If God is good and all-powerful, why is there pain and suffering in the world?

Oftentimes you hear skeptics attack Christianity claiming that God is evil and unjust. As atheist Stephen Fry said about God in an interview last year, “How dare [God] create a world in which there is so much misery that is not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?… [God] is monstrous, utterly monstrous, and deserves no respect whatsoever.” This is not only a concern of of non-believers, however, believers struggle with this question as well. The good news is, the Bible provides a clear answer. The question arises from a misunderstanding of the world God created and how it came to be the way it is today. To answer this question we need to go back to the beginning.

In the beginning, God created a “very good” Gn. 1:31 universe with no pain, suffering, or death. He created mankind and gave them rule over the earth Gn. 1:28. God gave the first people, Adam and Eve, a choice of whether to follow Him or not. In order to do this, He created a tree from which He instructed them not to eat. He told them that if they ate from it, they would be punished Gn. 2:17. They could choose to trust God and obey him, or they could choose not to. Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God (sin), and they ate from the tree Gn. 3:6. As a result of their sin, God punished them as He said He would, because He is truthful and just Nu. 23:19, 2 Th. 1:6. Sin had tainted creation Ro. 8:20-22. The suffering which comes from natural disasters and diseases is the result of a “fallen” creation, no longer fully and perfectly sustained by God’s power. The reason that there is pain and suffering in the world is because we live on a sin-cursed earth. God does not delight in the fact that we suffer and die Eze. 33:11, but He allows it to happen because it was our choice which brought it.

It is correct to say that God is good, but it is incorrect to pin the “bad” in the world on Him. The “bad” in the world is the result of the corruption of mankind. That leaves the question though, if God is all-powerful, why does He not stop bad things from happening? Why does He not stop the robber from shooting the store owner, the girl from stealing the wallet on the bus, or the boy from getting hit by the car? If God were to do that—to stop the robber before he shot the store owner—and if God were to stop every bad thing before it happened—then our free will to make choices would be taken away. How so? If every time the robber tried to shoot somebody God stopped him, then the man would not really have the choice to shoot anybody at all. He would have to do the right thing every time. If, like this man, we could only do the right thing, then our free will would be removed. We would not have the ability to diverge from what God intended. We would essentially be robots having to obey.

What is the consequence of not having free will? If we were to no longer have free will, then we would no longer be able to love God genuinely. God created us with the ability to make choices of our own in order that we may freely choose to love Him or reject Him. We all know from personal experience that love must be given. It cannot be forced. If God took away our free will, we would be “robots” who had to love him. Our love would not be genuine or true. It would be mandatory. I’m not sure that it could even be called love anymore.

Are there consequences for allowing free will? Absolutely. There are many people who reject God entirely, and He gave them that ability. We must realize, however, that God thought that the goodness and beauty which comes from genuine love was worth granting us free will for. He knew that the alternative of “robot love” was far worse, even though many of the people who He would create would reject Him. He created humans out of love, because He wanted a genuine relationship with them.

The problem with our relationship with God is that it has been severed by our sinfulness. He is perfect and we are not. We cannot co-exist directly with God because of His perfection and our lack thereof. God, in His love and longing for us, made a way for this separation to be bridged though. He sent His son, Jesus, to connect the gap between us and Him—which Jesus did by taking the punishment for our wrongdoings so that we may be considered blameless and perfect before God Ro. 3:21-30.  We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ, and this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who they are.

Tyler J. Collins | Creator of Discover the Answer