What causes suffering? What will end it?
No human being alive today is exempt from suffering in some form or another. One person may be living in poverty, another facing a terminal illness, another grieving the loss of a loved one. There are billions of victims, past and present, who have suffered through war, natural disasters and injustice. Whether we are an atheist, agnostic, or a believer, how can we understand these things? Is there a reasonable explanation for why these things happen, and, if there is a God, why He would let them happen? Or is suffering just a “Fact of life?“ Would knowing “why?” make suffering any more bearable?
If “God” exists, surely he would know the answers to these questions. Unfortunately, many of the answers that come from religious leaders today are as illogical and discomforting as the alternative explanation of the atheist, namely that, “Life is pointless, and then we all die and then the universe ends“! Religious leaders say offensive things like “God took your child to be with him in heaven”, or “God sent that earthquake to punish them for their sins.” This has the effect of burdening those who have suffered, with either anger or guilt. One of the most common yet, unsatisfying explanations given is “God works in mysterious ways.” If any of these statements are true, who could be drawn to such a callous, indifferent God? No wonder people are turning away from religion!
Can the creator of life speak for himself? Where could we find such an explanation? Millions of people today put trust in the words of the Bible. As to the question of suffering, there are answers in the Bible and they are as follows;
1) Human selfishness
“For the final age of this world is to be a time of troubles. Men will love nothing but money and self; they will be arrogant boastful and abusive; with no respect for parents, no gratitude. They will be men who put pleasure in the place of God” - (2nd book of Timothy, chapter 3)
“They have acted ruinously on their own part. They are not God's children, the defect is their own. A generation crooked and twisted” (Deuteronomy 32.5)
“It is the foolishness of an earthling man that distorts his way, and so his heart becomes enraged against God himself“ - (Proverbs 19.3)
People take risks and behave selfishly and recklessly all the time. Many people smoke cigarettes or take drugs. Others eat themselves to illness or death, or drink too much. Most people are willing to fight at the drop of a hat and support wars, and pollute the earth yet, they blame God for allowing the consequences of these selfish actions. If God took every cigarette out of their mouth every time they lit one up, or if he slowed their cars down every time they drove too fast, or only allowed them to eat healthy food and, if he prevented industry and cars from poisoning the planet, most people would complain that God is a tyrant and that their personal freedom was being infringed. And, let us be honest, what nation would readily tolerate God's intervention in their military ambitions?
2) Independence from God
“God permitted all the nations to go on in their own ways” - but only until “The appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.” (Acts14.16, Luke 21.24)
“Satan said to her “You will become like God, knowing (deciding) good and bad” - (Genesis 2.5)
“Oh if only you would actually pay attention to my commandments! Then your peace would become just like a river” - (Isaiah 48.18)
The further away from God’s standards people go, the worse society becomes. But God does not force people to do things his way, because we are not robots or slaves.
3) Unfortunate accidents
“Time and unforeseen occurrences befall us all” - (Ecclesiastes 9.11)
“So in reply Jesus said to them “Do you imagine that these Galileans were proved worse sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered these things? No indeed” - (Luke 13.3)
Sometimes a person is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
4) Natural disasters
“God will bring to ruin those ruining the earth” - (Revelation 11.18)
When mankind greedily strips the earth of all it’s natural resources, coal, oil, metals etc., there are consequences. It is now an established scientific fact that our climate is being damaged by human activity. Taking millions of tons every day from the earth's soil leaves vacuums and holes, while pumping billions of gallons of gases and chemicals into our atmosphere poisons the air that all living things breath. There is growing evidence that depleting earth's natural resources causes subsidence, plate movements and other geologic disturbances. In contrast to the voracious appetite of mankind for products and services and the complicated lifestyles we lead, the Bible advises “Keep your eye simple” and to “Be content with sustenance and covering.”
The majority of victims of earthquakes, volcanoes etc. could have been spared suffering if homes and cities were not built in areas at risk from natural events (Both California and Tokyo are built on known seismic fault lines). Buildings are built so high, or so shoddily that they are inevitably destined to crumble. Warnings to evacuate are often ignored.
5) Imperfection (sin)
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” - (Romans 3.23)
Sin is a dirty word these days but, the reality is that we all have our bad habits and our selfish, destructive ways. The human DNA is programmed to continue indefinitely but, something has cut short that process. The Bible says that originally human beings were designed to go on living indefinitely. This may sound absurd but there is actual evidence to support this claim. Consider the human brain. It has been stated by many scientists that our brains could go on learning indefinitely, that we could never hope to use it to it’s full capacity. This does not make any sense from an evolutionary point of view, considering our short lifespan but, from the Biblical point it does confirm what science knows about the potential of the brain. The Bible says “Even eternity God has put into the heart of man” - (Ecclesiastes 3.11)
“The true God made mankind upright (perfect), but they themselves have sought out many plans” - (Ecclesiastes 7.29)
It is mankind’s rejection of God’s sovereignty, his right to direct mankind, that has alienated us from God’s protection and blessing. We are like an electric fan that has been unplugged from it’s power source, we slowly stop working.
6) Evil and the Devil
“The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one” - (1 John 5.19)
“The Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time” - Revelation 12.12
“He (Satan) is misleading the entire inhabited earth” - (Revelation 12.9)
Yes the Bible does say that there is such a being as the Devil. Human beings were not the first and only life forms created by God. The existence of such spirit beings has today become an object of ridicule and entertainment. Yet, world governments spend untold amounts on trying to locate and contact extraterrestrial life in the universe. Most of those scientists and leaders who believe in other forms of life, usually speculate that such beings could be of a form unknown to us, even outside the laws of physics. Yet, they flippantly dismiss the possibility that the Bible's description of Angels and the devil is actually true - despite the inexplicable state of the world today. God did not create the Devil, but, just like many human beings, Satan abused his God-given freedom, and made selfish choices.
Suffering is not caused by God and, despite what some people claim, it is not used by God to test us or to improve us! The Bible says “When under trial, let no-one say “I am being tried by God”, For with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone” - (James 1.13).
So is there a solution to suffering? Does God plan to intervene?
From the book of Genesis, through the entire Bible to the book of Revelation, there lies a theme. It started out as a secret, but it is touched upon in almost every book in the Bible and it is the central teaching of the Bible. Jesus pointed to it when He proclaimed that “In the final age of this world” there would be “good news of the kingdom that will be preached in all the inhabited earth, for a witness to all the nations” (Matthew 24.14). That Kingdom is God's solution to all suffering on earth, but it does not come from any human agency, in fact, the Bible warns that it will “Crush and put an end to all these kingdoms.” (Daniel 2.44) When will this happen? The Bible gives a clear picture of the time of it's imminent arrival, describing world conditions which would include - world conflicts, global Pandemics, civil and family breakdown, and mankind “Ruining the earth.”
Once that kingdom takes over, the Bible reassuringly promises, “The meek (mild-tempered, teachable) will inherit the earth and they will dwell forever upon it.” Furthermore, Jesus himself promises “And God will be with them, and He will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning, not outcry, nor pain.”