- List some examples of tragedy and suffering in our world. What are the most obvious causes of these examples?
- Describe a tragedy or some difficult times that someone you know has experienced.
Video Part 1 (6:30): Uses personal examples to highlight how deeply personal and emotional the problem of pain is for everyone. The main question is: Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God allow pain and pandemics? This part covers point I in the outline.
Video Part 2 (11:09): Provides some considerations for why the God of Scripture would allow pain and suffering. This part covers points II, III, and IV in the outline.
Let’s Learn- Part 1
I. Preliminary Thoughts about God, Pain, and Pandemics
A. We are surrounded by suffering.
- Much comes from NATURE (e.g., hurricanes, tornadoes, floods).
- Much comes from HUMAN actions.
B. It’s physical, it’s psychological, and it’s deeply personal.
C. The Bible’s message: “Good news of great joy.” (Luke 2:10)
- BUT, God did not promise to eliminate our suffering in this life.
- Job: Why do the righteous suffer?
- The Old Testament prophets
- John the Baptist
- The apostles of Jesus
- The apostle Paul (2 Cor. 11:23-27)
D. Biblical truths about God
- He is all powerful.
- He is all knowing.
- He is all good.
E. Popular perceptions of God
- If God is all powerful, he COULD eliminate suffering.
- If God is all knowing, he would KNOW HOW to eliminate suffering.
- If God is all good, he would WANT to eliminate suffering.
- Since we have suffering, God must (a) not exist or (b) not be all powerful, all knowing, or all good.
F. Big Idea: Only an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God can offer a satisfactory answer to the problem of pain and suffering.
[PAUSE PART 1]
Let’s Interact 1
Use these items for group discussion. If you can’t cover them all, focus on the ones that seem most relevant or most valuable.
- What specific trials or sufferings have you experienced over the last 12 months? Were these mostly caused by nature or by human actions or a mix of both?
- When you reflect on the trials and suffering of faithful biblical characters, is this something encouraging or discouraging to you?
- What questions would you like to ask God about the suffering in our world?
- If you were God, what would YOU do to solve the problem of suffering? How might your solutions create other problems?
II. Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God allow pain and pandemics?
A. God valued HUMAN FREEDOM in order for genuine love to be possible.
But humans used their freedom to choose to sin, which corrupted all of humanity and all of nature.
So, why did God give us FREEDOM, especially when he knew what we would do with it?
- Human freedom is necessary for genuine love.
Why did God give us FREEDOM?
If you programmed a robot to tell you that it loves you, it wouldn’t be real love. It is clear that love requires a free choice.
- But human freedom also allows devastating consequences.
God already knew what would happen, but he wanted us to love him—and one another—and giving human freedom was necessary for us to be able to love.
B. God created NATURAL LAWS so nature operates in an orderly way.
- Natural laws make science possible.
- Natural laws make “normal” life possible.
- Natural laws make moral responsibility possible.
- But much suffering comes from nature’s order.
- Without order in nature, we could not do science. Science makes predictions that require nature to operate in an orderly way.
- Daily activities (like walking, playing athletics, etc.) could not be done if nature just started behaving differently.
- To be held morally responsible for our actions, we must be able to predict the outcome of our actions, and this requires that nature operate with predictable regularity. For example, if we cannot know that swinging a bat against another person’s head consistently causes major damage or even death, we cannot rightly be held accountable for doing something immoral if we hit someone’s head with a bat. We might just say something like, “Well I thought it wouldn’t hurt this time. So don’t hold me responsible!”
- But the existence of natural laws also produces instances of suffering and death.
- If you drive 80 mph into a big tree, you’ll likely die. That’s the way physics works.
- The Black Death (bubonic plague) in the 14th century killed 75-100 million—about 1/3 of Europe’s population. In 2021 America’s population was about 332 million. If we lost 1/3, that would be about 109 million! In the first 2 years of COVID, less than 1 million died in the U.S.
