Why Does God Allow Suffering? 7 Most Honest Reasons

“Why does God allow suffering?” Perhaps, you’ve read this question many times but haven’t found the ultimate answers.

In this article, let’s discover:

  • 7 stories of suffering in the Bible
  • How God feels about it
  • The 7 ultimate reasons why God allows it anyway

But first, let’s define ‘suffering’ based on the Bible.

Let’s dive in!

What is Suffering in a Biblical Perspective?

An overview first

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Suffering is practically defined as an undergoing experience of severe pain, distress, or hardship.

The Bible agrees with that, but it goes much deeper.

It views suffering as a consequence of sin against God (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21)1.

What is this sin against God? Continue reading.

Just a background story

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Human sin originated from our first parents, Adam and Eve.

These perfect beings once lived in a perfect place called Garden of Eden. Everything went well until they gave in to the temptation of Satan, in the form of a serpent, to eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 1–3). 

As they did, they realized how naked and sinful they were as their eyes were opened to the knowledge of evil. And this marked the fall of humanity (verse 7 of chapter 3).

It resulted in their ban from the tree of life, their expulsion from the garden, the cursing of the ground, painful childbirth, the need to work hard, and many more. But the worst of these was death (verses 14-23).

You can read the full story here.

Now, back to the point

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The consequences of sin mentioned earlier, especially painful childbirth, labor, and death, affected not only Adam and Eve but the entire humanity.

True enough, “just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12, NIV).

As you can see, death applies to “all” of us.

With this in mind, we get the biblical concept of suffering—an experience of the painful consequences of sin that God allows as a result of our own doing or of others’ (Genesis 1–3).

Got it?

7 Biblical Examples of Human Suffering

1) Job losing his family, wealth, and health.

Why Does God Allow Suffering? 7 Most Honest Reasons
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Job was a blameless and wealthy man in the land of Uz (Job 1:1).

He lost his livestock, servants, and all 10 children in devastating events. Satan also challenged his health by afflicting him with painful sores from head to toe (chapters 1–2).

Because of this, his wife prompted him to curse God and die. His friends even accused him of being wicked to deserve such suffering. As such, they urged him to repent (chapters 2, 4–5, 8, 11, 15, 18, 20, 22–23, 26–27, 31–37).

How sad!

Feeling misunderstood and frustrated, Job defended his righteousness and questioned God’s justice (27:5-6, 30:20-23).

In response, God emphasized that His ways are beyond human comprehension. Job then humbly acknowledged his lack of understanding and repented for questioning His wisdom (40:8-14, 42:1-6).

God also rebuked Job’s friends for their false accusations and asked them to offer sacrifices for their offensive words (verses 7-9 of chapter 42).

Soon, He restored Job’s fortunes and even blessed him with twice as much as he had before (verses 10-17).

With that, God affirmed His faithfulness, justice, and power.

2) Joseph being betrayed and sold into slavery

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Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob (Genesis 37:3).

In fact, Jacob made him a colorful garment, which made his brothers jealous and angry. Eventually, they threw him into an empty well and sold him into slavery (verses 4 and 23-28).

Can you believe it? But not only that.

Having been sold, he ended up in Egypt. There, he served as a slave in Potiphar’s house. Then one day, his master’s wife falsely accused him of wanting to sleep with her. Despite his innocence, he was thrown into prison (39:1-20).

So unfair!

But God was secretly working things out for Joseph’s victory and success.

One of his fellow prisoners, who witnessed his gift of interpreting dreams, recommended him to do the same for Pharaoh sometime after his release from prison (40:1-23, 41:1-32).

Impressed by Joseph’s divine interpretation of his dreams, which significantly determined Egypt’s future, the king promoted him as governor, who would spearhead and oversee the preparation for the prophesied famine (verses 37-41 of chapter 41).

This paved the way for reunion and reconciliation with his brothers, who came to Egypt to buy food during the time of famine. And when they brought their father there, what an even more dramatic reunion as a complete family (chapters 42–47)!

3) Daniel and his friends being exiled and tried in Babylon

Why Does God Allow Suffering? 7 Most Honest Reasons
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Daniel, a young man from the tribe of Judah, was among the captives taken to Babylon when Jerusalem was conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:1-6).

With his friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, he endured the suffering of being trained in the Babylonian culture and language to enter the king’s service (verses 5-7).

This training involved eating the assigned food and wine from the king’s table, which challenged their commitment to never defile their bodies with any food not prescribed by God (verse 8).

But proving themselves much healthier than the other trainees, having been provided vegetables and water instead, they won the guard’s trust and confidence. And so, they were presented to the king for service (verses 11-18).

