How can a good and powerful God allow suffering?

By Curtis Shelburne: CNJ columnist

That has always been a good and powerful question, and one asked most often and most poignantly in the midst of shock, pain, and perplexity.

The question is a good question, one which defies easy and glib answers. The answer of the Christian faith is not easy, and it is given through tears.

If God is absolutely good and powerful and loving, nothing less, how can he allow suffering?

Perhaps the deepest answer is itself an even more difficult question: “How can even a good, powerful, and loving God not allow suffering?”

When God created humanity in his own image, he gave us the amazing gift which gives life and love meaning but which of necessity also opens us up to pain. He gave us free will. God gave us the capacity to choose good or to choose evil. Puppets dangling from a divine string would never make the wrong move or dance the wrong dance, but would their dancing have any meaning or joy at all? And if the terrible choice for hate and evil and despair were no option at all, would choosing for love and goodness and hope hold any real meaning or joy at all?

In a free universe, our choices are invested with deep meaning. Would the love of your spouse so warm your heart if she had no real choice but to give it? Would the hugs of your three-year-old daughter so light up your life if there were no possibility that she might choose to turn away? Would our love of the God of all joy and light mean anything if he had not given us the freedom to choose to spurn him and follow evil and the Prince of Darkness instead?

It’s one thing to ask those questions when life seems good. It’s quite another to ask them when the whole fabric of your universe seems to have been ripped into shreds and pain and evil and wickedness seem to be masters of the day. Most of us have seen those times. But thank God himself we have also seen the awesome power of goodness, fierce love, and nobility even in the midst of the deepest pain. 

How we wish there was another way, but God himself could not create a universe where we could see the beauty of the one without the terrible possibility of the other. Christianity asserts that ours is a God, so good, so powerful, so loving, that through his own unfathomable pain, he gave his Son to save us from evil so that one eternal day pain and suffering will be forever banished.

“Weeping may tarry for the night,” writes the Psalmist, “but joy comes in the morning.”

Dear God, when we or those we love are walking through a long and exceedingly dark and difficult night, grant us the faith, the strength, and the vision only you can give as we look up for the light of the morning.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at
ckshel@aol.com