If God is loving and all-powerful,
then why is there suffering in the world?
That’s a common question, and it’s a hard one. I’ve been a Christian for many years, and I don’t have an easy answer.
After all, we see all kinds of bad things in our world—hurricanes, earthquakes, mass shootings, so on. Not only that, but we personally experience pain and disappointments every single day.
So why does God allow all this? If He’s all-powerful and loving, then why doesn’t He put an end to all the bad stuff? Why does He let our broken world limp along like this?
Well, maybe God doesn’t exist after all. That’s a conclusion many people have come to. For instance, in his book The Big Picture, physicist Sean Carroll argues that God probably does not exist, and he points to suffering as evidence against God. Like many people, Carroll finds it hard to believe that God, if He’s real, would create a world like this one.
Even C.S. Lewis struggled to understand why God allows suffering. In fact, Lewis spent years as an atheist, persuaded by arguments like this one from the Roman philosopher Lucretius:
Had God designed the world, it would not be
A world so frail and faulty as we see.
Even though this is a very difficult subject, let’s turn this question around and consider it from a different angle:
Why does our world seem broken?
We probably agree that it’s difficult to reconcile the goodness of God with the cruelty of reality. But why is that? I mean, we are not bothered by other basic aspects of reality. Nobody ever wonders,
“If God is loving and all-powerful,
then why does He allow gravity to exist?”
The point is this—we know something is wrong. We sense that our world is broken. But where does that intuition come from? Is it simply because we feel sorry for those suffering? Or is there something else, something deeper?
Consider this fascinating thought from C.S. Lewis, who came to Christ after years of atheism:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust”?…What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?…Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies….Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. | C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
In other words, suffering is not necessarily evidence against God. Rather, the fact that nearly everyone is bothered by suffering is difficult to account for if you do not believe in God.
Here’s how Tim Keller puts it:
People, we believe, ought not to suffer, be excluded, die of hunger or oppression. But the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak—these things are all perfectly natural. On what basis, then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horribly wrong, unfair, and unjust? The nonbeliever in God doesn’t have a good basis for being outraged at injustice, which, as Lewis points out, was the reason for objecting to God in the first place. If you are sure that this natural world is unjust and filled with evil, you are assuming the reality of some extra-natural (or supernatural) standard by which to make your judgment. | Tim Keller, The Reason for God
Our world is broken.
That bothers us. And the biblical worldview accounts for this better than the atheistic worldview.
According to the Bible, our world seems broken because it is broken. Creation seems imperfect because it is imperfect. Suffering troubles us because it is in fact an unwelcome intrusion into the world.
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. | Romans 8:20-21
In the Bible we read that God did not create the world like this—He initially created it to be very good. But then paradise was lost because of sin. Sinless perfection gave way to sinfulness. Evil, brokenness, and suffering entered the picture.
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. | Romans 8:22
However, the good news is that the story doesn’t end there.
There is hope.
Read the Bible’s final two chapters—they describe a glorious future where sin, death, and suffering will be forever done away with.
Yes, God allows suffering for now. Why, I’m not sure. But don’t lose hope. Hang in there. It won’t be like this forever. One day this era of suffering will end.
What a wonderful day that will be.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. | Revelation 21:4