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Morning over the bay

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

James R. Murphy

Available languages: Español

  • sky

    Why do you have to be such a dick to him jaspercat52? I think he brought some valid points. I believe in God but sometimes I get so angry at him for making life extremely unpleasant and terrible. Some people live their entire life from childhood to adulthood in pain and agony, having done no wrong. Those bad experiences turn people away from God and lead them into walking astray from God's path. Why a man has to suffer blindness for his entire life just so that God's work "MIGHT" be displayed? How's that fair to the guy that done no wrong just so God's work "might" be shown? It's not about James R Murphy's "privileged feelings" and I don't see why you have to make fun of him for "crying in anguish" when he was having a hard time dealing with the reality. You sound like the one that is privileged and never knew how rough and tiring life can get when you live your entire lifetime struggling and suffering. People get tired of it. Tired of following God's ways when it only brings them more pain and suffering. I don't understand why those kids in Africa has to suffer like that just so that God's work will be displayed through others. I think you missed the point of this article because James was simply quesitioning why God allowed innocent people to suffer and shared his personal feelings. You didn't have to bash on him and accuse it as an evil act. You're in "First world" nations as well so if James is guilty then so are you and all of us. What our ancestors did isn't something we could control so how is it fair that we take the blame of it? Instead we should learn from it and to avoid it from happening? No? It's easy for people who never had to deal with health issues or see loved ones suffer from serious health issues to be saying things like what you said because if you had gone through some of the things James spoke of then you'd realize why it's legitimate for people to be angry at God sometimes.

  • Sheila

    There is no God or gods. So it's not necessary to be labor these points. The first Noble Truth (in the nontheistic Buddhist canon) is the truth of suffering. This world IS suffering. There is no special glory to be had from it, only for all to try to liberate themselves from the roots of it - which are greed, anger and ignorance. Why make up a special entity, for which there is no proof, to rationalize away the realities we face? Such is a fantasy, a thought-gane.

  • jaspercat52

    I'm so very disturbed by this article and the privilege and bourgeois attitudes expressed, and especially the objectification expressed of other human beings – as though their entire existence and demise is in service to those of privilege, just so they can ~feel good~ about ~God~. God did not put human beings on this earth, allow them to be tortured and die for YOUR PRIVILEGED FEELINGS, so that you’re eyes could be filled with a glimpse of “God’s Glory.” YOU are not any more important than any other person. Suffering on the scale of famine, starvation, and mass deaths are caused by a long history of world colonization and wars that PEOPLE cause and that first world people (like YOU) still benefit from to this day. ...You should be ashamed at your privileged tears **crying out in anguish** for other people’s suffering and acting like you’re some helpless child while other people are doing the real work to create change for those people. Don’t think for a second that the world or God is blind to your brand of hypocrisy. There is a saying in the colonies…“When the missionaries came they had the Bible and we had the land. Now we have the Bible and they have the land.” This saying speaks to the exploitation of people around the world by missionaries claiming to be there for God. You are no better, worse even, as you have now exploited them for their pain. What a sick and evil act.

  • Charles

    Thank you for your writing, which I truly hoped would offer an explanation for the problem of suffering. Your article's opening gave me hope. But then, you write of asking yourself, "How do I shield my God from these accusatory arrows?" which to me indicates you never allowed yourself to consider the merits of the accusers' position, i.e. that no all-powerful and loving God would allow the most unimaginable suffering, especially of helpless children and animals. You now believe that "the purpose of God in suffering is that the world might see the love of God in action through his people – in response to the suffering." How does that account for the millions who suffer and die without any such "action" offered or even remotely possible? That is a whole lot of collateral damage to make a point. Ironically, at the end of your article, I realized it was time for me to give up looking for an answer to this question. My loss of faith is now complete. But I sincerely wish that your faith helps you in your impressive work to reduce suffering. You have done far more than I have.

