The Problem of Suffering
Responses to a Common Objection
by Mitch Cervinka

Suffering and death are tragic facts of creaturely existence.  There are some who claim that the existence of suffering disproves the existence of a loving, all-powerful God.  They argue that, if God is loving, He would not want anyone to suffer, and if He is all-powerful, He could eliminate suffering altogether.  They thus conclude that if God exists then He is either not loving or else not all-powerful. This argument is called "The Problem of Evil", and is a common argument used by atheists to discredit the Christian faith.  The chief problem with this argument is that its conception of God is altogether too simplistic.  If God were merely a being whose only purpose was to make humans comfortable in their present condition, then the argument might have some merit.  However, God is infinitely greater and far more complex than this man-centered analysis will permit.  In this essay, we will consider a number of ways to respond to the problem of evil.

Atheism has no basis for absolute morality, and therefore has no ground to judge what a "good" God can or cannot do.

When the atheist claims to know what a "good" God would or would not do, he is violating his own worldview, which says that there are no moral absolutes.  What does "good" mean in the atheistic view?  What is his basis for distinguishing between good and evil?  In the Christian worldview, morality is defined by God's character, particularly as it is revealed in His law.  In the atheistic worldview, morality is a relative thing—a matter of personal taste or opinion—rather than an absolute.  Thus, when the atheist declares that a "good" God would never permit suffering, he is, at most, merely giving his personal opinion.  Perhaps my opinion of what a "good" God would do is different from the atheist's opinion.  The atheist is entitled to his opinion, but he should not suppose that it carries any force as an argument against the existence of God.

If the atheist replies that most people agree with his belief that a good God would not permit suffering, then he is placing his definition of morality on a very slippery foundation indeed.  What do "most people" think of the practice of abortion in our day?  Surely, there are strong opinions on both sides of the debate.  If the populace is 51% in favor of abortion, does that make abortion moral?  If 51% of the populace opposes abortion, does that make it immoral?  Is the goodness of God simply a popularity contest of competing opinions?  What if the prevailing opinion changes?  Does the argument stand or fall based on popular opinion?  Is God "good" when the majority of people think He is good, and then becomes "evil" when the tide of public opinion changes?  This is more a commentary on the state of mankind than on the actual goodness of God.  It makes no sense to judge the eternal, unchanging God by the variable standard of human opinion polls.

Another approach the atheist might take is to agree that his own worldview has no basis for absolute morality, but he instead seeks to discredit the Christian worldview by beginning with its assumptions—that absolute morality exists, and that God is both absolutely good and all-powerful—to show that it leads to a contradiction. The fallacy with this approach is that the atheist is adopting only some of the Christian's assumptions in making his argument, and is adding some assumptions of his own.  For example, the atheist supposes that man's comfort is the greatest good, and that God could never have an adequate reason for allowing men to suffer.  The atheist supposes that men are basically good, and that these "bad things" are happening to "good people".  The atheist supposes that there is no afterlife in which the sufferings of this life might be overshadowed by the eternal blessedness to come.  The atheist, therefore, is forming a caricature of the Christian faith, and is merely discrediting the caricature he has created.  This is the "straw man" fallacy.

There was no suffering in the world until Adam sinned.

A common theme in the Atheist's argument is that death and bloodshed have existed for millions of years, and that, if this is how God formed the various forms of animal and human life, he must be a very cruel God indeed.

While the logic of this argument is valid, its premise is false. It wrongly assumes that biological evolution is the correct explanation for the origin of life. The Bible does not teach millions of years of dog-eat-dog evolution, where "nature is red in tooth and claw". Rather, it teaches that God created the heavens, the earth, and all life forms in six literal days, and then declared his creation to be "very good". According to the Bible, humans and all animals originally ate a vegetarian diet (Genesis 1:29-30). Sin and suffering entered the world when Adam willfully disobeyed God by eating the fruit that God had commanded him not to eat, warning him that "... in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die." (Genesis 2:17). This resulted in God's judgment upon Adam and creation, bringing about thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18), venomous insects, parasites, and profound changes in the diet and behavior of animals. Subsequently, earth was no longer the paradise God created (Romans 8:20-22).

The vast majority of fossils were laid down by the global flood that occurred in the days of Noah. Only rapid burial could account for such distinct fossils of skeletons not ravaged by scavenging and weathering. Therefore, the evidence found in the fossil record of predation, conflict, disease, suffering and death occurred after the fall of Adam—not before.

We see then that the Atheist's argument is not an argument against Biblical Christianity, but instead attempts to fit a benevolent Creator into a Darwinist interpretation of origins. The Atheist's argument disproves speculative theories such as Theistic Evolution and Progressive Creation, but it does not refute the Biblical account of an originally perfect creation, followed by the fall of Adam, which brought death and suffering into the world, spoiling the world that God, on the sixth day of creaton week, had declared to be "very good".

There are many powerful and conclusive arguments against Darwinism. For example, if life truly evolved as a gradual process over millions of years, the fossil record should show ample evidence of organisms transitional between various kinds. However, no undisputed transitional forms have ever been found in the fossil record. Darwin himself was aware of this problem, but was optimistic that future research would reveal them. It hasn't, and many leading evolutionists, such as George Gaylord Simpson[1], Steven Jay Gould[2] and Colin Patterson[3], have admitted this. In fact, Steven Gould proposed his theory of "Punctuated Equilibrium" in an attempt to account for this problem, but it raises problems of its own and it has not been well received by the evolutionist community.

Mutations are supposed to be the "engine" of evolution, providing new genetic material for natural selection, but researchers are virtually unanimous that the vast majority of mutations are destructive. For one thing, this means that good mutations don't happen nearly often enough to account for the number of changes required by Evolution. A second problem is that the vast number of bad mutations would introduce defects into the gene pool faster than natural selection can weed them out. As a result, we would see over time, a gradual corruption of the genetic code—a tendency toward "genetic entropy"—rather than gradual improvement toward higher, more developed life forms. This agrees with the Bible's assertion that men in the first 1500 years of creation lived to be hundreds of years old, whereas men living after the time of Noah have much shorter life spans.

Another problem with Darwinism is that it cannot account for the origin of the first living cell. The problem is that even the very simplest living cells contain an astounding degree of intricate structure and complexity for which there could have been no functional precursors, since biological evolution requires replication of the organism in order to act out the evolutionary process of mutation and natural selection. A cell has thousands of unique parts working together in amazing harmony. The simplest cell would require at least 120 proteins, and each protein is a specialized sequence of over 400 amino acids.

In addition, a cell requires DNA in order to reproduce. DNA is an extremely long biopolymer consisting of millions (or even hundreds of millions) of base-pairs that encode the information needed to replicate the organism. It is inconceivable that such a molecule could be formed by the random mixing of chemicals within the lifetime of our universe, and even less conceivable that it could become programmed with the exact sequence of information required to produce a copy of the specific living organism in which it is found. Moreover, this information is useless unless there simultaneously exists a decoding mechanism (RNA, along with other molecules) that is capable of reading the information in the DNA and assembling a new copy of the organism. Even if these constituent molecules could somehow come into existence in just the right form, and in the same region of space, they would still need to be assembled correctly in order to produce a living cell. (After all, if you swat a mosquito and kill it, it contains all the chemicals needed for life, but it is dead nonetheless.) In fact, it is inconceivable that such a covergence of chemical miracles could occur by chance even once in billions upon billions of universes, over the course of billions upon billions of years. Truly, the Evolutionist's story for the origin of the first living cell is the most incredible fairy tale ever invented!

The Atheist's objection that God cannot be good because "nature is red in tooth and claw," is no objection against the God of the Bible. According to the Bible, there was no suffering in the world God created—suffering and death entered the world when Adam sinned. The vast majority of fossils were laid down by the global flood of Noah's day—they did not predate the fall of Adam.

Man's comfort is not the greatest good.

A central assumption in the atheist's argument is that "good" is defined entirely by human comfort, and that there could not possibly be a greater good that would justify human suffering.  However, even non-Christians recognize that creaturely comfort is not always the greatest good.  Throughout history, men have been willing to endure great hardships, for family, honor, country or cause.  Wars have been fought for freedom.  Men have chosen to labor at demanding jobs in order to provide a better life for their children.  Athletes willingly endure hour after hour of painful training in order to excel at their sport and win the prize.  Explorers have risked their lives through perilous storms at sea, on sheer mountain cliffs, in steamy, insect-infested jungles and war-torn regions—often simply for the adventure of the expedition and the search for the unknown.

