Why does a loving God permit suffering to exist in His Creation?
The question of suffering is a common one, but the Bible has the answer. In short, the answer for why suffering exists is sin.
Sin is disobedience to God and a departure from living in the counsel of God’s word. When Adam decided to disobey God’s word in the Garden, he brought sin into the nature of mankind:
Rom. 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned —
Adam's decision to sin set in motion of chain of events that plunged the world into every suffering imaginable, as Paul explained:
Rom. 1:21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Rom. 1:22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
Rom. 1:23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
Rom. 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.
Rom. 1:25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Rom. 1:26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,
Rom. 1:27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
Rom. 1:28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,
Rom. 1:29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips,
Rom. 1:30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
Rom. 1:31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful;
Rom. 1:32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
As Paul explains, the sin of mankind eroded men’s ability to know God and follow His word. In a short time, men had ceased to acknowledge and worship the Creator God, and in His place men adopted false gods. False worship produced impure hearts in mankind, which succumbed to degrading passions. From generation to generation, depravity consumed mankind leading to hatred, disobedience and all the sin we experience today.
Every act of cruelty, selfishness, depravity and violence finds its source in the sin of one man, which was passed down to every human being through procreation. The world is filled with sin because the very nature of every human being is inherently sinful. We act in keeping with our fallen nature, yet God has patiently tolerated the suffering created by humanity’s sin because He loves the world.
This statement may seem paradoxical, but it’s true. God loves the world too much to act against its sin – at least not yet. Were God to judge sin and put an end to its existence, then He must by necessity put an end to all humanity since sin lives in each person. So God enacted a plan to end sin without wiping out all humanity, as He declared subtly to Adam and Woman immediately after the Fall:
Gen. 3:15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
To address Adam’s sin, the Lord promised to bring a “seed” from woman to defeat the serpent’s seed. God was saying He would bring a Messiah, a Christ, to conquer Satan and reverse the effect of Adam’s sin. Notice however that the Lord promised to bring this solution to a future day. The Lord’s plan works through procreation (i.e., "seed") so that over time the Lord will preserve some within the human race from the destruction required by His inevitable judgment against sin.
The solution is centered in Christ, as Paul teaches:
Rom. 7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
Rom. 7:25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
As the Bible teaches repeatedly, the solution to our sin is found only in faith in Jesus Christ. First, our faith in Jesus Christ saves us from the eternal penalty of sin, which is judgment in the eternal fire. Secondly, our faith brings Christ to live inside us through His Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells every believer convicting them of sin and providing them the power to live according to God’s word. Finally, in a day to come we will be resurrected into a new eternal body that will be sin-free and will never die again (like Christ), which will remove sin from our experience altogether, as Paul explains:
1Cor. 15:53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
1Cor. 15:54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.
1Cor. 15:55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, Where is your sting?”
1Cor. 15:56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;
1Cor. 15:57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the Lord has the plan to end all suffering in Creation by ending all sin, but before the Lord bring His plan to a conclusion, He must wait for the birth of every person He intends to save through faith. Obviously, He must wait patiently for generations of humanity to come to pass, so that all those intended for salvation would be permitted to live and come to faith in Christ. The Lord is long-suffering, patiently enduring the sin of so many in order to reach a few. As Peter explains:
2Pet. 3:8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.
2Pet. 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
Once the last soul God intends to rescue has been born and has come to repentance, then He will bring an end to all sin and the suffering it causes by removing all sinners from the earth. As Jesus described:
Matt. 25:31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
Matt. 25:32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;
Matt. 25:33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
Matt. 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Matt. 25:41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
Matt. 25:46 “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Jesus uses a metaphor of sheep and goats to describe the believers and unbelievers who will be separated at His coming to reign. At that moment, the Lord will bring the sinners to an end in anticipation of the Kingdom. In the Kingdom Jesus begins to put suffering to an end, culminating with this conquering of Satan and death at the end of His reign, as Paul explains:
1Cor. 15:21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.
1Cor. 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
1Cor. 15:23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,
1Cor. 15:24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.
1Cor. 15:25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
1Cor. 15:26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death.
So in summary, the suffering of life on Earth today is a result of sin reigning in the hearts of every human being. Nevertheless, the Lord has set a plan in motion to rescue His Creation from sin and suffering, but that plan waits for God's elect to be born over the course of thousands of years of history. Meanwhile, the Lord is saving men and women in every generation by faith in Jesus Christ, and these who receive Christ will overcome suffering in their day of glory. And in a day to come, the Lord will return personally and bring an end to suffering and death for all His Creation.