What Role Does God Play in Our Suffering?

Why do bad things happen to good people?

People ask this question all the time.  While it is a good question, there is one key word that significantly flaws it.  The word “good” is a problem in relation to people.  No person is good (Rom. 3:10; Ps. 14:3; Lk. 18:19).

The only person who was good was Jesus Christ.  He was the only flawless one (1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 1:19), and yet he suffered.  The only good person endured horrible suffering.  Why did he suffer?

Jesus suffered for the glory of God and for the good of others.

I am not good.  Therefore, if I suffer, I cannot call a foul on the play because Jesus takes away that defense.  Surely I could suffer because Jesus has suffered.  If I suffer, it is better to suffer for doing good rather than evil (1 Pet. 3:17), but sometimes I will suffer for doing evil.

I often want to know the cause of my suffering.  “God, where is this coming from?”  Every time I see someone ask God that question in the Bible, they really don’t get a response.  Job wanted answers and he got God (Job 42:5).  Joseph desired for things to go his way, and instead he lived with the assurance that God would go his way (Gen. 39:2).  John the Baptist desired freedom from a prison, yet Jesus gave him freedom within the prison (Matt. 11:5-6).

Who Is Responsible?

No matter the origin of my suffering, the reaction to my suffering should be the same in every scenario:

  • If God is testing me, let me be found faithful.
  • If Satan is tempting me, let me be found faithful.
  • If enemies are trying me, let me be found faithful.
  • If consequences are troubling me, let me be found faithful.

Your theology may struggle thinking that God could bring suffering, but most Christians would believe that he at least allows it.  

The people of God have suffered throughout history.  In one situation, an army of devastating locusts had invaded the land and ransacked the people (Joel 1:4).  From where did such a calamity come?  God.  God brought the locusts.

If you know Exodus, you might think, “But wait, God sent the plague of locusts to the Egyptians.  That kind of move is reserved for those people who do not know God.”

You are exactly right.  God was sending locusts to his people because they were living as if they did not know God.

So God sought to wake them up (Joel 1:2, 5, 13; 2:1).  He would use the suffering at the hand of locusts to save the people from a worse devastation – continuing down this sinful path away from their God.

God brings suffering in the lives of his children to help them wake up and remind them to live like they are his children.

In the case of the Book of Joel, we are confident of who is the culprit.  God takes credit for this suffering and he has no problem because he wants them to turn their hearts back towards him (Joel 2:12-13).

But who is responsible for the suffering in your life right now?  We may not have a clear word on who is responsible.  Let me show you 3 scenarios.  Below is a sketch of 3 possible scenarios between me and my daughter.  In each of the following prolific art pieces, you will see me standing near her.  You will also see her about to be hit in the face with a football.  Here is how it breaks down.

How does this relate to your suffering?  You believe 1 of these 3 scenarios about your personal suffering right now.  Let me unpack the three options: 1) God did it, 2) God didn’t stop it, or 3) God couldn’t stop it.

Option #1: God Did It


In this sketch, Dad throws the ball at his little girl.  He intentionally throws it at her head and injures her.  She is hurt and he is responsible.

This sketch illustrates the belief that God intentionally introduces suffering into our lives.  He is responsible for it.  It hurts and he takes the credit.

If you believe God is responsible for suffering, you are troubled that he seems uncaring.

Option #2: God Didn’t Stop It


In this second sketch, a bad person throws a ball to hit my daughter.  I am present but don’t stop the ball from hitting her.  Someone throws it, I am passive, and my daughter hurts.

This sketch illustrates the belief that God doesn’t produce the suffering but he doesn’t stop it either.  Either the Devil or people are the ones hurting, but God allows it to happen.

If you believe God is passive during suffering, you are troubled that he seems unconcerned.

Option #3: God Couldn’t Stop It


In this third sketch, a bad person throws a ball to hit my daughter.  I try to block it from hitting her but am out of reach and out of time.  Someone throws it, I can’t stop it, and my daughter hurts.

This sketch illustrates that God wants to stop the suffering but he simply can’t.  He has too much on him or unable to push back the forces fighting against us.

If you believe God is helpless during suffering, you are troubled that he seems unable.

Which Option?

If I’m honest, all of these options challenge me.

  1. If God is uncaring, I question his motives.
  2. If God is unconcerned, I question his heart.
  3. If God is unable, I question his power.

The 3rd option frightens me the most.  The 2nd option is a safe approach.  The 1st option needs clarification.

Let me provide some for you.  In each of these sketches, there is a road nearby.  While our eyes fixate on the ball and the daughter, we never ask the question about the road.  In each of these scenarios, this little girl is dangerously close to oncoming traffic.


What if in this first picture the father can see something to which the daughter is oblivious?  What if an oncoming truck is coming over the hill?  What if the only option he has to save her from playing in the road is to hit her in the head and stop her from playing in traffic?

What if, out of love, the father is willing to injure his child with lesser pain in order to save her from greater pain?

The father isn’t unloving then.  He is doing the most loving thing he can do at that moment.

When God sent locusts to the people in Joel’s day, it hurt.  It wasn’t pleasant, but it was a much more pleasant situation than if they kept playing in the road surrounded by the dangers of their sin.

I don’t know who is responsible for the exact suffering in your own life.  I am not sure if God is doing it or allowing it, but I am sure of this – he is good.  His perspective is different from ours.  He can see things that we cannot do, therefore, he has the right to do things we consider wrong.

Only the child who can trust the Father’s heart can acknowledge that even when he gives suffering, he still gives good.