Suffering provides lessons that cannot be truly learned by sitting in a comfortable chair, reading a book.  The difference between sympathy and empathy involves having personally experienced the hardships burdening another.  A wealthy benefactor may stipulate that his heir must spend several years at a job involving physical labor before he is allowed to receive the inheritance—to ensure that the heir understands the value of his inheritance and uses it wisely.  Suffering is one aspect of human existence.  If we never experienced suffering, we would have an unbalanced understanding of life.  Suffering provides a contrast with pleasure that helps us to value pleasure and to seek significance in life.  Suffering therefore makes life more pleasurable and rewarding.  Those who live their lives in comfort are often complainers who are difficult to please.  They are often dissatisfied with life, and find life boring or fatiguing.  Significantly, the suicide rate is often highest where the quality of life is high.

If, in mere human affairs, there are valid reasons to experience suffering, then by what possible logic could one argue that God is never justified in allowing men to suffer?  Is there no virtue or satisfaction in suffering for a great cause?  Those who find life most fulfilling are often those who have given up the comforts of life for a higher cause—to take the good news of God's forgiveness to people in undeveloped countries, or to provide medical assistance to those in need.  When we are willing to suffer for Christ, we are visibly proclaiming to the world that He is more desirable than earthly comforts.  On the other hand, when we regard human comfort as the highest good, we are guilty of idolatry, placing our own comfort as more important than God's glory.

God does not owe us kindness, and we should be grateful for the kindness He does show us.

A basic assumption in the Problem of Evil is that a good God is obligated to treat us well.  Instead of being grateful for the kindness God shows us, men instead complain when God doesn't treat them as well as they would like.  We need to understand that God's blessings are undeserved gifts of His goodness and kindness to us, and we should be grateful for them.

We don't deserve any of the good things that God gives us, and so every blessing we enjoy in this life is a gift—a gift for which we should be truly thankful.  One fallacy with the Problem of Evil, therefore, is that it has a false starting point—it assumes that men have a right to be happy and comfortable, and it blames God if we fall short of this standard.  The correct starting point is to realize that we are nothing in ourselves, and that we deserve no good thing.  God created us from dust, and demonstrates undeserved kindness to us whenever He gives us life and breath, food and water, warmth and shelter, a loving family, a satisfying job, good health, a sound mind, or any of a multitude of other good things.

If you are genuinely thankful and contented with the good gifts God has given, and if you recognize that you do not deserve God's blessings, then you would never accuse God of being evil simply because you experience suffering.  There is no one who can honestly say that God has not blessed them in various ways.  The goodness of God is demonstrated by the presence of blessing, and not by the absence of suffering.

The Problem of Evil portrays God as being subservient to our wishes and needs—as a "cosmic bell hop"—who is to be rejected if He doesn't cater to our every whim or doesn't supply us with enough pillows for our head.  Such a "god" is but an idol of human invention, and not the transcendent God of the Bible.  God is our Creator, and is thus our Lord.  He doesn't bow down to us, but we ought to bow to him in humble gratitude for his kindness to us, and in humble submission to his kind rule.

It is perfectly just for the sinner to suffer.

The claim that a good God would never want men to suffer is based on the assumption that men do not deserve to suffer.  On the other hand, if each of us is evil at heart, then we do deserve the sufferings that come upon us.  How can we fault a good God for being a just God who punishes the guilty?  If God is good, then, by definition, He is opposed to what is evil, and must punish whatever is opposed to good.  The only way that suffering could be problematic is if men are basically good and do not deserve to suffer.

This raises the question, "Is man basically good?"  One only needs to turn on the evening news to learn the answer to this question.  Thefts, fraud, violence, cruelty, murders and wars are reported night after night, year in and year out, and this has been the condition of mankind from the very beginning.  Truly, the earth is filled with violence and injustice!

Contrary to the claims of some, religion is not the ultimate cause of man's injustice, for atheists and irreligious people have committed some of the most horrific atrocities imaginable.  Atheistic regimes in Russia, China, Cambodia, North Korea, Cuba, Viet Nam and elsewhere have committed countless acts of cruelty and violence against innocent people.  The religious are typically the victims rather than the perpetrators of such crimes.

