“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to Repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
Oscar Wilde claimed that suffering proved that a good God does not govern the world. If God cannot stop the suffering, then He is not all powerful. If God will not stop the suffering then He cannot be good and loving.
The faulty logic and wrong conclusion evidenced by Oscar Wilde is quite common. Many question God’s goodness, power, or even existence, because of suffering in the world. Poverty, disease, war, natural and man-made disasters – why does God not bring it all to an end?
Even those who love God and do not doubt His Word, are often grieved and puzzled about why the Lord will not intervene, for example, to put an end to the tyrannical government in Zimbabwe which has caused so much havoc to the economy and widespread suffering amongst the Zimbabwean people, more than half of whom have fled the country.
What is the Cause?
So much of the world’s news media focuses on the effects of suffering, but seldom attempts to explore and explain the causes. What is the true meaning and purpose behind all of the world’s calamities and catastrophes?
Creation and the Fall
The Bible teaches that God is a good, Holy and loving Creator who has provided us with a magnificent world. However, man’s conscious, deliberate choice to rebel against God and violate His Laws led to the Fall of man and the corruption of all Creation. Death and suffering entered the world because of sin.
Everything has Consequences
Much of the suffering in the world today is a direct consequence of personal human choices. God has not made us immune from the consequences of our own and others choices. Most of the suffering in the world today is a consequence of the sinful choices of others where evil people and destructive ideologies cause untold misery.
The humanitarian disaster in Zimbabwe is a classic case in point. What was once a peaceful, stable paradise, the bread basket of Africa, with the highest standards of literacy and education in the continent, has been destroyed by a communist dictatorship, socialist economics, rampant greed and corruption, Darwinian social engineering, all orchestrated by a brutal and malicious regime.
This ZANU-PF government of Robert Mugabe, which has caused the greatest unemployment and highest inflation ever experienced in the history of the world, was brought to power by an unprecedented international campaign. The Organisation of African Unity, the Commonwealth, the United Nations, the US State Department and British Foreign Office co-operated together to sanction, isolate and wage economic warfare and support terrorist warfare to bludgeon the people of Rhodesia to accept Mugabe’s one man – one vote government. Very soon Mugabe turned that into a one party dictatorship, complete with ethnic cleansing, massacres of the Matabele, raids on churches, farm invasions and the destruction of the homes of more than a million people.
Accessories to Tyranny
The man-made disaster in Zimbabwe is not only the product of Mugabe’s Marxist, ZANU-PF. Most of the world’s mass media campaigned to bring him to power. Most of the governments represented at the OAU and UN voted for economic warfare to bring down Rhodesia and to make possible Mugabe’s seizure of power. Apparently most of the citizens of Zimbabwe even voted for Mugabe, time and again, despite its abysmal human rights record, blatant corruption and racist brutality.
Reaping What was Sown
The question could be asked: Why should God undo all the natural Laws of Creation to protect people from reaping the consequences of what they have sown? (Isaiah 59:1-2). Ideas have consequences. If we want God to heal Zimbabwe, then we need to mobilise God’s people to humble themselves and pray and seek God’s face and turn from their wicked ways (2 Chronicles 7:14).
God gave us the Ten Commandments, not the ten suggestions: “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods” establishes the principles of private ownership of property. Socialism is institutionalised envy. It is legalised theft and it just doesn’t work.
Failure of Socialism
Historically, socialism has produced nothing but poverty, bureaucracy and corruption. Free enterprise, honest money and the Christian work ethic are essential to restore the economy in Zimbabwe. The Bible forbids unjust weights and measures/inflation (Leviticus 19:35-36). The devastating impact of unbacked currency/inflation on pensions and savings is criminal.
Every aspect of Zimbabwe has been undermined and ruined by secular humanism, Atheism, Marxism, greed, covetousness, malice, hatred, violating all the Laws of God and nature. As the Zimbabwean government so clearly illustrates: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Zimbabwe provides an object lesson of everything that one should not do if one wants to build a stable, prosperous and peaceful society.
Hope for the Future
Zimbabweans need to learn to respect people, respect property, respect God’s Creation and respect God’s Law. Biblical Law requires that we have honest money backed by real constant value (Proverbs 20:10; Micah 6:11-12). The only hope for Zimbabwe is to return in Repentance to God, rediscover the Biblical agenda and restore Biblical principles into every area of economic and community life, education, public ethics, the judiciary and public policy.
Foundations for Freedom
Nations need to be built on the unchangeable Law of God’s Word. Instead of rulers, we must elect servants – civil servants, bound down with the chains of the Constitution. We need a system of checks and balances to divide power and responsibility between executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. For our nations to be strong, the families need to be strong. For governments to be good, their citizens need to be good. Those who cannot control themselves are not capable of ruling over a city (Proverbs 16:32). Those who cannot manage their household well are not qualified to lead others (1Timothy 3:4-5). “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” Nehemiah 2:17
Can God Stop Suffering?
