If God is good, why does he allow pain in the world?
No one has ever faced suffering and not asked this question. In this article, Melissa explores how to understand suffering in light of a good God and how to navigate it in your life.
In This Article
About the Author
Melissa Abello, MA, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in Marriage Counseling, Sex Therapy, Anxiety and Depression in Women. You can schedule an appointment with Melissa for online counseling or in-person at our Columbia, Missouri counseling center.
A Loving God Who Allows Pain?
As a therapist and a minister, I encounter others’ suffering on a daily basis. I sit in the wake of it and feel others’ pain. I am also familiar with my own suffering. Some of it has been self-inflicted and other sufferings I never asked for. From the pain of others, as well as my own, I have cried out to God and wanted to understand why. I have seen my clients, friends, and family members wrestle with this as well. It is especially difficult to understand why He allows suffering to happen to “good people” or to children. Why does He seem to sit back and watch people get raped, children get neglected and abused, and babies die? How can a loving God watch all of this and do what appears to be NOTHING about it?
These are the questions of all who have suffered. There are hundreds of books on the topic and millions of thoughts about it. Grasping this concept is like attempting to grab a beach full of sand in your hand. We can know some truth from the sand in our hand, but potentially not the whole truth. The Bible says, “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33).
I want to share today my thoughts in hopes that it can give you a sliver of hope in your own suffering. Also, I want to give you some ways to deal with your feelings and thoughts about this topic to help you to begin working through the feelings you may be wrestling with.
Pain Has Its Purpose In The Universe
When we break a leg we experience pain. When we get the flu we experience discomfort. Pain tells the body that it is in danger and helps you to identify when and how not to compound it. Pain demands attention in the body, which is crucial to recovery.
Consider those who have leprosy. They suffer for the simple reason of having a defective pain system. People with leprosy lose limbs, fingers, and toes not because the disease itself causes them to fall off, but because they lack the pain sensors to let them know it hurts when you cut your finger and when you walk in shoes too tight for your feet. This leads to a break down of tissue, which then leads to their limbs eventually needing amputation, or the all-together erosion of body parts.
As much as we hate it, pain serves us and makes it possible to live in the physical world. Without pain, we would lead lives of paranoia and be defenseless against unnoticed dangers. God allows us to experience pain for a purpose. We can understand and infer His desire for us by the way He designed our bodies: pain itself was supposed to aid us in this world, to protect us.
Since we know this is how the world around us functions, we can be sure His use for pain has greater purposes. Whether God allows pain or created us to be able to endure it and recognize it, we can know it serves us well because of the benefits. We are not just to feel pain to feel pain. It serves as a signal to protect ourselves and those we love. (Where is God When It Hurts, Philip Yancey).
The Issue of Feeling
Also, I do think sometimes the problem of feeling pain is the issue of feeling itself. It is so painful to feel pain! God has gifted us with the ability to feel. Us asking to feel good without pain is like asking God to allow us to feel without feeling, it is contradictory. Also, the extent to which humans feel and can be aware is an indication of the special plan and purpose God has reserved for only this part of His creation. A cow does not suffer much, but it’s purposes are so much less. Sometimes, we might be pleading with God to let us be less special, less favored, with a much lesser purpose, to avoid pain, but that is no different than wishing to be a cat or a fly.
You cannot have the blessing and the future glorification without the pain. It is possible that God allows us to experience pain not on a just on a physical level, but on an emotional level as well, because of His purposes being so much greater for us as well!
Sin Has Tainted Every Aspect of Our World
At one time God looked around creation and said: “All of it was very good.” Following that, a few chapters later came sin, desolation, death, domination, seduction, and deception. All of creation was instantly altered; not how God intended it to be. The world was contorted in a moment. Since this happened, the world did not make sense. Good people experience bad things. Sin is rampant and all the world has become a slave to it. Suffering does not always occur as the result of sin, but when sin entered the world, so did a lot more pain and sorrow. A lot of suffering occurs as the consequence of our own sinful decisions, as well as the sinful decisions of others. Again, this was not a part of God’s perfect plan and not something we can make Him completely responsible for (Suffering and The Heart of God,Diane Langberg).
The Enemy Is Involved
Jesus said Satan had bound the woman who was bent double for eighteen years. He was also responsible for Job’s life being wrecked with the permission of the Father. Furthermore, John says, the world lies in his embrace. Surely just from these few examples, the enemy is involved in our suffering (Suffering and the Heart of God, Diane Langberg).
The Lord Is The Same
“For I, the Lord, do not change,” (Malachi 3:6). Whether we believe it or not, the Lord says He does not change. Therefore, He was same One at the beginning of creation, at the cross, at Auschwitz, or ground zero on 9/11. This means that God who is loving and who says He is good is also somehow good in all of these situations still.
I have heard people quote, “God works for the GOOD of those who love him,” (Romans 8:28) when those they love are going through a difficult time. I have found this Scripture, when considered with incorrect perspective, has given many the wrong idea about who God is. It gives those suffering the impression that somehow God is going to make everything sunshine and rainbows because they love Him. This is contrary to what is true. But what does it mean then? We need to start by asking:
What is Good?
As people, we often think we define what is good, when really God is the only one who determines what is good and what is not. This means God can be doing a lot of good from something we may not consider good. He is the author of what is good and right, not us. “His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways, not our ways,” (Isaiah 55:8).
It takes a lot of wrestling with the Lord and deep understanding of His character to believe He is still good amidst the suffering and pain you are experiencing. I cannot give you the answer why God allows suffering or why it exists on earth, but those are a few of the ideas and thoughts that have helped me to understand a little bit more why pain and suffering may exist as well as how to see God through it.
How to Deal with Your Suffering: With God and With Others
Often times, when we experience suffering, our first reaction is to pull away from the one we believe was responsible for it.When we believe that the God of the universe controls all things, usually He is the one we make responsible. We believe He is to blame. If you have felt this or thought this you are fairly typical and I want to encourage you there are many who have gone before you who have wrestled with the same feelings and emotions, including those people in the Scriptures! Below are some ideas and thoughts to help you to work with and through what you are feeling towards God.
Attempt to Be Honest With God
Lamentations fill the Bible. To lament is to cry out to God. People telling God how much hurt they feel, how angry they feel towards the situation, and Him. Some examples of those lamenting in the Bible:
“Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than hidden treasure…What I feared has come upon me; what dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” (Job 3:20-21).
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish,” (Psalm 22:1).
“Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll- are they not in your record?” (Psalm 56:8).
Job and the Psalmists here are crying out to God about how miserable they are. They are sharing with Him their true feelings. Christians feel guilty approaching God with this kind of honesty. He is the King and the authority, so they do not believe it is okay to approach Him in this way. It is obvious though God gave us examples of those who lamented and because of this the Lord Himself wants you to approach Him in this way. Even Jesus cried out to God asking why the Father had forsaken him.
I do think us approaching God with our hurts and pains are good, but we must be careful to not speak falsely about His character. There is a difference between us going to God and sharing our heart with Him for help like David did, and grumbling against the Lord to each other like the Israelite Nation did when in the desert (Numbers 11). God appreciates when we go to Him for help when we need direction working through the state of our hearts towards Him, but it does not seem that He appreciates us going to others to grumble about Him without going to Him.
Check Your Beliefs About God
Many times our inaccurate view of God or beliefs about Him can intensify our suffering and pain. If we believe good people do not suffer, we essentially will cause ourselves more pain in the long run. We will believe we are being unjustly treated, or become obsessive scanning our lives for the “ungoodness” supposedly causing the suffering. Jesus actually promised us there would be trouble in this word, but we could take heart because He overcame it. If we have this belief we must align it with what is true versus what we feel to be true. If we believe our plan is better than God’s plan, we will suffer more.
The wealth and prosperity gospel teaches that God basically just wants what you want. This is contrary to what the Scripture says. The Bible states, “In a man’s heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines His steps,” (Proverbs 16:9).
There are many other wrong thought patterns/belief systems that I believe impact and intensify our suffering. What would yours be? Write them down and ask yourself if they are consistent with who God says He is in His word?
Understand that God May Not Give you Answers
I myself have wrestled with this one. I have asked God why and why over and over again. Recently, I lost my daughter to a genetic disorder. This pain has riddled my brain and made me question the Lord in ways I never had before. There is one truth I have come to understand about it, a truth that has helped me move forward during this hard season. My truth discovery: I have to find rest knowing that during my life on this earth, God may never give me the reason why this all happened.
I think sometimes after working through the grief of our suffering we can then accept that God may not give us the answers to our “why?” questions. He didn’t give Job the answers. He told him, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” (Job 38:4). In so many words, he tells Job: “Listen I AM SO MUCH BIGGER than you can comprehend, so trust me. I am bigger than you can even understand. I know what I am doing.”
The Bible also says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law,” Deuteronomy 29:29. God omnisciently keeps some things a secret, and He reveals to us just what we need to know.
We must trust the Father knows what is best for us and would reveal to us why if He felt like it would help us. Also, knowing the answer does not change the suffering. In our pain, we search for anything to soothe us, and I believe that’s why we want to know why. In the end, knowing why does not help us deal with our suffering any more than anything else may.
Find Rest in The Character of God
When suffering occurs, this is usually the time we learn and begin to understand the true nature of God. We can choose to run from this truth or embrace it. What are you currently doing? We can embrace His Sovereignty (Job 13:15a), His goodness (1 John 4:10; John 3:16), and His understanding (Psalm 147:5; John 11:35).
When you find a way to get lost in who He is you will begin to find peace your soul can only find in Him.
Open Up To Others Who Are Also Going Through Suffering or Have Walked Through It Before
It is important that we take time to ourselves when we are suffering, but equally important that we are around those who will help us and encourage us. We need others to help us to process our emotions out loud. The Bible says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” (Matthew 5:4).
Mourning is something we do with others. Grieving is something we do by ourselves. As you mourn through your own suffering, it is important to allow others in, so that you can be comforted. God says mourning with others leads to our comfort. Sometimes the people in our lives do not know how to be helpful to us during a season following a trauma. If you find that others do not know how to be helpful to you during this time in your life, it may be wise to seek professional help.
Keep Walking Through The Valley
Sometimes we feel like quitting everything: school, our jobs, friendships, marriages. However, this will not help us move forward through our suffering. It is important that you understand that you need to keep walking through life. We must be extra intentional about caring for ourselves during this time of suffering; it is important we do it, so that we can persevere.
As the Scripture says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in quiet pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I WALK THROUGH THE DARKEST VALLEY, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me,” (Psalm 23:1-4).
This is one of the most well known Psalms, but I think the most important part of this passage to grab hold of is that in order to reap the benefits of this passage, we MUST WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY. Oftentimes we want to take a seat or park our cars in the middle of a valley, but it is important that we walk through. One step at a time. Day by day. Until that beautiful day when He will take us away.
Set Up An Appointment Today
Those are just as a few thoughts that hopefully help those of you wrestling with God through suffering of your own. If you are wondering how to do this practically in your everyday life or if you wanting to process through your own suffering in safe place, I have been there personally, and have helped many others on their grief journey. Helping you would be an honor.
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- Charmaz, K. (1983). Loss of self: a fundamental form of suffering in the chronically ill. Sociology of health & illness, 5(2), 168-195. 
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