  • Betty Norling

    Read what Jesus says in Matthew 25:31-46. It is plain and simple, isn't it?

  • Cheryl

    Suffering exist because we are human and the hand of man is greedy...famine, war, clean water. Man has the understanding and knowledge to end these sources of suffering... Now... Why not.greed economy.... Money and greed are why there is no end to this... If God is present in the hands of man then yes God's hand is present in the greed perpetuating suffering... Yes, the Holy Spirit animates all life.. What a paradox life is... Faith is grace moved by the spirit of ONE....evil exists and lives as indifference... Nothing is moved unless by God... God is life and life is being lived by no other and moved by only ONE... Therefore go I.... I Am That I Am, life being lived....

  • Josh Moudy

    God allows suffering in the world only because He has promised not wipe us off the face of the earth, as with the flood. The suffering of people is the result of evil. Evil enters into the world through our sinfulness, not as an intention of God. It is through the indifference that comes with our sinfulness that caused Jesus to remind us that God's original commandments are to love Him and one-another. God has given us the key to ending the suffering in the world to the extent that we can. If your heart bleeds for the suffering in the world, stop whining about it and blaming God, and become the hands and feet of our loving Father who, as the writer suggests, does receive the glory when we follow His command to love.

  • Ed Long

    I four sure aren't one of the intellectual folks being quoted in the article or like some of those responding who talk to be talking. It appears to me the only reason God allows suffering is to see if the "So Called Christians" will give up what they are doing and reach out, by not just helping end their suffering that day, but have the courage and guts to work on the root cause of the suffering! Such as helping provide clean drinking water, teach folks how to farm efficiently, teach women how to do simple canning of food products, teach democratic government, empower women to care for themselves, to honor people of different races and religions and on and on! Just role up you sleeves and Love your neighbor as yourself and God will smile and be proud we now understand why he put poor suffering people in the road in front of us! Blessings! Ed

  • Tina Mcmurry

    yes james and we as a church have failed miserably. I'm afraid the conservative church has gone in with the superior additive that they must show them the one and only way before giving them any reason to believe. Other organization go in with love and the humility of servants but I'm afraid those are few. But the real truth is the majority of us Christians walk by those opportunities day after day because they feel they have rented someone to do that for them in the form of some organization they support. I call it The Tap. I know when that person has been put there for me to show them love and tell them they have dignity. Sure it's uncomfortable , sure it takes my time, sure it can be sickening but I know that the Jesus standing there wondering if I I I will feed or cloth or compliment or say be careful out there or befriend a. I worker that is struggling and needs someone to include them or just to show your children and grandchildren what the tap fed like and what to do then. My 11 yr old grandson does not say to his friend in school with Autism about how he will go to Hell if he doesn't accept Christ... He is just the one who says to the other kids in the class, Don't say that to him, he is my friend. So keep some sandwiches in your car to pass out or look up at who you are passing instead of your iPhone, see the invisible in our society and that could be your next door neighbor. My daughter shows love to her neighbor because the neighbors fundamentalist church she ran to for help told her to stay in a marriage with her abusive husband. Believe me once you ask God for The tap you know when you have blown it off because you didn't have time. Thank God for the people who God sent into my life to deliver me from religion and introduce me to God. To God be the Glory.

  • Christopher Russell

    As a former evangelical Christian myself, I would agree that if God has a morally sufficient reason to allow evil, pain, and suffering, then we sure don't about it. But for all those doubting Christians out there, former or otherwise, I suggest you wait until the Day of Judgement, and then you can hold the Almighty to account. The problem is that too many so-called Christians are disturbed by humanist questions that the Bible ignores eg. Does God exist? Why does God allow suffering? Christians who are troubled by these questions need to ask themselves why they are of so little faith. And former Christians may as well wait the day of Judgement.

