Suffering was not part of God’s original plan. Christianity teaches that when God made the world, it was perfect. There was no evil, no pain and no suffering. But he also set boundaries – and people chose to go their own way rather than follow God’s way. That disobedience created a divide between humanity and God. It allowed evil into the world and a fall from perfection. It has had catastrophic consequences for the entire world ever since.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away’.
Why does God allow suffering?
When God created humanity, he did not make robots. His desire was that we would choose to have a close relationship with him. Our decision to disobey him ushered evil and death into a perfect world. Suffering is a consequence. Wars, violence, racism, abuse, corruption and a thousand other evils are not caused by God. They all result from humanity’s self-centred godlessness. Tragically it is often people who are entirely innocent who suffer the most.
Many ask why the innocent suffer. Why doesn’t God intervene? How can a child be born with cancer or a disability? What have they done to deserve this? There are no simple answers. We cannot know the mind of God. What we do know is that the Bible says God cares passionately about all of us. If a person is suffering it is not because God hates them. In the Bible book, John, Jesus dismisses the suggestion that a man was born blind because he or his parents had done something wrong. God hates suffering and injustice. He champions the poor and the outcasts. He calls on leaders to be just and fair.
For those that are suffering there is also the reassurance that it will come to an end and that there will be an eternity with peace and justice. Christianity teaches that God sent Jesus Christ to live among humanity to provide a way to restore what he originally created: a place with no suffering. And so in the future there will be a new heaven and new Earth. The Bible book Revelation explains what it will be like: ‘He (God) will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away’.
God created a world in which some people will have a long life and others a short life. But from the viewpoint of eternity, all lives on Earth will seem fleeting. This does not provide an answer to why people suffer but Christians believe it does offer deep consolation. And Christians believe that God stands with them when they face suffering. He gives them strength to face whatever life throws at them. God has promised never to forsake those who love him, no matter what they are enduring. He always hears the prayers of people who cry out to him.
Christianity teaches that God is not aloof from humanity’s suffering. In fact, he has experienced it personally.
The Bible teaches that the Earth was perfect at first: there was no death and no suffering. So we can conclude humanity was not at the mercy of natural disasters such as erupting volcanoes or epidemics of disease. But this order of things changed when humanity disobeyed God. Christianity does not give an explanation as to why natural disasters are allowed to happen and why people must suffer as a result. But we can be reassured that the new Heaven and new Earth will restore for eternity the way things were meant to be.
God knows what suffering feels like
Christianity teaches that God is not aloof from humanity’s suffering. In fact, he has experienced it personally. Jesus Christ was God in human form. He lived 2,000 years ago in the Middle East. He saw the pain of others. The Bible book, John, tells us he wept when his friend, Lazarus, died and his sisters were distraught at their loss. He had compassion for people suffering with illness, disability and disease and miraculously healed many of them. He knew what betrayal felt like. Crowds lauded him like a hero – a saviour to deliver them from the oppression of the Romans. But many of these people turned on him and demanded his execution. He experienced the personal betrayal of one of his closest friends. He endured a kangaroo court where he was tried on false charges, found guilty and sentenced to death by a mob. He suffered a savage beating by soldiers and then the humiliation and agony of naked crucifixion in front of jeering onlookers. Jesus endured all that suffering as an innocent man.
Our understanding of the inevitability of suffering does not mean that we should regard it with complacency. It is a core part of the Christian vocation to seek to relieve the suffering of others. Some do this through their work (doctors, nurses, engineers, plumbers, and so on). Others support charities or volunteer their time. Jesus encouraged his followers to understand that when we relieve the suffering of another human being, we are doing it for him.