Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.
The existence of human suffering is arguably the most common and difficult problem raised against the existence and goodness of God.
It is a particularly thorny issue because people experience it both emotionally and logically.
The problem of suffering has been with us since the Garden of Eden and it will be with us until Christ comes back. But suffering is not just a problem for Christians. Every belief system has to account for suffering in some fashion or another.
The purpose of this post is not to attempt a theodicy, that is, a defense of why God allows suffering. Many fine books have done this, including the classical book The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis or Why Does God Allow Evil? by Clay Jones. Rather, I simply want to highlight ten ways the Bible addresses suffering.
These answers are not exhaustive, but they provide some biblical perspective for the inquisitive believer and non-believer:
1. Suffering is the result of mankind’s sin and rebellion against God (Genesis 3). Mankind chose to reject God’s one command, the world became corrupted by sin, and humans have suffered ever since.
2. God’s chosen people (the Hebrews) suffered when they disobeyed the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 28).
3. People sometimes suffer from the wrong choices of other human beings, even though God uses the resulting suffering for good (Genesis 50:20).
4. Suffering brings faithful believers into deeper understanding and relationship with Him (Job).
5. Believers suffer because of the jealousy and hatred of certain people who reject the Christian faith (Acts 7:54-60).
6. Believers suffer as a testament of faith to others (Hebrews 11).
7. God allows people to suffer so they will turn to Him in repentance and not perish for eternity (Luke 13:1-4).
8. Christians suffer so they can be conformed more closely to the character of Christ (Romans 8:28-30, James 1:2-4).
9. Believers suffer so they can know Christ more fully (Philippians 3:10).
10. To prepare followers of Christ for the glory of Heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Each of these points deserves much more explanation. And each point raises further questions as well. Remember, there is no single answer to suffering.
But wrestling through these passages, and others, can help provide a biblical perspective on suffering.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.