I am curious. If God is all knowing and all powerful then why does he allow so much suffering? Why does needless tragedy happen in this world such as the holocaust, 911, and all kinds of natural disasters such as the recent earthquake/tsunami last Christmas? Why do so many innocent people die? Why do babies die?
If a non believer asked you any one of these questions, where would you go in the bible for an answer? I mean a concrete answer? I have yet to find it.
I appreciate your attention to this question and am waiting anxiously for an answer and scripture to back it up.
Thank you for these well thought out questions. I believe what you asked out of curiosity to be the most important of questions any Christian man or woman will ever face. Your inquiry touches a nerve and begs for the reality of God. At the end of this reply I have listed you some of my own medical problems and issues of severe chronic pain, so you know where I’m coming from and lend credibility to my answers. I won’t bore you with the specifics, but everything listed can be medically documented.
I’ve been a born-again Christian for 32 years of my life and got saved in 1973 after being honorably discharged from the Army. I spent the next 14 years of my Christian life in a Pentecostal church, during which time I engaged in street outreach evangelism and even became a licensed minister. I was taught and subsequently taught others that God was my source for everything; this included healing, inspiration, teaching, etc. Every time I got a sore throat, cold or the flu, I would pray for healing, and it seemed I got better. What I didn’t realize (due to faulty teaching) is that God does not act upon our every wish, prayer or beckon and He is not responsible for the vast majority of what we do.
Since March of 1993 I have suffered a life of debilitating physical pain that has worsened progressively to the point I am currently at the highest levels of therapy for treating pain from a medical perspective. Unlike terminal cancer patients whose condition has an end in sight, this is not so in my case. Twelve long years of suffering daily with debilitating severe chronic pain has taught me the ‘how’ part of answering your question, but not the ‘why’ part. I don’t have the answers that will ever satisfy the ‘why’ part of the question, “If God is all knowing and all powerful then WHY does he allow so much suffering?”
I have asked God this same question you asked me on countless occasions; only a person that has truly suffered unrelenting pain, physical or otherwise, will comprehend what I am sharing with you today. Where was this all-powerful God I profess and tell others to believe in? Where was this compassionate and merciful God? Where was He for ME? Forget the Bible verses for a minute, where is God??? Isn’t that the salient and more pertinent question?
Everyone else will only visualize or imagine they know, while some of the more arrogant and self absorbed, particularly those promoting the health, wealth and prosperity gospel, will toot their egotistical little horns that it is, “lack of faith” or that it is, “un-confessed sin,” that accounts for the disease and suffering. Their so-called “faith” crumbles in an instant when it is their child that gets hit by a speeding drunk driver, leaving them quadriplegic for the rest of their life.
Yesterday I asked God, “Why?” and the day before I asked God, “Why?” and all of the days of all of the weeks before that I asked God, “Why?” and then, for all of the months before that I asked God, “Why?” and now it has been 12 long years and I still I find myself still asking the same disturbing unanswered question, “Why does God allow me to suffer like this? What possible good can come from years of intolerable and excruciating pain?”
I cannot even count how many times I wished I would simply die. Only those that have truly suffered understand the tremendous struggle it is not to take ones’ own life just to escape the pain. Yesterday, after four days and nights of no sleep, (something that occurs multiple times every month) and in addition to coping with the pain, my mind was reduced to a jumbled mush of confusion. I’d blurt out things I didn’t even mean to say, and then I’d feel terrible for saying them, yet unable to regain control. Lack of sleep is a form of torture. Why does God let it happen? I know the verses of scripture that say He gives “sleep” to His beloved, but guess what, He doesn’t always do that!
Lack of sleep makes the mind totally irrational and creates a mishmash of feelings and ideas roll around and around, “Where are you God?” and even, “I hate you God,” in between sessions of, “I’m sorry God.” At times I’ve concluded, “There is no God,” because I cannot feel His touch or see any evidence He is working on my behalf. I could sugar-coat this reply for you, but what good would that do? What hope does it offer the person who seemingly has no hope? Aren’t Christians guilty to one degree or another of misrepresenting God’s involvement in the affairs of men?
Even more troubling Heather, though I seek God’s healing touch for days on end, is the fact I have dedicated my entire life to touching the lives of hurt and broken human beings, and now all I can do is sit at my computer, barely able to walk, unable to talk for more than five minutes without excruciating pain and headaches, fighting all day long to answer a few email questions in between getting sick. I mean you’d think if God was willing to help someone it would certainly be the person that devotes his or her life to helping others in Jesus’ name, right? But it isn’t working out that way!