- The Spanish Flu of 1918-19 led to about 700,000 deaths worldwide.
- The 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean killed 230,000-280,000.
- As bad as COVID-19 was in its first two years, it killed fewer than 1 million in the U.S.
- Nature is “FALLEN.” (Gen. 3:16-19; Rom. 8:18-22)
- Gen. 3. As a consequence of sin, death, pain in childbirth, thorns and thistles, and sweat became a reality for humans.
- Nature suffers and needs to be redeemed (Rom. 8).
- Rom. 8:19-22. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
C. God can make GOOD come from our suffering.
- Paul: “… for those who love God all things work together for good …” (Rom. 8:28)
- Paul in prison: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Phil. 1:12-14)
- Joseph to his brothers: “… you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Gen. 50:20)
D. We can GROW spiritually from suffering.
James 1:2-4 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
- We can learn GREATER COMPASSION (e.g., the Good Samaritan in Luke 10).
- We can become MORE DEPENDENT ON GOD (Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:2-4; 2 Cor. 1:8-9; Matt. 8:23-27).
2 Cor. 1:8-9 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
- Suffering can PROMPT US TO REPENT (Lk. 13:4-5).
- Death is an inescapable reminder that we had better be ready for what’s next.
- Sometimes, our suffering is the direct result of our SIN. We make terrible and sinful decisions that have immediate consequences. And the Bible describes times when God quickly judged human sin with pain and even death. For example: Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for their sin (e.g., Gen. 19); 3,000 people were killed for worshipping a golden calf (Ex. 32); 24 young boys were ravaged by bears for insulting a prophet of God (2 Kings 2); God sent serpents to bite the Israelites for their rebellion (Num. 21).
- BUT Job’s sufferings were not the result of his sin.
- And Jesus reminds us that our tragedies and suffering are not necessarily the result of some specific sin. In Luke 13, refers to people who were killed by Pilate and to 18 people who were killed when a building collapsed. His point is that they did not die because their sin was any worse than others. Instead, he uses their death to motivate everyone to repent: “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:5).
- Often we want to know, why is this happening to ME or my family or my friends right NOW? But we simply don’t know why specific instances of pain or suffering often occur. So be careful not to think that someone’s tragedy was the result of their sin or even their lack of faith.
III. Why doesn’t God do something?
A. God DID do something!
- God’s story in Scripture.
- God’s suffering in his Son (Mk. 14:35-36; Matt. 26:39; Lk. 22:42).
- It was not possible for God to take care of SIN without SUFFERING.
- Matt. 26:39 “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
- This is very different from Buddhism, which tries to eliminate suffering by our own religious actions. The biblical God does not avoid suffering—or promise this to us in this life; the God of Scripture came to experience suffering on our behalf. And, if necessary, we are called to suffer as we identify with him. (1 Pet. 4:12-16)
B. God IS DOING something!
- God’s indwelling Spirit comforts us.
- God comforts others through us (Rom. 5:5b; 2 Cor. 1:3-5; 4:8-9).
2 Cor. 1:3-5 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
2 Cor. 4:8-9 “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…
C. God WILL DO something!
- Compare our present suffering vs. God’s permanent salvation. (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17-18).
- A new heaven and earth where God will remove all sin and suffering (Rev. 21:1-4).
2 Cor. 4:17-18 “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Rev. 21:4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
IV. God, Suffering, and Satan
A. We’ve covered several considerations for why an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God would allow pain and suffering.
B. But there’s another consideration: SATAN.
- Our universe is in a “cosmic conflict.” There is a spiritual war between God and the forces of Satan. And you are in the middle of it. (See Isa. 14:12-15; Lk. 10:17-18; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; Eph. 2:2; 6:12; Rev. 12:3-17.)
- Scripture describes Satan as the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) who is “the ruler of this world” (Jn. 14:30) and “ruler of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19).
C. God is in the process of ultimately and eternally defeating Satan.
- This world, with its suffering, is arguably the best way for God to accomplish that.
