Why Does a Loving God Allow Suffering?
A Theological Look at How a Loving, Powerful God can Co-exist with Evil and Suffering in the World
By: Pastor Brian Chilton
You do not have to look very far to find evil and suffering in the world. A few weeks ago from the writing of this article, the world was rocked as we learned of the bombings which killed 3 people in Boston, Massachusetts. One of the victims was a little boy. Prior to this, we were saddened this past Christmas to learn of the atrocious shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The pages of our newpapers are full with stories of violence, suffering, and evil. How does one deal with this?
Ergun Caner has given three ways the Christian deals with the issue of suffering and evil. But, I would add a fourth. Caner writes, “Solution Number One: God predestined evil” (Caner, Class Notes, Lecture 14). Adherents to this solution would claim that humans do not have any control over anything and that everything is worked out by God. Unfortunately, this makes God the author of sin and the Bible makes it clear that there is not evil or sin found in the character of God. So, this solution has major problems.
Caner gives a second solution, “Solution Number Two: Evil does not exist” (Caner, Class Notes, Lecture 14). Adherents of this view would claim that evil does not really exist. Evil is an illusion and is not real. But any serious minded person can clearly see that evil is indeed a reality. This solution, too, holds some major problems.
Caner gives a final solution, “Solution Number Three: God created Man who chose evil” (Caner, Class Notes, Lecture 14). This solution holds the fewest problems. This solution, like Caner, is the solution I choose. In other words, God did not create evil and suffering but allowed it as an option for reasons on which we will expound.
In this article, we will examine how a powerful, loving God can co-exist with evil in society and why God would allow this suffering and evil to exist…only temporarily. We will examine the characteristics of God, the transformation of man, love and freedom, responsibility and freedom, the promise of working things together, and the final judgment.
We need to add one more note before proceeding. When we speak of suffering and evil, two forms of suffering and evil exist: moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil is the evil that comes from the hands of fellow human beings, whereas natural evil is the supposed evil that comes from natural disasters and birth defects. We will deal with moral evil in this article and will address natural evil at a later date.
The Characteristics of God
Many characteristics of God could be mentioned in this article. For the sake of time and space, we will only speak of two: holiness and love. First, we must understand that God is a holy God. In the Harper Bible Dictionary, holiness is defined as, “…a term in Hebrew probably meaning separate from the ordinary or profane. Also in Hebrew and in Greek ‘holy’ implies connection with God or the divine. Thus, God is holy and people, things, and actions may be holy by association with God. Holiness may also include the ideas of consecration to God and purity from what is evil or improper.” In other words, God has not evil in Him. Quite frankly, even though God is all-powerful, there are some things the Bible tells us that God cannot do. For instance, the Paul writes to Titus, “in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago” (Titus 1:2, NASB). So, God cannot lie. God cannot do evil. He is holy and without sin.
Secondly, God is love. Perhaps, there is no greater reference to this fact than in John 3:16 and also in 1 John. John writes in his letter, “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16). Paul writes, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). So, God’s love for all humanity is limitless. This love transforms every person who partakes in His glory.
The Transformation of Humanity
When a person allows Christ to become the Lord of his or her life, a transformation occurs. Yes, salvation is a work of God. Yes, God does the transformation. But, yes, we have to be willing to allow God to do that work in our lives. More on that later in the article, but for now, let us simply say that if a transformation has not occurred in an individual then there is a good chance that the individual never received Christ.
Although I consider all Christians who are under the umbrella of classic Christian doctrine to be my brothers and sisters, I am most in line with “Free Will Baptist” theology. Some have accused Baptists of proclaiming a “do-nothing salvation.” In other words, all you have to do is say a prayer and do nothing else. Well, honestly, if that was the way Baptist theology really presented salvation, I would not be one. We all understand whether you are Arminian or Calvinist, Protestant or Catholic, Pentecostal or Methodist, Baptist or Lutheran, that a transformation must take place in order for one to truly be proclaimed a Christian. You cannot live like the Devil and proclaim Jesus as your Lord and think that you have a right relationship with God. It does not work that way.
We are told that the Christian must display the Fruits of the Spirit, or manifestations of God working in the person’s life. Those fruits are: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). This does not indicate that the Christian will always be patient or always be kind. But it does indicate that the overall persona of the Christian should be filled with these attributes as they are attributes of God given to the person. So, a relationship with Christ brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If this is the case, then the life that lives without God would produce the antitheses of these things: hate, sorrow, war, impatience, harshness, evil, infidelity, harshness, and personal and familial chaos. Get the picture? So, why does God allow evil? We begin to get a glimpse as we examine the next section.
Love and Freedom
We get a clear picture of this in the all-star verse of the Bible. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17). Notice the “whosoever” word? For love to be freely received, it must first be freely given. But for love to be freely given, it must also be freely received. As David said to his son Solomon, “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9). Yes, God saves. Yes, God reveals Himself to us. Yes, salvation is God’s gift. But, for love to work, it must be reciprocated.
A great example of this was found 12 years ago from the time of this writing. I was walking down the beach with my, then, girlfriend. It was a beautiful night. The moon lit the waves of the ocean as they crashed against the shore. A few clouds gave the sky a mystical look this night. I was extremely nervous because I was going to ask my girlfriend a very important question. Every time I was getting ready to ask her, something would interrupt me…a dog crossing our paths. A young child running around. Finally, the moment of opportunity appeared and I asked this girl a very important question. “Would you like to spend the rest of your life with me? Would you like to marry me?” I gave her the ring which I had purchased for her. She looked at me in disbelief. She looked…and looked…and looked…and finally asked, “Are you SURE???” Well, that was not the response I was looking for, but I answered, “Of course I am sure, or I wouldn’t have asked.” After contemplating a few more moments…leaving me hanging for what felt like an eternity…she finally responded, “Well, I guess we are going to have a good life together. Yes, I will marry you.”
The Friday before I write this article, that girl and I will have celebrated 10 years of marriage together. God has blessed us with a little boy. I can honestly say that even though our relationship is not perfect, I love her more now than I even did then. But that would not be possible if we both did not act freely. I freely chose to ask her to marry me and she freely chose to accept my offer. Love is never forced. Forced love is not love…it is rape. Rape is the antithesis of love. Love must be freely given and freely received.
The same holds true with our relationship with God. God saves. God calls. God gives us the opportunity to enter into a relationship with God through Christ Jesus. God does 99.9% of the work. The only thing we must do is say “Yes.” We must open the door to God’s invitation. In many ways, our relationship with God is like a marriage. God is the groom and we are the bride.
But, this offer only exists if we are given the choice to receive or reject. In order to allow for perfect relational love, God had to create us with the opportunity that we might just say “No.” Some will say, “No God. I do not want You in my life.” Just as some with some proposals, the asked person will say, “No dear, I do not love you and do not want to spend my life with you.” The clear cut result of a life lived without God is evil.
Some would say, “Yes, but why doesn’t God stop every evil act from occurring.” I would say that God could and does from time to time. But, if God interjected every time an evil act was committed, this would remove the freedom that the human being possesses. Suffering and evil exists because of the freedom that God has given people. We cannot blame God for suffering and evil. We must truly blame ourselves. This of course gives humans responsibility.
Responsibility and Freedom
Human beings must take responsibility for his or her actions. Many times we blame God for things that we bring on ourselves. If a person stepped out on a major highway and was hit by a Mack truck, can the person really blame God for such an action? No, it was the person’s own stupidity. Would God be obligated to stop the Mack truck causing a massive pile up while taking many innocent lives over one person’s ignorant decision? I don’t think so. Really, God is not obliged to us for anything, really. The fact that God saves any of us shows the grace and mercy of God. It speaks more of God’s character instead of a person’s. However, it must be noted that sin and rebellion do in fact hurt people. The things we do affect far more people than we ever could imagine. But, despite this, God has given a promise to work all things for good to God’s children.
Working All Things For Good
Paul writes, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). This promise is not for everyone. Notice that Paul says that God works all things for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose. God has the uncanny way of working out good things through the most horrific of circumstances. It may be that through the death of a young child who will automatically go to heaven that another child would receive life through an organ transplant. It may be that the woman who allowed God to strengthen her through the death of her beloved husband displays such a Christ like demeanor that her lifestyle encourages another to come to eternal life in Christ. God has the ability to work out all things for good if we are His children and allow the Spirit of God to work in our lives without quenching Him. But, there is yet one more thing that must be remembered in all of this.
Prepare to Meet Your God: Judgment Time IS Coming
One day, God will bring judgment. Many ask as the Prophet Habakkuk did, “How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ Yet You do not save” (Habakkuk 1:2). Will God not bring judgment to those who do such wicked things? Yes, God indeed will. When God brings judgment, it is fast, furious, and final. Don’t believe me? Just look at Sodom and Gomorrah. The cities were lush cities in an area much like a tropical paradise. Look at them now. They are surrounded by massive amounts of salt in the region now known as the Dead Sea.
God will one day bring judgment. As Paul writes, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). Everyone will give an account of their lives to God. The only salvation we have in this day is through the blood of Christ…the payment for our sins. But, this does not mean that we will not have to give an account of the things we do. God will one day make all things right. So, let’s bring this all together.
God is loving and is all-powerful. The reason why evil and suffering exists is due to the freedom that God gives us to choose His grace or to reject His grace. This freedom was evident in the Garden of Eden as it is today. When God calls us and reveals Himself to us, we have the choice to accept God’s grace or to reject God’s grace. A life that accepts God’s grace is filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. A person who rejects God’s grace is filled with hate, sorrow, war, impatience, harshness, evil, infidelity, harshness, and personal and familial chaos. Love is not forced, so if God grants that we can know Him then He must also grant that we may reject Him. This is why evil and suffering sometimes occurs…because of rejection of God’s grace and love.
God allows evil and suffering to exist now because God is granting more time for people to receive God’s grace, love, and forgiveness. More souls are yet to be saved. This is why God is delaying the time for judgment. But understand this; the age of grace will not be extended forever. One day, the age of grace will be replaced by the Day of Judgment. At that time, every person will have to give an account of his or her life; and the decision that the person made, in acceptance or rejection of the grace that God freely gave, will carry eternal consequences. Let us end this article with a warning that the Prophet Amos gives us, “Prepare to meet your God” (Amos 4:12).
 Note: for easy reference, Bible references and some other references will appear in the MLA format. For major works, Turabian footnotes will be used. This will help the reader as he/she reads the article.
 Paul J. Achtemeier, Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 400.
 All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).