Why Is There Human Pain and Suffering?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?  Some people blame God, or they claim that because there is so much pain and suffering, God must not exist.  The Bible, however, disagrees.

Genesis 3 makes it clear that mankind was to live in perfect peace in paradise on earth.  It was the disobedience of Adam and Eve, the representatives of the human race, which introduced pain and suffering.  Without their sinful act, the world would still be paradise.

It is not God’s fault that humans suffer.  He gave our ancestors a clear choice and they chose poorly.

  • sean

    I don’t see the argument that it’s just for us to suffer as a result of the sins of Adam and Eve. There is a separate issue of suffering existing as a result of our own choice to be sinful, but I don’t see the argument that it can be moral of God to allow us to experience suffering and pain as a result of the wrongdoings of another. We don’t punish the children of criminals here in America. We tend to leave that sort of behavior as the exclusive purview of North Korea. (We may have stepped over the line somewhat in WWII, but that’s not the main point.)

  • John

    let me get this straight. Adam and Eve’s disobedience brought us pain and suffering. God’s Son died to redeem us from that sin… yet pain and suffering never went away. Get Real.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “It was the disobedience of Adam and Eve, the representatives of the human race”
    I never voted for them – how come they got to represent me?

  • They are not representatives in the sense that they are elected officials. They are representatives in the sense that they are like you. They did what you would have done.

    If we inserted two different people into their spot, those two people would have also freely disobeyed God. Selecting “better” representatives does not not escape the problem.

  • Pain and suffering are going to go away, permanently, for those redeemed by God’s Son. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it will never happen.

  • If the sins of those who became before us have no effect on us, then the freedom of those who came before would be meaningless. God set up a world where the actions of free agents have real consequences.

    Every child of a drunk, or a drug dealer, or a murderer, is negatively impacted by the choices of his parents. That means that our free actions do impact those who come after us.

    A world where each child is born without any influence from their parents would a world where free will is a joke. “Do what you want with your life! Nobody else will be affected!”

    It us unclear to me how this would be better than what we currently have, given that we want to maximize human freedom.

  • Andrew Ryan

    I promise you that if I was given a choice of suffering for my children or not suffering, I’d choose not suffering. Every time.

  • sean

    I think I see where the difference lies. We’re looking at this differently. I’m seeing this as God is punishing us for their wrongs, which is analogous to a judge punishing the child of the culprit. You are saying something more akin to Adam and Eve did a thing which had the effect of introducing bad stuff. God in this view isn’t and active participant looking to punish us. (I see issues with that too, but first we should have an understanding of what the other is saying before discussing things like which is correct and which is moral.) Do you think I’m understanding this properly?

  • God is active and we are active. It’s not either/or. God is ultimately responsible for giving us the power of free will, but we are responsible for our acts of free will.

    Adam and Eve were given the rules by their Creator. They would not be able to continue to live in a peaceful paradise once they decided to disobey God. Once they committed the first act of rebellion against God, everything changed. Pain and suffering were introduced to humanity by our ancestors.

  • That was not the choice they were given. They were given the choice to either obey their Creator or thumb their nose at him. Given that choice, you would have disobeyed just like they did. So would I.

  • Andrew Ryan

    My kids thumb their nose at me sometimes. Doesn’t mean they deserve huge suffering. Nor does that justify the unequal suffering meted out, or the suffering of animals.

  • sean

    And so the conversation devolves into free will arguments. I think I understand what you are saying, so we should call this exchange here.

  • Andrew Ryan

    What was there about them disobeying that meant there HAD to be introduced things such as earthquakes, cancer, parasites, water diseases etc? I don’t get the connection. Did these things arise naturally, or did God specifically design them to cause small children pain and suffering?

  • Sin brings death. That is the message from God. Do evil and suffer. It’s a loud and clear message that God brings through the natural world to us.

    There is no world that God could create where rebellion against him would make people happy. He is the Good.

  • Do you allow your children to suffer the consequences of their bad decisions or do you bail them out every time and save them from all their bad choices?

  • Andrew Ryan

    I’d do anything to stop them feeling massive pain, even if it was caused by their own doing. And I’m not sure the analogy works if the ‘consequences’, like cancer, intestinal parasites, earthquakes, forest fires etc are ultimately, surely, invented by God anyway. I try to keep my house safe for my kids. I warn them about dangers, give them rules, but at the same time if I filled the house with dangerous flammable, infectious and explosive substances, people would rightly apportion me some of the blame if my kids came to harm in the house.

  • “I’d do anything to stop them feeling massive pain, even if it was caused by their own doing.”

    What if your children were determined to do things which you knew would cause them massive pain and suffering? Would you go so far as to lock them in a room to keep them safe? Would you be willing to take away all of their freedom so that they wouldn’t have to suffer, even though they clearly want to do the things that will cause them to suffer?

  • Josh B

    Do we need evil to have free will? By excluding evil from a creation god is only limiting our options ( not our free will) at the cost of pain and suffering. Then why is there even a choice to rebel rather than only choices to do good? We would have the same fundamental free will.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Bill, I’ve no idea how this is supposed to be analogous to cancer, intestinal parasites, earthquakes etc. You’re presenting a choice of either a) No freedom at or b) A world full of cancer, parasites, natural disaster etc. I don’t get why it’s so binary. It should be perfectly possible to not have so much causes of pointless suffering without affecting freedom. The existence of bowel cancer doesn’t increase my freedom or yours, does it?