  • Jose

    With all the wealth, that certain privillaged countries possess and the brilliant mines that acquire that wealth. We humans can argue and favor entitlement, with all kinds of justification, the enjoyment of our labored fruitfulness.... So, God created man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being, (with intelligence, strength, gifts, abilities and choice.) The question then, is, not why God allows sufferings, But why have We allowed suffering? The human race has become clever in questioning and justifying, (Legitimately) , the present condition We are in. The word responsibility has been replaced by hypocrisy. We have freely been giving the breath of live and many other gifts, Heavenly Father In Jesus Christ Holy Name, ,forgive us for endless ideologies, Help Us Do Your Will, let Us look at our own failures and not grieve your sovereignty and Let Us seek You out to heal Our Prideful ways. Amen

  • Cheryl Folston

    I believe the world is a temporary place and that it was built for a reason. Perhaps Satan challenged God wanting to rule it. Maybe that's what the division was all about. Maybe God gave it over to Satan to let man or perhaps the angels see just how the world would be under Satan's ruler ship. Maybe even man had a hand in that himself through Adam and Eve. I think God stands back and lets Satan do his thing, only intervening through prayer. The more prayer the better the conditions and the conditions on the earth may be directly affected by the Body of Christ. Is it better? Is it worse? Has the "salt lost its savor". Depends on the Church and those who are believers, I believe.

  • velma

    That's not going to work for me. I'm a christian. So God allow men to rape little girls and boys. Murder people and leave them on the side of the road. throw children in the river. Hunger so we can pack up our trucks and take the starving food and meds to prove his love.

  • Dana Franchitto

    I'm sorry but as a former evangelical Pentecostal christian, I find the idea of God allowing suffering to show his "love" through us is patently absurd.Tell that to people freezing in winter streets with no place to go. Tell that to victims of senseless violence and poverty.Tell that to the untold billions of non human animals who have suffered needelessly at the hands of humans.HUamn capacity is limited. GOd is purported to be omiscient, all loving and omnipotent.So how would it reflect on me if I were able to prevent or end suffering and did not?

  • Jordan

    How reassuring this article would be for an African mother who recently lost her son to diarrhea or malaria or HIV/AIDs or pneumonia or malnutrition or armed militants or natural disasters or tuberculosis. I'm sure a man suffering from Loiasis (where the parasitic Loa loa worm literally burrows itself through the conjunctiva of the eye) would be so relieved to hear he's an agent for showing God's love. I wholeheartedly agree with John's comment above. A god who allows this disgusting inequality on his earth so that he can "show his love" is sadistic at best and certainly not worthy of any reverence. If he does exist (which, admittedly, is something I do not believe) there most certainly must be another reason for this suffering.

  • James

    It seems to me that this is an example of the old proverb that, "No one really wants to know how their sausage is made." In Scripture, God almost never explains himself. On those rare occasions when the veil is briefly peeled back a bit to reveal what is happening behind the scenes, like Jesus' explanation of the blind man in John, we generally don't like it. We are repulsed by the idea that Our Father might use his children in such a way. Perhaps that is the reason he doesn't show us more. If we knew the logic behind every instance of suffering we probably couldn't bear it. Still, the Faith of the church has always been that at the end of the day it will be seen and admitted by all that, "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

