Everyone has encountered pain and sorrow. It is a universal reality. Suffering is all around us. It doesn’t take much browsing through television, social media, and news channels to learn about famine, natural disasters, pestilence, pandemics, human trafficking, sickness, death, domestic violence, drug abuse, war, persecution, genocide, xenophobia, mass shootings, climate change, economic disasters, and religious persecution, to mention a few.
The burning question that is asked most often is: “How is it that a good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God allows so much suffering in the world?” If He is all-good and all-loving, why does He allow babies to die, wars to take their toll, and good people to suffer? If He is all-powerful and all-knowing, why doesn’t He stop it? Far too many of us conclude that, considering all the suffering in the world, there can’t be a God.
Not Plan A
In the first two chapters of Genesis we read of God’s original creation: a perfect world, free from suffering, in which people had a direct relationship with God. God made a good world, but He allowed people to make choices, and the choices they made ultimately ruined it. Suffering began with people rebelling against God.
When God made the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, He provided them with a perfect, good world with everything they needed in order to live happily forever. They had unlimited access to God and everything He created except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2; 3).
Having provided this test of loyalty, God lovingly established the fact that humanity was endowed with power to choose good or evil. Satan insinuated that, by warning them away from that tree, God was depriving them of their right to provide for themselves and be their own god. They would no longer need to depend on God. They could provide for themselves, resulting in a perpetual quest for self-dependence and self-centered gratification (sin).
Through that choice, humankind broke their relationship with God and brought imperfection, suffering, and death into the perfect world He made. God preestablished a rescue plan to defeat sin by providing His unique Son (John 3:16), who would defeat Satan (Gen. 3:15) by taking upon Himself the penalty of sin—death—and rising again to provide all who claim His victory as their own with eternal reconciliation with God.
In the meantime, while we stand amid the battle between good and evil, we see the consequences of sin around us, and we know that these are perpetuated by Satan’s deception. But God provides a divine plan of salvation through Jesus. He also inspires His redeemed to be involved in providing relief for those suffering from the inevitable collateral damage in the war over humanity’s hearts.
Partnering With God
Satan wants us to see the suffering he produces in the world as a shortcoming on God’s part. We find throughout Scripture, however, that God constantly urges His followers to reflect His character by partnering with Him to relieve suffering and care for those caught in the middle of the cosmic struggle between good and evil. Note just a few examples of how God leads His followers in providing healing.
We see God’s promise to Abram that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him (Gen. 12ff.). God uses the misfortune of Joseph’s sojourn into slavery to rescue Egypt from famine and his family from starvation (Gen. 37-50).
God expresses to Moses His desire to rescue His people from captivity in Egypt by saying, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. . . . So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Ex. 3:7-10, NIV).
Job testified of himself that he rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist them. He was a father to the needy and took up the case of the stranger (Job 29:11-17). God repeatedly calls His followers to be instruments of healing during suffering. He challenges His people to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8, 9, NIV).
Jesus Himself characterized His earthly ministry by quoting Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18, 19, NIV). Thus, we see Him as the embodiment of the Jubilee, bringing healing to the world by rebooting the social and economic structures that oppress.
It’s Our Choice
The everlasting gospel celebrates the fact that we are saved from sin by God’s grace. That Jesus lived a life of service and complete dependence on His Father. That He died on the cross, taking upon Himself the penalty of sin—death. That He rose again, conquering death and providing “whoever believes in Him” everlasting life (see John 11:25, 26).
He has promised to return to redeem His followers. As His followers await His second coming, they are called to proclaim this everlasting gospel and reflect God’s character, spending themselves in loving service for “the least of these” (Matt. 25:31ff.). While so many of us are looking for whom to blame for the suffering we experience and witness around us, we are called to reflect the healing love of God. He calls us to choose whether we will perpetuate the ravages of sin in the world, or side with the One who offers healing and restores His image in us.