Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The punitive nature of suffering

However, we do have to acknowledge that there is a certain amount of suffering in our world which would exist even if humanity were not involved. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts and famines may cause more suffering because of human involvement but would still cause some suffering even without. The Bible clearly states that it is God who rules this world and who sustains it. This leads to the question of why a God of love would allow such suffering to come into the world? Surely if he is omnipotent, omniscient and completely good he would rule the world differently so that the suffering of natural disasters were not a part of it.

However, the Bible clearly presents suffering as not merely permitted by God, but part of his plan for this universe. In the beginning God created a world in which there was no suffering. However, when mankind rejected God and decided they wanted to live their own way, then, not only did humanity begin causing suffering for themselves, but also God judged them by bringing suffering into their lives. So in Genesis 3v14-19 we see God pronouncing his judgment on people for their disobedience to him. This judgment includes a breakdown in the relationship between people and the natural world so that the natural world now is the cause of much suffering for humanity. The Bible therefore clearly presents suffering as part of God’s judgment on humanity for their rebellion. Throughout the Bible we see humanity’s suffering repeatedly as God’s judgment. The book of Joel was written regarding a locust plague which had devastated Israel and Joel clearly presents this as a judgment from God. So the explanation the Bible gives for suffering is that it is not merely allowed by God but rather it is part of God’s judgment on a world which has rejected him.

This leaves us with an obvious question of whether it is logical for a God of love to bring such suffering into the world as judgment? Many people see the idea that God loves and that God judges as mutually exclusive. So God is presented as either a God of love or a God of judgment but certainly not both. The problem is that these two aspects of God’s character are not mutually exclusive but rather mutually dependent. If God truly loves creation and he loves people then he must judge people when they act wrongly towards it. When God sees the damage we have done to our world by rejecting him and going our way God cannot simply ignore it because he loves his creation too much. The ability to ignore evil is not a sign of love but rather of moral indifference. It is precisely because God loves the world that he cannot let our wilful abuse of it go unpunished. Humanity’s problem is that we have forgotten how bad we are and therefore lost sight of the judgment we deserve. It is a mark of our lostness that we think we deserve the times of blessing and prosperity and that the times of suffering are not only unfair but call into question God’s goodness, or his power or even his existence. Really the truth is that we deserve much more severe judgment than we receive but the peace and tranquillity we enjoy show us God’s goodness and forbearance. The Bible therefore presents the suffering we receive as a logical part of God’s judgment on us for rejecting him, rejecting his ways and damaging his creation.


  1. Interesting thoughts. I get that some suffering is part of God's judgement of the world. I'm not sure I'd be comfortable about making that a blanket statement for all suffering experienced by humans though. I think that the fact that this world is fractured by sin means that alot of human suffering is just another symptom of that fracture. Jesus' comments about the falling of the Tower of Siloam in Luke ch 13 (when the Pharisees had asked him about the suffering of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with sacrifices) seem to suggest that a lot of suffering is, more than anything else, a reminder of our mortality and our need to repent before God. Which in a way is a blessing as without it we'd be going blithly on, forgetting the severity of our situation...

  2. Yes Becky I have a collection of other reasons. I am posting them one at a time.
    Reason 1 - Human Activity
    Reason 2 - God's Judgement
    Reason 3 - ...
    Maybe I should have made that clear to avoid confusion!