IAN’s father was a heavy drinker. Although Ian grew up with what he needed materially, he lacked the emotional support that he longed to receive from his father. “I never had much affection for him, mostly because of his drinking and the way he treated my mother,” says Ian. As Ian got older, he began to question God’s existence. “‘If God really exists,’ I reasoned, ‘why does he allow people to suffer?’”

Why ask the question?

Even if your life is relatively problem free, your sense of justice might be outraged when you see innocent people suffer. However, the question about suffering becomes especially significant if you, like Ian, personally experience hardship or if a loved one gets sick or dies.

What do some say the answer is?

Some believe that God permits suffering to teach us to be humble and compassionate. Others feel that people suffer in this life for sins committed in a past life.

What do those answers imply?

God is unmoved by human suffering, making it difficult to love him. God is cruel.

What does the Bible teach?

The Bible plainly states that God is not to blame for human suffering. “Let no man say when he is tested, I am tested by God; for it is not possible for God to be tested by evil, and he himself puts no man to such a test.” (James 1:13, The Bible in Basic English) In fact, the idea that God is to blame for suffering is out of harmony with the way that the Bible describes God’s personality. How so?

One of God’s primary qualities is love. (1 John 4:8) To emphasize that point, the Bible portrays God as having feelings similar to those of a nursing mother. “Can a wife forget her suckling so that she should not pity the son of her belly?” asks God. “Even these women can forget, yet I myself shall not forget  you.” (Isaiah 49:15) Can you imagine a loving mother deliberately harming her child? A caring parent, on the contrary, would try to alleviate a child’s suffering. Likewise, God does not cause innocent people to suffer.—Genesis 18:25.

Even so, innocent people are suffering. You may wonder, ‘If God cares for us and is all powerful, why doesn’t he get rid of the causes of suffering?’

God allows suffering to continue at present for good reasons. Consider just one: It is often people who cause suffering to others. Many bullies and tyrants who inflict pain are unwilling to change their ways. So for God to remove a major cause of suffering, he will have to destroy such people.

Explaining why God has not yet destroyed those who do wrong, the apostle Peter wrote: “Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Jehovah God’s patience is an expression of his loving and merciful personality.

Soon, though, Jehovah God will act. He will “repay tribulation to those who make tribulation” for the innocent. Those who inflict unjust suffering will “undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction.”—2 Thessalonians 1:6-9.

Ian, quoted earlier, found satisfying answers to his questions about suffering. What he learned changed his outlook on life. Read his account in the next article entitled “The Bible Changes Lives”.

What Did Jesus Say About Suffering?

Jesus did not blame God for the suffering that surrounded him. Instead, he did the following.

Jesus showed that God does not punish innocent people by causing them to suffer. Jesus cured the sick, the lame, and the blind. (Matthew 15:30) The miracles that he performed teach us two significant facts: First, Jesus used God’s power to alleviate suffering, not to cause it. Second, Jesus did not heal people dispassionately. When he saw people suffering, he was “moved with pity” for them. (Matthew 20:29-34) Jesus perfectly reflected his Father’s feelings about suffering. Therefore, from Jesus’ speech and actions, we learn that God is grieved by the pain He sees and that He wants to relieve it.—John 14:7, 9.

Jesus identified the real source of much human suffering—Satan the Devil. “That one,” said Jesus, “was a manslayer when he began.” (John 8:44) Jesus also identified Satan the Devil as “the ruler of this world” and the one who is “misleading the entire inhabited earth.”—John 12:31; Revelation 12:9.

Jesus gave us hope of a time when all suffering will end. He taught his followers to pray: “Our Father in the heavens, . . . let your Kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matthew 6:9, 10) When God’s Kingdom comes, there will be no more suffering on earth, just as there is no suffering in heaven.

In a revelation that he gave to the apostle John, Jesus described what life will be like for those living under God’s Kingdom. At that time, God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”

Revelation 1:1; 21:3, 4