How can God tolerate suffering?

Many people walk around with this question. Also, people who say they do not believe in Him (anymore) and want nothing to do with Him, believe that they are entitled to answers from God. They demand accountability from God. That's the upside-down world, isn't it? The real question is how a righteous God can tolerate man's wrong choices.


Most of human suffering is caused by people choosing to treat each other selfishly, unkindly, and cruelly. And other people choose not to stop it and prefer to choose power, possessions, their own interests instead of really tackling and solving problems together.


Should God only give prosperity?

Unfortunately, we cannot say that possession, prosperity and abundance make people smarter, better, happier, more eager to work and more compassionate. On the contrary; often it brings up bad things in people. Everything we do affects others. The fact that I am naturally focused  on myself, therefore, not only has consequences for my own life but also for that of others with whom I come into contact.


Therefore, God cannot simply take away all human suffering. If we never feel the consequences of our own actions, how will we ever learn how evil that often is? God, who sees and knows much more than we do, has decided in His infinite wisdom to make mankind feel the ultimate consequences of our greed, our intolerance, our hatred, the wars we wage, our dealings with this earth and the environment, etc.


What went wrong?

Everything God created was good. God wanted people to be His friends. That they would care for and preserve the earth and all that was in it.


In addition, God gave us  a wonderful gift: free will. They didn't make us like robots, like machines that couldn't help but obey, serve, and love Him. After all, you can't force someone to love another. Love is something natural, something voluntary.


The gift of free will is  one of the most important differences between humans and animals. We can  choose between right and wrong, between right and wrong. Wecan decide    to love each other or not, to do what He wants or not and to live for God or for ourselves.  If you had a choice between having agency or living like a robot without pain, what would you choose?


Unfortunately, man decided to disobey God. By nature, we are more focused on ourselves than on God. Our own wishes are more important to us than the will of God. That is the cause of all crime, all evil and suffering in the world. This is why so much goes wrong. This is what's going on with the world. This is what is wrong with you and me.


The Bible calls bad choices "sin"; missing your purpose. And just as with certain diseases, for example, your entire being is infected and your moral immune system is compromised, possibly resulting in death. And you also infect others in your environment with it.


Why does God allow suffering?

Why is there so much suffering? Where is God in this world full of suffering and injustice? Why, then, does God not put an end to that suffering?"


It is ais almost impossible to give a conclusive answer to these questions . So many things in life remain a mystery.  Partly because we judge this on the basis of the here and now, as well as our limited vision. How often do we have to say afterwards that something that we considered good or bad turned out to be good later on. Or vice versa.  God has a very different perspective and purpose for our lives and the world; we cannot yet partially understand His way of  thinking. Why, for example, is the universe infinite and are there billions of  'useless' stars?


There are those who have chosen to deny the existence of God because they cannot imagine that a God would allow so much misery. Others want to believe that there is a God, but want nothing to do with Him because they are angry with Him, have no confidence in Him or simply do not see any added value in Him.


I believe god has given us enough answers to trust Him. Not on all questions, but enough to put suffering in perspective, and point out how suffering can ultimately work in our favor. And enough to trust and love the One who calls us to Him in it.


Suffering has many causes, such as:

  • As a result of sin.
  • As a result of human imperfection.
  • As the result of human error.
  • Suffering can be the result of a natural disaster.


Think, for example, of a drunk driver, Hitler, or a mass murderer. Or of children who were disabled from birth because a doctor made a mistake or their mothers used certain medications during pregnancy, smoked or drank alcohol. As well as how man and his behavior has affected the earth and disturbed its order.


It is unreasonable to blame God for this, any more than so many other tragedies that we as humans cause ourselves. God does not send suffering, He allows it. God suffers with us. He comes to stand next to us. He wants to help us accept the situation, live with it, and rise above it in His power and on the basis of our own determination. Through suffering, we come closer to our Heavenly Father.


Of course, not all questions can be answered. For that, the reasons for suffering are too many and too complex. But it is also wrong to demand from God that we should understand everything. God gives enough guidelines and answers for us to know how to deal with suffering and respond to it in a way that pleases Him. Sometimes the Bible will help to see a situation from God's perspective. And sometimes we simply need a hug, a listening ear, or just someone who is silently suffering with us.


In summary, I believe the Bible provides the following answers to why God allows pain and suffering:

  • To keep us alert;
  • To show us the way to Him;
  • To shape us;
  • To teach us to help each other.


Suffering to keep us alert.

Imagine a world without pain. That seems attractive at first, but it would very quickly lead to enormous problems. No matter how much we abhor suffering, we have to admit that it is often functional as well. It warns us if something is wrong. It is the cause of suffering – and not suffering itself – that is the real problem. Pain is just a symptom, a warning.


God wants to alert us to the fact that:

  • There is something wrong with this world;
  • There is something wrong with His creatures;
  • There is something wrong with me.


There is something wrong with the world.

The worrisome condition of our planet shows that something is drastically wrong. This suffering does not discriminate on the basis of race, social status or religion. Also, bad things happen to good people and bad people often enjoy good things. There seems - and often is - no causal link between good and bad that happens to us. Just as we in the rich west have it much better than more than 90% of the world's population; what did we do to earn this?


Suffering doesn't feel fair. Couldn't God just create a world where nothing went wrong? A world where people had no choice to do something wrong or hurt someone? Yes, He could. But He did not. The very fact that we, as humans, have freedom of choice, is His greatest gift to humanity; even if that leaves room for, sometimes enormously, wrong or bad choices.


Suffering makes us aware that there is something fundamentally wrong with this world. Every sorrow and pain reminds us that the world is not as God created it.


There is something wrong with God's creatures.
We, as human beings, can be victims of both evil people and diabolical forces. As free people, there are and are constantly bad or wrong decisions that have a negative effect on the lives of others. History gives many examples of this. But also diabolical forces fight against God and sometimes God, for reasons that He only knows, allows them to do or cause very bad things in the world and between people. All of this is precisely the result of God's gift of freedom of choice; not God's dishonesty, cruelty, sadistic nature, or injustice. Of course, God can certainly ensure that our choices would only have good consequences, but in doing so he would have to limit or even decrease our freedom of choice. Instead, God helps us to see that and how troubles can serve a good purpose and help us learn to trust and even love God. For example, you would never seek help for anything if it didn't go wrong or hurt.


There is something wrong with me.

Too often, when something goes wrong in our lives, we immediately draw the conclusion that someone else, or God, is harming or even punishing us. That doesn't have to be true at all; think, for example, of a cupboard that was initially wrongly assembled by yourself. Much of our suffering comes about simply because of misjudgment or choices, or because we live in a sinful (read: purpose-missing) world with impatient, dissatisfied, or rebellious people. Sometimes, through choices that others caused long before that experience, such as, for example, with the environment. This does not have to be the result of something that you have done wrong yourself.


Even though we are free to believe in God or not, we were created to serve Him and to love Him. Those who choose not to do this or want to do so, will one day have to answer to Him for it. However, you don't have to; if you repent in time and face your actual state. Therefore, the circumstances of our lives urge us to seek Him while we live. Similarly, God can allow suffering to make "stubborn sinners" repent, and make them accept His offer of free grace and eternal salvation.


By looking at the sovereign God in this way, things come back into a correct perspective. Think of it as the front and back of a patch work: if you look at the back, it looks like a mess, but once you see the front, then it gets perspective and beauty.              

God does not want us to live without Him, nor do we want to suffer forever as a result. That is why He also uses suffering to bring us back to Him. Then, our suffering is in no relation, to the glorious end result of an eternity with God.


Suffering to show us the way to God.

Many people who turn their backs on God blame it on the suffering they, loved ones, or the world undergo.  At the same time, there are also many people who indicate that suffering has opened their eyes and given their lives a new direction and more meaning; and even brought them to God.


How is it possible that identical conditions sometimes have such radically different effects on people? Because the reason is in man himself, not in the circumstances! Suffering can be used to get your attention and make you focus on God. After all, suffering shows how weak or limited our own resources really are, causing us to rethink our priorities, values, and goals, including our relationship with people and God. Including 'the meaning and purpose of life'.


The answers to the real, long-term meaning and purpose of life can be found in the Bible. In it, God reveals Himself to us and shares with us what He finds important and why. But also that there is more between heaven and earth and that there is more than just this life and our time here on earth. And, compared to eternity, our time here on earth lasts only a very short time. Are you going for here and now, or for the long term?


Suffering to shape us.

Suffering is not something we should be happy about. But sometimes our suffering is also due to what we ourselves, consciously or often unconsciously, do wrong. And we only adjust our thinking or behavior when we are confronted with something. A father corrects whom he loves; not alerting or confronting a loved one that makes a mistake or utilizing a learning opportunity, is unloving. 'No pain, no gain' is what it's called nowadays. The result is worth suffering.


Trial brings about perseverance; and perseverance brings about character. Character brings about hope and faith: the confidence in what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see.  This is how the hardships in our lives can shape us. Suffering has the ability to make people think about the real things of life. God encourages us to focus on the outcome, not the suffering itself; that makes us stronger and spiritually mature.


The most grateful people in life are rarely people whose lives have only been about roses. More often, it are those, who were limited by circumstances. While the most dissatisfied people, who never seem to have enough, are often people who enjoy excellent health or materially have the least to complain about.


How do you respond to difficulties in your life? Have they made you bitter or better?


God ultimately makes all things work together for good for those who believe in Him and love Him! No one and nothing can stop God from achieving His purpose. And nothing and no one can ever separate us from His love, if we believe in Him. This does not mean that you will understand everything. Or that we will only experience good things in our lives. But it does assure us that God will accomplish His eternal plan for us. Despite the fact that it sometimes seems as if God has lost His control.


God proves His omnipotence not by always intervening or preventing things, but by even allowing suffering to work together for good to achieve His ultimate goal.


Suffering to teach us to help each other.

Pain and suffering makes us aware of how vulnerable we are and that we need each other; and makes us more empathetic to the needs of others. Our suffering also makes us more aware of the suffering of others.  Especially when we have been through something ourselves, it makes us much more understanding and, as a comforter, much more valuable to others. After all, you immediately hear whether someone talks from experience or only 'about' something. Some insights are only learned in practice. Even if you are suffering yourself, helping others can be healing for our own pain.


Final remarks

Suffering is therefore not as pointless as it seems. Even though we don't always understand why suffering comes our way or that of our loved ones. There are countless people who can testify to the fact that, despite not getting answers to all their questions, they have been comforted by God in suffering and have thus experienced His existence and closeness very personally. God offers Himself. If we experience and know that He can be trusted in this, we no longer need all the answers.


The fact that God has not lost control, still rules and really cares about each individual individually, knows about our suffering and that our suffering is not meaningless, is then sufficient to continue. The strongest proof that God really cares about us and wants to take care of us, is the coming of His son Jesus. Jesus came especially, and suffered himself, to be able to redeem us from our suffering forever.


The realization that the cause of our suffering does not lie with God, but that He has the power to bear the suffering and to redeem us from it, sheds a completely different light on the source and meaning of suffering. By entrusting your life to Him, you receive His grace and a lasting solution to the problems and sufferings of yourself and in this world. Therefore, believe in Him and be saved!