No-one is immune from suffering. Everyone at some time in their life experiences pain or difficulty: from losing a job or the breakdown of a relationship to serious illness, or the loss of a loved one. Coming to terms with the fact that bad things happen is part of being human.
Not only do we see suffering on a personal level, but we also see it on a global scale: famine, war, injustice, extreme poverty, children suffering with terminal illness, natural disasters... The sheer scale can seem overwhelming. It’s not unreasonable to ask that if God is good and loves us, as Christianity teaches, why does he allow this bad stuff to happen?
God is good
Christianity teaches that God is the essence of all that is good. The Bible tells us that evil and suffering was not part of his original plan. When he made the world and created humanity to live in it, everything was perfect.
There are different ideas which help Christians reconcile the existence of a good God with a beautiful but imperfect world. One is that God has a different perspective to us – he has a longer view of human history. Because of that, at some point in the future, the bad things that we endure now will make sense and ultimately lead to something good.
Christians are hopeful people. We don’t pretend that that positive thinking will make all the bad things go away or shield us from them. But we have a hope that, whatever is happening now, ultimately God will make all things right in the end.
‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.’
Book of Revelation 21 v4
Humans cause suffering
A second way to reconcile the apparent contradiction of a good God allowing suffering is to remember that God gave people free will. We are not robots under divine control. God created humanity with the ability to make its own decisions. We are free to do good but also to do evil. Some people choose to murder, steal, abuse, and exploit, irrespective of the pain and suffering they will cause.
In a strange way, the question: ‘Why do so many bad things happen?’ actually points to the existence of God. Christians believe that human beings have an instinctive sense of things being unfair, unjust, wrong or just bad, because there is something inside us linking us to God, to a sense of what good is - and therefore how a good world should be.
God is not distant from our pain
The Bible is like the handbook for Christianity. It tells us what God is like: that he is perfect, loving, eternal and all-powerful; that he will ensure that evil does not win; that he will bring about justice and peace in the end. It also promises that, in the here and now, he will comfort those who mourn.
God understands the pain and suffering of human life because he saw it for himself. About 2,000 years ago God came to live among us in human form as Jesus Christ. The New Testament part of the Bible tells how Jesus befriended people who experienced suffering, bereavement, exclusion, pain and illness. He showed them love and compassion.
Jesus suffered himself. He was betrayed, arrested, tortured and Crucified. He knew what was going to happen but allowed it to unfold because he knew it was part of a bigger plan. Jesus’s death and resurrection bridged the gap between God and humanity and made it possible for people to have a personal relationship with God.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’
Matthew 5 v4
Christians believe that God promises to be with us through his Holy Spirit. At times of suffering, the Holy Spirit brings us comfort. And we can bring our pain and the suffering of others to God by talking to him through prayer. Christians believe that God hears our prayers and helps us as we face the difficulties of life. And through the Church, God puts us in a big, global family which can offer us love and practical support.
If you would like to buy a longer booklet exploring this question, please go to https://www.cpo.org.uk/explore-project