Why Suffering? Where Does It Come From?

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Why Suffering? Where Does It Come From?

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The truth is that God didn’t. This isn’t the world that God intended. God’s original creation didn’t contain these pains. The world God created was peaceful and beautiful. Food was easy to come by. There was no death. People were intended to have a close, personal relationship with God. God gave us free will. God gave us choices.

When our ancestors, Adam and Eve, chose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they chose to disobey God. They rejected His design for the world. In doing so they chose this chaotic world and all the problems we have today. In the world they chose there was the curse of cause and effect, time and chance. Bad decisions now can affect generations to come. Satan became the ruler of this world. We inherited a painful world chosen by our ancestors.

Whether you’re in the middle of a trial now or in a period of relative peace in life, it’s helpful to understand why suffering exists at all.

Paul Johnson, a famous author, once asked: “If God is infinitely good, and infinitely powerful too, why should evil exist at all?” That question is one we all want answered.

God reveals why He allows suffering to exist in our world today. One inescapable aspect of human life is our free will—our freedom of choice, our free moral agency—that provides the key to understanding why God allows evil and suffering to exist.

“The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9 Genesis 2:9And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
American King James Version×
).

The first book of the Bible talks about two trees God created (Genesis 2:9 Genesis 2:9And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
American King James Version×
). One represented the way to life and blessings. The other tree held the way to suffering, anguish and death. God gave Adam and Eve a choice of the two trees. He explained the consequences of choosing either tree. He even commanded them not to make the wrong choice (Genesis 2:15-17 Genesis 2:15-17 15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat: 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.
American King James Version×
; compare Genesis 3:3 Genesis 3:3But of the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.
American King James Version×
).

Just like we so often do, Adam and Eve made the wrong choice. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6 Genesis 3:6And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also to her husband with her; and he did eat.
American King James Version×
).

Although God warned them not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He didn’t keep Adam and Eve from making a wrong choice. God created them both in His own image. He gave them freedom to choose like He does.

Because God wants us to be like Him, He gave us the ability to choose what we do. Without making right choices, we can’t build righteous character, the same character He has. To build character, we need to make wise choices. We must choose between right and wrong, wisdom and foolishness, carelessness and vigilance.

All actions have consequences. Some consequences are good, and some are bad.

Consequences and Time and Chance

Every day we hear news of tragic accidents or terrible events that cause suffering. Tornados level schools, earthquakes kill thousands, bombs go off in crowded marketplaces. We ask ourselves why these terrible things happen.

Then sometimes it hits closer to home. It’s our home that’s hit by a tornado; it’s our loved one in a horrible car accident. We’re left with one inescapable question: How can something like this happen? Where does the suffering each of us and our families go through come from? As much as people try to look within themselves to understand, they have to admit they have no real answers.

The biblical King of Israel, Solomon, faced the same issues and questions a long time ago and in a very different place. He saw the futility of life when tranquility was shattered by random acts of human nature or even nature itself. He concluded, “One thing happens to all” (Ecclesiastes 9:3 Ecclesiastes 9:3This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event to all: yes, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.
American King James Version×
), and that evil and madness do exist. Much of what takes place is subject to events beyond our control.

Solomon recorded his thoughts on this topic in a book called Ecclesiastes. In a lot of ways it’s journal of a person who spent his life searching for the same answers we look for today. He looked around and he saw evil and suffering, righteousness and pleasure. He participated in all of it just to find out what worked best for him. He had enough money to buy and build whatever he desired. He searched for the wisdom of his day, compiled and studied it and was considered by all his peers to be the wisest of all.

Solomon no doubt witnessed actions of violence and unexplainable natural catastrophe that took countless lives. No one had answers, not even the wisest man alive. Why evil? Why suffering?

In all of his observations and meditations he concluded that there is such a time as “time and chance,” and that suffering can result from seemingly random events. He concluded “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. For man also does not know his time; like fish taken in a cruel net, like birds caught in a snare, so the sons of men are snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly upon them” (Ecclesiastes 9:5-12 Ecclesiastes 9:5-12 5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun. 7 Go your way, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God now accepts your works. 8 Let your garments be always white; and let your head lack no ointment. 9 Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of the life of your vanity, which he has given you under the sun, all the days of your vanity: for that is your portion in this life, and in your labor which you take under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you go. 11 I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all. 12 For man also knows not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly on them.
American King James Version×
).

