What the Bible teaches about unjust suffering

Scripture teaches that God is infinitely Holy and Loving and is intensely concerned about the welfare of every individual on the planet. Indeed He loves us so deeply that He gave His only Son to suffer for our sins on the Cross

This being the case how then can there be unjust suffering in the world? For example, why is there violence, why are there diseases, earthquakes, famines, droughts etc? If God is Holy, Loving and all-powerful, how can things happen which are contrary to His will?

Scripture reveals that such things can happen for three reasons.

1. Due to human freewill.

Putting it simply, God had one of two choices regarding the kind of beings He brought into existence. Either He could create beings without any ability to choose for themselves whether to obey Him or not meaning they would be nothing more than mere androids and robots; or He could create beings with the ability to make their own personal decisions how they behave, Anyone who has seen the film "The Stepford Wives" will understand that to be a real creation we had to be a free creation.

God created us free to make our own decisions and free to choose personally whether to obey Him or not. This gift of freewill means, that individuals can do (and often do) what God doesn't want and events occur which are clearly contrary to His will. His will regarding the kind of conduct He desires from us is clearly set out in the Ten Commandments. It is not His will that people are murdered; it is not His will that people experience theft and It is not His will that marriages breakdown through adultery etc etc. These things happen due to human disobedience. Due to human freewill "bad things" can happen to "good people".

2. Due to the corrupted state of the laws of nature.

In this life we have not only to contend with the freewill actions of other people; actions such as theft, murder, greed and pride etc, but we are also inhabiting a planet which the Bible describes as being in a "fallen state". In Romans ch 8 vs 20-21 it explains that the "natural laws" (ie the "laws of nature") created by God regarding how the planet would operate were originally perfect and flawless but that they are now in a state of "imperfection, decay and corruption". The corporate nature of human sin affected and spoiled what God  created perfect, so that these laws no longer work as intended. Just as a computer with a virus will often still work to a degree , albeit slowly and imperfectly so likewise the present condition of these laws of nature.
This explains why we have human bodies which work to a degree but which are susceptible to diseases such as cancer, birth defects, MS and so on. This is why our physical bodies age, grow old and die. Scripture states clearly that physical disease and death were never part of God's original plan and is the result of the corporate nature of human sin causing "the fall and corruption of the natural order".

This "fall of nature" explains why we have a weather system which sort of works but which gives some parts of the planet too much rain and other parts none at all. It explains why some parts of the world get earthquakes and experiences so called "natural disasters". None of these things were part of God's desire for this planet.

Scripture warns that even the most devout person is still affected by these "fallen laws". Living a Christian life doesn't mean one will escape getting cancer, having a child with a birth defect, or being caught in an earthquake etc, because quite simply we are still subject to the "natural laws" of the planet we inhabit. Again, being a devout Christian  doesn't prevent one from growing old and dying! It is these fallen natural laws which explain why disasters occur, why "bad things" can happen to "good people" and why "good people " still have to put up with disease and ill-health. The Bible warns that the fall of nature means that bad events  happen to the righteous and the wicked alike and that this in itself is an evil. (Ecclesiastes ch 9 vs 1-3)

One day these natural laws will be restored to their original and perfect condition and there are many promises in Scripture concerning this event. For example, Isaiah ch 11 vs 6-9 describes new world conditions "where the wolf will lie down with the lamb and the lion will eat straw like an ox and nothing will hurt or destroy in all the earth". And Amos ch 9 v 13 describes the restoration of the environment so that the earth can once again produce many harvests each year rather than just one. This restoration of nature doesn't occur until after the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

3. Due to Satanic activity.

Angels are mentioned more than 300 times in Scripture. They are described as being a distinct and separate order of intelligent beings created by God. Like humans, these life forms have the gift of freewill and because of this the Bible warns that not all angels are good! Some angels have become evil and are facing God's judgement. These angels used their freewill to rebel against the Lord and their leader is called Satan, the Devil and the Deceiver.

Putting it simply, the Bible teaches that we are in the midst of a spiritual war and that those who are faithful to God will face problems and temptations from time to time due to these freewill actions of these fallen angels. This conflict is described in Ephesians ch 6 vs 10-17, 2 Corinthians ch 4 vs 3-4, 1 Peter ch 4 v 12, 1 Peter ch 5 vs 8-9, 1 John 5 v 19 and in numerous other places too many to mention.

Faithful Christians down through the generations have experienced this conflict in various ways, from outright persecution and martyrdom to lesser problems such as family troubles, illness, temptation, financial and business worries and so on. They faced these things not because they were being unfaithful to God but precisely the reverse; namely they faced these things because they were being faithful to God and Satan hates and fears faithful Christians.2 Timothy ch 3 v 12 states "Yes , all who desire to lead a Godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution". See also Acts ch 14 v 22.

