It is clear from a biblical and experiential standpoint: suffering is real.  And what is also real is that we are righteous, and God does not hold our sins against us.  Thus: it is not the case that there are no good people.  We have been made good in Christ.  And it is not the case that suffering is the result of us doing bad things: that is, it is simply not the case that bad things happen to bad people and good things to good people. 

A woman I know had a stillborn baby.  At the hospital, my wife and the woman’s mother were having lunch and the mother said “you know, good things happen to good people and bad things to bad people.”  And my wife was aghast and asked, “what bad thing did your daughter do that would cost the life of her baby?”

That simply isn’t the answer to the question of suffering.

God is clear: it doesn’t work that way.  Look at the passage from Luke 13:1-5:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  (Luke 13:1-5)

The same sense, same attitude, same truth as we see in John 9:1-3:

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.

What does suffering tell us about God?  One thing is very clear: it is not because of our sin.  Jesus suffered for that. 

What does suffering tell us about God?  We learn that God loves us: he tells us he does and he shows us he does.  God suffered for us. On a Roman cross.

We learn that suffering is part of the universe that God has put us into.  Suffering does not exclude our existence. So if our existence is compatible with suffering, why would we imagine God’s existence isn’t?  One very obvious thing we need to remember about suffering: God himself suffers.  We don’t suffer it alone. He suffers with us.  He really does know our pain.  Suffering is as much a problem for God as it is for us.

If God loves us, if God is good, if God is powerful, why do the righteous suffer?  Well, if God loves himself, if God is good, and if God is powerful, why does HE suffer?

Suffering is not incompatible with our existence.  It is part of our existence. Likewise, suffering is not incompatible with God’s existence.  It is part of his existence.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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