The cause of human injustice lies closer to home.  Indeed, it dwells within every human heart.  Who can honestly say that they have never cheated another person, or never hated someone without a justifiable cause, or never desired to have something that belonged to someone else?  These are the seeds of theft and murder that all too often find their expression in outward acts of violence.  We humans are all too eager to think well of ourselves, inventing excuses for our sins, or trying to shift the blame to someone else.  In point of fact, when we sin against another, we often do it willfully, fully intending to do the wrong.  Or, we may begin with noble intentions, but choose to indulge "little" sins, thinking that they won't matter, or that no one will find out.  This path frequently spirals into deeper and more heinous sins as we push the envelope of what our conscience will tolerate, until our sins are discovered or our guilt becomes too great for us to bear.

This is not to say that all people express their sinfulness equally.  Man looks on the outward appearance, and outwardly, some people appear pretty good to us.  People tend to become more experienced in sin as they grow older.  Some become experienced at covering up their sin, while others dive into sin with relish, having no intention of hiding it from anyone, and become obviously more evil with each passing day and year.  Young children and people with tender consciences may not sin with the abandon that older and more hardened sinners do. Even so, the same heart of sin is present in all, and no one is truly innocent.

In contrast, God is not merely good, but infinitely good and uncompromisingly holy.  In comparison to God's surpassing goodness, even the smallest of sins is cosmic treason against His holiness and authority.  To sinful humans, only the most aggravated sins seem worthy of punishment.  However, to the infinitely holy God, every sin we commit—including even our "thought sins" that never see the light of day—are treachery against everything that is good, true, just and holy.  All of us have sinned against God and man, and each of us deserves far worse than any suffering we experience in this life.

When the atheist argues that the existence of evil proves that the Christian faith is inconsistent, he is conveniently overlooking the fact of human sin and the fact that a truly good God must be opposed to whatever is evil.  The universality of human sin is a fundamental truth in Biblical Christianity, demonstrating that God is perfectly just and good when He allows sinful humans to suffer for their wicked thoughts, choices and actions.

Even in our worst suffering, God is being much kinder to us than we deserve.

Once we measure our sinfulness against the standard of God's unblemished purity and holiness, we realize that the penalty we deserve far outweighs the sufferings of this present life.  Rather than asking "Why does God allow people to suffer so much?" we should be asking instead "Why does God limit our sufferings so much?"  If God allowed us to suffer as much as our sins deserved, our suffering would be unimaginably more terrible than anything people experience in this life.  The fact is, even in our earthly sufferings, God displays His kindness by withholding from us the degree of suffering that our sinfulness deserves.  God is extremely good and kind to us, and treats us far better, in this life, than our sins deserve.

However, this does not mean that God will allow His kindness to undermine His justice.  Despite God's present patience with a wicked and unthankful world, He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world with perfect justice and will fully reward the guilty with the terrifying wrath that their rebellion deserves.  Men's full punishment is mercifully postponed during their earthly existence, but it will not be postponed forever.

God's kindness in this life has a purpose—namely, to lead us to repentance, that we might receive forgiveness of our sins and deliverance from the awful judgment we so richly deserve.

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
Romans 2:3-4
God's present kindness to us is a postponement of justice, not a disregard for justice.  Yet, this postponement of justice has an important purpose—it is intended as an opportunity for us to repent of our sins and seek forgiveness from God.

God gave His only-begotten Son, Jesus, to suffer as the sacrificial substitute of those who trust in Him for salvation.  Those who humbly acknowledge their sinfulness and repent of it, embracing the Savior—Jesus Christ—in loving faith, will receive full and eternal pardon of their sins.  For them, Jesus Christ has fully paid the demands of divine justice through His suffering and death on the cross.  In this way, God demonstrates Himself to be both perfectly just, yet merciful.  He can show mercy to hell-deserving sinners—not by sacrificing His justice, but by sacrificing His Son in their place as a satisfaction for His perfect justice.  Jesus died the death we deserved, that we might be freely and eternally forgiven of our sins.

