Why do bad things happen? We should also ask “why do good things happen?” The problem of suffering demands that we prove God is righteous in this world as we know it.
First, we must understand that the world as we know is not the world as God wants it. When God created a home for mankind, it was described as “very good”, a “garden”, and in that home for man there was everything mankind needed to thrive and nothing that would cause mankind to suffer–except his own choices.
When Adam and Eve sinned, they chose to leave that Garden. They chose to leave God’s perfect world and to enter into the world which was infected by sin. God said that because of sin, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3.17-19). Paul expounded on this idea saying, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8.20-21).
We have all been born into the world that is infected with sin. Being in this world we bear many of the consequences of Adam’s sin. We will never know what that Garden home was like. We will never know what it was like to hear God walking in the cool of the morning. We will never know what it was like to be outside the curse of sin. We only look forward to the hope of glory that will supersede the Garden home.
Therefore, we will all suffer. God knows we suffer, and God has acted on behalf of our suffering. He sent Jesus to share in our sufferings (Heb. 2.18, 4.15). Not only did Jesus share our experience of suffering, but he has defeated the cause of suffering–sin and the champion of suffering–death. “For God has done what the law, weakened by flesh, could not do. By sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8.3-4).
While we try to understand the great victory over sin, we still cannot help but to wonder why God allows suffering to persist. Jesus addresses the problem of suffering in this world and gives us a very practical application in Luke 13.1-9. In this Jesus shows us that suffering is actually beneficial to our eternal life.
Suffering comes by the free will of others–Luke 13.1-3
Suffering sometimes occurs because of free-will decisions. Some of those present with Christ give a report of some Galileans who had been executed by Pilate. Pilate also mixed their blood with the blood of their sacrifices. We do not know much more about this historical event, but we understand that in some way these individuals had chosen to rebel against Pilate and Pilate had chosen to punish them in the grotesque way.
Suffering came about because of the decisions of two groups–the people and the governor. God is not to blame here. He allows people to make decisions. If we were to intervene in this decisions on every occasion, that would negate free will. What’s so good about free will? Without free will we can never have the best relationship with God that God wants. Jesus came so that “all who believe on him can have the right to become the children of God” (John 1.12). Faith gives us the right to be God’s children. Faith does not force us to become children. God does not force us to become children either. God gives us the opportunity to become children through faith. Free will makes John 3.16 the Golden Text of the Bible. “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Without the presence of free-will, John 3.16 is a rather dull declaration of God’s predetermined will. God must allow us to choose our fate by allowing us to choose our actions.
Jesus looks to this terrible event and reminds the people that those Galileans were no worse spiritually than anyone else. They had not suffered because they were particularly sinful. In their suffering we do see God cry out in warning that there will be a time of unexpected judgment for which we must all be prepared.
Suffering comes by accidents–Luke 13.4-5
Jesus himself introduces another question which is more difficult to answer. The Galileans suffered because of their own decisions, but “the 18 on whom fell the tower in Siloam and killed them” were seemingly innocent. This highlights the fact that suffering doesn’t come simply by our own choices but by the conditions of the world in which we live.
See the immediate link Jesus brings up–“Do you think that they were guilty above all the people living in Jerusalem? No, I say to you, but except you repent you all will also be destroyed” (Lk. 13.5). They suffered, not because of the immediate result of their own decisions, but because they lived in a world infected with sin. We live “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8.21).
While academic, philosophical, or theological defenses of God allowing suffering to exist may help us emotionally, we recognize that academic answers mean little to those who are in the midst suffering. The ultimate answer to suffering is not in reason. The ultimate answer to suffering is found in the unreasonable suffering of our perfect Savior so that we can be saved from this condemned world.
Suffering comes by refusing to repent–Luke 13.6-9
Jesus unmistakably linked suffering with sin. Now he shows us one reason God allows us to suffer. He allows us to suffer to point us to move to a place of comfort. The parable begins with a certain man who had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. He said to the gardener, Behold three years I came seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground? But he answered and said to him, lord let it alone (afes) this year also. I will dig around it and put manure on it. The mediator asks for more time. Here is beautiful description of grace.
However, judgment must surely come. Even though the owner permits another year of mercy for the plant to prove itself fruitful, the time for judgment must come (Heb. 9.27). Even though Christ gives us opportunity to submit to God and serve God, we must still fulfill our responsibility. Will we bear fruit for God? Will we be found as we should when Christ returns again?