Why Do People Suffer?

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This article is an installment of Holy Joys Questions. Submit your questions to questions@holyjoys.org.

 Question: What is the reason for human suffering?

There are multiple reasons why others do suffer. All of them relate to human sin.

First, the entire physical universe suffers because Adam, as its first ruler, rebelled against God and brought God’s curse upon it (Rom. 8:18-22). Natural evil (tsunami’s, disease, death) and all the pain it produces are the direct results of Adam’s sin. But why does God allow the consequences of Adam’s sin to continue to affect the sons of Adam?

Some argue that it is necessary to make clear to us the gravity of sin. It isn’t clear to me that Scripture answers that question. What is clear to me is that Scripture says God is good in all he does. Thus it is goodness, not impotence or malevolence, that lies at the heart of divine providence.

Second, all men suffer because all men have sinned (Rom. 3:23). “He that sows to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption” (Gal. 6:7). Although it is probably true that the KJV misunderstands Prov. 21:4—“the plowing of the wicked is sin” (compare the NASB), I think that translation points to a theological truth: everything wicked people do is sinful. I don’t mean everything they do is inherently bad, but that all that a sinner does is tainted by his sinfulness.

Isaiah says it this way: “all our righteousness [our best deeds] are as a menstrual rag” (Isa. 64:6). That shocking line teaches us how repugnant sinners are to God. In that light, we should be astonished at how little we suffer here because of our sins.

Third, all men suffer because of others’ sins. I didn’t say suffer for others’ sins. We are all affected, not only by Adam’s sins but by the sins of many others around us. This is deeply troubling to many. The answer I currently live with is this: it was not possible for God to create a world in which meaningful relationships exist, which mirror the Trinity’s mutual indwelling, without creating a world in which both our righteous and our sinful actions affect others.

That God chose to create this world implies that He will not allow evil persons to thwart His purposes for good. Hallelujah!

 


 

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

Philip Brown
Philip Brownhttp://apbrown2.net
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).