So then, by asking "Why does God permit suffering?" we are asking the wrong question.  We ought to be asking "Why doesn't God punish us as fully as our sins deserve?"  The answer is that God is kind and merciful, temporarily withholding the punishment we deserve, that we might have opportunity to turn from our sin and find forgiveness in the Savior, Jesus Christ.

For the unbeliever, suffering is a foretaste of deserved punishment in hell—a warning to turn to God in humble faith.

The sufferings of this present life are but a shadow of the sufferings of hell.  They are a dilute foretaste of the eternal terrors we so justly deserve.  God graciously allows us to sample a little suffering in this life that we might be awakened to the extreme, eternal sufferings that await us in the life to come if we do not repent of our sin and seek forgiveness from the living God.

You might make a man uncomfortable if you tell him that his house is on fire.  He may not like it that you say such disturbing things to him.  However, if his house really is on fire, he needs to know about it so that he can take action to rescue his belongings and extinguish the fire.  So it is with human suffering.  If hell is a fantasy, then temporal suffering may seem to be senseless and arbitrary.  However, if hell is a reality, and earthly suffering makes us more aware of the imminent danger facing us, then suffering is actually a very good thing for which we should be very grateful!

Suffering exposes our helplessness and shows us our need of God.

We humans are a proud lot.  We often boast of our accomplishments and abilities, imagining ourselves to be invincible, and supposing that there is no limit to the heights we can achieve.  In fact, however, we are but mortals of limited strength and fleeting years.  Our boasting is emptiness and falsehood.  Our strength or intellect can vanish in an instant, due to an accident, an illness or an act of violence.

The reality is that God is behind the fabric of the universe, enforcing the "laws" of physics, influencing the decisions of men, and directing the course of history in countless imperceptible ways, to accomplish His eternal purpose.  Every breath we take and every beat of our hearts is a precious gift from a sovereign God.  Every meal we eat, and every pleasure we enjoy in this life is ultimately provided by God.  Even when we abuse God's good gifts, it does not change the fact that the gift is from God and is intended for a good purpose.  God is exceedingly good to us, even though we do not deserve even the least of His gifts.

When men boast of their own power, intellect or moral excellence, they are stealing the glory that rightly belongs to God.  Any power, intellect or goodness that we possess is an undeserved gift from an exceedingly good God.  Man's arrogant boasting and ingratitude are supreme insults against the magnificent benefactor whose mere kindness sustains them from moment to moment.  Man's pride and self-sufficiency, therefore, are not merely stupid self-deception, but are the greatest evils imaginable—contemptible abuses against the infinite majesty of God Almighty.

A person who is dying of cancer or trapped in a foxhole is acutely aware of his helplessness.  Suffering can bring a proud man back to reality and make him realize that he is a mortal creature rather than an omnipotent deity.  It is a good thing when we are made keenly aware of our helplessness, for it is then that we can more clearly see our dependence upon the Creator and cry out to Him for mercy.

No one will ever receive mercy who does not humbly seek mercy from God, and no one will seek God's mercy who imagines himself to be sufficient unto himself.  Suffering, then, serves an exceedingly good purpose if it causes us to despair of ourselves and trust instead in the God who daily sustains us, and who has the power to justly condemn us to everlasting hell, or to mercifully redeem us from our sin and the punishment it deserves.

Ultimately, of course, it must be the misery of a violated conscience that drives us to God for mercy.  Until we see ourselves as guilty sinners in God's sight—sinners who fully deserve all the suffering that comes upon us—our faith will be exposed as hypocrisy by the evil of our self-righteousness.  Faith in God must be single and sincere.  To trust partly in self and partly in God is to deny God altogether.  We are profoundly guilty and have no merit of our own.  We fully deserve eternal hell, and must throw ourselves wholly upon the mercy of God if we expect any hope of pardon.

Suffering can lay the proud man low, where he can finally see the crucial truth that his life and happiness depend totally upon the arbitrary kindness of a sovereign God.  This can prepare him to exercise genuine saving faith, by which he can lay hold of eternal life.

The joys of heaven greatly outweigh the sufferings of this life.

