Bible Answer

Is God responsible for allowing suffering?

I do not believe that God is the cause of the trials and suffering we experience. I know God can allow the enemy to cause us to suffer (like Job), but I don't agree that the Lord is bringing negative consequences upon us. As a father, I allow my children to experience the consequences of their sins, but I don't add more consequences. I believe God works the same way. Is this correct?

While we understand your perspective, you have underestimated God's role in controlling the suffering in our lives. You believe that God does not bring suffering to people, but this is not the teaching of Scripture. On the contrary, the Bible teaches that God is in control of all suffering in the world, both the suffering brought upon us as tests and trials as well as the suffering that comes from the consequences of sin.

First, the Scriptures make clear that all things in life - even negative experiences - fall under the sovereignty of God. He is the One Who brings all things into being.

The Lord says:

Is. 45:5 “I am the LORD, and there is no other;
  Besides Me there is no God.
I will gird you, though you have not known Me;
Is. 45:6 That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun
That there is no one besides Me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other,
Is. 45:7 The One forming light and creating darkness,
Causing  well-being and creating calamity;
I am the LORD who does all these.

Notice that God Himself declares in His word that He is the One causing calamity in the world. While it is true that Satan is often the instrument that God uses to bring about trials and tests, nevertheless the Lord controls Satan and determines the outcome of his activities.

You cited the example of Job to argue that God wasn't responsible for Job's suffering, but we encourage you to take a second look at the details in that story. For example, did you notice how Job's name entered the conversation between the Lord and Satan? In Job 1 we read:

Job 1:6  Now there was a day when the  sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and  Satan also came among them.
Job 1:7 The LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “ From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.”
Job 1:8 The LORD said to Satan, “Have you  considered  My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth,  a blameless and upright man,  fearing God and turning away from evil.”

Did you notice in v.8 that it was the Lord Who introduced the name of Job? God put Job on Satan's mind, thereby leading Satan to bring calamity upon Job. Had the Lord not mentioned Job's name, Satan would never have targeted Job for torment. Furthermore, God initially restricted Satan to only taking Job's possessions, but later God expanded Satan's opportunity to inflict pain and suffering upon Job himself.

Clearly, the story of Job teaches that it is the Lord Who brings calamity, and He used Satan as His instrument to bring suffering to Job - even though Job was a righteous man! This is the message of James 1. Christian will face trials brought by the Lord for our benefit, and we must face those experiences with joy knowing these events lead to our spiritual growth and maturity (James 1:3).

Though we may have been conditioned by the world to view all suffering as bad, the Bible teaches the truth that suffering is not bad when it is designed to produce sanctification, just as it did for Christ. Therefore, we must prepare for and accept suffering brought for the purpose of creating holiness.

Secondly, the Bible teaches that the Lord brings upon us the negative consequences of our sin (and even upon other family members) as a way of teaching the error of sin to unbelievers and for disciplining His children.  Consider these verses:

Num. 14:18 ‘The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but  He will by no means clear the guilty,  visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children  to the third and the fourth generations.’ 
Heb. 12:5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
Heb. 12:7 It is for discipline that you endure;  God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
Heb. 12:8 But if you are without discipline,  of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
Heb. 12:9 Furthermore, we had  earthly fathers to discipline us, and we  respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to  the Father of  spirits, and  live?
Heb. 12:10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good,  so that we may share His holiness.
Heb. 12:11 All discipline  for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the  peaceful fruit of righteousness.

In Numbers, Moses says that the Lord will "visit" the sins of one generation into later generations. The word for "visit" is paqad in Hebrew. This word literally means to "appoint" indicating that the Lord is actively bringing about this outcome. When a father or a mother makes sinful choices (like pursuing addictive behaviors), then the Lord may appoint the consequences of their sin to later generations. We see evidence of this pattern in the world around us as the sinful choices of fathers and mothers often bring hardship and suffering to their children. The Bible says these consequences are under God's control.

Meanwhile, the letter to the Hebrews teaches how the Lord responds to sin of believers.  The writer says the Lord brings "discipline" to His sons. In this context, discipline refers to the suffering we experience as a result of our disobedience to God. In v.6 the Lord says He "scourges" every son. The word for scourge refers to a whipping, or as we would say today, a spanking.

Finally, you mentioned that you would never bring negative consequences to your children when they sin, but the Bible teaches in Hebrews 12:9 that good earthly fathers should bring discipline (i.e., negative consequences) to their children when they disobey. In fact, Hebrews 12:8 that if we fail to bring discipline against our children, we treat them as if they weren't our children at all! We treat them like they belong to someone else (i.e., illegitimate children). Since our Father in Heaven is perfect, He will always do the good and loving thing: He will bring negative consequences to us for our sin.

Therefore, the Bible teaches that God is sovereign over all that happens in His creation, and though He is never the author of sin, nevertheless He does bring calamity, trials and consequences for sin to both unbelievers and believers in order to accomplish His good purposes.

If you are interested in learning more about what the Bible says on this topic, we recommend you listen to our series on the Sovereignty of God.