By Lucas Kitchen
I have received the question pretty often, “How could a loving God allow all the suffering in the world?” This question makes it sound as if God is sitting by with His enormous arms crossed, staring down indifferently. Or maybe He’s not staring down at all but is occupied with something else. It’s as if the questioner is suggesting that God is just not all that into us.
The simple answer is that God loves us so much that He gave us volition.
Volition is the faculty or power of using one’s own will. It’s as if God chose to enter a creative partnership with every human being (see Prov 16:9). This partnership is designed to allow man his own creative decisions while being directed by God. You could think of it as an apprenticeship. Man holds the paintbrush while the Master Painter stands near, ready to help direct each stroke. However, man quickly abandoned the God-guidance part. It’s as if man elbowed the teacher, grabbed the canvas, and ran for the bushes. As my wife used to say when she was a kid, “I can do it myself.” It grieves God to see mankind trample the canvas He’s given us. Early on, God even regretted making man because of his capacity for sin (Gen 6:6). After all, the canvas was crafted in the image of God Himself (Gen 1:27).
Even though God could rip the canvas out of our hands and fix its muddy image, He doesn’t. He’s so committed to the creative partnership that He has chosen to allow humans their volition, even when their volition drains their own lives (Rom 1:24).
It’s the volition of man that causes the suffering of the world. One second the God-hater complains, “How could God allow suffering?” God could end suffering, but He would have to revoke His gift of volition to do it. As soon as God did this, the God-haters would change their tune to say, “How can a loving God take away our free will?” The fact is that God-haters will hate God no matter what He does.
The ability to suffer is a gift to God’s children.
Suffering increases a believer’s ability to experience God’s glory in the future kingdom. If there were no obstacles, then His children would never grow. If there was no opportunity to grow, then we would have no chance for greater reward and closer fellowship with Christ. As strange as it sounds, suffering is a gift from God for those who have believed in him. For those who are God’s children, suffering is a chance to earn amazing eternal rewards (Rom 8:17b; Jas 1:2-5).
A coach is only as good as the suffering he makes his players endure.
Let’s imagine that you have joined the football team. Despite the fact that you have amazing athletic potential, the coach never lets you take the field during practice or games. At first you appreciate not having to sweat, run laps, and suffer heat exhaustion. It doesn’t take long to realize that even though you’re missing out on the suffering of practices, you really want to be part of the action.
After months of sitting on the bench in frustration, you go to your coach. When you ask him why he never lets you play, he says, “I don’t want you to get hurt and then to suffer. If I let you practice or put you into the game, you will probably get hurt, possibly very badly. I’m sparing you all that pain.”
You would rightfully be mad at the coach. You chose to go out for the team and play. You know the risks. You want to play, even though you realize you might get hurt and hurt badly.
In the same way that allowing his players to suffer in practice makes for a good coach, God allows us to suffer because He’s a good God. He has positions of responsibility for faithful believers in the future kingdom. Obedient Christians suffer in order that we might be prepared to take up positions of leadership in His kingdom (2 Tim 2:12). From this perspective, we see that He allows us to suffer because He loves us and wants to see us succeed. He lets us suffer because He is good.
Finally, God will rescue believers from suffering in an ultimate reboot of the cosmos (Rev 21:1-4). In this earth 2.0, God plans for there to be no more suffering. The suffering of the former world (our current home) will have accomplished its purpose of maturing the believers who will reign with Christ. The new earth, where believers will live, will be free of pain and suffering.
God laid down a heavy price to save you. He gave His Son Jesus for you. He wants to give everyone eternal life (1 Tim 2:4). But His desire for everyone to have it doesn’t mean He will get what He wants (contra Calvinism). Volition, remember. He won’t force anyone to enter the kingdom of heaven. He invites all who wish to be in the kingdom to believe in Jesus, its future King (John 3:16.) Whoever believes in Jesus, the Giver of eternal life, has eternal life.
Your salvation is secure if you’ve believed in Christ alone for eternal life. You can never lose it. Now it’s time to let the suffering in your life grow you toward rewards in the future kingdom of God. As Jesus said, “store up treasures in heaven” (Matt 6:20). Christians, you have an amazing opportunity to earn rewards in the future by how you respond to suffering now.
If you’ve never believed, it’s time. God guarantees eternal life for anyone who simply believes in Jesus for that life (John 11:25-26). Do you believe this? If you do, then you have eternal life.
How could anyone think that God is just not that into us? He’s so into us.
Lucas Kitchen is an American author of both Christian fiction and nonfiction, and the Director of Free Grace International. He lives in Longview, TX, with his wife and three kids.