Why does God allow suffering? Answering our kids' questionsWritten by Alex McFarland
Some nonbelievers point to suffering in this world and conclude that God must not exist, because suffering is evil. Unfortunately, it’s a popular idea that your children may absorb from the culture. The rationale goes something like this: “If I were God and I were all-powerful and good, I would eradicate suffering. Since there is indeed suffering, there must not be an all-powerful, good God.” Which leaves our kids with the question: Why does God allow suffering?
To answer this question, you and your children will need some logic, communication and patience. This is essential to develop a Christian world view that includes the concept of absolute truth.
God and suffering
Within our world, questions about evil present a few problems when considering God’s role in creation. This is usually the first point skeptics of Christianity turn to in arguing against God.
Here’s the basic principle: If there were no God, pain and suffering would not be a moral problem. The fact that there is pain and suffering is partial proof that there is a moral God. Keep in mind that if God didn’t exist, then there would be no problem of pain. In other words, there would be no good or bad, there would only be stuff.
Why is this? Because God is the ultimate standard of good. The fact that we may look at something and rightly conclude: “This is good and that is bad” establishes that morality still exists. This indicates that humans can discern when something conforms more closely to an ultimate standard of good. God is not only the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. He is also the foundation for morality.
In a universe with no ultimate standard of good, there could be no “good, better, and best.” There could be no “bad, worse, and unconscionable.” Remember that in Genesis 1:31, God looked over His creation and called it “good.” But our world today has plenty in it that is inarguably “bad.” All people and most circumstances fall short of goodness.
For the concepts of evil or suffering to exist, there must be a fixed, unchanging, absolute standard of goodness, love, purity, justice, beauty and truth.
Where do suffering and morality come from?
According to the Christian world view, this standard of measurement comes from God. In commenting on the rightness or wrongness of any action or circumstance, we express our understanding of God’s standards.
So, when your children come to you with questions about pain and suffering, give them praise for understanding and acknowledging that there is a standard, a measuring stick for good versus evil. Reinforce that their desire for a world without evil and suffering, a world that is filled with beauty and the absence of pain, comes from, and is shared by the God who created everything to be “very good.” Help your older children understand that even an atheist who complains about the pain and suffering in this world is in some way seeking after God’s heart.
Once the concept of an absolute standard for good is established in your children’s minds, you can look at why God allows pain and suffering to continue through natural events like earthquakes and cancer.
Question recap: Why does God allow suffering?
1. Since suffering and pain exist and are bad, the question expresses a moral judgement that there is a standard of good and bad.
2. God is good and has his reasons for allowing pain and suffering, and though we may not understand them, we can trust that those reasons are for our ultimate good.
God has a plan to eliminate pain and suffering from this world. Until then, Christians are to turn to him for comfort and learn the qualities of patience and endurance through the tough times.
Why does God allow bad things to happen?
It’s easy to ponder how the world might be better, if only_____.
In reality, we live in a world unfortunately marked by suffering. Even from the texts in Genesis, we see a world cursed and filled with evil. You might be thinking. Okay, sure. Humans have sinned and sin exists. But how do things like natural disasters and sickness fit into the picture? Why does God allow these?
One of the reasons bad things happen is the fact that every created thing is subject to decay and death. Romans 8:21 says that the “creation itself” is in “bondage to decay.” To give a tangible, concrete example of this concept, it may be helpful to show your children a perfectly ripe apple and put it out on the porch where they can see it every day to document how it decays. Explain to your children that the earth and suffering is just like that apple.
We live in a world that decays. Sometimes “good” people, even Christians get hurt or killed. We know that people suffer through illness. Biologists can explain why the human body eventually dies. But many question why God allows suffering, like disease and natural disasters.
Why does God allow suffering in our world?
Could God have a reason for allowing suffering? Perhaps. But could God have a morally sufficient reason for allowing a parent’s death, a chronic illness, a local hurricane or any tragedy of choice?
In short, the answer is yes. Tragedy can exist. And God can still maintain positive moral reasoning. But let’s talk more about moral evil (sin) or natural evil (the result of living in a fallen, decaying world with sinful, decaying bodies).
Sin and suffering
Sin happened, but God had patience with Adam and Eve. When God eventually sent his son to earth to be the Saviour, he continued the process of redeeming humanity.
Consider the ultimate good that comes from Joseph’s trouble in the Old Testament account. Joseph told his brothers, who had treated him badly years earlier, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). In this case, God directly brings good out of evil. He indeed has morally sufficient reasons for allowing such things.
Hope and suffering
Ever notice a “Construction in Progress” sign in front of a building site? As I write this, a highway near my house is undergoing some repair and expansion. There is a large flashing sign by the road that says “Repair in process. Expect delays.”
God’s Word flashes the same types of messages to us about allowing suffering. Our world is undergoing major renovation. In fact, it’s more than this. We are in the process of redemption. One day, we’ll understand that the scars we’ve accumulated along the journey will be redeemed.
We have God’s promise that in “the ages to come,” we know that whatever price we endured for following Jesus during our earthly lives was well invested. Paul offered this perspective on suffering considering the future God has promised:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:18-21).
Children need to know that in life and in our walk with God, endurance is essential. And they need to acknowledge that life in this present age is difficult, even with the Holy Spirit to comfort us. As is often said, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” This means continuing to live according to his Word even when it’s not convenient or easy.
Bible verses about suffering
The Bible encourages us to reflect on the good that suffering produces in our lives:
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).
Our children’s questions in these areas deserve thoughtful, logical responses. It’s not sufficient to simply write off disasters or hardships by saying, “God works in mysterious ways.”
Use these times or events to teach your children that while we live in a fallen world inhabited by sinful people, it’s only temporary, and that compared to eternal life with Jesus in paradise, it will pale in comparison.
Encourage them with these words from Revelation 21:4: “[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
When your children ask you: Why does God allow suffering, attempt to understand how your child might also be suffering. Think about struggles or hard circumstances they experience. Despite this question’s difficulty, remember that you can seek the Lord’s wisdom and the advice of those around you. Also, you can strengthen your relationship with your child.
Alex McFarland is a Christian apologist and evangelist who has spoken at hundreds of churches, college campuses and events throughout the United States and abroad. He is a nationally recognized culture and religion expert who has been interviewed by numerous major media outlets. Alex has published more than 150 articles and authored 16 books.
© 2013 Alex McFarland. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Content excerpted from The 21 Toughest Questions Your Kids Will Ask About Christianity by Alex McFarland. © 2013 Alex McFarland. A Focus on the Family Resource published by Tyndale House Publishers.
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