But that’s not the end of the story yet.

In the king’s service, they experienced being thrown into the fiery furnace because they refused to worship his golden image (verses 12-18 of chapter 3).

Can you imagine that?

Aside from that, Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den as a royal punishment for his continued devotion to God and refusal to stop praying (verses 10-17 of chapter 6).

So unfair!

But in all these, he and his friends won royal confidence by proving that the God they worshipped is real (verses 17-20 of chapter 1).

More so, with Daniel’s success in interpreting the king’s dream and the mysterious writings on the wall with divine help, all the more he gained royal trust (2:26-28, 5:17-18, 5:29).

4) John being persecuted and exiled

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John, one of Jesus’ most prominent apostles, has been tortured—all because of preaching about Jesus (Acts 4:1-3, 5:17-20).

Seriously? What was wrong with that in the first place?

Well, there was nothing wrong about that. In fact, he was doing God a favor.

But the Roman Empire didn’t like it when the apostle refused to worship their gods and emperor (Revelation 13:15).

Also, his preaching threatened their religious and political authority, and conflicted with the demand for loyalty to the emperor (Acts 17:6-7).

There were many other reasons. But mainly, the Roman Empire viewed Christianity as a threat to its unity and stability (verses 20-21 of chapter 16).

And so, they wanted to suppress the spread of such preaching and maintain control over its subjects (verses 1-3 of chapter 12).

This resulted in John’s persecution. The Roman emperor had him bathe in boiling oil and challenged him to drink poison23.

Can you imagine that?

But did you know what? John was not harmed at all. So, he continued preaching, which made the emperor even angrier3.

Eventually, the emperor ordered the apostle’s exile to the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9).

How tragic!

Yet, this exile became a blessing.

On that island, God showed John everything that would happen in the earth’s future. And through that, He revealed to Him His messages of hope for the world (chapters 1, 4, 5, 19).

5) Stephen being stoned to death

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A devout Christian, Stephen was among of the 7 chosen men to serve in the early church. Like John, he preached about Jesus and performed miracles too (Acts 6:1-10).

Sadly, his Jewish opponents falsely accused him of speaking against the temple and the law of Moses (verses 11-14).

To defend himself, Stephen delivered a powerful defense. He recounted Israel’s history, pointing to Jesus as the promised Messiah (verses 1-53 of chapter 7).

Annoyed by this speech, his accusers got angry (verse 54).

But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, saw a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God (verses 55-56).

Still, the crowd resisted listening. Eventually, they dragged him outside the city and stoned him to death (verses 57-58).

Poor Stephen!

Yet, while being stoned, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit…do not hold this sin against them” (verses 59-60, ESV).

Such a martyr! But this was not yet the end of the story.

Right away, Saul (later known as Paul) approved of Stephen’s execution, leading to the death of this faithful man (verse 1 of chapter 8). 

This death marked the beginning of a great persecution against the early church in Jerusalem. Yet, Stephen’s faithfulness and courage inspired the early Christian community to remain strong and faithful.

6) Paul experiencing spiritual challenges and persecution

Why Does God Allow Suffering? 7 Most Honest Reasons
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Paul, as previously mentioned, was originally known as Saul (Acts 13:9).

He was a Pharisee and a zealous persecutor of Christians. But his life dramatically transformed when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus (verses 1-9 of chapter 9).

He became a devoted follower of Christ, fearlessly spreading the gospel and enduring suffering for His sake (2 Corinthians 11:23-27, 12:10; Philippians 1:29-30; 2 Timothy 1:11-12).

What are those sufferings?

Well, he was imprisoned, beaten, lashed, stoned, shipwrecked, thorned in the flesh, and endangered by robbers, the Jews, the Gentiles, and false brethren. He also endured hunger, thirst, nakedness, and cold weather (Acts 14:19; 2 Corinthians 11:23-29).

True enough, from being a persecutor, Paul transformed into someone willing to be persecuted for Christ’s sake.

7) Jesus suffering and dying for the sin of humanity

Why Does God Allow Suffering? 7 Most Honest Reasons
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Among all Bible characters, Jesus suffered the most.

Imagine the Son of God taking on human form to live and suffer like men on earth—all to save humanity from sin (John 3:16).

That alone took much humility and sacrifice. But that was just the beginning.

Before His birth on earth, King Herod plotted to kill Him, so His parents needed to escape for safety. But even after finding a safe place for His delivery, another problem was that they had no choice but to settle for a dirty, rustic manger (Matthew 2:13-15; Luke 2:6-7).

