“If God loves us, why do we suffer?” is a question that I have heard often. Chances are you have heard this question as well, or even asked it yourself. When I was first asked this question a number of years ago, I didn’t have an answer – or at least one that satisfactorily answered the question. This made me search the Bible for answers, and in this post, I will share with you what I learned.
God is Sovereign
This question is really asking two things: is God really loving, and if so, is God all-powerful? It questions God’s integrity of being perfectly loving, and it questions God’s sovereignty. This question also often then leads people to question if God really exists.
There is a lot of evidence for the existence of God which I’ve written about in another post, and the Bible gives us a lot of reasons to believe that God’s love for us is great (for example John 3:16), so in this post we will focus on God’s sovereignty. Just how big is God?
The Bible tells us that God is sovereign, which to put simply, means that God rules over and is in control of everything and everyone – all of creation.
Many of us believe this to be true because we pray to him or ask others to pray for us. When we pray to God, we are acknowledging that he is in control of the situation we are praying about.
But when we are not praying, and simply living life, most of us shrink God down in our minds. What do I mean by that?
Most people, even Christians, are guilty of shrinking God down and we do it for three reasons:
1. We simplify our understanding of God, so we can understand him with human reasoning.
J.I. Packer said in his book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, “Human nature is to oversimplify the Bible by cutting out the mysteries”. or in other words, we leave out the parts that we can’t understand, or maybe even don’t like.
2. We attempt to make God more palatable or acceptable to unbelievers. We don’t want to describe God in a way that sounds negative.
3. We want to feel in control of our own lives, or as Orlando Saer puts it in Big God, “the biggest reason why we shrink God down is because we make ourselves bigger”.
God is all powerful and in control when we need something from him – when life is not going the way we want. But when life is going well and we feel in control, we forget about God and take back the steering wheel of our lives.
We want our cake and eat it too. God is all-powerful and loving; therefore, humanity shouldn’t have to suffer with a sovereign God in charge. But we also want to be in control of our own lives and destinies.
How Big is God?
Just how big, or sovereign, is God? Here’s what the Bible tell us.
Isaiah 45: 7 ‘I form the light and create the darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things. He is in control of the good and the bad, and not just allows it, but creates it.’(NIV)
Isaiah 46: 9-10 ‘Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me. Only I can tell you the future before it happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish’ (NLT).
James 4:13-15 ‘Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then gone. What you ought to say is “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”’ (NLT)
Job 42:2 ‘I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you.’ (NLT)
Matthew 10: 29 ‘What is the price of two sparrows – one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.’ (NLT)
God is In Control of All Things
God is in absolute control over all things, all of mankind, and all circumstances: The Bible says that he rules over:
• the wind (Luke 8:25)
• lightening (Job 36:32)
• snow (Psalms 147:16)
• frogs, gnats, flies & locusts (Exodus 8-10)
• quail (Exodus 16: 6-8)
• worms (Jonah 4:7)
• fish (Jonah 2:10)
• grass (Psalms 147:8)
• plants (Jonah 4:6)
• famine (Psalms 105:16)
• the sun (Joshua 10:12-13)
• prison doors (Acts 5:19)
• blindness (Exodus 4:11; Luke 18:42)
• deafness (Exodus 4:11; Mark 7:37)
• paralysis (Luke 5: 24-25)
• every disease (Matthew 4:23)
• travel plans (James 4: 13-15)
• the hearts of kings (Proverbs 21: 1; Daniel 2:21)
• nations (Psalms 33:10)
• murderers (Acts 4: 27-28)
• spiritual deadness (Ephesians 2: 4-5)
Every good thing comes from God, but so does natural disaster, disease, and devastation. God ordains it and governs it, and he will also end it.
If God is In Control, Why Do Bad Things Happen?
The Bible tells us that God is good and loving, but the Bible also tells us that God is holy, righteous, and just.
Because of God’s holiness and righteousness, he cannot tolerate sin. Since the fall of man, when Adam and Eve made the choice to rebel against God, God has been delivering his judgement on all creation.
Romans 5: 12 says, ‘When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.’ (NLT)
Romans 8: 20 says, ‘Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse’. And Romans 8:22 says, ‘For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.’ (NLT)
Creation is groaning because of God’s judgment on the world, resulting in suffering. And we are not being judged for Adam’s sin alone, we are also be judged for our choice to sin. Even Christians, who are set free from the slavery of sin (Romans 6:6-7) still groan inwardly to be released from the curse of a sinful world (Romans 8:23).
Can God be Loving and Judge the World at the Same Time?
2 Timothy 2:13 says this: ‘If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.’ (NLT) God cannot deny His own nature. He is good, loving, holy, righteous, and just all at the same time – all the time.
But how can God be both loving and just, at the same time, without contradicting himself?
Romans 6:23 reveals this: ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (NLT)
The penalty for the sin of all mankind had to be paid, but God paid that price himself, with the blood of his own Son, Jesus Christ. Why?
John 3:16 has the answer: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’ (NIV) Because he loved us!
Another reason why suffering happens is because of free will. Since the time of Adam and Eve, God has given mankind free will. Freedom to choose to serve God or serve Satan. It doesn’t sound like much of a choice when you put it that way, but whether we believe it or not, if we are not serving God, we are serving Satan.
Why did God give us free will? Because he loves us! You cannot love and be loved without the freedom to choose that love. It cannot be forced.
Unfortunately, most do not choose God, and even those who do choose God do not perfectly obey his commands – commands given to protect us from the harm and consequences of bad choices.
6 Reasons for Suffering
Do you want to know more about why suffering happens? I have written a post called 6 Reasons for Suffering in the World that helps us understand why God allows or even causes suffering to happen, while still maintaining his goodness and loving kindness.
God’s Sovereignty is Bittersweet
There is both blessing and bitterness under the sovereignty of God. But despite the bitterness, having a Sovereign God is good news! Imagine just how devastating the world would be if God was not in control. No hope, only chaos.
But he is in control! He is our only hope for answers to prayers for the impossible. He is our only hope to find meaning in suffering. And he is our only hope for life everlasting.
Big God by Orlando Saer. Why then do bad things happen? Where does that leave ‘free will’? Does God choose us or do we choose God? What’s the point of praying if God already knows what he’s going to do? Orlando Saer tackles these questions – and more – in a straightforward and engaging way. If you sometimes struggle to understand the way God works in the world, or to explain it to others, you will find light here. You’ll also be left with a new appreciation of just how big the God of the Bible really is.