If God is good, then why is there pain in the world?

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new! ”Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
~ Revelation 21:1-5 

Are you in pain?

Maybe your friend was just diagnosed with cancer, or your parents are getting divorced. Maybe you’re struggling with depression, or dealing with a death.

Are you in pain?

We live in a world where suffering is seen every day, big and small. If you don’t notice it yet, switch on the news: it’ll be hard to miss. And people choose to deal with it differently. With so much darkness in the world, how can Christians say that there is a God? Moreover, how can Christians say that God is good? A thought goes something like this:

If it’s true that there is a God who created everything, and that there is pain in the world, then that means that God created pain and is responsible for it. That must mean God is evil. So then: how can Christians say that God is good when there’s so much pain in the world?

That may seem compelling, but I’m going to share with you that not only is the one, true, living God good, but the Christian worldview is what can actually understand pain and give hope and comfort. I’m not saying that being a Christian means you will never experience pain. But the Christian message can offer some semblance of direction and hope in a world that is trying to live with pain.

if you’re someone who doesn’t believe in a God, and believes we’re nothing more than an evolved animal, then it doesn’t really make sense to ask why suffering occurs. Animals tear each other apart. Viruses multiply and kill species that aren’t immune. Death is just a normal part of the world. Asking the ‘why?’ question is meaningless. Suffering, pain, and death exist just ‘cause.

But the Christian message has a different response. The Christian message has an answer. All humans rebel and break God’s good laws. We don’t live up to our own standards, let alone God’s. None of us are perfect – that’s the problem. And because of that evil that we commit we live in a world that is filled with death and pain. As Romans 5:12 says,

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through [Adam], and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…

Now, I need to make this clear: the Bible does not teach that a person suffers more pain and death because they are extra rebellious and disobedient. No – the Bible’s way of helping us understand the pain in the world is to see that we are all victims and yet we are also all responsible. Our evil as humanity in rebelling against God and disobeying Him means that we live in a broken world where everyone suffers. That’s why there is suffering. It’s because the world is corrupted with evil, and in desperate need of fixing.

But even if you can somehow understand the pain, that’s not enough. We want to fix it. One of the ways in which I suffer is that I have severe eczema. Sometimes it’s so bad that I can’t sleep for several nights in a row, and the pain can be agonising. Science and medicine have helped me manage a lot of the pain. Science and medicine can help treat a lot of the pains we have, from external suffering to internal mental anxieties and struggles. But the truth is that my medicine doesn’t always work. My eczema will flare up again. And every day we see the limits of our human efforts. People die from cancer. People are shot by accident or because of the colour of their skin. And we still haven’t cured world hunger. Try as we might, it seems unlikely we’ll be able to fix the problems of the world ourselves.

The Christian worldview has an answer to this. God looked at this broken world and didn’t leave us alone. Instead, He sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to pay the price for all of our evil and die. You see, if God really is good then what is He meant to do with people who aren’t good? What all of us who rebel and disobey deserve is death. But God so loved the world that He gave us His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus died and took the punishment for our evil. And because of His death everyone now has the opportunity to be forgiven for their rebellion and disobedience against God.

We see a picture of what the future will look like when Jesus returns in the passage from the Bible that is at the top of this post. God is good and is going to get rid of all evil, and so there will no longer be any death or grief or crying or pain. This isn’t going to be a temporary, small-scale fix. It’s going to fix the whole world. This affects the way in which Christians can find comfort in their pain.

Some find comfort by drowning their sorrows in food, sex, drugs, or entertainment. The problem with trying to drown your sorrows in doing things is that eventually you will get hungry again and need to eat. You won’t get enough sex. You won’t take enough drugs. You won’t have enough entertainment. Suffering and pain points at the brokenness and evil of the world, whether we acknowledge it or not, and these temporary pleasures won’t change the fact that something awful has happened to you.

