A close-up of a tear-streaked face, bathed in soft, ethereal light, juxtaposed with a dark and chaotic world in the background, questioning the existence of divine intervention amidst suffering.

Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen?

If you have ever experienced hardships, tragedies, or natural disasters, you may have asked yourself: Why would a loving God allow bad things to happen? This question has been pondered by humankind for millennia.

Although there are no easy answers, examining core Christian beliefs about God’s nature and intentions can provide some insight into this complex theological issue.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: God allows suffering because he granted free will to humanity, but he ultimately plans to defeat evil and bring redemption through Jesus Christ.

In this comprehensive article, we will examine philosophical arguments surrounding God and suffering, analyze relevant Bible passages, review historical Christian perspectives on suffering, and explain common psychological reactions to traumatic events.

We aim to provide a thoughtful exploration of this difficult topic that resonates with both hearts and minds.

The Nature of God and the Existence of Suffering

God’s Omnipotence and Benevolence

The existence of suffering often leads people to question if God is truly all-powerful and good. An omnipotent, benevolent God seems incompatible with a world filled with evil and suffering. However, God’s omnipotence means He has the power to eliminate suffering, not that He necessarily will.

God may allow suffering for reasons we don’t fully comprehend. His omnipotence doesn’t mean He prevents all evil from occurring if He has a morally sufficient reason to permit it.

For example, God may allow suffering because greater goods require it. Building character, learning compassion, or bringing people to faith may require enduring trials. God is powerful enough to prevent suffering, but He is also wise enough to possibly see positive results from allowing it.

So God’s goodness and power need not conflict with the existence of suffering.

The Gift and Burden of Free Will

Human free will is also key to understanding why an all-powerful, loving God permits suffering. True love requires freedom to choose whether to accept that love. So God grants us freedom, even freedom to sin and cause suffering. This is an incredible gift but also a heavy burden at times.

Without free will, we would essentially be robots unable to make real choices about right and wrong. Our decisions must have meaningful consequences, not just positive ones. Natural disasters, illnesses, and the immoral choices of others that lead to suffering are heavy prices for having free will.

But God may permit these difficult consequences because free will enables us to experience His love in a genuine way.

Overcoming the Problem of Evil

The existence of suffering undoubtedly confronts us with difficult questions about God’s goodness and power. While thoughtful people can disagree, the problem of evil need not undermine belief in God. Plausible explanations show suffering may coexist with a God who is both loving and all-powerful.

Further, faith teaches God can bring positive results even from life’s difficulties if we approach suffering from a spiritual perspective. As GotQuestions.org notes, “It’s quite possible that, from an eternal perspective, the suffering in this world will have been used for good, to bring about hope and salvation.”

With faith and wisdom, we can overcome the problem of evil without abandoning belief in God.

Old Testament Perspectives on Suffering

Punishment for Sin

The Old Testament contains many examples of suffering occurring as a direct result of sin. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, they ushered pain, struggle, and death into the world (Genesis 3).

Throughout Israel’s history, the prophets warned the people that turning away from God would result in calamity, famine, and foreign invasion as punishment.

For example, after King Solomon’s reign, the united kingdom of Israel splits into two kingdoms – Israel and Judah. The Bible records that both nations fell into idolatry and moral decay, leading to their eventual conquest by foreign powers.

The prophets proclaimed this was God’s judgment on their sin (2 Kings 17).

Other examples involve individuals like Cain, who murdered his brother Abel and was cursed by God to be a wanderer (Genesis 4), and King David, who committed adultery and then murder, losing his child as punishment (2 Samuel 12).

While today we may recoil at the idea of God actively punishing sin, this principle underscores the seriousness of rebelling against our Creator in the Old Testament context.

Tests of Faith

The Bible also shows times when suffering provided a test of faith for God’s people. The classic example is Job, who lost all his possessions, children, and health in a series of tragedies permitted by God (Job 1-2).

Job’s friends insisted he must have sinned greatly to warrant such pain, but Job maintained his innocence.

In the end, God vindicated Job and restored his fortunes twofold (Job 42:10). His patient endurance even in the midst of affliction is held up as an outstanding example of persevering faith. Other figures like Abraham, Joseph, David, and Jeremiah all underwent intense trials that tested their trust in God.

While incredibly difficult in the moment, these tests of faith reveal the genuineness of one’s relationship with God. They lead to spiritual growth, wisdom and dependence on divine strength. As James 1:2-4 in the New Testament explains, they develop perseverance and maturity in the believers who undergo them.

The Mystery of God’s Will

Finally, the Bible frankly acknowledges there is mystery surrounding why God allows certain instances of suffering. When it seems unjust or excessively cruel, human logic struggles to make sense of it.

For example, Jeremiah frequently questioned God about the intensity of the persecution he faced (Jeremiah 15:15-18).

Likewise, the writer of Psalm 88 openly wondered why God would allow such unrelenting anguish. Scripture affirms the pain is real and not to be diminished. People suffering horrific evil may rightly appeal to God for relief or explanation.