What a traumatically stressful labor and a disgusting birth experience!

Fast forward to Jesus’ childhood and teenage life.

He didn’t live a well-off life as many of us might expect. His father, Joseph, was a humble carpenter (Matthew 13:55). His mother, Mary, was—well, the Bible doesn’t mention anything about her occupation.

Moving on to the beginning of His public ministry, He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (verses 1-11 of chapter 4), rejected by His own hometown (Luke 4:16-30), and abandoned by His disciples while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46).

He was also betrayed by Judas Iscariot (verses 47-50), arrested, tried by the Roman leaders (26:57-68, 27:1-2), and tortured by soldiers (verses 27-31 of chapter 27).

He even carried His own cross while being humiliated and ridiculed by the crowd (Matthew 27:39-44; John 19:17).

Can you imagine yourself in Jesus’ position? 

Eventually, He was crucified, bearing the weight of humanity’s sin and separation from God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Then, He died (Luke 23:46).

But after His burial, He was resurrected on the third day (Matthew 27:57-61, 28:1-10).

What great victory after all His suffering!

Does God Delight in Our Suffering?

Why Does God Allow Suffering? 7 Most Honest Reasons
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Seeing a lot of suffering in this world, it’s possible to assume that God feels indifferent about it, as if telling, “Oh poor sinners, you deserve it!”

But no!

Why would He even create us if He just wanted us to suffer?

The truth is that God does not cause suffering (Psalm 5:4; James 1:13). It has never been part of His original plan for humanity. After all, in the beginning, He created a perfect world without suffering (Genesis 1:31).

So, who or what brings about suffering?

Well, suffering is just a by-product of sin, which only entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3:16-19; Deuteronomy 28:15, 58-61; Psalm 107:17; Romans 5:12).

So, it’s clear that God has never been the author of suffering.

He “loves us, that He is working for our happiness, and that, if His law had always been obeyed, we should never have known suffering”4.

With that, He does not take pleasure in our suffering. Instead, He wants all of us to be saved (Ezekiel 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:3-4).

Also, He empathizes with our pain and suffering, as seen in Jesus’ life (Hebrews 4:15). He also comforts those who suffer (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

But the question remains: “Why does God allow suffering?” Well, that is what we’re going to answer next.

7 Reasons Why God Allows Suffering

1) To reveal His redemptive plan

Why Does God Allow Suffering? 7 Most Honest Reasons
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God does not intend for us to suffer. But as a consequence of sin, He uses it to reveal the depth of sin and brokenness of this world. 

With this, we recognize our inability to redeem ourselves and thus realize how much we need divine redemption (Romans 3:23; Galatians 3:22).

What do we mean by redemption here?

It is God’s act of delivering and rescuing humanity from the power and consequences of sin. In the process, He restores them to a right relationship with Him (Galatians 3:13; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13-14; Titus 2:14).

This redemption was fulfilled by Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins (Romans 5:8).

Fulfilled? So does it mean it used to be a plan?

Yes. It’s actually called the plan of redemption or plan or salvation.

This plan “had been laid before the creation of the earth,” for Christ is “the Lamb Who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8, NIV)5.

Now, what does this plan of redemption have to do with why God allows suffering?

Well, as partially mentioned earlier, He allows suffering to remind us of our need for redemption and salvation, pointing to His plan of restoring and reconciling all things through Christ Jesus (Romans 8:18-21; 1 Peter 2:21-25).

Does it make sense?

2) To help us identify with His own suffering

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Jesus was plotted to be killed, had a humble birth, lived a life of poverty, was tempted by the devil, was disowned and betrayed, was arrested and tried, and was crucified to death (Matthew 2, 4, 8, 12–14, 16, 20, 26–28; Mark 1, 3, 6, 14; Luke 1–4, 8–9, 13, 22–24; John 1–4, 6–8, 10–21).

Having enumerated those, do you think human suffering can compare to His? 

No way! Jesus’ suffering involved the world, while ours only involve ourselves and the people and things within our reach.

But at least, through our own suffering, we can better understand and identify with Christ’s. It deepens our appreciation of His sacrifice for us (Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 4:12-13).

3) To manifest His power and goodness

Why Does God Allow Suffering? 7 Most Honest Reasons
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God allows suffering to show how kind and powerful He is.

Take, for example, the suffering of the Israelites during Moses’ time.

For several years, they worked as slaves in Egypt. They were subjected to forced labor—building cities and monuments for the rulers. In the process, their taskmasters severely treated them as mere objects (Exodus 1:13-14, 5:6-9).

Poor Israelites!

