'Why?' has many sides to it. In children we have the why stage. They ask questions constantly and give no respite until we are at our wits' end. It is not always simply a question of curiosity. Behind the question Why, often stands refusal and reluctance. 'Why now?' 'Why me?' This is not true only for children. In many cases adults also come to terms with the demands and realities of daily life just as inadequately. Why must so many people in the world starve when there is enough food for everybody? Why are there wars and natural disasters? Why can't the 90-year-old woman die, she has long since had enough of life? And why is the life of a 20-year-old suddenly snatched away from him?

Every day we are confronted with suffering. If everything is going well for us we don't need to look far before coming upon problems and human catastrophes in our own neighbourhood. Is it any wonder that we rebel and look for whoever is responsible?

The young man desperately grips his wheelchair. His face shows lines of bitterness. His life has become different since that awful evening. It happened suddenly. A motorbike accident. Now he sits in his wheelchair completely paralysed. The young man had a good job. He was successful, appreciated, and had many friends. But now he feels useless and written off. Hardly anybody bothers about him. Even his wife has left him; 'I don't want to spend my whole life with a cripple.' That hit him hardest. His life has become meaningless for him.

Reproachfully he asks: 'Why did God allow this? Why doesn't He help me? What have I done to deserve to suffer in this way?'


The Bible tells us that when God created the planet it was perfect.

'God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.' Genesis 1:31.

There was no suffering on the planet; but then there was that fateful fall into sin (Genesis 3:1 - 19). Of his own free will man trusted Satan more than God. Thus he separated himself from the Source of his life and subjected himself to Satan's control. Since then man has had to put up with pain, has had to work hard, fight for survival and finally die. From that time on, suffering has been an inevitable component of life. It is the result of separation from God.

'Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.' Romans 5:12


God has given us a brain. Everyone has the freedom of personal choice. You can choose this way or that. That first decision against God (Genesis 3) has, up until the present day, lost nothing of its catastrophic effects. Be honest with yourself: how often have you misused the freedom of choice; how often through your behaviour do you cause suffering to yourself and others?

Mistakes, discouragement and selfishness - how heavily they weigh us down. We do not suffer only within our own parameters: we share other people's problems and they share ours. If someone at work shows lack of control in their speech the whole atmosphere can be poisoned. And if we don't know the difference between responsible driving and irresponsible racing, the innocent often suffer as a result. The co-existence of human beings has many sorry sides to it.

Additionally, there is suffering where the question of guilt is of no help at all - natural catastrophes, wars, refugee problems. To be sure, wars are started by men, but natural catastrophes rarely. And if they are, then not by particular people. We all contribute to the causes of sickness. Earthquakes, whirlwinds, floods - who can we make responsible for these? There are causes and effects for which we have no explanations. The fact that millions of people are starving in Africa cannot simply be explained by the fact that in the past the land was overcultivated and the balance of nature destroyed. The reasons for suffering in the world lie much deeper.


Jesus portrayed the devil as the originator of suffering because his tools consist of falsehood and murder.

'"He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and a father of lies."'John 8:44.

Right from the beginning the devil has seduced man into sin. As long as he exists we will have to suffer. In spite of that, we ought not to regard every kind of suffering as our unavoidable fate (Ephesians 6:11-13). Everyone of us can help to bring more happiness and contentment, joy and justice into the world.

A very helpful principle is found in the words of Jesus:

'"In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you."'
Matthew 7:12.


God suffers from the corruption of the earth, the destruction of His creation and the prodigality of man. For this reason Jesus was particularly concerned about those who suffered mentally and physically, and healed them (Matthew 11:5). Jesus knew what it meant to be sad and to suffer. When His friend Lazarus died He cried. As our Redeemer He finally went through every stage of suffering Himself for us. He suffered physical pain and mental anguish. He wanted the best for mankind, but had mockery and scorn showered upon Him, and finally He was sentenced to death.

It was not easy for Him to die, but because His death was the only means of redemption, He knowingly agreed to it. The suffering of Jesus is thus no passive or resigned acceptance of the inevitable, but an effective act of sacrifice for man.


Many people become embittered because of suffering. They have the feeling that God is unjust. They therefore put Him in the dock and make Him responsible for suffering. Yet, as we have already ascertained, man often gets himself into situations of suffering. We are not 'innocent', and God does not cause us to suffer. For with us He has 'thoughts of peace, and not of evil'. Jeremiah 29:11, KJV. Many people have therefore learned to phrase the question thus:

'What purpose does suffering serve?'

This too is no easy question. Above all, we should not swallow the view that God allows us to suffer in order to point us in a particular direction. The important thing with suffering is the experience that God is with us in the most extreme situations in our lives, and that He can and will bring us ultimate good even from bad experiences.


There are situations in which we absolutely cannot understand the reason for our suffering. No matter how hard we try, we find no explanation.

But even in this despair we are not left alone.

'And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.'
Romans 8:28.

This is a comforting promise of God. From suffering He brings the best for us. What we regard as disastrous to our lives can be so changed by Him and filled with meaning that we are in a position to carry on. For us He converts negative into positive. God uses suffering to give us more understanding.

We recognize that God's love is near us. Jesus tried to be close to those who were suffering, comforted them, forgave their sins and healed their sickness. By believing in Jesus, even in our deepest sorrow we are not alone.

'Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.'
Philippians 1:6.


Only the first two and the last two chapters of the Bible show human life without sin and suffering. In between lies the report of the great showdown between Christ and Satan. At Golgotha Christ was victorious over Satan, and thus also over suffering and death. God is creating for His children a new heaven and a new earth. We can look forward to this life without suffering.

'And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."' Revelation 21:3-5.

These words of God which have been quoted make it plain that He has a plan for this world. The separate parts of the Bible often seem to us like a jigsaw puzzle which can only be completed with considerable difficulty. But God's plan is drawn like a red thread through the whole Bible.


Quiz Form

  1. Tick the true answers to show whether the following statements are true or false:

    God created a perfect world
    Suffering only came into the world because of sin
    We bring a lot of suffering in the world on ourselves
    Jesus attributes evil to the devil
    Jesus was indifferent to suffering

  2. According to the texts listed below, do you think the following come from God or Satan? (indicate G or S)
    John 8:44; Hebrews 2:14; John 3:16; 1 John 3:8






  3. Do any of the following reflect your thinking about suffering?
    (tick the true answers)

    Suffering causes us to question the meaning of life
    It is a punishment from God
    It makes us more sympathetic towards the sufferings of others
    It makes us more mature
    It is pointless
    God is not bothered about us

  4. What can I do to relieve suffering in others?

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