To say that a good God would not permit suffering assumes that there is no afterlife—that this life is the sum total of our existence—and that it is therefore unjust that a person's entire existence should be spent in suffering.  However, when the Christian affirms that God exists, He also affirms that God has prepared an eternal home in heaven for those who love God, and that the superlative joys of heaven infinitely outweigh the temporary sufferings of this life.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Romans 8:18

For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
2 Corinthians 4:17

The joy of knowing the infinitely good God and of spending eternity in the presence of our loving heavenly Father, is the confident hope that has supported countless Christians throughout church history who have been cruelly persecuted for Christ. Heaven's incomparable joys far surpass, not only the sufferings of this present life, but its most tantalizing pleasures as well ...
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.
Hebrews 11:24-25
To argue that earthly pain or pleasure is the test of God's goodness is to woefully underestimate both the terrors of hell and the pleasures of heaven.  The atheist's standard of goodness is clouded by his miserable ignorance of the greatness and majesty of God, and the meager limits of his own personal experience and imagination.  Rejecting God's revelation in the scriptures, he trusts instead in whatever miniscule concepts of justice, morality and worth his mortal mind can invent.

Earthly suffering is therefore no argument against the goodness of God when that suffering is compared with the exceeding glory that God has prepared for those who love him—a glory that infintely exceeds the suffering in both its degree and its duration.

For the Christian, suffering produces character.

God sanctifies His people through suffering.  It is in the crucible of suffering that we learn the futility of trusting in earthly comforts, wealth or strength, and learn to lean entirely on our loving heavenly Father for our daily needs.  This draws us closer to God and produces the graces of endurance, character, an undying hope and unfailing confidence in God's love.

More than that, 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
Our own weakness and suffering magnifies the grace of God in our lives, as He displays His power in the midst of our weakness.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10
Suffering also prepares us to empathize with others who suffer, sharing with them the comfort God has shown us in our afflictions.  Suffering thus develops the graces of compassion and mercy, making us useful for consoling those in need.
who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. ... If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.
2 Corinthians 1:4-6
Suffering is a tool that God uses to conform us to His image and character.  Although suffering is unpleasant in itself, it has a glorious, satisfying outcome when it has run its course and produced the fruit for which it is designed.
For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:10-11
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
Isaiah 48:10
Our Lord Jesus therefore told us to rejoice when we are persecuted for his sake.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Matthew 5:10-12
The disciples exemplified this when they rejoiced that God had counted them worthy to suffer for Christ.
Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
Acts 5:41
Thus, the atheist is again wrong when he supposes that suffering is necessarily evil and always to be avoided.  A Christian's character, like impure metal, must pass through the refiner's fire in order to purge out the dross and achieve purity and value.  Suffering for Christ tests our character and demonstrates God's power at work within us.  It shows that we bear the image of Christ and are more conformed to his image than to the world.  This is a cause for confidence and great joy.

God Himself took on human flesh and willingly suffered the greatest sufferings known to man.

If He had wished, God could have inflicted suffering on the wicked without ever having to experience any suffering Himself.  Instead, however, He purposed to save certain members of mankind by bearing their punishment in their place.  The Christian God is not insulated from suffering, but willingly chose to become a man and experience the wrath of sinful men in order to redeem sinful men from the punishment they deserved.

It is highly significant that Jesus Christ was not merely a created being, as some claim.  Rather, He is God Almighty—Yahweh—the eternal Creator.  Jesus is God Himself, who took on human flesh that He might live a perfect human life and die a cruel death to save sinful humans.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.
Mark 8:31

But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.
Acts 3:18

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 4:15

for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Hebrews 9:26

Therefore, when critics claim that God could not possibly understand the sufferings that men experience, they are describing a different god than the Christian God. Jesus Christ is both the eternal God and the sacrificial offering for our sins, who experienced some of the most extreme torments known to humans.  He can emphathize with our sufferings because He also suffered for us.

No one can charge God with injustice for allowing men to suffer horribly, since He himself suffered horribly—not merely to show that He is tough enough to endure it, but rather to redeem sinful men from the profound, eternal suffering we so richly deserve.  We are not mere "laboratory rats" in the hands of a sadistic scientist, but morally-responsible creatures who fully deserve God's fierce wrath, and whom God, in mercy, has redeemed at extreme cost to Himself.  Rather than accusing God of injustice or complaining of the suffering He permits, we should instead kneel in awe at the greatness of His sacrificial mercy to us.

Man's understanding is inadequate to probe the depths of God's wisdom in permitting suffering.

Those who presume to pass judgment on God do not possess sufficient understanding and wisdom to comprehend His ways.  It is supreme arrogance to imagine that you are qualified to sit in judgment over the infinite, eternal, all-wise, all-good God.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?"
Romans 11:33-34

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9

Man's perpetual error is to underestimate the power, wisdom or justice of His Creator.  God rebuked the Israelites for having such a creaturely concept of God ...
These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
Psalms 50:21
The book of Job stands as one of the most compelling apologetic works explaining why it is that the righteous suffer.  Job endured extreme hardships—the loss of his wealth, the loss of his children, the loss of his health.  His wife counseled him to "... Curse God and die." (Job 2:9).  Throughout the book, Job is confronted by friends who insist that Job must have committed some evil to deserve such suffering, and throughout the book, Job insists on his innocence.  Yet, Job's sufferings are explained for us at the beginning and end of the book.

The opening chapters take us behind the scenes, where Satan accuses Job, saying that he is upright only because God has treated him so well.  Satan challenges God "But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." (Job 1:11).  After Job withstands the first series of trials, we find Satan issuing a second challenge:

Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face."
Job 2:4-5
The clear lesson is that the events of this life are often the product of a hidden battle in the spiritual realm.  They seem arbitrary and unjust to us simply because we do not see the complete picture.

The closing chapters introduce us to the greatness of God.  God now challenges Job with a litany of questions illustrating the transcendent power and wisdom of God and the utter ignorance and weakness of man ...

Job 38:1-13
1  Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
2  "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3  Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.
4  "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
5  Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
6  On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone,
7  when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8  "Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb,
9  when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10  and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors,
11  and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed'?
12  "Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place,
13  that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?
In the end, Job confessed his ignorance and the sinfulness of questioning God's wisdom and goodness ...
Then Job answered the LORD and said: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.' I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:1-6


God has good and holy purposes for our suffering.  Even when we do not understand his reasons, and cannot even imagine what good purpose might be served by our sufferings, we can remain confident that God has our good and his glory at heart.  The apostle Paul suffered many things for Christ, yet he could confidently say:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35-39

When we have a correct understanding of God, we recognize that there is no genuine conflict between His goodness and the fact of human suffering.  Any apparent conflict results from a distorted view of God or an unjustified belief in human goodness.  God has good and holy purposes for the suffering He has appointed for us, and none of us can truthfully claim that we are basically good and don't deserve the sufferings we experience.

The good news is that God has provided a means of our forgiveness so that we can spend eternity—not experiencing the sufferings we so fully deserve—but experiencing infinite joy and blessing in His glorious presence forever.  He accomplished this through the suffering of His own dear Son—Himself God—who bore the awful suffering and punishment our sins deserved.  This mercy and forgiveness belongs to everyone—no matter who they are—who humbly repents of his sin and trusts wholly in the work and merit of Jesus for his salvation.

[1] "This regular absence of transitional forms is not confined to mammals, but is an almost universal phenomenon, as has long been noted by paleontologists. It is true of almost all orders of all classes of animals, both vertebrate and invertebrate. A fortiori, it is also true of the classes, and of the major animal phyla, and it is apparently also true of analogous categories of plants."
Simpson, G. G., Tempo and Mode in Evolution (New York, Columbia University Press, 1944), p. 107.

[2] "The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils."
Gould, Stephen Jay, "Evolution's erratic pace", Natural History, vol. LXXXVI(5), May 1977, p. 14.

[3] "I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them. You suggest that an artist should be used to visualise such transformations, but where would he get the information from? I could not, honestly, provide it, and if I were to leave it to artistic licence, would that not mislead the reader? ... Yet Gould and the American Museum people are hard to contradict when they say there are no transitional fossils. ... You say that I should at least 'show a photo of the fossil from which each type of organism was derived.' I will lay it on the line—there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument."
Excerpt from a letter from Colin Patterson to Luther Sunderland, dated 1979. The letter is reproduced in Sunderland, L., Darwin’s Enigma (Green Forest, Arkansas, Master Books, 1998), pp. 101–102.


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