So which is it? Does God cause suffering or does He allow it? Now that's a question that will get some people riled up. When we let our emotions take over, we can come up with all sorts of answers to a question like this. So we must return to the Bible and see what it says. If we have no source of authority to answer questions, then we can just come up with whatever answers we want (see postmodernism). We as Christians know that we do have one source of authority, the scriptures. So what does the Bible say?
First, let us begin with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Did God the Father simply allow Jesus to suffer, or did He cause this to happen? Isaiah 53:10, speaking of the Suffering Servant (Jesus) says, "Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand." Notice that it was the will of the Lord (God the Father) to crush him (Jesus).
In the New Testament, we see a similar statement in Acts 2:23. Peter is preaching about Jesus and states, "This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." It is clear that Jesus' death occurred according to not just the foreknowledge, but also the plan of God the Father.
Both of the above passages at least show that God was in control of Christ's suffering. This seems to be more significant that just allowing Jesus to suffer. However, the texts do not explicitly state that God caused the suffering to occur.
Let's look to the testimony of faithful men elsewhere in the Bible.
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Three more examples stand out on this issue: Joseph, Paul, and Job. In Genesis chapter 50, Joseph is talking with his brothers after their father Jacob has died. Speaking of their selling him into slavery, Joseph says to his brothers in verses 19-20, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Joseph’s belief is clear. He says that God “meant” it for good. Joseph believed that God caused his suffering.
Turning to Paul, in II Corinthians 12, he has been given “a thorn in the flesh.” Although not stated directly, the context implies that God sent this “messenger of Satan” to afflict Paul. Paul asks three times for it to leave, but it is God’s will for it to remain. In fact, God says to Paul in 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." God was in complete control of that situation. It seems that God caused Paul’s suffering.
Finally, let us turn to the example of Job. In chapter 1 of Job, Satan approaches God. However, it is God who says to Satan in verse 8, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" God actually initiates what Job will face.
In verse 11 we see that Satan wants to harm Job, but what does he say to God? Satan says to God, “But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” So even Satan believes that it is ultimately God who brings suffering.
It is important to note what happens next. In verse 12, God responds by saying to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” At this point God gives permission to Satan to harm Job, and we know that he does.
What is Job’s reaction to all this? Does he believe God has caused his pain or merely allowed it to happen? We have two short testimonies of Job that shed some light. First, in 1:21 Job says, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Second, in 2:10 Job says to his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” So in these two verses we see Job saying that God has “taken away,” and that he (Job) must “receive evil” from God.
Based on these scriptures (Isaiah, Acts, Lamentations, Genesis, II Corinthians, & Job), we appear to have a clear answer to our title question. Although not stated explicitly, God the Father appears to have caused Jesus to suffer. Jeremiah clearly states that God is causing his suffering. Joseph and Paul both seem to believe that God is causing their suffering. Finally, in the case of Job, both Satan and Job believe that it is God who causes suffering.
So what is Satan’s role in all of this? Based on what we see in Job, Satan is actively involved in at least some of the suffering we face. A safe conclusion is this: God is ultimately responsible for and is the ultimate cause of our suffering. He has every right to do this, and is sinless in doing it. Satan is involved in some of this suffering. When he is involved, he is sinful in his actions and motives, even if directed by God.
Why then would a loving God cause us to suffer? We may never know the answer to this in particular situations. Job could not see what was happening in heaven just before his suffering began. God never told Job why he suffered. We can be certain of this: our God will glorify Himself through our suffering. He will also use it to draw us closer to Himself.
So what is the final conclusion? Does God cause or allow suffering? According to the Bible, God causes suffering.
Please let me know what you think about this (even if you don’t agree).