It is his friends who try to come up with answers, but God condemns the friends.”
He goes on to say, “Imagine you were a follower of Jesus in his lifetime and you loved him and you said, this guy is going to put things right. Suddenly, he is captured, tried, tortured, and he is dying on the cross. You would say, “I don’t see how God could bring any good out of this.” But we have an inkling of that good now because we have the Bible and Christian history. We have some idea of why God did allow that horrible suffering to happen to Jesus. Everything that ever happens is like that. It won’t be mysterious in the end, but right now it has to be mysterious because it is in God’s counsel and we can’t figure that out. You just have to accept the mystery of it.”Source: Publishers Weekly Interview with Timothy Keller on The Mystery of Suffering
As Christians, we believe that Jesus suffered on our behalf to bring purpose and hope into our own suffering.
Jesus’ death upon the cross confirms that God is not “indifferent or detached from our condition.”
And Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that God is able to restore what has been lost and redeem what has been stolen.
As humans, we are quick to search for an earthly reason for human suffering.As Christians, we believe that Jesus suffered on our behalf to bring purpose and hope into our own suffering.
But we forget that God is eternal, and His reasons may not be revealed until our time here on earth is over.
If earthly suffering can be used by God to bring about His eternal purposes in the hearts of men, who are we to condemn the Creator for allowing such pain?
I would rather suffer with God during my time here on earth than suffer apart from God for all of eternity.
If you have questions about the Christian faith and have yet to come across a Christian who is able to provide reasonable answers to those questions, I encourage you to consider investing in one of these two books by Timothy Keller.
Making Sense of God: Finding God in the Modern World
In this thoughtful and inspiring new book, pastor and New York Times bestselling author Timothy Keller invites skeptics to consider that Christianity is more relevant now than ever. As human beings, we cannot live without meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, justice, and hope. Christianity provides us with unsurpassed resources to meet these needs. Written for both the ardent believer and the skeptic, Making Sense of God shines a light on the profound value and importance of Christianity in our lives.
The Reason for God: Belief in Age of Skepticism
Using literature, philosophy, real-life conversations, and potent reasoning, Keller explains how the belief in a Christian God is, in fact, a sound and rational one. To true believers, he offers a solid platform on which to stand their ground against the backlash to religion created by the Age of Skepticism. And to skeptics, atheists, and agnostics, he provides a challenging argument for pursuing the reason for God.
Keller makes a compelling case for Christianity while addressing common questions skeptics raise.
He does so with humility, kindness, and a breadth of understanding of Scripture and the human condition that is both refreshing and inspiring!
Although Christians don’t have all the answers about human suffering, we do have faith that God is sovereign and just.
And we have the assurance that no matter how much suffering we endure during our time on earth, He will return and “make all things new” (Rev 21:1-8).