But God used Moses, an Israelite who grew up in Egypt, to lead his enslaved fellowmen to freedom. How? Through him, He sent plagues that compelled Pharaoh to finally release them from slavery (chapters 7–11).

So, even in the midst of suffering, God can demonstrate His power and goodness by providing comfort, strength, and transformation. He uses our challenges to reveal His capability to heal and restore us (2 Corinthians 12:9-10; Ephesians 3:20-21).

4) To honor our freedom of choice

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God gifted us with the freedom of choice, which means we can choose between good and evil.

Our first parents, Adam and Eve, could obey or disobey God’s command to never eat of the forbidden tree (Genesis 2:16-17, 3:2-3).

Unfortunately, they disobeyed Him by eating the fruit of that tree, which marked the entry of sin and its consequences into the world (verses 6-23 of chapter 3).

As discussed at the beginning of this article, some consequences were painful childbirth, the need to work for a living, and death (verses 14-23).

Now, why did God allow Adam and Eve to suffer from those consequences? Didn’t He love them?

Well, come to think of it.

If God decided to just move on and start anew to protect them from suffering, would they realize the importance of their choices? Would they learn their lessons?

Now, you get it. And the same principle applies to us.

Without freedom of choice, our obedience would be forced. That would contradict God’s plan and make us unworthy to be called intelligent beings6.

So, the point is that God allows us to suffer the consequences of our sins so we can realize the value of our choices and learn from the outcome. In this way, we become wiser the next time around.

5) To strengthen our faith in Him

Why Does God Allow Suffering? 7 Most Honest Reasons
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Suffering serves as a test of our faith. It challenges us to trust God even in difficult circumstances. Through these trials, our faith is strengthened and refined (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7).

As we saw from the biblical examples earlier, God allowed Job to lose everything to demonstrate his unwavering faith amid crises. In that way, He proved Satan’s accusations wrong (Job 1:8-12, 2:3-6; James 5:11).

Similarly, God allowed Joseph to be betrayed to test his faith as he endured slavery and imprisonment. It also taught him to trust in His plan no matter what (Genesis 37:18-28, 39:19-23, 41:15-16, 45:4-8).

In the case of John, God allowed his persecution and exile to test his loyalty to Him and faithfulness in preaching His Word (Revelation 1:9, 21:10).

Moving on to Stephen, God allowed him to be stoned to death to test his courage and strengthen his faith in proclaiming His Word until his last breath (Acts 7:54-60).

Finally, God allowed His Son, Jesus Christ, to be disowned by the world to strengthen His faith in accomplishing His mission of saving humanity from sin (Luke 22:42; John 3:17).

Having said all of those, it proves that God allows suffering to test and strengthen our faith in Him.

6) To refine and mold our character

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In relation to the previous item, as suffering tests and strengthens our faith in God, our character is also developed.

Suffering teaches us to be humble and dependent on God. Like a thorn in the flesh, it keeps us from being conceited as we rely on His strengthening power (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

It also teaches us to persevere and endure no matter how difficult life’s trials can be (Romans 5:3-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7, 4:12-13).

Then, as we find hope and comfort in God’s presence through faith and perseverance, we are compelled to extend the same to those in trouble as well (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

We can actually have a long list of all other ways by which suffering develops our character.

But the most important one is that suffering molds our character to be like that of Jesus, Who alone is perfect, righteous, holy, loving, compassionate, name it (Galatians 5:22-23; Philippians 2:5; Colossians 3:12).

7) To draw us closer to Him

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Suffering may seem like a curse but it can be a blessing.

When you feel like you have no one to run to or no one seems to understand what you’re going through, all the more you can come to God for healing and restoration.

As Psalm 34:18 (NIV) emphasizes, “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

So, “come near to God and He will come near to you” (James 4:8, NIV). He will “restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast” after your suffering (1 Peter 5:10, NIV).

Indeed, God can turn our negative experiences—in the context of our discussion, suffering—for our own good.

Romans 8:28 (NIV) states, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

Do you see God doing the same in your life today?

Anything You Want to Share?

Have you found this article meaningful for you? If so, which particular part?

Share your thoughts with us by commenting below.

To learn more about why God allows suffering, study this course: Season 1 Lesson 2: If God is Good, Why Do We Suffer?

  1. Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, God’s Love and the Problem of Suffering []
  2. Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles, 570.1 []
  3. Wilson, 2020 [] []
  4. Ellen White, Child Guidance, 157.2 []
  5. Ellen White, From Eternity Past, 31.3 []
  6. Ellen White, From Eternity Past, 19.4 []
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