Why does God allow good people to suffer?
My dear friend’s son was an all-star, starting athlete in high school football, basketball and baseball with outstanding academics to match when a car accident on an ordinary Wednesday in October left him clinging to life for months. God miraculously spared him but the trajectory of his life forever changed that day.
Another young mom friend lost her baby at 39 weeks. Her pregnancy had been textbook until that week when she stopped feeling little kicks and wiggles. Days later, dressed in somber shades of gray and black, we stood around the tiniest casket I’d ever seen. When she got pregnant again, we exhaled relief. Until the 39th week, when she stopped feeling little kicks and wiggles. The unthinkable had happened again and we stood around another tiny casket, brought more casseroles, helplessly unable to fix such tragedy.
Businesses collapse, careers are sidelined, spouses walk out, diagnoses are delivered, those we desperately love die too soon.
And reeling with the unexpected ashes of what we thought life would look like we ask, why does God allow good people to suffer?
And more to the point: God, why are you letting me suffer?
It’s a question that keeps people from faith in Christ and causes even those active at church to walk away completely.
It’s a huge question and this post alone will not fully answer it.
But the time of Easter makes it a good time to begin to answer.
Why does God allow good people to suffer?
Let’s unpack 5 truths about suffering.
1.It’s not about us.
My daily default is to think life is about me.
My eyes open each morning and I start thinking about my day, my time, my agenda, my hopes, my hunger, my problems. All day long I’m tossed by my emotions, driven by my dreams, motivated by my needs. Even serving others is often, if I’m honest, on my terms, at my convenience and if all goes well – seen by others.
I am the center of my universe and suffering can wreck the universe I’ve planned.
But that isn’t the truth and my perspective is off.
The truth is that God is center of this universe – the seen and the unseen – and my life is only about Him.
And suffering can be the very means God intends to accomplish His will for His universe.
We trust in God and consciously or not, think we’ve made a good bargain: We follow God who’s king of the universe and He gives us comfort, good health, great kids, enough in our bank account to do what we want. The good life lived for God.
But Jesus hasn’t just called us to follow. He calls us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and then follow Him.
Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)
Following God means we lose our life for Christ’s sake. It means we live crucified.
2. God walks with us in suffering.
And yet, God doesn’t leave us alone in suffering but walks with us in it.
Psalm 23 says that when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we don’t have to fear because God is with us.
God walks with us in the suffering we encounter in this life. His very name is Immanuel – God with us.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20
I will never get over the mysterious reality of these verses.
Minutes after memorizing every feature of Dan’s still face and kissing him for the last time, I came home to tell waiting kids their dad was gone. I was wrecked with shock and missing and despair but also — cloaked by the presence of God.
God’s presence was palpable. He was as clear spiritually as the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire. God’s presence held me. He gave me words for my kids I didn’t know until I spoke them. He brought verses to mind I needed, He was there in the deep loneliness at night and the anguish the next morning when I awoke.
In the gnawing ache of grief, God was present with me in it and I begged Him to never let me lose that.
3. God himself suffered.
God could so easily keep suffering from us. Make this a world where there is no suffering, no evil, nothing bad. In fact, that’s the world God did create.
But we messed it up. We brought sin into the world with its consequences of disease and famine and war and death.
Even so, couldn’t God right the world? Yes, but He would have to control every decision, every action, every heart. We’d be mere puppets unable to dream or move or choose on our own.
Instead, God entered our world to suffer with us.
Sometimes it’s so familiar we forget it’s also outrageous.
Christ was rejected by his own family, in his hometown, by his own people and those he came to serve. Jesus endured hunger, weariness, poverty, pain. He was falsely accused, mocked, beaten, spit on, insulted, humiliated, betrayed, abandoned, despised, hated, tortured, crucified.
“He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” Isaiah 53:3
“. . . the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn Him to death and will deliver Him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.” Matthew 20:18-19
4. God suffered for us.
Not only did God suffer but He suffered for us. He suffered because of us.
God could so easily have stayed above the suffering. He is fully complete in heaven without us. God doesn’t need our worship or our love or our presence with him.
In our suffering, God could have offered help but instead he offered himself.
God willingly chose to enter our world and endure sufferings meant for us.
“Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried…” Isaiah 53:4
“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities…Isaiah 53:5
5. God’s suffering FOR US frees us from eternal suffering.
We ask why God allows good people to suffer because we’ve labeled ourselves good.
Because surely paying taxes and raising a passel of kids and volunteering at church means that compared to tax evaders and drug-addicted parents and those raising a fist to God, we’re good.
But the comparison is off.
The measure of good is not the tax evader or drug-addicted parent. The only measure for good is God and the standard is perfection.
God is spotlessly holy and we are not.
God is absolutely good and we are not.
God is flawlessly righteous and we are not.
I am evil. We are evil.
I’ve done things I’d be ashamed to have you know and who am I kidding that if I tallied up the honest breadth of my thoughts and intentions and actions I could even hope to tip the scales toward good?
So we miss it altogether when we ask why God allows good people to suffer.
The real question is why has God rescued evil people from suffering?
Jesus, who never once ever sinned, became my sin for me so that I could be rescued from eternal suffering.
God rescued us because He delights in us.
Because God so loves the world.
By His wounds, we are healed.
Easter shines the light of truth on my questions about temporal suffering because stretched on a cross, Jesus the king of the universe chose to suffer for me and because of me to rescue me from eternal suffering.
We’re so easily tempted to stomp our foot at God because of our suffering or walk away from God because of suffering, and yet God never turned away from suffering FOR US.
If I could say one thing to you whose faith is teetering in the wake of suffering, I’d say ask your questions. God understands broken hearts. Ask.
And then lay them at the feet of the One who sees you as you really are and chose you over suffering.
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