How can a good God allow suffering?

For a while now, at least in the Western world, the existence of any form of pain, suffering or evil has been regarded as evidence for the non-existence of God. If a good God existed, people say, these things wouldn’t. But they do and, therefore, He doesn’t.

There are so many ways in which the question concerning pain can be raised. It could be because of personal loss and pain, or because of an intellectual interest. However, regardless of which way the question is raised, it normally comes down to a moral complaint against God. “How could a good God allow this to happen?”

We must ask the question, which we often fail to do, about what it would take to create a loving world. A world in which love is capable of meaningful expression and experience would also imply a world in which there is choice. If someone tells you that they love you, those words mean something because they are freely given. If you learnt that someone had told you that they loved you and that they had been forced to do it, their words would not mean very much. If you want to create a loving world, you must also create a world in which choices can be exercised. And in such a world, there is also the possibility of choosing a course of action that is not loving, i.e. evil.

However, these observations do not answer the heart of question as I think people most commonly ask it. Can I trust God even when faced with great evil? Is He morally trustworthy? Can I trust Him even if I don’t understand what is happening?

These are profound questions, and whole books could be written about them. But, I would like offer one observation for your thoughts. Maybe the reason we question God’s moral character when bad things happen is that we live lives largely independent from Him – in other words, do we really trust Him even when things are going well?

I have never been asked questions about God and suffering when I am travelling in countries riddled with the realities of it. In fact, when I visit churches in parts of the world where they are faced daily with the horrific realities of suffering, I normally leave inspired. They trust God in everything, even when things are going well. When times are hard, they cling on to Him because they have already learnt to trust Him. God hasn’t changed, even though the circumstances have.

Maybe we struggle with suffering so much in the West because we are so comfortable most of the time that we feel we don’t need God. We don’t rely on Him on a daily basis, and so we don’t really know Him as we should. When suffering comes along, therefore, it is not so much that it takes us away from God, but that it reveals to us that we haven’t really been close to Him in the first place.

However, what may challenge the critic of God in the face of suffering is not another book on the subject, but rather more lives lived out in dependence on Him, regardless of what is going on around us.

This article is adapted from one by Michael Ramsden of the Zacharias Trust. The original is on their website.