This is a fairly common question and with good reason. When we read of God in the Bible we learn that he is completely good, holy, righteous, just and loving (1 Peter 1:16; Revelation 15:3; Matthew 6:33; Ephesians 2:4; 1 John 4:16). We also learn that he is all-powerful, all-knowing and everywhere present all the time (Psalm 139:1-16).
Many people struggle with this seeming contradiction between the character of God and the nature of what he has created. After all, how could an all-powerful and all-knowing God, who is loving and good, create a world filled with so much pain and suffering that is not good? The basic solution to the problem is that the world we see today is not the world as God created it.
When God completed his creation of the earth and the universe in six literal 24-hour days, he looked at everything he had created and said, “it is very good” (Gen. 1:31). That means that there were two things true of the new creation in relation to our question:
The pain and suffering that we see in the world today was not present then; and,
Some of the pain and suffering we consider to be “bad” or “evil” is not really “bad” pain and suffering at all.
The pain and suffering that we see in the world today was not present then.
One of the true facts about the creation God looked upon and pronounced to be “very good” is that it was very different from the world we see today. When we read the overview of creation in chapter one and then the details of day six of creation in chapter two, we then come to a cataclysmic world changing event in chapter three of Genesis. Satan deceived Eve into transgressing God’s law, and Adam didn’t protect her from such deceit, and sin entered the world. From that point forward we have been dealing with a world tainted by sin. God dealt with what Adam and Eve had done and we see the first prophecy of God’s scheme of redemption in Genesis 3:15. The rest of the Bible is the record of how God brought the scheme of redemption to fulfillment in Christ Jesus (Romans 16:3-5).
A few chapters later, in Genesis chapter six, we see the world having become so corrupted by sin that God said he would destroy the world by a universal flood. Only Noah and his family were spared God’s wrath upon sin and the world was destroyed.
When we look at the causes of pain and suffering in our world today, a great deal of it can be traced back to that tragic event of sin entering the world and growing to such horrible corruption that God had to destroy the world by the flood. There is no record of natural disaster before the flood, not even rain. Before sin entered the world there was no human death. Before sin entered the world no one made choices that caused the pain and suffering of themselves or others.
Someone may ask the question, “if God is love then why didn’t he stop man from sinning and bringing so much pain and suffering upon himself?” The answer to the question is in the nature of love itself. If God did not give us the ability to choose to serve him or to choose to disobey him then it could not be said that anyone served God out of love. Love would have nothing to do with it. We would just be like robots, hardwired to carry out our programming and nothing more. Never being able to achieve and grow to the heights that only true love can attain. The only way God could demonstrate his love toward us was to create us in such a way that we have freedom of choice, and to be prepared to pay the price when we made the wrong choice (Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 1:19, 20). The only way we can demonstrate our love for God is to exercise our free will and choose to serve him because we want to honor and glorify him (1 John 5:3).
So, this form of pain and suffering is the result of man misusing and abusing his God given free will. People suffer because of their own personal misuses of free will and some suffer because of the wrong choices of others. From natural disasters to wars to personal tragedies, pain and suffering is not God’s fault it is the fault of sin.
Sometimes people suffering because they exercise their free will in such a way that their choices contradict God’s natural laws. For us to live in an orderly creation natural laws must be maintained and obeyed. For example, can you imagine the chaos if God suspended the natural law of gravity or the physical laws of matter every time someone made a choice that would cause them pain and suffering by violating these laws?
The natural law of matter says that no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time. When people make choices contrary to this law or choices that bring them into conflict with this law, like drunk driving, many times they cause suffering upon themselves and others. A person who makes a choice contrary to the law of gravity is taking a chance of causing pain and suffering upon himself and others resulting from falling objects, like himself if he steps off a cliff.
Not all pain and suffering is actually “bad.”
Sometimes pain and suffering is actually for our good. For example, when a person has a health problem, many times the only way the problem is discovered and treatment is sought is because we feel some pain.
Without pain and even some suffering, when we received an injury we would not know to look after it. One of the things that makes leprosy so deadly is that the pain receptors in the nervous system stop working and the person gets an unknown injury and it gets infected to the point of being deadly.
God created us with pain receptors in our nervous system as a means of self preservation. If there was no fear of pain we would take no measures to protect ourselves.
This question of pain and suffering in the world is one that many have struggled with for a long time. But when we see that pain and suffering, to a large degree, comes from our rejection of God’s will and what God was willing to sacrifice to give us hope beyond this corrupted world’s pain and suffering, we see a very powerful demonstration of God’s love for us. He loved us so much that he was willing to give his Son to be the sacrifice for our sins (John 3:16), so that we could be saved through his blood (Acts 22:16; Revelation 1:5). When we have the remission of our sins we can say that the pain and suffering of this world is without comparison to the glory we shall have with God when this life is over (Romans 8:18).