How can a loving God allow human suffering?
There's a question which I imagine is probably the biggest deterrent to people pondering God's existence and whether or not He is really as loving as Scripture says. That question is this:
How can a loving God allow human suffering?
It's a question we all wonder from time to time, and I seriously doubt any one of us is entirely content with whichever answer we've settled upon. It's a dissettling question with less than settling answers. Why is that? We imagine God as this great, big force that can change any circumstances as He so desires. We imagine He needs us to tell Him (through prayer) whom to save and what forces to attack, because He doesn't know the consequences and doesn't see how people are going to be severely detrimentally affected. That isn't the case.
First, let's pour a foundation of truth: God is love. He loves all people and only wants to see the best for each person.
Second, God is omnipotent. Let me define this word for those who are not AWANA veterans (lame church joke). Omnipotent means: possessing unlimited power. That means God has the ability to change any circumstances He wants to change.
Third, God is love. Wait - I already said that. But really, we need to contemplate this statement. God is love. Let that sink in. God is love. God is the creator of love, the personification of love, the writer of love. So how can He allow human suffering? It's hard to logically reconcile, so here's an analogy: A man and a woman are madly in love and decide to marry. After the honeymoon period, the woman and the man start quarreling regularly. The woman is so fed up, one day she decides to leave. She packs her suitcase and heads toward the front door. She's had enough. As she turns the doorknob, she realizes the door won't open. It requires a key to open, and she doesn't have it. She runs to the back door. Same thing - there's a lock, and she doesn't have the key. She looks around for an escape route, but the windows are barred. Suddenly she realizes she is not a wife, but a slave; she is not in a marriage, but a prison.
That's a rough analogy and pardon any feelings it can evoke, but it's what we think our human relationship with God is akin to. We think we have freewill, but sometimes God is locking us into the life we have. We think God is invoking His right to power wherever He wills but not in our most dire circumstances. I don't think that's a true reflection of God. While I certainly don't profess an understanding of a limitless being, I hope my thoughts can minister to those who are searching for the answers. My understanding of God's omnipotence is that He gave us freewill from the beginning of mankind. He gave Adam and Eve the privilege of choosing good or evil, life or death, freedom or sin. And they chose to exercise freewill by following their own leadings, AKA eating the apple. At that point you think, "NO! STOP THEM! GOD, WHY!?" And the answer is truth #1: God is love. He cannot enslave us to His ways and still be love. He has to allow people to continue in freewill, or He becomes a slavelord. So He allows mankind to continue living in freewill. Freewill is not a part-time puppet show. It isn't a prison sometimes when it's necessary because people are innately evil. It is a once-and-forever freewill. It's the freedom to choose death, disease and torment or life more abundantly. That's why God gave us freewill. Because when His creation chooses Him and His desires despite having the ability to choose to follow their own desires, it is the most beautiful rekindling that ever existed.
This past Sunday, I had one of the most fascinating interactions with a gentleman at church. (I mean really fascinating - it's Thursday, and it's still on the forefront of my mind.) Essentially, this man was deeply distressed by the same question: How can a loving God allow human suffering? While I listened to him speak, cry and yell, I couldn't help but resonate with what he was saying. He was a man searching for God and wanting to understand how to reconcile reality with faith. He was hurt by seeing all the suffering in the world. How can people kill each other? How can slavery still exist? How can disease slowly kill and mutate people - even children? How can this be happening on God's watch??
Unfortunately, I didn't have all the answers for him. Truth be told, even explaining everything I wrote in this blog would not have quieted the anguish in his soul. To truly imbibe the truth that God is love, you have to believe it in faith. And there are no words or logic that can explain that to someone who won't believe. (Side note: I think he will believe one day. I think God is opening His arms to this man, and one day he will receive God's love.)
There are two thoughts I want to pull from my recollection of this fascinating encounter:
(1) I think it's really easy as Christ followers to forget what it was like to not have God in our daily lives. I think we can get so acclimated to His love, affirmation, and guidance that we forget how tumultuous our lives were before we knew Him.
Flailing, beating, thrashing, striving, searching, lost, bruised and bruising... That's who I was before Jesus.
Let us not forget that all people in the world around us are people searching for answers - some more fervently, but all searching. If you know God, you know the answer and you breathe the answer with your words and actions.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." -2 Corinthians 1:3-4
(2) Your relationship with God starts with faith. Even after sufficiently answering how a loving God can allow human suffering, this man needed to have faith in God to believe my response. He cannot internalize my explanation without faith to believe that God is loving and good. If you have been questioning God's existence - and that's fine, it's not wrong to question God's existence - I encourage you to make the decision to believe God at His Word. It is likely that God led you to this blog to remind you that He is the embodiment of love, and He longs to have a relationship with you. God is approaching you with a gentle voice amidst the chaos; you can feel it way down deep in your soul. That is God, and He is calling you to Himself. If you are looking for the right place to start, just start by talking to Him. Not in some strange "Thou art most holy" way, but just tell Him: "God, I believe You. I know you love me. Lead me in Your ways."
Be prepared for God to talk back to you, because He will lead you if you let Him. At first it may feel ambiguous and uncertain, but as you grow you'll find it's the most real thing you have ever experienced. I think it's easy to infer that Christianity is blindly following "God" and calling it "faith". But as a faithful believer, I can testify that I am most secure in the Lord's leading. I am confident in the future He has prepared for me before He even created the earth. I live in faith with certainty of my identity in God's kingdom, certainty in my worth through Christ's blood, and certainty in my life purpose. My hope is that we all journey deeper in our faith and resultantly our relationships with God.
This is for you, P.
With love, PriskaTabitha