Why does God allow suffering?
No, I’m not going to give you a definitive answer. Not because I’m bottling it, but because I simply can’t answer it, certainly not with any great authority or confidence.
It’s a question above all others which seems to come up whenever anybody objects to the concept of God. People point to the amount of suffering which God appears to inflict upon people, particularly in parts of the Old Testament, and say that this is hugely incompatible with a loving God. They point to natural disasters, debilitating illnesses which rob people of everything, including their dignity, evils done by people in his name and say that this is the action and behaviour of a despot, not a benevolent God.
Some believers will point to events such as the great flood of Noah’s time and say that these events are the result of God’s wrath for the world’s sins. Some will say that they are all a part of God’s grand, mysterious plan and that all things happen for a reason. Some will say that these things are all, ultimately, caused by human actions due to the free will God has given us.
Me? Sorry, I just don’t know. I wish I did, it I don’t. I can’t explain why suffering happens, why some of it is directly caused by God’s creation and why he doesn’t appears to directly intervene.
What I do know is this.
When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. Not because of the death itself, because he knew that he would raise Lazarus back to life. Even if he hadn’t, surely Lazarus, as Jesus’ follower, would find his place in paradise, so there should be celebrating for him rather than mourning.
No, the suffering was endured by those left behind, Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha. They are why Jesus wept. Jesus loved them, as friends. He saw their pain and anguish at their brother’s death and it hurt him deeply, to the point of tears. He couldn’t stand to see the suffering endured by those he loved and was moved by it.
This is how God reacts to the world’s suffering. I don’t feel that he causes it maliciously and sits on a cloud somewhere, laughing at us. He weeps for our pain. He hates to see us suffering, in pain, in anguish, mourning, sick, tormented. It moves him to weep, because he loves us. He loves us enough to send his son to die for us.
He doesn’t just weep, though. Lazarus’ death did not happen in vain. Jesus raised him back to life to show God’s glory by demonstrating his power over death and by showing the joy that he brings. Imagine the explosion of joy you would feel if you were Mary or Martha here; one minute your brother has been dead for four days, the next he’s walking, talking, living and breathing. Cloud nine wouldn’t be high enough.
God does this even now. When people suffer, others are usually there carrying out incredible acts of compassion, love, healing, justice, bravery or any other number of gifts God gives to each of us, believers or not. He made us like this, put a part of himself into each of us and some of us will, when moved to do so, use that God given abilities and gifts to alleviate suffering where we can.
That’s how God works in suffering. Why it happens, I just don’t know, but I know that he’s always in the aftermath. Picking up the pieces.