I think the toughest argument I hear people asking is, “Why would an all-powerful God allow so much suffering in the world? If he does, he must either not be all powerful, or he is not good. Why would I want to believe in a God like that?”
[This Q & A is from my original blog in 2009, it has been slightly updated since the original post.] This is perhaps the most common question that people struggle with when it comes to Christianity. I believe the answer can be found if people will simply take God at His word. The difficulty comes when we start to doubt certain parts of the Bible. Once we fail to accept certain portions of God’s word, then we can no longer provide an answer to this ever-important question.
Before answering the question, I would like to point out that no other belief system or philosophy can provide a suitable answer to the problems of suffering and/or evil. For example, atheists and agnostics do not have an absolute moral basis, so they cannot legitimately claim that something is good or bad. If evolution is true, then everything that happens is just part of the natural order of things. We were brought into existence through millions of years of death and suffering, and there is nothing inherently good or bad about it.
The other religions cannot provide an answer, either. For example, in Islam, everything that happens is because Allah has willed it. So every rape, murder, and every other evil has occurred because he wanted it that way. In Mormonism, the first sin is considered a good thing because now Mormons can prove themselves by living “good” lives and earning their salvation. Buddhism denies the existence of suffering and evil by claiming that it is all an illusion. I spend an entire chapter just on this topic in my book, God and Cancer.
Now, what is the biblical answer? The Bible tells us that God made a perfect world. There was no death, no disease, no suffering, and no bloodshed. After He made everything, He looked at creation and said it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the world was cursed. As a result, death, disease, suffering, and bloodshed entered the world. Notice who is at fault for this—man, not God. God created a perfect world and we ruined it by our sinful choices.
If you are a Christian who does not accept the straightforward reading of the Genesis account of creation (and try to insert the billions of years in there somehow), then you can no longer answer this question. This is because you necessarily make God the author of all the death and suffering in the world since countless creatures would have suffered and died for billions of years prior to Adam.
So why does He allow so much suffering? I believe part of the answer is that He is allowing us to get a small taste of what we deserve. The Bible tells us that God is patient and giving man time to repent, which is the appropriate response when we are confronted with our own sinfulness. At some point, Christ will return and will eventually put an end to sin, suffering, disease, bloodshed, and death. The reason He has not returned yet is because God wants more people to turn to Him (see 2 Peter 3:8–9). In the meantime, man has become more and more wicked as he strays farther and farther away from God.
But, someone might ask, what about all the innocent people that suffer? The answer is that none of us are truly innocent. This was a hard concept for me to grasp at one time, because I could not understand how an infant could be considered a sinner. But the Bible is clear that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and that we all have a sinful nature from the first moment of our conception because of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12–21).
It makes sense logically, too. How can two imperfect people make a perfect child? It’s impossible. Those of you who have been around infants, how do little children learn how to be selfish? We don’t have to teach them that. They are inherently selfish and start exhibiting that behavior at a very early age.
Because we are all sinners, we all deserve God’s judgment, which is death (Rom. 6:23). We don’t deserve to live because we have violated the law of a perfectly holy God, but He graciously allows us to live for a certain amount of time. When I was hospitalized with leukemia, and very close to death, I did not ask “Why me?” I knew why. As a sinner, I deserve death and suffering. I actually wondered why God had given me so much time and I was grateful for the time He had given me.
God is all-loving and He is all-powerful. The existence of suffering and evil does not militate against this. Instead, these things actually prove He exists, because if He did not, we could not even recognize that these things are bad. God allows suffering and evil to exist for a time, but will one day He will do away with it all. 1 Corinthians 15:26 tells us that death is the last enemy that will be destroyed. When we are with Him there will be no more tears, sorrow, grief, suffering, bloodshed, or death (Revelation 21:3–4).
The Bible not only gives the only legitimate explanation for the existence of death and suffering, it also provides the only solution. This subject is explained in much greater detail in my book, available in print from my online store God and Cancer: Finding Hope In the Midst of Life’s Trials or at a great discount for Kindle.