- Remember Jesus who prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup [of suffering] pass from me” (Matt. 26:39). But it was not possible for God to accomplish his plan without the suffering of his only Son!
D. Because God is all powerful, all knowing, and all good, you can trust him to care for you NOW in your trials and your suffering; and you can trust him to make it all perfect again!
Let’s Interact 2
Use these items for group discussion. If you can’t cover them all, focus on the ones that seem most relevant or most valuable.
- Without the God of the Bible, how do you think others try to explain or respond to the problem of pain and suffering?
- When you go through times of suffering, do you feel closer to God or further from God? Why? Can you share a specific example?
- Do you think it’s possible that one reason God allows suffering is so that more people will actually turn to Him and be saved? How might this work?
- How might God use the pandemic to bring about good eternal outcomes that outweigh the suffering of the pandemic?
- Long after you experience some major pain or a pandemic (say 10 years later), how do you think your perception of it will change? Explain. How might this illustrate how we view this life’s suffering from the perspective of eternity?
Let’s Do Something
Here are some ideas to apply this lesson this week. They include activities you can do yourself, with a parent, a friend, or a spiritual mentor. Do as many as you can before the next lesson.
- Ask your parents about a time when they (or some other family member) had an extremely difficult time with some kind of suffering. How did they handle it? What did they learn from it?
- Think of a specific person at your school who has experienced a tragedy or is experiencing one now. Pray specifically for them this week. Find some way to communicate your concern and support for them (e.g., send a PM, post something encouraging to them or about them on social media, send a link to an encouraging song).
- Tell a youth leader that you want to help someone in your church this week who’s having some tough times. Ask them to help you do that.
Let the Spirit Speak
It is very important to spend time in the Bible to let the Spirit speak. Use the following Scriptures and questions to guide your devotions. Try to complete each one before the next lesson.
- Read Romans 5:2-5. Paul says that “we rejoice in our sufferings.” What would it look like to rejoice in some of your sufferings? Ask God to help you know how to rejoice in your troubles.
- Meditate on Romans 8:18 and Hebrews 12:1-3. When were you able to accomplish something difficult partly because you were looking forward to the reward for doing so? Try to draw some connections between your achievements and the passages in Romans 8 and Hebrews 12.
- Read James 1:2-4. Take a few minutes to reflect on some struggles you’ve had. In what ways have these struggles helped make you stronger, more faithful, more compassionate, or more dependent upon God?
- Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-9. First, thank God for the times he has comforted you. What are they? Then, ask God to help you comfort someone this week—especially someone who is experiencing trials like you’ve had.
Let’s Go Deeper
- The Book of Job. Animation by the Bible Project (7:15). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GswSg2ohqmA.
- Where is God When It Hurts? Book by Philip Yancey. https://www.amazon.com/Where-When-Hurts-Philip-Yancey/dp/0310214378.
- “Suffering and Evil: The Logical Problem.” Animation from Reasonable Faith (4:47). https://app.roomfordoubt.com/post/suffering-and-evil-the-logical-problem.
- “Suffering and Evil: The Probability Problem.” Animation from Reasonable Faith (8:19). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxj8ag8Ntd4&t=2s.
- “If God loves us and has the power to heal, why doesn’t he?” Article by Rich Knopp. https://app.roomfordoubt.com/post/if-god-loves-us-and-has-the-power-to-heal-why-doesnt-he.
- “How can a good and powerful God exist with all the evil in the world?” Article by Rich Knopp. https://app.roomfordoubt.com/post/how-can-evil-exist.
- “Doubting God’s goodness in a world where children die?” Article by Zach Breitenbach. https://app.roomfordoubt.com/post/doubting-gods-goodness-in-a-world-where-children-die.
- “Blessings.” A touching song by Laura Story suggesting that the trials of this life may be God’s mercies in disguise. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQan9L3yXjc.