Why does God allow suffering? The three Js have the answer

Photo courtesy of Lola Rodriquez

If Good is good and God is all powerful, why does he allow suffering?  For many people God’s goodness and God’s power must logically result in a good world where good is defined as a world without suffering and, therefore, as suffering exists, the God of the bible, who is said to be both good and powerful, does not exist.  The conclusion people reach is either that there is no God, or that God is good but weak or that God is powerful but malicious.

Jesus insists that God is good. ““Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” Luke 18:19.

And God’s power is acknowledged throughout the bible, for example, “He rules forever by his power, his eyes watch the nations” Psalm 66:7

So how are these two attributes of God reconciled in scripture? In what way is God both good and powerful? Bring on the three Js: Joseph, Job and Jesus.

First there’s Joseph.  God gave Joseph two dreams of the future.  In those dreams Joseph’s family bow-down and worship him. It takes about 17 years for the dreams to be fulfilled and in that time Joseph is attacked by his brothers, thrown into a pit, nearly murdered, sold as a slave, falsely accused of attempted rape and thrown into jail for about six years. Eventually his starving family, fleeing from famine, bow-down and worship Joseph who has been made second in-charge in Egypt. Lots of suffering, pain and near death but in the end Joseph says:

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:19

In other words, for every event in Joseph’s life God was in control, he wanted Joseph to suffer, not because Joseph deserved it, nor because God enjoyed it, but because God had good reasons for it, namely the salvation of many people. At the same time, the events in Joseph’s life were acts of evil by his brothers and his master’s wife, for which they are responsible, even though God was in control.

The next J is Job. Job is a blameless and upright man, a good guy, on side with God. And yet the wheels fell off his life in a massive way, and all in one afternoon. His oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, servants, sons and daughters are all killed or stolen. And, as if that’s not enough, he then lost his health. Job wanted to know why he was suffering when he is at least as good, if not better, than his mates, who were all fine. Eventually, after lots of argument, God turned up and said how big, wise, good and infinitely powerful he is (Job ch38 onwards). God did not tell Job why he was suffering, he simply asserted his goodness and power.

Then Job answered the LORD and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’  Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
Job 42:1-3

Job discovered his place before the good and all powerful God but he did not discover why God let him suffer so terribly.  The reasons we suffer are often beyond our understanding, God doesn’t say why, but we can say that God is good and God is in control and for today that’s enough for me to know.

Then there’s the last J, Jesus. Before his crucifixion, arguably the most sever human suffering ever, lots of people wanted Jesus dead.  The Sanhedrin wanted Jesus dead, the High Priests wanted him dead, the Romans wanted him dead, the crowd wanted him dead and God the Father wanted him dead, but only God had good reasons for the death of Christ, and God was in control of all the events which led up to and included the crucifixion. Jesus said to Peter, after Peter cut off the ear of a soldier.

Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” Matthew 26:53-54

God is good and powerful, he could have sent a legion of angels to beat off the bad guys and save his Son from a cruel death. But the suffering of Christ results in the greatest good for billions of people as he dies in their place under judgement to free them from death and hell and open the way to eternal life.

God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). When we suffer, good will come of it, like with Joseph, but the good that results from our suffering might not be for our benefit but the benefit of others.  Then, like Job, we might not see or understand what good comes from our suffering. And so, like Jesus, Christians should be prepared to suffer at some point in life, just for being Christians or for witnessing to the wonder of Christ or for doing the right thing, and it helps to know that it is God’s will, that he is good and that he’s in control.

For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:17

I hope this is some help to anyone who reads it. God bless us in and through our suffering.

About neilrobbie

I am a 6'6" formerly ginger Scot, in a cross cultural marriage to my lovely Londoner wife. We've lived in SE Asia and since 2005, I have served as an Anglican minister in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
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