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Why does God allow suffering?

Unsplash/Joshua Earle

Sooner or later, we all ask the kinds of big questions that don’t always have easy answers. Questions like: Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do people suffer? And why do we always lose just one sock?

I don’t have an answer to the sock question. Where in the world do those socks go?

But I might be able to help with one of the other big questions. Why does God allow suffering?

First, I want you to understand that these are not new questions. They are questions that date all the way back to the days of Jesus and the disciples. In fact, there’s a story from the Gospels that directly addresses this question. It’s found in John 9:

“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. ‘Rabbi,’ his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parent’s sins?’ ‘It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,’ Jesus answered. ‘This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.’ Then He spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, ‘Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam’ (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!” (John 9:1-7, NLT).

We’ve all heard people use the phrase “seeing is believing.” But in the life of this man — who had spent his entire life unable to see — it’s more accurate to say, “believing is seeing.”

After Jesus healed him, he saw on multiple levels. He saw the beauty of God’s creation around him. He saw and understood the purpose of life. He saw everything in its proper perspective. He saw what really mattered.

And best of all, he saw Jesus.

For the purposes of this article, let’s look at the question the disciples asked Jesus about this man. They assumed — because it was a common belief in that day and age — that the man’s blindness must be a consequence. “Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” they asked.

We’ve all assumed the answer to similar questions. “Why does God allow babies to be born with disabilities?” “Why did the hurricane directly strike that city on the coast?” “Why did so many people die in that devastating fire?”

Are these devastating events some kind of divine punishment?

“The problem of pain,” C.S. Lewis once wrote, “is atheism’s most potent weapon against the Christian faith.”

Some of you can already identify with this. You’ve harbored significant doubts — or may have turned against God — because of a tragedy early in life. Or you might feel you’ve been dealt a particularly harsh hand. Your parents divorced. You have a disability. You’re grieving because of the senseless death of a loved one.

You just have one answer: WHY?

You’re not alone in asking that question.

Ed Sheeran is one of the biggest global pop stars in the 21st century, and he reveals in a new documentary that he also has asked those questions. Over the course of just a few months, his best friend died from cardiac arrest while still in his early 30s, and then Ed’s wife was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor — while pregnant with the couple’s child. In the documentary “The Sum of It All,” he says grief and loss took over his whole life for a period. He found himself feeling suicidal, plagued with fear, depression and anxiety.

Sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes our lives just don’t make sense. It doesn’t matter if we’re rich or poor, famous or unknown.

So why do these bad things happen?

That’s exactly what the disciples wanted to know from Jesus. What bad thing happened that resulted in this man being born blind? Did he sin or did his parents sin? 

You might be surprised to know that Jesus’ answer was “neither.” The man wasn’t blind because of sin. Period. God had a different purpose for the man’s blindness.

We can learn three important truths from this story:

1. We live in a fallen world. That's why bad things happen. God created Adam and Eve in a perfect place, the Garden of Eden. Humanity was created perfect. We didn’t age. We didn’t die. We were completely innocent — “naked and unashamed” as the Genesis account says.

But we did have the ability to choose right and wrong, and our first parents — Adam and Eve — made the wrong choice. They chose wrong. They sinned. And as a result, we are living today under the curse of sin. It impacts our world and shapes every part of our lives.

Had Adam and Eve never sinned, our world would not be cursed. In a broad sense, things like sickness, disabilities and death are the result of sin. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adams’ sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned” (Romans 5:12, NLT).

That means humans are responsible for sin — not God. 

In response, you might ask, “So why didn’t God make humans so we couldn’t sin?”

It’s because God gave us free will. We can use it to choose good or to choose evil. We can love Him or reject Him. We can use our free will to do the right thing or the wrong thing. Had God not allowed us to exercise our free will, our world might be safer.

That brings us to a second truth we can learn from this story.

2. Life can be bad, but God is good. Look again at the response of Jesus to the disciples’ questions: “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins … This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” 

In other words, the question was not about how the man ended up blind. The question was about how Jesus could use his affliction to bring glory to God the Father.

We are asking, “Who caused this misery?”

God is asking, “Will you allow Me to use it?”

Jesus chose to perform a miracle in this man’s life. He healed him and did it in a most unusual way. Previously in the Gospels, Jesus had healed people in a variety of ways. Sometimes He merely spoke the words and people were healed. Sometimes He physically touched people. 

But this time, He spat on the ground, mixed it up with the dirt and made some kind of muddy balm. Then Jesus rubbed it onto the blind man’s eyes. He gave the man instructions to go wash the mud off in a local pool.

I think Jesus varied His healing methods so we wouldn’t pay attention to the way He healed people, but instead would look to the Healer Himself!

This leads us to one more truth.

3. God uses flawed people. He gave the blind man a role in his own healing — the man had to find his way to the Pool of Siloam and wash himself. Likewise, God used the small-in-stature David to bring down a giant. He used Moses to part the Red Sea. He used Esther to save her people.

In fact, that’s the whole message of the “Jesus Revolution” film. God uses messed-up people. Lonnie Frisbee was flawed. Chuck Smith had his own struggles. And God knows that I have faults and limitations.

Why does God give a blind man a role in his own healing and use messed-up people like us? Paul explains it in 1 Corinthians:

“Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful … As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:27,29).

God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick. In this case, Jesus didn’t even tell the man what would happen when he washed his eyes. He just sent him to the pool. Imagine the blind man counting the steps down to the pool, washing the mud away, and then opening his eyes to see for the first time.

There’s God’s part in our healing … and then there’s our part. The blind man later told the people of his village, “I went and washed, and now I can see!”

We should follow his example. If God leads us one step at a time, then all we have to do is take the first step. If He stands at the door and knocks, then we have to open the door.         

The truth is that life can be difficult. I know this as well as you do. Some questions don’t have good answers, but Jesus changes everything. He can take our everyday struggles and heartaches and bring good out of them. He can take messed-up people and use them to do great things. Once you believe in Him, He’ll help you to see the world — and eternity — in a way that will completely transform your life.

Greg Laurie is the pastor and founder of the Harvest churches in California and Hawaii and Harvest Crusades. He is an evangelist, best-selling author and movie producer. “Jesus Revolution,” a feature film about Laurie’s life from Lionsgate and Kingdom Story Company, releases in theaters February 24, 2023.

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