Does God permit wars? Famines? Plagues? If so, why?
The problem of suffering has been often debated through the centuries. We have a hard time understanding this with our finite minds. Instead of debating it now, let us look at the Scriptures and see what they have to say about it.
First of all, we are made aware in the book of Genesis that our God is a God of love, who desires our happiness above anything else. He placed the first humans in a splendid garden where everything was provided to them. However, when you love someone like God does, He also lets them be free in making their own decisions, even though making the wrong decisions will result in disastrous consequences. He warned our first parents about it and they understood the danger. This is real love. True love respects the decisions of the ones we love, although they may make the wrong decisions. True love reaches out to those who make wrong decisions and stand by them when they undergo the terrible consequences of their wrong decisions. This is what God did and is still doing.
Adam and Eve made the wrong decision and erred terribly. They sinned and faced the consequences of their sin: death! The whole creation was tainted by these consequences as they were the keepers of our planet: Gen 3:17-18 “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.” NIV Suffering originated because of sin. And we are all involved! Rom 3:23 “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” NIV
Now that we have a better understanding where suffering comes from, let us see how Jesus reacted towards the suffering on our planet. You need to remember that Jesus made Himself being subject to the physical laws of this planet. He left heaven and became human. God fully entered human history though Jesus Christ. To really understand how God feels about our suffering, we need to look at Jesus’ response towards that problem.
Did Jesus experience suffering? Luke 22:44 “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” NIV When facing His trip to the cross Jesus was in so much anguish, that his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. This is the highest anxiety any human can go through. Although pure and sinless, He faced terrible agony and willingly submitted to it, knowing that this would bring salvation to all those who believe in Him.
Heb 4:15-16 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” NIV This is one of the reasons why we can come up to Him in all confidence that He will help us and stand by us when we are suffering. He will give relief!
Now. How did Jesus feel about suffering? Let me answer this with 6 events in Jesus’ life.
1. When hearing about His friend’s Lazarus’ death and experiencing people mourning for him, Jesus reacted by:
John 11:35 “Jesus wept.” NIV
John 11:33 “He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” NIV
My friend, when you are suffering, Jesus is suffering as well. When you are weeping, He is weeping as well. When you are suffering, He is not abandoning you. In fact, He is closer to you than ever. His promise stands: Matt 28:20 “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” NIV
2. Jesus is often aware that the devil causes suffering. Luke 13:16 “Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” NIV
Knowing this, what would he do about it? Matt 4:23 “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” NIV Our God is not a passive God. Jesus not only suffered when people suffered, He also did everything to relief their pain. He was healing anyone He encountered!
3. At the end of this same chapter of Luke, Jesus grieves over Jerusalem. Luke 13:34-35 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” NIV
God grieves when we make wrong decisions. He will reach out to us, but will respect our decisions, never forcing Himself on us. His longs to “gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings”. The problem is that we are “not willing!” Most of the time the consequences of our suffering is from our own choices! Other times they come from other people’s choices.
4. When asked about current events, Jesus always answered with compassion. Once He was asked about the political oppression from certain Roman soldiers who slaughtered members of a religious minority. His answer was to the point: Luke 13:2-3 “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” NIV
He made people aware that suffering is not caused to people that are “worse sinners” than others. Suffering can befall on anyone living on this sinful planet.
He also never answered fully the question about the cause of suffering. However He pointed out to eternal truths relevant to anyone listening to Him “unless you repent, you too will all perish!” and followed this with a parable about God’s restraining mercy.
5. When questioned about a catastrophe that killed 18 people, he answered again with the same eternal truth. Luke 13:4 “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them-do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” NIV
None of us have any advantages over anyone else. We all live in a sinful world, and we can all suffer from the catastrophes of this world. In fact, all of us are facing the ultimate doom of this life: death! And unless we repent and accept God in our lives, we will “all perish”!
A tragedy should alert us of our current condition. A catastrophe is a call to repentance to all of us touched by it, and reminds us how short our lifespan is.
6. When facing a blind man since birth, Jesus answered His disciples’ question: John 9:3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” NIV He emphasized not the cause of the suffering, but the outcome. When we emphasize the cause, we often tend to feel more miserable. However when emphasizing the outcome, we have hope! Suffering always offers an opportunity to display God’s work in our lives.
This is why the prophet Habakuk standing in the midst of a terrible famine could say:
Hab 3:17-18 “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” NIV
Only people trusting God can say that. Those who accuse God of their suffering are just barking at the wrong tree and are making themselves even more miserable, first by feeling even more sorry about themselves; and secondly by alienating God from them and refusing His offer of help.
Be aware that God’s creation suffers as well. Rom 8:21-23 “The creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” NKJV It longs to be free from suffering, and awaits Jesus’ coming!
Why is Jesus not back yet? Why hasn’t God rectified the ill consequences of this sinful world? 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” NIV He wants you to be saved and will continue to reach out to you, until it is too late.
Suffering makes us aware that there is something terribly wrong in our world. We need outside intervention for this problem. The answer is found in Jesus who died on the cross, so that anyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. You can have the solution as well my friend. If you have Jesus as your friend, you will be able to say with the apostle Paul: Rom 8:18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” NIV
There is glory awaiting you. It’s yours if you accept Jesus in your life. Why don’t you do this now. Answer the Saviour’s Call and invite Him into your life. He will help you through your suffering and will help you be victorious!
P.S. A great book on this has been written by C.S. Lewis The Problem of Pain.
This question is often asked along with ones like; “How could a loving God permit this to happen?” and; “Why me Lord, why me?”
The simple answer to these questions is that it is not in God’s will that any of these things should happen. It was not just mankind that started to decay when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, our planet also is in a state of decay. All of our universe obeys the second law of thermodynamics or what is commonly known as the law of entropy. That all systems tend towards chaos. Just as an aside, this law is a pretty good argument against evolution too. Things get worse, not better; but that is another topic.
Many natural disasters are simply caused by the fact that our planet is getting old and starting to show it. Just as the rain falls on the just and the unjust, so do natural disasters fall on the good, the bad and the ugly. If we are in the wrong place at the wrong time we will be caught up in it.
There is also a principle that we reap what we sow. A farmer that overgrazes his pastures will be badly affected in a time of drought. A nation where greed and corruption is endemic will have a corrupt government. A nation that is God fearing will have a good government and a successful economy.
As for man made problems like war; there is one principle of being part of God’s creation that is consistent throughout. Sentient beings have a free choice. That includes those who make wrong choices. If God were to protect us from the evil deeds of others, He would be taking their choice away from them, and He will not do that. He will, however, hold them accountable for their actions and behavior.
Illness and disease are also a natural progression of the effect of sin. Our genetic code is so corrupt now that almost every person is born with a weakness or predisposition to one degenerative disease or another. Then too, if we do not get adequate nutrition in our diets, our bodies will not have a strong enough immune system to fight off illness and disease.
None of these things is God’s will. It is the will of Satan and the will of man who listens to Satan that is behind all our problems.
Should you be adversly affected by disasters either natural or man made, know that it will continue only for a short time, a drop in the ocean compared with the eternity of peace that awaits on the other side of this short life. The message for the individual is to be ready to meet one’s maker should you run out of time unexpectedly. Once you die, then for you, probation is over and your eternal fate is set in concrete.
Go in peace
God gave us free will to do as we choose. We were born into sin due to Adam and Eve, therefore our free will gets us into much trouble at times. God doesn’t want bad things to happen, but if they do, He wants us to learn and have things make us wiser and to teach us things. We are to learn lessons from the bad things and look for the good that has come from it. No matter how bad things are, there is always a lesson to learn or a change in our lives that is for the good as long as we believe. God knows everything that is going to happen before it ever happens. He knows we are going to have wars, and that there will be famines and plagues. This is not His doing though. It is our own fault. ALL of the bad things that happen are due to the devil getting into the middle of things. SIN! Human Sin! Also, we need to take note that the Lord spoke of all these things happening prior to His second coming. We are living the end times as he told in Matthew 24, and Luke 21.