“God is love” (1 John 4:16)
“The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you. Sing praises to the LORD, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done. For he who avenges blood remembers; he does not ignore the cry of the afflicted…The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God. But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish.” (Psalm 9:7-12, 17-18)
God created the world perfectly good, and he created mankind perfectly, morally good (Genesis 1:1-2:2). However, God also gave us free will, and through our free will we chose to rebel against him. As a result of our rebellion and sin, suffering, evil and death entered the world. (Romans 6:23). We have rejected God as our Lord and King, and we have disregarded his commands, which were given in love to preserve his perfect, good order in Creation and to prevent us from experiencing suffering, pain and death.
Sadly, we still choose to live as lords of our own lives and to live by our own relativistic moral standards instead of by God’s righteous standard. In so doing we have destroyed our relationship with God, and we now eat the bitter fruit of our own sinful choices. Sadly, our sinful choices also affect and harm other people beyond just ourselves, including those who suffer innocently.
Some people look at the suffering in the world and believe that there is no God. The problem with that reasoning is that suffering is a result of our sin, not an absence of God.
God is sovereign, and in the end he will bring every deed into judgment and mete out perfect justice to all who have sinned (Revelation 20:11-15). God does exercise his justice on earth today (Psalm 9:7-10), and he has judged individuals and nations in the past (Genesis 3, 6-9, 18-19; Exodus 1-15, Numbers 16-17, Esther 3-7) and he will exercise his justice on the earth in the future (Revelation 6-20).
The Bible says that the reason why God delays executing his full judgment at this present time is because he desires people to repent (turn away from their sins) and be reconciled to him lest they experience the full measure of his judgment for their sinful deeds, which is an eternity in hell. God’s choice to not immediately execute retribution for every evil deed is an act of his mercy; it is his ‘grace period’ towards us.
“He [God] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Some people also blame God by saying, “If there is a God, then why doesn’t he do anything to relieve the suffering in the world?”
The fact is God has done EVERYTHING about it!
In order to save us from an eternity of suffering in hell (which is the just penalty for our sins), Jesus chose to die in our place. Jesus lived the perfect, sinless life that none of us could live. He then took upon himself all of our sins and bore the penalty for them through his death on the cross. He died as a ransom, a substitute, a scapegoat, for all of those who would repent (confess and turn away) from their sins and receive him as their personal savior. He rose from the dead three days later to make reconciliation with God possible for us. This is the only way God’s wrath against our sins could be fully satisfied. It is the only way we can be reconciled to God and enjoy his loving Presence throughout eternity. (See Message).
On Judgment Day the people who have repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus to save them will find mercy and will enter into an eternity where there is no more suffering, pain or death. This is because in heaven sin and its consequences have been fully dealt with and removed. The absence of sin means the absence of its bitter fruit: suffering, death and hell. The following Scripture passage is God’s promise to them:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe 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.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'” (Revelation 21:1, 3-5)
At the close of this age, Jesus will establish his kingdom on earth and the redeemed of God will see a final end to death, mourning, crying and pain. God will do away with the present order of sin and suffering in order to establish his new order of eternal life.
In this present age, however, God also works to relieve suffering. He does this because his character is loving and compassionate. As people repent of their sins, God deals with the root cause of suffering, which is sin. As he transforms them, it brings them personal healing as well as healing to families and communities. These believers, having experienced mercy themselves, then extend it to others here on earth.
I believe that striking at sin, the root cause of suffering, is the most effective way to bring about social justice and healing in the world today. This is one of God’s major ways of relieving suffering in this present age, before he establishes his kingdom of everlasting peace and righteousness.
God isn’t blind and deaf to our personal suffering; on the contrary, he cares about us very much. He listens when we call out to him. He understands us better than we understand ourselves. He knows exactly how to heal us, and he has the power to heal us.
God describes himself as:
“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…” (Exodus 43:6-7)
There are also numerous stories and verses in the Bible about God’s compassion and intervention for afflicted people. The following are just a few references: (2 Kings 4:1-37, Exodus 3:7-10, Luke 7:11-17, John 11:1-4, Psalm 68:5-6, Genesis 21:14-21).
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Consider also that God is our greatest advocate in our suffering, for Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate, has suffered more than any other human in history. He endured the greatest injustice by being falsely accused and condemned to death even though he had never sinned. He went through ridicule and mocking, excruciating physical torture and one of the most horrific deaths possible to save us from our sins. He is familiar with human suffering and is able to sympathize with us in our pain. He gives us the sufficient grace and strength we need as he tenderly calls out to us:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
“The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry; the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all.” (Psalm 34:15-19)
On a final note, God makes this wonderful promise to those who repent and believe in him:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
God promises that he will turn around every act of injustice and every moment of pain and suffering and use it for good in the lives of those who love him.
I can testify to the truth of this verse firsthand. Though I haven’t suffered as much as some people in the world have, like most people, I have certainly had my fair share. However, God has truly worked out all of the injustices and suffering in my life for a greater good. Not only that, but because of what I’ve gone through, I am now able to help others who are going through similar struggles, such as the inmates I work with through Prison Fellowship. My personal suffering once negatively affected only me and those close to me, but now God has turned it around and multiplied it to positively affect many, many more people.
God is a God of healing, restoration, redemption, hope and love. I once considered myself to be like a car that was so damaged that it would be better to just scrap me than to invest the time and effort to repair me. However, God, who raises the dead, saved me out of the depths of the grave. God continues to rescue and transform people and send them back out into this suffering world to make a positive difference. To him be all the glory and honor forever and ever!
For more questions and answers about God, please see “Is God Real?”
I have also done a number of artworks about God’s comfort and healing power for the suffering: