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Pain and suffering - why do they afflict us?

Many people find it impossible to believe in God at all when they consider the different forms of suffering in the world. "If there is a God why does he allow the creatures he has made to suffer and die?". Only the Bible, God's revelation to his creatures, can answer this question.

The Bible answer reasonable

Part of the answer to our question lies in the past, part lies here in the present and part is concerned with the future - with the world of tomorrow. The first three chapters of Genesis are concerned with the entrance of sin into a sinless world - and the consequences of sin which have affected all mankind down the ages. Adam's disobedience to God's command brought the punishment God had fore-warned, which was death (Genesis 2:17, compare the serpent's words Genesis 3:4). In Genesis 3:16-19, God spelt out to Adam and Eve the form this punishment for deliberate disobedience would take. "Unto the woman he said, 'I will greatly multiply thy sorrow (suffering) and thy conception; in sorrow (suffering) thou shalt bring forth children". Here we see how suffering first afflicted the human race - it was a punishment for sin which is disobedience to God's law (1 John 3:4). Because Adam chose to disobey God, we, as Adam's children, inherit his sinful tendencies, so we too must suffer and die (Romans 5:12). God desires his creatures to love him one cannot force men and women to love, it must be freely given; that is why mankind was given freewill so each of us can make our choice; to love and obey, or to reject God.

The differing kinds of suffering

People are apt to forget that much of the suffering in the world is caused by man himself. True, God created certain illnesses and death in punishment for sin, but man invented torture, the concentration camp, the gas chamber, the H bomb and all the weapons of destruction. It was a supreme tragedy when Adam sinned but God had a plan of salvation ready to bring great ultimate good out of disaster and, in this plan, suffering plays an important part. Although it was necessary to sentence man to death as a sinner yet God makes it clear in his Word that he has made a way of escape from this part of the punishment. In effect, God says that those who choose to love and obey him will, one day, be raised from the dead and shall live for ever - without suffering". When men create something - the motor-car for example - the component parts are inspected to see if they are the correct size and shape and free from hidden flaws. Some fail to pass the test and cease to exist as components. Death acts like this in the human race. Those who disobey God cease to exist in death, like the machine parts that were no use for the finished product (see Psalm 145:20 and Proverbs 13:13). Proverbs 21:16 says this - "The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead".

We have seen the reason for suffering and that much is man-made because man is sinful. There is, however, some for which God is mercifully responsible. Sometimes suffering serves a useful purpose - eg. pain, which warns us something is wrong. There are people who don't feel pain and the result is they damage their bodies without realising it. One boy leaned on a heater and did not move until he smelt his flesh burning. But God uses suffering as a training ground for character forming. If it did not exist there would be no room for courage or compassion nor opportunities to demonstrate our love for God by self-sacrifice for the good of others. The Bible tells us that the Son of God "learned obedience by the things which he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8; see also Hebrews 12:5-11). However, there are many people whose sufferings appear to serve no purpose in God's plan - people who have never heard of Jesus and salvation. The natives in Africa suffering famine, or the man who may be mauled by a lion, or the baby in a pram run over by a bus. These people are not being prepared to be fit to inherit God's kingdom. The Bible again has the answer. God has created a world subject to certain natural laws, where a measure of suffering is bound to come sooner or later - we live in a world where, as Solomon phrased it "Time and chance happeneth to all" (see Ecclesiastes 9:11-12).

A glorious future

The Bible tells us that God is planning a glorious future for this world of sorrows. Christ is going to return to set up God's kingdom here on earth. In that day all God's people will be given eternal life and will live in a peaceful world where the need for suffering no longer exists. In that day the prayer of Christ will be answered "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10 - see also Revelation 11:15).

For the children of God in that day there will no longer be a problem of suffering, for God, for Christ's sake, will forgive their sins, because they have acknowledged their sinfulness and chosen to strive to love and obey their Maker (see Revelation 21:3-4).


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