Now that I have vented, let’s start with your questions and my answers:
· If God is all knowing and all powerful then why does he allow so much suffering? I don’t know. There’s no scripture that can account for this, and anyone that says there is has a lot of life yet to experience.
· Why does needless tragedy happen in this world such as the holocaust, 911, and all kinds of natural disasters such as the recent earthquake/tsunami last Christmas? I don’t know. Christians that think they have the answer to this needless kind of suffering have not yet experienced it themselves. If somebody says they have the answer from the Bible that explains this needless tragedy, they’ll change their tune very quickly when it happens to them.
· Why do so many innocent people die? I don’t know. Bad things happen to good people and bad people. Suffering shows no partiality.
· Why do babies die? I don’t know.
· If a non believer asked you any one of these questions, where would you go in the Bible for an answer? I mean a concrete answer? How can anyone purport to be the one that knows why God does or doesn’t allow babies to die or children to starve? The best we can do is learn from the circumstances, and hopefully use our experience to show mercy and sympathy to others in their time of need or their time of crisis. I would gauge each situation individually. I do not believe there’s one single set of answers in scripture to explain ‘why’ these things happen. I know I’m supposed to have the answers from the Bible, but when it comes to this particular subject, I do not believe there is an answer to satisfy the question, “Why?” This is even more so if it is asked by someone in his or her own time or circumstance of affliction and suffering.
Please understand Heather, I am not trashing the Bible. I believe it is the very inspired word of God in its original languages. But I do not now believe the Bible was ever intended to be used as a kind of handbook with answers that explain His involvement in every calamity. I certainly don’t believe the Bible has all of the answers to all of the questions you asked, nor do I think it was intended for that reason. I did not always have this same viewpoint, but it has developed as a result of my own physical torment and pain, and the emotional and psychological trauma that accompanies suffering.
I’m being very real and very raw here, so please, bear with me dear friend. The reason I share this way is because I sense inside myself that you will not condemn or judge me. Even if someone does judge, which is inevitable, if my honesty helps just one other person being afflicted, then it will be worth it. Anyone who has suffered physical and emotional and psychological pain for a long time, and has not turned bitter or resentful, has something unique that is formed by God on the inside. They possess an innate ability to identify with others that are in pain.
My sense is that you are asking this question for a very good reason, and I suspect it is because you have personally witnessed human suffering up close and personal. I just feel it from the way you posed the questions. I’m physically afflicted enough to qualify as a person that can provide you with an answer from the Bible. I’m intellectually capable enough to provide you with Bible verses. But the reason I am remiss to do so boils down to this: When it comes right down to it Heather, there’s not one single Bible verse that is going to console or appease the type of suffering you are talking about. The ONLY thing that will help someone suffering in this way is for you to love them, try to understand their pain, and thru your sympathy and tenderness you will BECOME the answer they seek from God. I hope this makes sense.
I hope you’re not too disappointed with my reply. Please forgive me if I have let you down. I agonized over this email all day and felt so unworthy to reply. Some days the physical pain and exhaustion from lack of sleep consumes me and floods my mind with questions upon questions.
No human being truly understands why God, who is love, (and I believe He is love) allows me, and others like me, to be tormented and afflicted. No one likes to see others suffering and our minds grasp for some reason, anything that will explain such madness. And why does God allow this to continue day in and day out, and it never seems to end? Why do others less committed to God, and who don’t even believe in God walk about with ease and comfort while His own children are decimated beyond description?
What would I tell someone, especially an unbeliever that asks me why God allows suffering? Each circumstance governs how I’d respond. Most times I’d sit and listen. Maybe hold their hand, maybe hug them if it wasn’t too painful. Maybe I’d cry with them. Maybe I’d listen to them curse God over and over, and know they needed my love, because I was their only connection to reality. I just cannot categorize and provide scriptures for the type of suffering you are asking about.
Before I was so badly afflicted, I’d give people some nifty verse from the psalms, or I’d remind them how much Jesus suffered. But none of that takes away their pain, now does it? I could do like many Christian do and explain how the suffering and tragedies are the consequence of sin, and even though that is true, does it comfort the grieving parent whose child was burned over 80% of their body, and lived? How do you explain God’s mercy and love to someone that witnesses their wife jump headlong out of one of the Twin Towers and plunge to her death to escape burning alive in the towering inferno??