  • Portia d'Alcantara

    Our response to suffering is to continue to love and be merciful to others and to be positive in our response to each slap of God. I have awakened in despair everyday for more than a year. I went to work more than a year ago and found that the company had gone 'belly-up'. I lost my home, my car and every one of my possessions. I have been living on the floor of a friend with my few clothes (none of which is warm enough for Denver) cold every night….I have been praying for instruction, for understanding, for comfort, for peace, for this situation to end, for restoration, for others and their needs, for the world to come together in brotherhood. I read something from the Bible everyday. And yet God remains silent. I am only human and now that my friend has indicated that she can't support me anymore, I've got to get onto the street and find a shelter. How am I supposed to believe that God loves me? Whatever happened to "whatsoever you ask MY Name...". What happened to the Comforter? Even if He wants me to go the rest of my life like this why is there no comfort or peace or even an answer? How is He being glorified my my daily suffering? And did not that Christian mother in south Sudan who was raped in front of her husband who was subsequently killed cry out? Did she not cry out to her Lord and Saviour Jesus? And to what avail? In the middle of the nights now I cry out for Him to end this life or tell me plainly that it is His will that my life comes to a natural end with no material relief. And how is this glorifying Him? And why won't He just say to me that I am glorifying Him by my suffering? Where will His glory or love be at the end of the month when I am on the street in the next few days? And where is the loving God?? Will He ever present Himself? Why don't you guys ( learned people of God) just say that you have no idea why God loves some and ignores others? And that we just have to endure until the end of this life no matter what? "His ways are not our ways" and we may die never experiencing His love, mercy, restoration or understanding. Is this not the truth - sad and confusing and hurtful as it might be?

  • Josée-Marie

    It's very mind boggling, we'll never know why until we meet our Lord face to face when all will be revealed. We're simply to allow HIM to use our hands/feet as HE sees fit and by the LOVE he has blessed us with hence reflecting HIS Love in all difficult situations !!!

  • Christopher Russell

    This is not James Murphy's answer. It is Christ's answer. I would not have thought it open to a follower of Christ to find it not "acceptable". Also, it is not a philosopher's answer to the problem of evil i.e. it does not justify the co-existence of suffering and a loving God. It explains it. Take it or leave it. But it's not meant to answer the question, Why does God allow suffering? It's meant to answer the question why is this man suffering.

  • Sammie

    My God doesn't allow suffering to show off what a loving God we have. I know very little about anything, but I am certain the answer to why there is suffering is much more profound, and I don't expect to understand it in this life. It is still my job to help alleviate suffering, and I still believe God is in the act of doing so.

  • Jack

    A good book along this path is The Envelope by John Agliata

  • Douglas Krefting

    During my time of recovery after a recent heart attack God's love was constantly present to me in the healing of my heart in more ways than one. From this presence of love I concluded that God created this way to show me how to love love and to be grateful for all those who cared for me through this time of pain. This poem and and my increased capacity to avoid isolation from others and to love them deeply is sign of my gratitude to God for my and their existence. THE PROBLEM WITH PAIN Ah! Wounded again! You know, because you feel pain. What is it this time? Injury? Illness? Betrayal? Fear? No matter the source, All you can do now Is leave behind the pain of the wound And remember and seek The Love that heals. Jesus Left behind the pain of betrayal And crucifixion. Remembered only Our Father’s Love to become Our Messiah, who now leads each of us Into being remembered; now we too Can enter into His Kingdom.

  • John McCullough

    I disagree. I do not find an acceptable answer in these words. While I wholeheartedly agree that our response to suffering ought to be to show the love and compassion of God in Christ, the logic that suffering is created to give us that opportunity is frankly absurd. I like the response that we just can't fully understand in this lifetime much better.

  • marcia aldridge

    James Murphy's answer to the daunting question of why God allows the very innocent to suffer, is amazing in its brevity, but the answer of our loving and merciful presence in the suffering of another opens possibilities for all of us. Although I think there must be more to be explored about the suffering of children, Murphy's answer puts responsibility in the lap of each one of us! Jesus said to love one another. I'm certain He would insist that we love especially those who suffer and are outcasts of the mainstream of society. Let us all recommit to being present to those who suffer.

  • Marilyn Regentin

    One of the best comments I have come across about the meaning of suffering and why God allows it. So that the love of God can be seen in us, as we respond.

I had worked in Christian ministries for some time before my first “field trip,” and I thought I knew what front-line ministry was like. I was wrong.

In the middle of a third-world slum, surrounded by hungry children and hopeless adults living in dirt-floored shanties, assaulted with the odors, noises, dust, heat, and sheer heartache, I stood in the middle of what passed for a street – and cried. Openly and unashamedly. I was utterly overwhelmed.

