Lesson 4: Why Does God Allow People to Suffer?
Are you hurting right now? Are your loved ones suffering? Are you
tortured by the agonies highlighted on the news each day? Why doesn't
God just stop it all?
On a hot summer day in 1967, Joni and her sister Kathy dove into the murky
water of Chesapeake Bay. Joni noticed a raft floating maybe 50 yards offshore
and swam toward it.
"When I reached the raft, I climbed on it and quickly dove off
the side, almost without thinking. I first felt the familiar drag of
the water, and then a stunning jolt—my head crashed into a rock on the
"I couldn't move! My face pressed hard into the grinding sand
on the bottom, but I couldn't pull away. My brain was directing my muscles
to make swimming motions, but none of them responded."
Kathy made it to her just in time to save her from drowning, but nothing
Kathy or the doctors could do could reverse the paralysis. "You'll never walk
again, and your arms will have limited use," the doctor told her
"I was devastated. My life had been so full… [Now] I couldn't
even feed myself. I could sleep and breathe; everything else someone
did for me."
Two friends visiting her in the hospital were shocked at what this vivacious
teen had become. They stared then ran out of the room. She could hear one
vomiting and the other sobbing. She finally convinced another friend to let
her see herself in a mirror, then begged the friend to help her end it all.
When the friend declined, Joni realized she couldn't even end her life herself.
Bedsores, bitterness toward God, grueling therapy even to be able to sit
in a wheelchair—and through it all, the haunting question: Why?
Postscript: As everyone familiar with Joni Eareckson Tada's story knows,
she has turned her bitterness into belief and her disabilities into amazing
talents. She sings, speaks, writes and even paints with a paintbrush held
in her teeth. She is one who has found meaning in her suffering. (Source:
Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts? 1990, pp. 127-138.)
Share Your Story
Where Does Suffering Come From?
We all have stories of suffering, and they come in many different types.
There are sudden accidents, like Joni's. There are lifelong disabilities.
There are chronic illnesses, emotional losses, financial disasters—sorrow,
pain and suffering of all kinds. Whether we're innocent victims or we
bear partial responsibility, we still naturally wonder why. To begin to
explore this big subject, let's start with the foundational background
from God's Word, the Bible.
What does our loving God want for His human children?
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me
to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed..."
You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy;
at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
1 John 3:1
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should
be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because
it did not know Him.
Many scriptures show that God wants only the best for us. He wants us
to enjoy the joyous benefits of being His children forever!
In contrast, how does the Bible describe the intentions of the
enemy of God?
"How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For
you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt
my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the
congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above
the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.' Yet you shall
be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit."
"You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father
you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand
in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie,
he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of
"The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.
I [Jesus Christ] have come that they may have life, and that they may
have it more abundantly."
Revelation 12:9-10, 12
So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil
and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and
his angels were cast out with him. Then I heard a loud voice saying
in heaven, "Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our
God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren,
who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down...
"Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to
the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down
to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time."
The Bible describes one of God's angels, Lucifer, rising in rebellious
pride against God and choosing evil rather than God's good way. (For a
detailed study of this, see our booklet Is
There Really a Devil?) Satan's momentous choice was the starting
point of evil and the suffering that comes with it. Sin is the ultimate
cause of suffering. Now Satan wants nothing more than to thwart God's
plan and destroy our trust in God's goodness.
How did Satan influence our first parents?
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the
Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, ‘You
shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" And the woman said to the
serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the
fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said,
‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'" Then
the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows
that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will
be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that
the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a
tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She
also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through
sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned...
Satan has been deceiving humanity from the beginning, and he got Eve
and Adam to mimic his own wrong choice. By choosing to decide for themselves
what they thought was good and what they thought was evil, they were ignoring
the only true source of that knowledge. Satan has helped us build a society
that too often redefines sin as acceptable. But even when men don't realize
something is wrong, it still brings the automatic consequences of suffering
Even though God gives us free will, does He tell us what choice
He wants us to make?
"See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil,
in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His
ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments,
that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you
in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away so
that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and
serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you
shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan
to go in and possess. I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against
you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing;
therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live..."
By giving us the chance to choose, God gives us the opportunity to develop
His righteous character, something we couldn't develop if He always forced
us to make the right choice.
Since sin causes suffering, does that mean the person who is
suffering is always responsible for his or her own suffering?
And Jesus answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these
Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they
suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will
all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell
and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all
other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent
you will all likewise perish."
Sadly, sins have consequences that often affect not just the sinner,
but those around him or her as well (see Deuteronomy 28:15-20). In a world
that has told God to keep His hands off (Matthew 23:37), Satan is pulling
the strings, allowing trials and suffering to come on innocent victims
and God's people as well. So we should never judge the victims of suffering,
but should be aware of our personal responsibility to repent and turn
to God. In addition, the Bible refers to some troubles as random acts
of "time and chance" (Ecclesiastes 9:11).
How Should God's People Respond to Suffering?
What is suffering good for?
1 Peter 1:6-7
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be,
you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your
faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is
tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation
of Jesus Christ...
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing
that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have
its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
Many scriptures point out the end results of trusting God and enduring
through difficulties. Like the refining process for precious metals, the
heat of trials produces beautiful, godly character that can be achieved
in no other way. The Bible tells us that even Jesus Christ learned through
the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8-9).
What does God promise His people?
1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God
is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are
able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that
you may be able to bear it.
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will
give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle
and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
1 Peter 5:7
...casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
Romans 8:18, 28
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy
to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us...
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God,
to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Read and meditate on these fantastic promises and take them to God in
prayer. Ask for the way of escape, the rest, the lightening of the load
and the perspective that He promises. He has all power and His thinking
is far above our thinking, so He can make seemingly hopeless situations
work out for our good in the long run.
What does God want us to do for others who are suffering?
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Jesus Christ was willing to suffer the trials of His human life in order
to help us (Hebrews 2:17-18). He wants us to follow His example of loving
service to those facing trials. (See "Apply Now" for more on comforting
When will all suffering end?
"And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall
be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain,
for the former things have passed away."
What a wonderful time to look forward to!
There are many more relevant scriptures and examples on this important
subject. Please take time to check out the "Related Resources" and especially
the booklet Why Does
God Allow Suffering?
God is the "Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us
in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in
any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by
God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). God wants us to not only feel for others,
but to look for ways to comfort them. For example, James tells us "to
visit orphans and widows in their trouble" (James 1:27).
What can you do today to lighten someone's load, to comfort or encourage
someone? Perhaps a visit, phone call, card or gift would help. Perhaps
providing a meal or mowing someone's lawn could show you care as well
as meet a physical need. Pick at least one thing and start on it today.
Next Lesson: A Real King Who Will Return to Rescue
Questions about this lesson? Feedback about
How It Began, How It Will End
A World Plagued With
a Loving God Allows Suffering
Can We Explain
in Human Suffering
How Good Can
Come From Suffering
Appointed for Men to Die Once
the Valleys of Life
Is There Really
Making Life Work