I appreciate you asking this questions more than you know. To summarize and conclude, here’s a couple of life lessons I can give you to pass on from the perspective of one who has truly suffered:
1. I accept I will never understand why suffering exists.
2. I will not expect God to tell me why.
3. I will not demand God to explain Himself.
4. In my suffering, I want to learn how to be effectively compassionate to others that suffer, so that my own suffering has not been in vain.
5. I accept the fact I do not have all the answers, nor does God always reveal them.
6. Sometimes it seems like God allows suffering because He is punishing me, most times I think He is. My precious wife says that’s not true, so I choose to believe what she says, since I don’t think too clearly when I haven’t slept or am in pain.
7. It’s better to believe in God, with realistic expectations, than not to believe because one day you will die.
8. Though perfectly able, God does not always heal our physical maladies (Of course there are rare exceptions). However, on the other hand, He does heal our hearts.
9. If your expectation from God is that He will physically heal you, or undo your calamity, you will be disappointed most of the time.
10. God always loves us, but the best way to experience His love is from a genuine and caring friend.
Below is a detailed explanation of the physical conditions and related symptoms of severe chronic pain I have suffered in an escalating way since March of 1993. I’m including this information, not to invoke pity, but only so you realize my words are not just a bunch of patronizing Christian lingo taken from a menu of ‘pat answers’ to life’s problems. I know this information may stagger the imagination, but I have medical documentation for everything written. I have excluded some of the maladies I suffer just to shorten this response. Over the last 12 years I have been diagnosed and/or treated by over 50 doctors, surgeons, and other medical practitioners and my conditions are so complex that in scientific terms is called a medical anomaly. I suffer severe daily chronic pain from post-traumatic fibromyalgia & myofascial pain syndromes, anklyosing spondylitis, (which is like rheumatoid arthritis in the spine), psoriatic arthritis in knee joints, hip joints, ankles, and finger joints, post-operative TMJ pain, (secondary to a fractured right mandibular condyle), chronic TMJ headaches caused by misaligned jaw joint, plus degenerative osteoarthritis in the jaw joints, tendonitis in the temporal tendons (that’s the ‘temple’ on the side of the head), degenerative osteoarthritis in my cervical (neck), lumbar & sacral discs (low back), degenerative osteoarthritis in my right ankle joint (right ankle has no synovial fluid or cartilage, plus bone spurs grown back after the last surgery), heel spurs & gout (in toes), four herniated cervical (C4-C7), scoliosis (right thoracic convex; ‘curved’ spine), kyphosis (deformed thoracic disc causing ‘humpback’), lordosis (lumbar curve causing ‘sway back’), sacroiliitis (severe chronic pain in low back aka tailbone area), narrowing of the lumbar (L1-L4) & 6% bone density loss (positive bone density scans), progressive Raynaud’s disease (scleroderma is an idiopathic and incurable disease, which causes the layers of skin inside the body and also the epidermal layers of skin to thicken causing gross swelling and pain in hands & fingers; the symptoms include severe pain and gross swelling of the joints, especially the extremities; it also make swallowing difficult and if the disease continues progressing it causes death), bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome (post operative condition, unresolved with positive nerve conduction velocity tests), bilateral epicondylitis (chronic soft tissue pain medial side of both elbow joints; post operative, unresolved, with positive NCV tests), right lateral epicondylitis (chronic soft tissue pain lateral side of right elbow unresolved), dislocated left shoulder posterior, post operative resolved with stainless steel implant; chronic nerve and joint pain.
In addition to these painful conditions, I have other medical problems, including chronic fatigue immune deficiency, chronic sleep disorder (damaged pituitary from severe blunt force trauma to the head, with secondary hypopituitaryism), positive antinuclear antigen (ANA) blood screen panel ranging b/t 180-320 was accompanied with symptoms consistent with systemic lupus erythematosus (including fevers, butterfly rashes, hair loss, kidney pain, etc.), elevated eosinophils (a type of white blood cells), and depression, secondary to chronic pain issues. On September 21, 2001 I had a heart attack with no apparent myocardial infarction.
My final thoughts to you come from two passages of scripture that have for me become the most reassuring and comforting in all of my distress and pain:
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 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 affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort , which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort . NASU
2 Corinthians 4:16-5:2 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen , but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven. NASU
Psalms 119:67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word. NASU
God bless and keep you always,
Craig Bluemel - The Bible Answer Stand Ministry (www.bibleanswerstand.org)
1 Peter 3:15 Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully.