(Editor's Note: Tim wrote this column three years ago when Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast. In light of recent events, the words still resonate.)
One of the most frequently asked questions in the history of the world is: Why does God allow human suffering?
For people who do not believe in God, there is no reason to ask that question. Nonetheless, they seem to like asking it to poke at those who do believe. These people aren’t really interested in having a serious conversation about God, they just enjoy mocking Christians.
But I thought about the question while watching the human misery that has unfolded on such a grand scale in Texas this week. The Bible clearly teaches that God created the universe and that he is sovereign over it all. Jesus performed miracles to demonstrate that he had authority even over nature. Scripture also clearly teaches that God loves people. So why then does God sometimes allow horrific things to happen to whom He loves?
Volumes have been written about this topic over the ages, but I only have 600 words. However, I will give it my best shot here anyway.
First of all, in the case of natural disaster, the laws of nature (such as weather patterns) were set in motion at the dawn of creation and He does not stop those laws from having their impact, good or bad, on humanity. If you get a storm in late summer that sits out over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico for a few days, you are likely to have a hurricane develop. That is nature taking its course. If God does “stop” nature from taking its course, it would be considered a miracle. And miracles, while they have happened as recorded in the Bible and experienced by individuals down through history, are still rare by definition. To use a weak sports analogy, Alabama may lose to a team with inferior players but it’s so rare an occurrence that I can’t remember the last time it happened. But rest assured that team that did beat Alabama with much less talent will forever remember that game as “a miracle.”
The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus calmed the waters on the Sea of Galilee every day. Nor does it say that Jesus healed everyone all the time. Everyone Jesus healed eventually died and death is a part of nature as well. Nothing on Earth lasts forever.
If God prevented sickness, disease, war, famine, hurricanes and other matters that cause people to suffer – then we would be in heaven. And the Bible does describe a real place called heaven (a place without suffering) where all who trust in Jesus Christ go when they die. But we have to make a free-will choice to surrender our lives to Him here on Earth in order to reap that eternal reward. Not everyone goes to heaven, according to the Bible.
With respect to human suffering, so much of it is caused by our own decisions or the decisions of others that have a direct impact on us. Again, God allows these decisions to have cause and effect consequences most all the time. Otherwise, we would all be robots. My cousin’s wife was killed by a person who decided to get behind the wheel drunk. So the whole family suffered because of the actions of someone they didn’t even know.
In Christian theology we live in what is called a “fallen world.” Or a world in spiritual darkness, if you will. We are all infected with a sin nature that causes bad things to happen in our lives and in the world around us. We see this every day. Jesus Christ came to redeem the world from this darkness. He said it this way in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”