This statement is real, and it gives understanding beyond the headlines and events of this life. Time and chance, events of life beyond our control and completely unrelated to our moment occur, and we are all at times caught in a net and in that moment are like the fish or the birds–life snuffed out and seemingly without meaning.

And yet, there is meaning. There is hope in Solomon’s conclusion about the affairs of all life on this realm called earth. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
American King James Version×
).

There is a God, and His judgment is a fact of life. Judgment is part of the hope of this life for without it there is no hope of justice. It is when life is darkest and despair the sharpest that the hope of God’s justice offers a glimmer of light to pierce the gloom. That is what Solomon concluded after a lifetime of reflection.

Satan Causes Suffering

While Solomon’s conclusion about time and chance in suffering is true, it’s not the only source of suffering in our lives. Sometimes terrible tragedies and situations that cause us suffering come from a very real being who exists only to cause harm to people.

Jesus Christ spoke of one He called “a murderer from the beginning” and “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 John 8:44You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and stayed not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
American King James Version×
, New Revised Standard Version). Jesus identifies the origin of evil and suffering. The suffering you and all people go through comes from a being who first lied, deceived, hated and murdered. He is the enemy of mankind, Satan the devil (1 Peter 5:8 1 Peter 5:8Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour:
American King James Version×
).

The Bible tells us he was once a glorious angel whose name, Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12 Isaiah 14:12How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how are you cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations!
American King James Version×
), meant “light-bringer.” God said that Lucifer was “the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” He was “in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering…You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you” (Ezekiel 28:12-15 Ezekiel 28:12-15 12 Son of man, take up a lamentation on the king of Tyrus, and say to him, Thus said the Lord GOD; You seal up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. 13 You have been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of your tabrets and of your pipes was prepared in you in the day that you were created. 14 You are the anointed cherub that covers; and I have set you so: you were on the holy mountain of God; you have walked up and down in the middle of the stones of fire. 15 You were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created, till iniquity was found in you.
American King James Version×
).

Something changed deep within Lucifer. God told him: “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High’ ” (Isaiah 14:12-14 Isaiah 14:12-14 12 How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how are you cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations! 13 For you have said in your heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also on the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
American King James Version×
, New International Version).

Lucifer convinced himself he was as good as or better than his Maker. He rebelled against God and tried selfishly to put himself above the other angels (Revelation 1:20 Revelation 1:20The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which you saw are the seven churches.
American King James Version×
). Where does violence, anger and hatred come from? God said that Satan became “filled with violence” (Ezekiel 28:16-17 Ezekiel 28:16-17 16 By the multitude of your merchandise they have filled the middle of you with violence, and you have sinned: therefore I will cast you as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy you, O covering cherub, from the middle of the stones of fire. 17 Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty, you have corrupted your wisdom by reason of your brightness: I will cast you to the ground, I will lay you before kings, that they may behold you.
American King James Version×
). His attitude of selfishness and anger has influenced people throughout time. Because he hates God, he does what he can to make God’s children suffer.

Although the Bible introduces Satan when he deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-24 Genesis 3:1-24 1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, Yes, has God said, You shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2 And the woman said to the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die. 4 And the serpent said to the woman, You shall not surely die: 5 For God does know that in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. 6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also to her husband with her; and he did eat. 7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. 8 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 And the LORD God called to Adam, and said to him, Where are you? 10 And he said, I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. 11 And he said, Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded you that you should not eat? 12 And the man said, The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. 13 And the LORD God said to the woman, What is this that you have done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. 14 And the LORD God said to the serpent, Because you have done this, you are cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; on your belly shall you go, and dust shall you eat all the days of your life: 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; it shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. 16 To the woman he said, I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shall bring forth children; and your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you. 17 And to Adam he said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying, You shall not eat of it: cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life; 18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to you; and you shall eat the herb of the field; 19 In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, till you return to the ground; for out of it were you taken: for dust you are, and to dust shall you return. 20 And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. 21 To Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them. 22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: 23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from from where he was taken. 24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
American King James Version×
), he has been around far longer. He was the first criminal, a being whose mind and thinking grew corrupt, twisted and perverse. He introduced evil into the world. Humanity has struggled against evil ever since.

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