Why does God allow suffering?

There’s a catchphrase circulating in Christian circles at the moment, which I’ve mentioned recently in the context of our family (we use it too). It’s this:

“God is Good – All the time

All the time, God is Good”

Straight away, I can hear the age-old question, ‘If God is good and all-powerful, why does He allow suffering?’ – so how can you say that God is good all the time?

Well, let me tell you first off that some of the finest minds humanity has produced have pondered that very question, and I do not doubt that we shall never satisfactorily answer the question this side of eternity.

But instead, let me give you a personal testimony which supports the original ‘catchphrase’. I am sharing this not for sympathy, but in order to demonstrate just how good God has been to me and my family. We personally can say that, in spite of the suffering, ‘God is Good’ to us. All the time.

For the last eight and a half months, we have had, as a family, some of the most horrendous circumstances that life can throw at us. Fiona’s horrific diagnosis of inoperable pancreatic cancer has naturally stood all of our lives on their heads, and we’ve had lots of scary moments since the diagnosis.

In the months since then, we have had such a profound sense of the closeness of God. He’s so real to us. We have been prayed over, anointed with oil; we have friends all over the world praying for us right now. We have had great holidays, an amazing road-trip where God used us even in our weakness.

Little of this would have happened had we not had the cancer diagnosis. Would I swap the last few months for ones without the horror, pain and anguish? I honestly have to say that I really don’t know. The presence of God has been so real to us, and His power at work in our lives – not yet the full healing we so desperately want – the love, generosity and compassion of family and friends, the bringing back together of our family despite differences. The salvation of family members and their redemption from the pits of despair and powerlessness. He’s seen us through good times, great scenery, great food, deep encouragement, deep despair, new ideas. In the midst of fear and terror we have experienced huge, overpowering joy; peace that really is beyond human understanding. I have experienced all these things in the last few months, and I would have likely missed it had it not been for the suffering. You see, God really does draw near to those who need Him. You just need to have the eyes and ears of faith to feel Him there right beside you.

The well-known passage in Psalm 23 says ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, yet still You are with me, and Your rod and staff they comfort me still’. I have found this to be true. The Bible says that God is the Healer of the broken-hearted, He binds up their wounds. Romans 8:28 says this: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”. God draws near to the oppressed. Ps 46:1 says ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of need’. Another way of putting this is that He’s ‘a help always near in times of great trouble’. Such has been our experience.

Let me tell you also that this is not dependent on our behaviour. God is good to us despite our behaviour, our sins, whatever you want to call it. He’s above all that. He knows our weaknesses, and He loves us just the same.

Let me put that more clearly: God’s love does not depend on our behaviour.

It depends on Him. Just because I might pick my nose in public, He’s not going to shun me, or send me ‘bad luck’, or anything so silly. He’s a person, not an auto-response system. He’s not governed by superstition. It doesn’t matter how many ladders you walk under; conversely it doesn’t matter how many black cats cross your path. He’s completely reliable, completely trustworthy.

Our Vicar, Mark, said to me a couple of weeks ago, ‘You guys are going through the most horrendous circumstances, but you’re living it right’. We are living in perpetual thanksgiving for every day. We thank God for the good days, the scenery, the road trips, the flying, the adventures. Thankfulness is a powerful weapon against the despair that can result if you let it get a hold.

This is not denying what is happening. It’s declaring the truth of God in the midst of the suffering. To us, God has been, and is, good. All the time. We can say that despite our circumstances. In fact it’s more obvious *because of* the circumstances. Granted, I still haven’t reached the answer to that original question of God ‘allowing’ suffering. But what I am saying is that, if you handle it right, in God’s strength, even the worst suffering, the most awful circumstances, can result in something beautiful if you give it to God. I don’t know how that works, but it does. We personally are suffering, as I’m sure you’ll agree. But even then, in the midst of that suffering, we can still affirm that God is Good. All the time.

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