3 Truths About Tragedy, Suffering & How a Loving God Can Allow So Much Pain
The news cycle never ends. Through a wide variety of media we learn about wars, terrorism, natural disasters, epidemics and other tragedies happening all over the world. And suffering can hit much closer to home: a dying grandparent, a classmate with a rare disease, a neighborhood family involved in a terrible automobile accident, a church friend whose home was destroyed by fire. Any one of these events can cause us to feel discouraged, deeply sad or angry. And we certainly may wonder how such a litany of tragedies and atrocities match up with the idea that God loves the world—and us.
1. The Source
To answer this question, first we must remember that the world has not always been this way. Quite the opposite: God created everything good and perfect. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31). Did you catch that? All that God created was “very good”; everything was perfect: the solar system, planet Earth, oceans, land, plants, animals, man and woman. No disease, sickness, accidents, tornadoes, earthquakes, lying, stealing, murder—that’s quite a contrast to what we see these days. So what happened? Quick answer: Sin entered the scene.
You know the story: God told Adam and Eve they could have the run of the garden and eat of every tree except for one, the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). But Eve listened to Satan, gave in to his temptation, and ate the tree’s fruit. Adam followed quickly. Then suddenly the world changed. Now, instead of having a perfect environment, these first human beings lived in a world spoiled by sin. And since that time, every human being has been born a sinner and born into a sinful world.
Everything was affected by Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Their sin brought decay, discord, disappointment, disasters and death. And all creation awaits its eventual liberation from sin when Christ returns and restores it. Paul explained the situation this way: “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:20–22).
2. The Situation
The truth, therefore, is that we live in a “fallen world”; that is, it is fatally flawed and not what it should be. That’s why things break and go wrong, and it explains why humans can be so vicious and cruel. Since the sin in the Garden of Eden, nothing and no one is perfect. And our world has a history of thousands of years of God-defying and evil thoughts and actions, bad attitudes, and terrible role models.
We should understand, however, that God has given human beings many opportunities to choose the right course of action, including submitting their wills to him. Unfortunately, our natural inclination is to do just the opposite (check out Romans 7).
The point is that we shouldn’t blame God for the terrible condition of the world and our lives. Human beings have made the mess and have to live in it. We have to live with the consequences of what we have done.
3. The Solution
“But,” we may ask, “couldn’t God intervene and stop all the terrible events and keep people from suffering?” Yes, he could. But he has chosen to allow us to experience the consequences of our choices. And what kind of world would we have if God stepped in and prevented every possible instance of pain and suffering? That would be terrible and very unloving, with no one experiencing the consequences of his or her actions. And without consequences, we would never recognize our need for God.
Know this: God is with us in our suffering, and he feels our pain (see Hebrews 2:9–10; 1 Peter 2:21–22). And he has provided the ultimate solution to the world’s problem: Jesus.
When Adam and Eve plunged the world into sinful darkness, God announced that he had a plan for making people and the earth right again. Satan would have that victory, but God would ultimately triumph (see Genesis 3:15). Paul explained, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). And here’s a familiar verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Regardless of what is happening in the world, know that God’s love is constant (see Ephesians 3:16–19).
- God offers comfort and healing in our pain (see Psalm 34:18; 147:3–5; 1 Peter 5:9–10).
- This world is not all there is. God’s plan is at work, and eternity awaits (see Isaiah 65:8–9; Romans 8:28).
- Earthly suffering is temporary; God’s love and life last forever (see 2 Corinthians 4:16–18; Revelation 20:4).
- God can use suffering to develop our patience and character (see Romans 5:3–4; James 1:3–4).
- God can teach us valuable lessons through suffering (see 2 Corinthians 12:9–10; 2 Timothy 2:3; 1 Peter 2:19; 4:13, 19).
- God wants us to help others who are suffering by demonstrating compassion and care in his name (see Matthew 10:42; 25:34–36).
- God expects us to share his good news with the world, that eternal life is available through his Son (see Matthew 28:19–20; Acts 8:4).