But what about the Christian, who knows that God will get rid of all evil and suffering one day? Well, the Christian can find comfort in knowing that pain and suffering won’t last forever. They have a use-by date and that day is coming. We can find comfort in knowing that though we may be broken, battered, and bruised by the pain of life we know that evil and suffering will not defeat us forever. Because of Jesus’ death on the Cross, and the promise of a good God that He will take away evil, we can be sure that pain is temporary but freedom of pain will be eternal.

That doesn’t mean that pain is insignificant or that your current suffering means nothing. Actually, it means a lot to God. And Christians are called to gather around each other, side by side, as we support each other and look forward to that day when we will cry no more. Friend, if you aren’t a Christian, do you have a hope like that? How do you understand the pain? How do you fix the pain? And how do you find comfort in the pain? How do you answer these questions? Because, for the Christian, there is assurance that:

  1. Pain and suffering are a result of evil in the world.
  2. God will get rid of all evil.
  3. Pain and suffering will not last forever.

These truths don’t mean that Christians won’t suffer in the world. But as we wait for the end of all evil, we wait with a certain hope that nothing we ever experience or go through can ultimately destroy and defeat us because our God is good.

But you might be wondering: that’s great and all, but if God is good then why doesn’t He just do it now? Why can’t He just end all the evil and pain now? Why is it that God will get rid of all evil and not the case that God has already gotten rid of all evil? Why is He delaying and letting so many people suffer?

Well you see, He’s waiting for more people to turn from their rebellion and disobedience and turn to Jesus before He returns to earth. If evil needs to be removed for pain and suffering to be removed, then for the world to be free of pain and suffering all of us who are evil need to be removed as well. We who are evil need to be judged and punished. That’s why God hasn’t done it yet – He is giving us more time to turn to Jesus. As 2 Peter 3:9 says,

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

The continued existence of pain in the world is not proof that God is evil – it is a sign that God is patient and desires more people to be saved from the great purification that will occur when Jesus returns. If Jesus returned before 2009, I would not be saved. I wasn’t a Christian. And, right now, there are people who would not be saved if Jesus were to return now. Evil would be removed, pain would be ended, but those that are not covered by the blood of Jesus would be removed as well. God’s goodness and patience means that there is still time to repent.

How can God be good if there’s so much pain? Friends, He’s good because He’s going to get rid of it forever and we know this for sure.

There’s an illustration that goes like this: during World War II, the Normandy landings that began on the 6th of June 1944 were seen as the decisive battle that meant that the Allied forces were able to enter and begin to liberate north-western Europe from Nazi control. This date was known as D-Day, and it was a bloody operation that resulted in a key strategical victory for the Allied forces. Their victory at D-Day meant that they had essentially won the war – they had penetrated the defenses and had the tactical advantage. But the war didn’t end on that day, even though it was just a matter of time. No – the war ended on V-Day, or ‘Victory in Europe Day’ on the 8th of May 1945. This was the day that the Allied forces accepted Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender.

You see, D-Day was, tactically, the day that the war had been won by the Allied forces. The Nazi’s had essentially lost the war because they couldn’t win after that. But there were still little skirmishes, battles, and lives lost until all the final forces could be mopped up. V-Day was the day when everyone knew that the Allied forces had won, and when there was no question of it. Similarly, Jesus’ death, resurrection, and reign in heaven right now means that sin and death have been defeated. The D-Day has already come. But we are currently waiting for V-Day.

In that time, death and suffering will take some. It will batter others. It will afflict, and hurt, and break so many down that it may be hard to believe that there is any hope in the future. But the Christians message is a light in the tunnel of seemingly engulfing darkness. Pain and suffering are not good, and they are not ultimate. God will remove them forever, because He is good, and we wait in the certain hope that we will reign victorious regardless of what the experience now. As Romans 8:18 says,

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

James Chen

James is a Philosophy graduate from the University of Sydney and is currently a teaching and learning manager of a senior high school tutoring centre. James is a member of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Carlingford and loves reading and teaching the Bible.