Diocese of Portsmouth

Jesus's crucifixion is regularly re-enacted in Passion Plays

Why does God allow suffering?

Don’t believe anyone who tells you they have the complete answer to this most difficult of questions. No one has the definitive answer to this and it has been perplexing people for thousands of years.

If Christians believe that God is perfectly loving, constant and unchanging, people ask, why does he allow so much suffering to happen in his world? Why would a child develop cancer? Why would natural disasters strike, seemingly at random? Why do atrocities such as the Holocaust or ethnic cleansing happen?

For some who ask this question it is a theoretical or theological question. But for others, and perhaps for you, suffering is not a problem to solve but an experience to endure and live with.

Suffering is part of this world, sometimes the result of our actions and desires, sometimes the result of apparently arbitrary actions or events. We can all point to shameful atrocities in the past where humans have been unbelievable brutal with each other. You might ask why God doesn't intervene in these situations.

In one sense, God does intervene. Even in the midst of horrific events, there are often stories of compassion, kindness or humanity that move us to tears - precisely because individuals have responded to their consciences and chosen a path of self-sacrifice in such desperate circumstances.

God also uses our experience of suffering to mould us into the people he wants us to be. Suffering, to some extent, is inevitable and it is foolish to expect to escape it. It can soften or harden us. It can bend, distort or even break life. It can develop the virtues such as courage, patience, obedience, determination, pity and compassion.

God is also right there with us in the middle of our suffering. As Jesus, he has been there. He was brutally slaughtered via the most agonising death known to man. He knew what separation from God felt like. He knew what it felt like to be utterly alone. He promises to be with you when you go through the hardest times. 

How, therefore, should we meet suffering? Where possible we need to remember that God loves us, in through and because of suffering. On a cloudy day we may not be able to see or feel the warmth of the sun, but that doesn’t mean that the sun has disappeared. We must trust that God will be with us in our suffering, sustain us in it and bring us through it, not only undefeated by it, but having experienced the grace, love and peace which he offers us. As you continue to think about suffering you might like to look up these verses: Romans 8:38-39.

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