Question 4: Does suffering mean there is no God?
Terrible things happen in this world and no one can pretend to really understand why. Even the Bible acknowledges that this question is beyond the wisest person (Ecclesiastes 8:14-17). Yet while suffering makes faith in God difficult for many people it need not force us to the conclusion that there is no God or that God is not good.
Here are a few important considerations in the way the Bible deals with this issue:
1. Suffering shows something has gone wrong with the world.
At the most basic and general level, the Bible insists that suffering is a feature of this life because the human race has turned away from God. God is the one who gives life and health and safety yet each of us has turned away from God and tried to live life according to our own rules. The result of this rebellion is that everything in our world is out of alignment and nothing works properly any more — our relationships fail, our bodies fail, our children die and our world groans and deteriorates. God describes the situation in these terms:
My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own wells … that cannot hold water. … Consider then and realise how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God. (Jeremiah 2:13,19)
2. God knows what it’s like.
The human predicament described by the Bible is desperate and hopeless, yet God has not left us alone in it. The New Testament tells us that God has sent his own Son into the world as a human to share our life and experience our suffering. Through Jesus who was tortured to death on the cross, God knows human grief and loss first hand and so we can find help and comfort in him.
3. God has done something.
The cross of Jesus is not simply an act of solidarity. It also tells us that God has acted decisively to do something about the cause of human suffering. When Jesus died on the cross he took on himself all the consequences of our rebellion against God and made it possible for us to be forgiven and made God’s friends. The prophet Isaiah put it like this:
He was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. … All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the guilt and sins of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)
4. There is an end in sight.
Because of the reconciliation Jesus achieved, God now holds out a future free from suffering to all who will accept his offer of forgiveness and acknowledge him as God. The Bible insists that there will come a day when God will renew the world and all those who have trusted in him. Those who followed Jesus will rise to a new life.
Throughout the history of Christianity, Christians have hung on to this hope in the face of persecution, loss and hardship. Because Jesus has been raised from the dead to a new life, we know that God will save us too from death and judgment (see 1Corinthians 15).