god and suffering — introduction

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Some time ago I heard a sermon entitled “How could a good God allow suffering?” There’s not much that can be covered in the brief time allocated to a sermon, but while (or perhaps “instead of”) listening I set about thinking of reasons offered in the Bible for suffering. This introductory post is simply to list those I could think of before (hopefully) examining each one in more detail. So here are reasons which came to mind:

  1. Human sin in general (e.g. Gen 3; Rom 1; 8:22);
  2. Individual sin (numerous places, particularly in the OT);
  3. Character building (Rom 5);
  4. Discipline (Heb 12);
  5. Preventative (Job 33);
  6. Glorification of God (e.g. John 9:2–3);
  7. “Completing” Christ’s afflictions (Col 1:24);
  8. Persecution (2Tim 3:12);
  9. Escaping evil (Isa 57:1–2)1;
  10. Mystery (Job).

If you can think of other reasons offered for suffering by the Bible, I’m happy to expand on this list.

A couple of brief introductory comments are warranted. First, the items on the list are not all mutually exclusive. Second, aside from (1) and perhaps (3) and (6), it is not really possible to be sure these apply to any specific situation without direct divine revelation (and, conversely, it is not always possible to be sure these do not apply).

  1. This isn’t really an explanation for suffering, at least for those “taken away,” but those left behind would suffer loss.

5 responses to “god and suffering — introduction”

  1. Gordon Cheng

    Martinus, good post.

    What about ‘for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purposes’ (Rom 8:28).

    I know this verse is not specifically about suffering, but suffering has been mentioned earlier in the chapter, and suffering is a subset of ‘all things’.

  2. martin

    Hi Gordo,

    A good point, although I tend to think of it as encompassing the aspects I’ve listed and so be a little more general. For example, in building character (3) or discipline (4) or preventing us from venturing into sin (5), God is working for our good. And where we don’t understand how God is working for the good of those who believe, then I think that’s (10).

    So we might say these offer some expansion on how it is that God is working for the good of those who believe!

  3. Craig Bennett

    Interesting post Martin. I’m not sure how you would succinctly say it: but accidents / injury come to mind, events that have no real origin in anyone’s sin. Falling of a horse, being bitten by a snake, twisted ankle etc.

    Though of course they are part of living in an imperfect world.

  4. David Buddrige

    My personal philosophical theory is that God is perfectly capable of creating a world in which no suffering ever occurred, but each individual human being on this earth could never have a part of this world – because we are – in our cultural, historical and genetic identity – products of a sinful world.

    But God, found a way – through the gospel – that we who are a product of sin – could share in a perfect world in which suffering is pemanently excluded.

    I think that God – from all eternity saw us – we who are [by our very nature] sinful and fallen creatures – we who in every aspect of our identity are creatures infused with sin – indeed – apart from sin we don’t exist – and he loved us – each of us, individually as well as corporately. And he found a way [through the gospel] that we who are in our essence a product of a sinful [and therefore suffering] world could be brought into relationship with him and live forever in a world where no suffering exists.

    So, why does God allow suffering?
    Short Answer: Because he loves us – and we do not exist apart from sin which causes it [the suffering] – but it is temporary, and will [one day] come to an end when Jesus returns to restore everything to perfection – and us with it.

  5. martin

    Hi @Craig. From a biblical perspective I think these would fall under (1) since human sin seems to be depicted as having universal ramifications, and the remedy for human sin is a new creation.

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