Yet as God declares to Job, His ways and thoughts are higher than mankind’s (Isaiah 55:8-9). Humans have limited vision, while God sees the full picture and ultimate purpose. This side of heaven, we walk by faith, trusting in God’s wisdom, love and promises despite unanswered questions about suffering.

New Testament Promises of Redemption

Jesus as the Suffering Servant

In the Gospels, Jesus is portrayed as the suffering servant prophesied about in Isaiah 53. Though completely innocent, Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4). As the atoning sacrifice for sin, he was led like a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7).

Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy by willingly enduring rejection, mockery, and ultimately death by crucifixion for the sake of sinners. His suffering unto death paid the penalty for sin and brought healing and forgiveness to all who place their faith in Him (Isaiah 53:5).

Hope in the Resurrection

After his death, Jesus rose victoriously from the grave, conquering sin and death and providing hope for all who suffer. His resurrection points ahead to the future restoration of all things, when God will wipe away every tear and remove all sources of pain and crying (Revelation 21:4).

Believers can find strength in suffering knowing that, because of Christ’s resurrection, their present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in them (Romans 8:18).

Suffering Produces Perseverance and Character

The New Testament writers teach that trials have a redemptive purpose in the lives of believers. Suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-4, James 1:2-4). By God’s grace, believers are enabled to rejoice in sufferings, knowing that hardship is used to shape them into the image of Christ.

God disciplines those he loves, producing righteousness and peace in them (Hebrews 12:5-11). Even in the midst of suffering, Christians can rest assured that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Historical Christian Views on Suffering

Augustine: Suffering Entered Through Original Sin

According to the influential theologian Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), human suffering originated as a consequence of the Fall and original sin. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, sin and death entered the world.

This corrupted nature of creation is the root cause of natural evils like diseases and natural disasters. Augustine argued that suffering helps focus our minds on the eternal, heavenly realm rather than fleeting earthly pleasures.

Calvin: Allowed by God’s Will

Protestant reformer John Calvin (1509-1564 AD) saw suffering as part of God’s divine plan and will. Everything happens for a reason predetermined by God before Creation. Though the reason for each instance of suffering may not be clear, Calvin counseled faith in God’s wisdom and sovereignty.

Suffering serves to remind us of human frailty and dependence on God’s mercy and grace.

Lewis: God Whispers Through Pain

Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis (1898 – 1963 AD) also grappled with the problem of pain. He suggested God allows suffering to get our attention. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Lewis saw pain as a pathway to character growth and spiritual formation, albeit an unpleasant one. If we cooperate, suffering can make us more compassionate and Christlike.

Coping With Trauma and Finding Meaning

Common Psychological Reactions to Trauma

Experiencing a traumatic event can lead to a variety of psychological reactions. Common responses include shock, anger, guilt, grief, sadness, fear, anxiety, irritability, emotional numbness, unwanted memories of the event, difficulty concentrating, and problems sleeping (see What Is PTSD?).

These reactions are normal in the aftermath of trauma. However, when symptoms persist for over a month and disrupt daily functioning, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be present.

Trauma can profoundly impact one’s worldview and belief systems. It often evokes an existential crisis as people grapple to find meaning amidst senseless suffering. Questions like “Why did this happen?” or self-blame are common.

Spiritual struggles frequently ensue, with loss of faith or anger towards God. However, trauma can also lead people to develop greater spiritual awareness and appreciation for life.

Steps Towards Healing and Post-Traumatic Growth

While the grieving process differs for each person, there are some helpful steps one can take after trauma:

  • Allow yourself to fully experience and process the emotions
  • Talk to others for support and understanding
  • Express feelings through journaling, art, poetry, music, etc.
  • Attend support groups to connect with others who’ve had similar experiences
  • Consider meeting with a trauma-informed therapist if struggling with symptoms
  • Reengage gradually with enjoyable activities and social connections
  • Practice self-care through healthy lifestyle choices

Research shows that for many trauma survivors, the experience enabled profound personal growth over time, including enhanced relationships, new possibilities for one’s life, increased personal strength, spiritual development, and greater appreciation for life (Post-Traumatic Growth).

Maintaining Faith Through the Storm

When grappling with existential questions amidst suffering, people of faith often find comfort through spiritual practices like prayer, reading Scripture, worship, service, gratitude, and community. Support from clergy members or faith-based counseling can also help work through theological questions and rediscover meaning and purpose after trauma.

A 2022 study examining the link between PTSD symptoms and religious struggle found that “adaptive spiritual coping,” involving seeking spiritual support, religious forgiveness, and spiritual connection, aided trauma recovery (see Spirituality and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms).

Other helpful spiritual coping methods include meditating on higher meaning behind suffering, recognizing growth opportunities, accepting human limitations in understanding, and allowing pain to deepen compassion.

By leaning on faith for strength and perspective, spiritual flourishing can emerge even from life’s darkest storms.


In examining the age-old question of why a good God allows suffering, we have explored philosophical arguments about God’s nature, analyzed relevant Bible passages, reviewed historical Christian perspectives, and provided tips for coping psychologically and spiritually.

While reasons will never fully satisfy hearts broken by injustice and tragedy, traces of hope can emerge by trusting in God’s ultimate triumph over evil and clinging to the promise of redemption.

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