When my mother died suddenly from a heart attack in January of 1995 at just 69 years of age, I was devastated. It was so terribly sudden and unexpected. I had anticipated many more years of family gatherings and togetherness. In a flash she was gone. Our family was never the same again.
For at least a year I couldn’t think about her without tearing up. But as devastated as I was, my dad was 10 times more! His beloved life partner was suddenly torn from him and there was no going back. My stoic father who hardly ever showed much emotion now openly wept before our family.
Our loss is probably minimal compared to some losses others experience. Crippling illnesses, betrayals, divorces, abuses, financial disasters, torture, beheadings—the list goes on. So much suffering. If I think about it too much, I start to get depressed. Even my favorite movies are “feel good” movies. Why? Because it hurts too much to see people suffer.
Recently a friend asked me to write on “the best quick answer to the problem of evil and suffering.” So after prayerful consideration, this is my best shot.
First, it is important to recognize that what a suffering person really wants is for their pain to end. Unfortunately, I can’t stop anyone’s pain. However, I believe it can be helpful to understand why suffering exists.
The biblical answer to why pain and suffering exists might not be totally satisfying, and for that reason it is wise to keep in mind the inadequacy of other views of suffering and evil. For an explanation please read my article on Four Desperately Hopeless Yet Common Approaches to Suffering and Death.
While some answers are unsatisfying, God’s answer is comparatively quite satisfying. It can also be easy to remember as
3 biblical trees that give a quick answer to suffering:
People ask, “Why doesn’t God create a world without suffering?” The answer is, “He already did!” That was exactly how the world began in the Garden of Eden. It was paradise—the way we think the world should be.
There was only one prohibition in that paradise: people were not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’” (Genesis 2:16-17)
Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s ONE prohibition and thereby sinned against Him. Thus, evil and the resultant suffering entered the world.
They were just the first. From Adam and Eve onward all people have a problem with rebelliousness and the resulting suffering and death.
After Eden there were multiple problems for the human race: not only suffering and death, but also the original cause, sin. To eliminate suffering and death, there would have to be a solution to the sin issue.
While people are unable to solve this problem, God can. And He had a solution. He would overcome sin and death by taking it upon Himself to become a human being, suffering as we do, enduring the incredible burden of bearing all sin on our behalf, and dying for the sins of all who have ever lived.
But while “the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a) Jesus, being the God-man, could both bear our sins on the cross AND overcome death by rising from the dead. “…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b)
What wonderfully liberating Good News (Gospel).
And this is what He did through the Tree of Calvary, the cross! The cross of Calvary is the ultimate answer to suffering. Christ suffered to end suffering for us.
03. The Tree of Life
There is a third tree that many forget about. It is found in the paradise to come.
“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” (Revelation 22:13-14 ESV)
Everyone longs for paradise where there is no evil and suffering. It is coming! And it will be eternal paradise.
It is ironic that the same devil who deceived Adam and Eve into eating from the tree in Eden, is still deceiving people into rejecting the Way to the next paradise, heaven.
How is the devil deceiving people today?
Scripture tells us why it seems to be taking so long to usher in this new paradise often called heaven. 2 Peter 3:9 says: “The Lord isn’t slow about keeping his promises, as some people think he is. In fact, God is patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost.” (CEV)
Why is God waiting? He is waiting for you who have not received the gift of salvation.
I abhor pain and suffering. And I find other answers to suffering totally inadequate. But God’s answer is logical, adequate and motivating toward receiving and sharing the Good News: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matthew 24:14 KJV)
For more help on this topic of suffering see my articles: