"There is no God! If there was, he wouldn't allow all the suffering in the world!"
Several people have given me this reason for not believing in God. But suffering in the world doesn't prove that God doesn't exist. It just proves that God doesn't run things the way we think he should. There are reasons why he allows suffering in the world.
Suffering is painful, but not feeling pain could be worse. It hurts to touch a hot stove, but it would be much worse to leave your hand on the stove until it was charred flesh. Much suffering comes as the consequence of our own sins. It is these painful consequences that caused God to label these things as sins and to warn us against them. But suffering the consequences will often cause us to repent and stop hurting ourselves and others even worse.
It is harder to accept suffering if it is caused by the sins of others. Often, there is no good explanation of why God allowed it other than: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4 NIV) In other words, overcoming adversity makes us stronger.
Sometimes, God intentionally causes us to suffer something to prevent something much worse. An example of this is found in the Bible. King Jeroboam of Israel had a son who became very sick. God's prophet revealed to Jeroboam's wife that the son would die, be mourned and buried. But this sickness was actually a blessing from God because this son was the only one in the family in whom God found anything good. Because of Jeroboam's wickedness, the rest of the family would be slaughtered and left unburied. (1 Kings 14:1-20 and 15:29-30 NIV) Sickness and death, especially in children, is always difficult and sad. But we have no way of knowing what worse things might have happened if they had lived longer.
There is a lot of suffering caused by natural disasters: hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and blizzards. But these were not part of God's original plan. In God's original creation, there was no rain but water came up from the earth to water the surface of the earth. (Genesis 2:5) No rain means no floods. There is geologic and fossil evidence that the earth's climate was originally more uniform from the equator to the poles, probably because of the greenhouse effect from the water vapor in the atmosphere before it fell as rain during the Flood. Evenly warm temperatures from the equator to the poles mean that there were no strong winds, storms, blizzards or tornadoes in God's original creation.
The Flood was sent by God because of the great wickedness of mankind. (Genesis 6:5-8) The Flood triggered changes in climate that have continued to cause natural disasters and suffering. But this will not always be. "For the earth was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it in hope that the creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." (Romans 8:20-21 NIV) "That day (of God) will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness." (2 Peter 3:12b-13 NIV) These verses tell us that the present world is decaying, but God has plans to restore it to perfection. When He returns, this decaying Earth will be destroyed and a new earth will take its place.
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 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." (Revelation 21:1-5 NIV)
God will restore the earth to its original perfection as a perfect dwelling place for him and his people. Then there will be no more suffering.
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