Why is the world full of suffering? This is the question that plagued me for much of my early 20s. A good God and a suffering world just seemed incompatible to me. If God is sovereign, couldn’t He make all the world’s problems go away? There is something about suffering that causes us to ask questions. What can start off as honest interrogation to diagnose our situation can end up spiralling into faithless accusations toward God. In a world that was first created as good (Genesis 1:31), how do we explain the state it is now? How do we reconcile a sovereign God in a world full of suffering?
Not just Sovereign
To be sovereign is ‘the power or authority to rule’ as defined by the Cambridge dictionary. If you have been around churches for any length of time you’ve heard this term used to describe God. However, whilst this describes God’s position in the world, it doesn’t describe His character. After all, if God was sovereign but evil, we might be able to understand the suffering in the world better. But that’s not the picture that the Bible depicts. In fact, this is how God describes Himself ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation’ (Exodus 34:6-7). The picture that is consistently painted about God is that He is perfectly good. This is what makes it difficult for both Christians and non-Christians alike to reconcile suffering in the world when there is such a good God.
Glory is coming
Sin ruins everything. From the moment that Adam and Eve fell into the garden, the world was never the same again (Genesis 3:6-7). As sin entered the world, so did suffering. But sin and suffering didn’t come alone, hope came alongside them. ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’ (Genesis 3:15). Where sin sought to have the final word, God said no. Instead, He gave us a word from the beginning that sin, along with suffering, will be finally destroyed. In the person of Jesus, we see the fulfilment of this sure word given in Genesis. Sin is defeated forever (Hebrews 2:14-15). Whilst we don’t see the total accomplishment on this side of eternity, what we do have is hope – that sin and suffering in all its forms won’t have the last say. So, whilst we wait for that glorious day where suffering is no more (Revelation 21:4), let’s learn to trust God. Whilst the suffering in this world may be great, it is nothing compared to the glory that awaits us (Romans 8:18 cf 2 Corinthians 4:16-17).