Can God stop all the suffering in the world? Yes. Why does God not stop all the suffering in the world?
The Day Will Come
The Bible tells us that one day God will bring all human suffering to an end. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4
Why Not Now?
So why does God not do that immediately?
To end all suffering in the world God would have to remove all people from the world. He would have to end free choice and independent thought and actions. Human sinfulness is the cause for most of the suffering in the world. Pride, greed, lust, envy, hatred, selfishness – these are what causes most of the grief and suffering in the world.
We need to ask: what is God’s purpose for mankind? We know that God cares. The Scripture tells us how God’s heart was “grieved” at the sinfulness of mankind (Genesis 6:6). The Lord is “longsuffering” (Numbers 14:18). In Jesus we see that God entered our fallen and suffering world. He was not immune to the pain and grief which we ourselves experience. Jesus suffered even greater pain than any of us could ever know. He knew what it was to be destitute and homeless, He knew what it was to be hated, rejected and despised by His own people. He knew the heartache of betrayal. He experienced injustice and trial by the mob. He was scourged and tortured by cruel men. More than all of that, He bore our sins upon Himself and suffered the torments of hell that we might go to Heaven.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
There can be no question that God cares. Christ’s death on the Cross proves that. But what possible purpose could be served by our following in His footsteps of suffering?
“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.”1 Peter 2:21
The School of Character
Suffering is directly linked to character building. Mankind’s suffering is not an accident. The purpose for every human being’s life is to teach us the terrible consequences of sinful rebellion against the Laws of Almighty God and to build in us the character of children of God.
Since God Himself is longsuffering, this is one of the Fruit of the Spirit which needs to be developed into our life (Galatians 5:22-23). God permits suffering because it is the school of character. In fact some of the most outstanding heroes of the Faith have endured tremendous suffering. The Old Testament prophets, all the apostles of Christ, the early Christian Believers who suffered in the arenas of Rome, the martyrs and missionaries through the ages, have all demonstrated that suffering can be used by God to strengthen our Faith and refine our character.
The Advantage of Adversity
There is no quick fix to the problem of sin and suffering . On the Cross our Lord Jesus Christ paid the ultimate penalty for sin – which is death (Romans 3:23). God is patiently using both the “day of prosperity” and the “day of adversity” (Ecclesiastes 7:14) to teach us vital eternal spiritual truths and to direct us away from the self-destructive paths of sin and rebellion. To refine and shape our characters to be God-honouring, unselfish, good neighbours who seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.
Time and Experience
Suffering is absolutely essential to character building because it is a process. Time and experience are a vital part of renewing minds and transforming behaviour. The Scripture even says that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ“learned obedience by the things which He suffered” Hebrews 5:8. If the only perfect Person who ever lived learned through suffering, how much more essential is it for each one of us to learn obedience by the things which we suffer?
“For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Captain of their Salvation perfect through sufferings.” Hebrews 2:10
When a whole nation suffers to the extremes that Zimbabwe has been plummeted to it is an eloquent call to national repentance. In accordance with 2 Chronicles 7:14, Zimbabweans need to carefully, systematically work through the Ten Commandments and all the Biblical principles that have been violated. They must Repent, do restitution, rebuild and restore.
In the Light of Eternity
There is no shortcut in the process of Discipleship and Sanctification. We need to live in the light of eternity, understanding that God can work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the Creation eagerly waits…” Romans 8:18-19
Listen to God
God is a holy God. Sin is serious. Everything has consequences. Are you listening to the Word of God? C.S. Lewis wrote that pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a slumbering world. What is God saying to you?
“King David wrote: It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.” Psalm 119:71
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your Word.” Psalm 119:67
Purpose in Pain
Physical pain of sufficient intensity stops us in our tracks. We begin searching for the cause of pain. This often leads us to change destructive behaviour in order to alleviate the pain and to avoid it in future.
“That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I the Lord, do all these things.” Isaiah 45:6-7
God has a great purpose and plan that extends beyond this life. Suffering certainly never feels good. But it can still be used by God for good purposes.
Ultimately, thousands of years of human suffering will eventually teach mankind the crucial lesson that we cannot ignore God, break His Laws and still be blessed.
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
The above article has been adapted from the book Answering Skeptics by Peter Hammond. The book and MP3 Audio Boxset Answering Skeptics are available from Christian Liberty Books, PO Box 358, Howard Place 7450, Cape Town, South Africa, tel: 021-689-7478, fax: 0861-551-7490, email: firstname.lastname@example.org and website: www.christianlibertybooks.co.za.
Answering Skeptics is also available as an E-book.