To genuinely understand why there is suffering, we must examine our origin and our Fall.
When God had completed His Creation He pronounced it as being “very good,” for there was no death, disease, pain or suffering (Genesis 1:31). Genesis 2:17 informs us that God planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were instructed not to eat of it under penalty of death. But, after failing their test of obedience, Adam and Eve forfeited their right (and ours) to live in perfect relationship with our loving Creator (Rom. 5:12).
Because God is perfectly and purely holy, He had to judge man’s sin. Adam was accountable to the fact that death would be the penalty for rebellion, and so God enacted a Curse on both humanity and all creation (Rom. 8:20-21). Therefore, the death and suffering that has existed and continues to exist is a result of our sin.
It should be noted that the world’s sin-infestation includes the distress of natural disasters, severe weather, personal tragedies, and the like. This constitutes that all suffering is a direct consequence of Adam’s sin, allowing no excuse for anyone to blame God for such. Moreover, God surely has good reason for allowing pain and suffering to beset the Christian (Rom. 8:28); our failure to understand “why bad things happen to good people” does not invalidate God’s goodness, it simply reveals our ignorance.
Why do we suffer for Adam’s sin when that happened so long ago?
Humanity is infected with an inherited (from Adam) sin-nature, yet God has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him. By the atoning death of His Son, Jesus Christ, we each have the opportunity to recognize our sinfulness and turn to Him for forgiveness and then live a life according to His Spirit (John 3:16-17).
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned… For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:12, 19).
“For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22).
Why did God allow Adam to choose poorly, and why does He allow us the same?
True obedience cannot exist without the choice to disobey, and free human choice is a product of God’s love. His love is persuasive, not coercive. We were created in His own image because God loves us and desires fellowship with us, and truly sincere fellowship is only true and sincere when it is chosen, not forced. This fact makes our choice to love and live for God superbly relevant.
True obedience, therefore, is coupled with freedom and responsibility. Micah 6:8 shows that one must (responsibly) permit themselves to be taught what is right by God, but one must also do what is right (obedience). Freedom enables one to choose rightly, or not. And since humanity has been gifted with free choice (itself an aspect of freedom), we are thus accountable to the Giver Who will bless the right choice.
Adversely, if one abuses that freedom they set themselves against God, inviting consequential judgment. John 3:36 offers insight into freedom and choice: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Just as Adam and Eve had the forbidden tree to “test” their obedience, so we today have the forbidden fruits of a sinful nature that test our own.
So how can God be both loving and just, are not the two at odds?
Injustice is a part of our fallenness as we remain under the Curse. The innocent will suffer and die along with the guilty. Some suggest God is cruel in allowing certain atrocities to occur and fester (natural disasters, war, famine, disease, cancer, terrorism, tyrannical governments, corrupt politics, lawlessness, etc). But, suffering (benign and malignant) will be a part of this world until Jesus establishes His throne in Jerusalem.
Yet God is just and must punish sin (Habakkuk 1:13; Rom. 6:23; Rev. 20:11-15) even while His love compels Him to save sinners, for Jesus the Just suffered for the unjust (1 Peter 3:18) and God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
However, each individual must choose to accept His sacrifice in order to become such righteousness. Even our own sense of desired justice (as when good things happen to bad people) is a reflection of our being made in His image.
God is also love and will not force anyone to love Him (1 John 4:16). Moreover, love must be freely expressed lest it cease to be love. He desires everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9) and our choice grants us the opportunity to love Him of our own volition, yet for those who reject Him there must be punishment. His perfect justness is in fact an aspect of His perfect love.
Why would a loving God condemn anyone to hell if He wants everyone saved?
This is answered in the previous question concerning God’s justness. However, the inquiry at hand is flawed. The appropriate construct would be, Why would a good, perfect, and just God of love NOT condemn His enemies to hell?
Of course, God did not create us to condemn us; He created us to share in His love. But those who choose not to love Him effectually condemn themselves to hell in that their choice determines their destiny (John 3:18, 36). Though the Lord God desires everyone to be reconciled to Himself, He allows us to act on our own desire by way of His sovereign gift of free choice- an occasion of true freedom born of His optimal love.
Did God create evil?
No, He did not. God through free will made evil possible, but disobedience to His will (per our choices) makes it actual. Sin was born in the heart of Lucifer when he fell to pride as a result of his own free self-will (Isaiah 14:12; 1 Tim. 3:6). Indeed, it is difficult to grasp how Lucifer and the other third of the angels (Rev. 12:4) rebelled against God
when all they had known was His goodness and love! This proves that a truly free will is a potent attribute to have been endowed with, further revealing our Creator’s value of love freely expressed and justice wholly accomplished.
An unfortunate event occurred when Lucifer facilitated the fall of man, thus passing on the stain of sin. Though such was foreknown by God, it unleashed the circumstance of the Christ’s Passion and provided a way of absolute restoration of what was lost in Eden’s garden.
In conclusion, how can we even claim the existence of evil and suffering absent an infallible standard of Good and Peace toward which we make a distinction? Thus, the existence of both evil and suffering actually prove the existence of a good and peace-loving God. Assuredly, evil will ultimately be defeated and those who reject God will be justly separated from all that is good. And fuller splendor awaits those who choose Jesus Christ in preparation for a world of perfect love freely expressed!
By: Jon Scott Birch @ jonbirch.com
Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.