I found myself asking “How could a loving God permit this? Does he not hear their cry?” The question has haunted me for years, along with my frustration over how little I could do to relieve this suffering.

In the midst of another African famine, I asked myself: Does my God not hear the weak protests of listless, starving children? Fixed by the desperate, pleading gaze of a roomful of Romanian orphans, overwhelmed by the need for love of just one, much less a hundred, I asked: Does not the heart of my God break? Later, standing on a coastline littered with the detritus of a killer tsunami, I asked: Is not the God of love touched by the tragedy of whole villages drowned? At home in Los Angeles, walking down a skid-row street on a balmy summer night, I wondered: Does not my Lord remember having no place to lay his head?

How many times, in the midst of doing what little I can, have I cried out in anguish, “God, it’s too much! How do you stand it? How is it you do not rend the heavens and scatter the stars, reaching out in your awesome power to feed the hungry, heal the sick, comfort the broken and console the lonely? How can you possibly know all things and yet do nothing? How is it that I, a man of dust with a heart of stone, find myself brought to my knees in tears at the plight of my brothers and sisters while you, who can do all things, seem to remain unmoved?”

How do I answer the unbeliever who challenges my assertion that God is love, that he knows all things and can do all things? What do I say when they look around at the world and say, “If this is what your God is like, I want nothing to do with him”? With what argument do I explain a child dying of diarrhea who could have been saved by clean water and a few pennies worth of salts? How do I shield my God from these accusatory arrows?

For many years my answer was, “I don’t know. Someday I will. For now, I stand in faith, believing in a God I cannot see and whom I do not understand, but whom I know to be love.” Yes, I’ve heard the arguments about “someday,” about sovereignty, about predestination and sin and the arrogance of man to question the will and motivation of his maker. I’ve staunchly defended in public, while agonizing over in private, Christians answer to what, in my opinion, is one of the most troubling questions of our times.

One day, reading in the Bible, an unexpected answer blazed like a lightning bolt in the darkened sky of my understanding. The Gospel of John recounts:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1–3)

“Now wait a minute! Here suffering is not, Lord, as your disciples assume, the judgment of God against sin. Why then did you say this happened? ‘So that the work of God might be displayed in his life’? You mean to tell me that the purpose of a lifetime of blindness was that God might open his eyes in a moment?

“But just for this one special circumstance, right? I mean, you weren’t teaching a general principle here, were you?” Yet I found a few pages later that Lazarus’ death occurred “so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).

“Let’s make sure I understand this correctly: You allow pain and suffering and heartache in this world so that God may be glorified? So that the love of God might be revealed on the earth? Do you mean to say that every instance of suffering is also an opportunity for God to move, to show his love, to demonstrate his works of mercy and compassion and grace?”

If this is true, it follows that what we are to see when we behold suffering is the glory of God. But can the world see the glory and love of God directly? No, they see it in the body of the Messiah – his church. It is in our lives that the love of God is to be shown forth. And it is through us that he desires to work.

The purpose of God in suffering is that the world might see the love of God in action through his people – in response to the suffering. The first thing an unbelieving world should see as it contemplates its suffering is the hand of God outstretched towards it. And we, as the body of God on this earth, are those hands.

What an awesome calling: to manifest the love of God to a suffering world! What an awesome responsibility, for if people don’t see God’s love in us they may not see it at all.The almighty God has chosen to work on this earth through his people: through our prayers, our actions, our gifts, our hands.

James Murphy works for a ministry that feeds the homeless in San Diego and provides training and support for organizations serving the victims of human trafficking. This article is adapted by the author from his book, How Could a Loving God…?

Photograph: CDC

For further reading on this subject, see The Individual and World Need.

A young girl eats from a tin bowl during a famine crisis in Nigeria.
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