Why a Good God Allows Suffering
by Randy Alcorn

Romans 8:28 tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Yet it is hard to believe lines like this when we witness baffling, horrific events. The primary Old Testament illustration of Romans 8:28 is Genesis 50:20. In that story, Joseph’s brothers betray him and sell him into slavery. Decades later he tells them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

The Case of Joseph

With Joseph, God does more than just make the best of a bad situation; he uses it for ultimate good (compare Ephesians 1:11). Five chapters before declaring that, “God planned it for good,” Joseph said to his brothers, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt” (Genesis 45:8). We see two wills at work here: Joseph’s brothers successfully perpetrated evil, and God successfully brought about good from their evil. God sovereignly worked so that the moral evil they committed — and the evils that resulted — were dramatically reversed to achieve his good purposes. As Joni Eareckson Tada puts it, “God permits what he hates to achieve what he loves.”

The Good of the Cross

The cross is God’s answer to the question, “Why don’t you do something about evil?” God did do something — and what he did was so powerful that it ripped in half, from top down, the fabric of the universe itself.

God does not merely empathize with our sufferings; he inserted himself into history through Jesus. What Jesus suffered, God suffered. God ordained and allowed Jesus’ temporary suffering so he could prevent our eternal suffering.

Good Friday isn’t called Bad Friday, because we see it in retrospect: We know that out of the appallingly bad came inexpressible good. And that good trumps the bad: Although the bad was temporary, the good is eternal. If someone had delivered Jesus from his suffering, Jesus could not have delivered us from ours (Isaiah 53:10 – 12; Romans 6:5).

Suffering and God’s Purposes

Paul wrote, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29). He said, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus noted, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).

Abel, who pleased God, was murdered by Cain. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, nearly all the prophets and many other Biblical figures suffered (compare Hebrews 11). As followers of Christ, believers routinely suffer, but God has a way of using it for his purposes. Every character in God’s story serves a purpose, as do all characters in his story today — believers in Jesus.

Joseph, after being sold into slavery and later sent to prison on false accusations, surely had endured enough for one life. At times, he must have felt like giving up. Talk to Job in the middle of his story — ten children dead, his body covered with excruciating boils, feeling as if God abandoned him, and friends haranguing him. Job even says: “Why did I not perish at birth?” (Job 3:11). But Job also says that God “knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). And later on Job remarks, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5).

Working Together for Good

If each of us were to list both the best and worst things that have ever happened to us, we are bound to see overlap in the two lists — especially if we have lived for a long time. God has used some of the worst things to accomplish some of the best. Like these lists already show, Romans 8:28 is true, and someday, we will see how it was true all along — each time suffering came along.

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