Whatever form these problems take it is important to remember that this freewill activity and power over the faithful is limited and restricted by God in depth and duration. Satan can go so far but no further. There are countless promises in Scripture concerning this. For instance, in John ch 10 v28 Jesus promises that no one can ever snatch the faithful out of His hand; in 1 Corinthians ch 10 v13 it promises that God is faithful  Who will never allow anyone to be tempted more than they can endure and in Psalm 55 v 22 it says "cast your burden upon the Lord and He shall sustain you, because He will never permit the righteous to be moved." In Psalm 37 v 24 it declares that the righteous person will never be totally cast down because the Lord will uphold him with  with His hand and in 2 Corinthians ch 12 v 9 when St Paul was going through personal trouble  the Lord encouraged him by promising "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness". See also Proverbs ch 24 v 16, Romans ch 8 vs 35-39, 2 Peter ch 2 v 9, Psalm 34 vs 17-19, Psalm 46 vs 1-3, and Job ch 1 v 12 and Job ch 2 v 6.

Whenever Christians face problems due to human freewill, the fall of nature, or Satanic activity, three important promises should be remembered.

Firstly, God promises that provided we hold fast to Him, He will bring something good out of that evil and trouble for our benefit. See Romans ch 8 v 28, James ch 1 vs 2, 12, Job ch 42 vs 12-17 and Genesis ch 45 vs 4-8. Being infinitely Holy, God cannot do evil so that good may come (Romans ch 3 v 8), but He can and does bring some good out of evil events and happenings in spite of those events having been contrary to His will and desire.

This teaching lies behind an ancient Chinese story. Once upon a time a farmer had one old horse that he used for tilling his fields. One day the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer's neighbours heard about his misfortune they sympathized with his loss. The farmer however, believed God could bring good from this sorrow so he said to his neighbours "Good fortune? Bad Fortune? We shall see as time goes on!" A week later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills! Shortly afterwards when the farmer's son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this was very bad luck, but the farmer remained faithful and said "good fortune? Bad fortune? We shall see as time goes on!" Some weeks later  the army marched into the village and forced all the able-bodied young men to go to fight in a bloody war. When they saw the farmer's son had broken his leg they let him stay. Everyone now marvelled at this turn of events and realised that the farmer's faithfulness had been justified all along and that God really can bring good from evil.

Secondly, God promises that any unjust suffering in this mortal life will be more than recompensed and redressed on the Day of Judgement. Since God is infinitely Holy and Loving He cannot grant freewill without there also being a future time when He "examines and judges" those events which took place as a result of that freewill and the fall of nature. Being the embodiment of Holiness and Love He can neither overlook sin nor unjust suffering and so Scripture promises that God will redress all wrongs in eternity.

Much of what happens in this mortal life is clearly not the will  of God but the Day will come when God will have His say and give His response. It is not His will babies die in famine, it is not His will people are born handicapped, it is not His will the righteous suffer unjustly and it is not His will that people are murdered etc. All this unjust suffering needs to be viewed from the perspective of eternity because it is beyond the grave that God recompenses all such wrongs. Indeed, the Bible actually describes Him as "The God of recompense" in Jeremiah ch 51 v 56 and "The God of Justice" in Isaiah ch 30 v 18.

This recompense beyond the grave will be so accurate and precise that we are assured "not even a hair of your head will be lost" Luke ch 21 v 18. See also Matthew ch 19 vs 27-29, Luke ch 16 v 25, Romans ch 8 v 18, 2 Corinthians ch 4 vs 16- ch 5 v 4, Psalm 10 vs 13-14, Ecclesiastes ch 8 v 12, ch 12  v 14 and Hebrews ch 4 vs 12-13.

Thirdly , God promises that He is a close and Faithful Companion Who suffers when we suffer, grieves when we grieve and Who shares and experiences with us all that we endure. In Isaiah ch 63 v 9 it actually says "In all their afflictions He Himself  was afflicted". There is not a pang of pain on earth which is not shared  in Heaven because God so identifies with suffering people it is as though He Himself  is suffering. See Acts ch 9 vs 4-5, Psalm 34 v 18, Matthew ch 25 vs 35-40, Hebrews ch 13 vs 5-6 and 2 Corinthians ch 1 vs 3-4.

When we suffer as faithful followers of Christ let us take heart that the Lord will bring good out of that trouble; that in eternal life we will be more than repaid and recompensed for what we have endured and that through it all the Lord is a Fellow Companion sharing our sorrows just as though He Himself were suffering.