Suffering is an inevitable part of the human experience. At some point, we all encounter trials that test our faith and shake us to the core. When faced with intense pain, grief, or injustice, a common question arises: If God is good and all-powerful, why does He allow suffering?
The issue of suffering has perplexed philosophers, theologians, and everyday people for centuries. There is no easy, complete answer to this thorny problem. However, we can gain some insight into God’s perspective and discover how He can use suffering to accomplish His purposes in our lives.
Suffering Entered the World at the Fall
To begin understanding why suffering exists, we must look back to the beginning of human history. Genesis describes how Adam and Eve lived in a perfect world, free of pain, disease, and death. But when they rebelled against God’s command and ate the forbidden fruit, sin entered the creation. Their action unleashed forces of decay into the world, disrupting the original intent of paradise.
The Apostle Paul traces suffering back to this event: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Our hardship today is a result of humankind’s original rejection of God’s wise boundaries. Suffering is not part of God’s ideal world, but became part of our reality after Adam and Eve’s fateful choice.
God Grieves with Us in Our Suffering
Though God allows suffering, He is not cold or uncaring in the face of human agony. The Bible describes God as merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 103:8). Jesus wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, even though He knew He was about to raise him from the dead (John 11:35). He feels our pain and grieves when we grieve.
In Isaiah 63:9, we get a glimpse of God’s heart toward His suffering people: “In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them.” God is not aloof or indifferent to human pain. He chose to carry it Himself when He came to earth and suffered rejection, injustice, and ultimately death on the cross to redeem us.
God Can Use Suffering for Our Good
Though God hates to see His children suffer, He is able to use hardship to accomplish purposes in our lives. First, He may allow pain to draw us into a closer relationship with Himself. Suffering strips away our illusions of control and self-sufficiency. It forces us to recognize our frailty and utter dependence on God. Out of desperation, we cry out to Him. And in our helplessness, we can experience His presence and comfort in new ways.
Suffering may also serve to refine our character and strengthen our faith. As gold is purified by fire, trials burn away impurities in our hearts to cultivate Christlike virtues such as patience, humility, and compassion. As we cling to God during difficulty, we learn to trust His faithfulness and goodness. “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
Furthermore, God can use our suffering to make us more sensitive to the hurts of others. As we receive comfort from the Lord in our affliction, we are then able to offer that same comfort to people around us (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Shared suffering gives us a chance to witness God’s love in action.
Why Doesn’t God Just End All Suffering?
If God has the power to instantly remove all suffering, why doesn’t He? This is a difficult question to answer, but we can gain some perspective by considering God’s higher purposes.
To stop all suffering, God would have to eliminate its root cause—sin. He could do this by removing human free will or by manipulating all hearts and minds to prevent evil choices. However, God created us to love, and love requires freedom. Forced virtue is not true virtue. So God patiently tolerates the misuse of free will, grief as it may cause Him, because the ultimate goal is the redemption of humanity and the restoration of all things (Revelation 21:5).
Additionally, God has an eternal timeline, while we live in the present. He can use present sufferings to produce future joys and glories that outweigh temporary sorrows (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). He is patiently working out His purposes in the scope of eternity. While we don’t have the full picture, we can trust the God who redeems suffering for good.
How to Find Meaning in Your Suffering
When faced with trials, we may be tempted to become bitter, rebel against God, or sink into despair. However, we can choose a different response. Here are some ways to find meaning and hope in the midst of suffering:
Draw near to God. Turn to Scripture and saturate your mind with God’s promises and truths. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Pour out your heart to Him in prayer and worship. Allow your pain to cultivate intimacy with your Heavenly Father.
Look for lessons. Ask God to show you what He wants you to learn through this hardship. Perhaps He is revealing sin that needs confession, building perseverance in your character, or equipping you to minister to others. Ask Him to give spiritual eyes to see how He is working.
Give thanks. Even in the storm, choose to worship God for who He is—good, sovereign, loving. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Gratitude shifts our focus from the problem to the promises of God.
Help others. Get your eyes off yourself by serving people in pain. Offer prayers, send cards, meet tangible needs. Helping others gives meaning to your suffering and brings comfort as you experience community.
Hope in redemption. Some trials will remain mysteries this side of eternity. But we can hope in the promise that God will one day redeem all suffering. He will wipe away every tear and make all things new (Revelation 21:4-5). This hope gives us strength to endure.
Though suffering often feels senseless and cruel, we do not have to face it alone or without purpose. We have a Savior who redeems suffering for our good. When we entrust our pain to Him, we can experience the profound comfort, character, and hope that only His grace can inspire.
Trusting God Through the Mystery of Suffering
Suffering poses a difficult theological question to which we don’t have complete answers on this side of eternity. However, we can gain some insight into how a good God can allow pain. Suffering entered the world not because of God’s will but human sin. God grieves with those who suffer and has personally experienced human agony in the person of Jesus Christ. Though God hates evil, He patiently works through the consequences of sin to bring about redemption, using hardship to draw people to Himself, develop Christlike character, and make them sensitive to others who hurt. While we don’t see the full picture, we can trust Him to use suffering according to His good purposes.
When you face trials, resist the temptation to become bitter or rebel against God. Instead, draw near to Him, look for spiritual lessons, give thanks, and serve others. Most of all, hold fast to the hope that God will one day redeem all suffering and make all things new. His grace is sufficient for you to endure hardship and even thrive in the midst of adversity. Though suffering often feels senseless, you can rely on the faithful presence of your Heavenly Father who loves you and will never leave you during difficult seasons of life. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.