3 Critical Truths about the Problem of Suffering

The “problem of suffering” is not a new one, but it trips a lot of people up as they consider how a loving God and seemingly pointless evil co-exist in our world. As we saw this weekend in John 11, there are theological answers to the hard questions like this.

As Christians, we need to understand three biblical truths about suffering.

1. Suffering is the result of the curse of death on our sin.

Most of the objections raised against God about suffering are built on the assumption that humanity is owed good things and that God is unjust for not giving them to us. That’s why we talk about the “problem of evil.” Why do bad things happen to us good, innocent people?

The Bible takes an entirely opposite approach. It tells us God created this world without suffering, in a perfect condition called “shalom.” But we all voluntarily rebelled against him, and the just result of that rebellion is the curse of death.

What we truly deserve is death. The fact that there is still good in the world—sunshine on our faces and food in our stomachs—that’s all grace. And the fact that God has given us a space to repent is unspeakable grace. The Bible doesn’t wrestle with the problem of evil so much as it marvels at amazing grace. 

As sinners, to put God on trial for our suffering as if he was unjust is twisted form of “chutzpah.” “Chutzpah” is the audacity of a man who kills his mom and dad … and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan! We should not ask, “Why is all this bad stuff happening in the world?” We are the reason why. The question is not, “Why me?” but, “Why not me?”

Now, this does not mean individual instances of suffering are the result of specific sins. He got cancer because he was a bad husband or, She had a miscarriage because she cheated on her taxes. That is not how the Bible tells us to think about our suffering. As a race, humanity lives in a world of suffering because we rebelled against God, and that suffering affects us all.

2. God, in his love and mercy, has reversed the curse by suffering it in our place.

The only truly innocent sufferer in history was Jesus. He lived entirely free from rebellion and should have been exempt from the curse of death. But when he got to the end of his life, instead of being rewarded, he submitted to the curse of death voluntarily. When he did that, he overturned the entire curse and started the process of healing.

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J.D. Greear
J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.