Whilst we must not overlook the punitive nature of this world’s suffering the Bible also clearly presents suffering as rehabilitative. Suffering is not merely God’s judgment but also one of God’s means of challenging and changing people. The most significant way the Bible talks about God using suffering is to call people to repentance. This is seen throughout the Bible. The pattern of people rejecting God, people suffering and people returning to God is present throughout the pages of the Old Testament. This is again seen clearly in the book of Joel. Whilst Joel does begin by showing that the locust plague is God’s judgment, he then moves on to use this judgment to encourage the people to repent. Joel seems to clearly indicate that the correct response to recognising that suffering is a result of God’s judgment is repentance. Jesus also sees suffering as a call for people to repent. In Luke 13v1-5 Jesus uses examples of suffering to remind people that this is what all people deserve and that repentance represents the only correct response.
So whilst the suffering humanity endures clearly represents part of God’s punishment on humanity it is also used by him to remind people of their rebellion and the judgment which they deserve in order to bring them back to him in repentance. It is therefore completely logical for God to give this world some small tokens of the judgment they deserve, if by doing so, he can cause some people to turn to him in repentance and avoid his final judgment.
However, God does not only use suffering to bring people to repentance and back into relationship with him but he also uses it to bring about other good effects. The suffering of individuals throughout history has, at times, brought great benefits to both the individual and society at large and so the fact that suffering can lead to good results is undeniable. However, the Bible does not merely observe this reality but repeatedly claims that God uses suffering to make them better people. In Romans 5v3-5 suffering is presented as God’s means for producing endurance, character and hope. In James 1v2-4 suffering is seen as the very thing which tests people’s faith and makes them perfect, complete and lacking in nothing. The Bible repeatedly presents suffering as part of God’s plan for moulding his people and making them better. God created us to be in relationship with him, to love each other and care for creation and suffering is one of the means he uses to make us more like the people he created us to be. The greatest problem to people’s enjoyment of this world and fulfilment in life is not suffering but, rather, their inability to live in it as God intended. It is therefore completely logical for God to allow suffering if by this people are changed in such a way that they live life more like God intended them to.