  • Andrew Ryan

    Quite. Presumably there’s free will in heaven, but that doesn’t necessitate that heaven is full of natural disasters and suffering.

  • We don’t need evil to have free will, but allowing the possibly of evil and suffering provides the training ground for free creatures to decide for themselves whether they freely want to submit to their Creator or go their own way.

    To choose against God is the ultimate evil. So all of the pain and suffering we see today as a result of human sin is simply a result of the rejection of God.

    There can be no Good without God. There is no such thing as a world where there is no pain and suffering (no evil) where people freely shun God.

    In heaven, those who have freely chosen God will get to freely serve him, and evil will be banished because all those who don’t want to serve God will be banished.

  • Josh B

    “There can be no Good without God”

    Is this a pre-established principle? meaning it was before god?

    Surely not. God created everything. So God created the principle ‘No God, No Good’ But why? Why is evil the result of no god as opposed to lesser Good.

    We then can define this ‘lesser good’ as evil but it’ll be less in amplitude. As God has control of the severity of evil. Has God minimized evil to a point where there’s only a slight distinction between Good and evil?

    To put this in a analogy, think of it like a father and a son. The son’s rebellion doesn’t give the father the right to cause suffering (not only to him, but generations to follow) but it does entitle the father to retain his blessing (perhaps a place to live) and not give it to the son. So this lack-of blessings is a lesser good but not full out suffering.

  • God is Good. God did not create the Good. He is the Good. The Good is God. Goodness is essential to God’s nature.

    Good is whatever conforms to God’s nature. Evil is a privation or perversion of something that is good.

    If a person rejects God and decides to rebel against God’s commands, which reflect his nature, then there is no way for that person to avoid suffering. You simply can’t exist, reject God, and not suffer.

  • Josh B

    “Good is whatever conforms to God’s nature”

    God is whatever conforms to Good, as well, since they are the same.

    If God is Good and Good is God then they are self defining and God can change the definition of good to meet his needs.

    But do you mean to tell me God is bound by his nature?
    If so, it looks to me like something governs God.

    So why doesn’t God define Good as a creation without suffering?

  • God doesn’t “define” what is good. Goodness is defined by his nature. His nature is fixed, and therefore unchangeable. Therefore, what is good is fixed and unchangeable.

    If you want to say that God is “bound” by his morally perfect, eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, uncreated, infinite nature, then be my guest. This hardly seems like a problem.

  • Andrew Ryan

    So, specifically, what is causing earthquakes, cancer, parasites, water diseases? I know you think it’s man’s actions/sin/Adam & Eve’s choice etc, but I’m asking specifically where are those things coming from? In other words, is God actively designing those things, or is it Satan (and God’s simply allowing him to design them), or are they just natural occurrences that God doesn’t prevent?

  • Andrew Ryan

    It might be a problem if it leads to the mass of suffering we see on earth, including among animals who never made any kind of choice for it, not even the ‘choice by proxy’ that you’re saying our ancestors made on our behalf that we continue to be punished for.

  • Josh B

    God created us to love Him freely and not forcefully. In heaven, there’s is no pain and no suffering. Can we love God freely? ( the way He designed us to)

    If yes, then what is the point of suffering? We can love God in the way that satisfies Him without the suffering. The evil in this world just serves as a arbitrary middleman. And you can’t justify evil acts as “training grounds” because we already can love God ( the highest human act) so what needs to be trained?

    If no, then we are forced to love God and God is back to His original problem of wanting true love. What creation was all about was God’s scheme for instant gratification. And this cannot be the case, surly a perfect God could find a way to eternally stratify is want for love.

  • Josh B

    And reflecting on your previous post

    ‘In heaven, those who have freely chosen God will get to freely serve him, and evil will be banished because all those who don’t want to serve God will be banished’

    Why doesn’t God banish us now for not serving? Once again evil is arbitrary.
    Worship me or be banished. How does God receive the love he wants from that?

  • Pain and suffering build character. They refine finite beings such as ourselves. Surely you can see in your life that your pain and suffering has many times led to a greater good for your life. If not, I feel sorry for you.

    We know that God can bring a greater good from pain and suffering. In fact, the very fact that God knew that human beings would sin against him indicates that God knew that human sin would allow Him to bring the greater good of human growth, of human moral training.

    The human race is going through a time of moral training on this earth, and God thinks that this is better for us than the alternative. You might disagree with him, but I don’t. I’m going to trust that he has my best interests in mind.

    I see this promise being made in Rom 8:28: “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” You either believe that or you don’t.

  • Josh B

    Not all suffering produces character-some are actually counterproductive. for example, theoretically a group of people can murder everyone on planet earth including themselves afterwards. character ceases to exist and nothing is built. This is the evil i’m referring to when I say it’s arbitrary.

    Some specific types of suffering are optimal at building character. For example , athletic training has suffering to a degree but its minimal and less in amplitude. is all degrees of evil linked to each other? ( you can’t have the optimal character building suffering without the counter productive evil)

    In heaven, this training ceases (no more suffering) but not everyone who goes to heaven would have undergone same pain- in other words, everyone will have different degrees of character ( more or less). We don’t reach moral/ character perfection. So why does moral training simply stop?