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Why Does God Allow Suffering?



In this message, Director of Spiritual Formation at Passion City Church D.C. Jacob Harkey helps us acknowledge that suffering, in time, is a reality for all of us. The question remains: Will you be able to look at your trial through the lens of eternity?

Key Takeaway

We can be certain that suffering will be a part of our story, but we can also be certain that it will be used for good.

Why does God allow suffering? It's one of the most common questions that we ask. We are all going to face it, but when we read Psalm 13:1-6, we find that we can go from, "How long will you allow me to suffer?" to "Lord, I trust in your steadfast love."

Suffering is unavoidable. Pain will come: personal, global, physical, emotional, and spiritual. It is natural for us to look for comfort, but the world does this in ways that leave us wanting.

  • Stoicism—just deal with it, white knuckle life
  • Drown it out, numb it out
  • Nihilism—life is dark and painful; it's just what it is. Be anxious, despairing, and depressed because there's nothing you can do about it.

Because followers of Jesus have the Bible, we have more than anything the world has to offer. It doesn't give us easy answers, but it gives us the best answers. Only in Jesus can we find true comfort in our pain.

Face the question: Why does God allow suffering? You have to engage both your mind and your heart. Better theology is preventative medicine.

Four answers for our suffering:

1. It reminds us of sin's pervasive devastation. It points to the reality of this broken and fallen world.

  • Romans 8:18-23- Paul shifts from talking about our identity to suffering to creation. Creation is longing, subject to decay, deteriorating, and groaning. He's pointing back to Genesis. In chapters 1 and 2, God creates the world in a way that is good and makes sense. In Genesis 3, mankind rebelled against God, causing five major points of division: man from God, man from self, man from others, man from nature, and nature itself broke.
  • Romans 5:12, 17- Sin and death came into the world at this very moment in the garden. This is what Paul is calling back to.
  • Experiencing the devastation of sin hits harder than reading or hearing about it. Suffering reminds us of that devastation. Creation is subject to futility in hope. God will do something about it and make it right again. He uses childbearing imagery because the point of groaning leads to a result. We know that our bodies and nature will be redeemed.

2. To move to repentance. Repentance is a change of heart that changes our actions. Sometimes, our suffering is just the consequence of our actions. God uses this type of suffering to bring us to repentance. It's not cruelty or a curse; it's out of love and grace.

  • Hebrews 12:6- God disciplines the ones He loves.
  • Luke 13:1-5- Jesus uses the examples of an atrocity and an accident to challenge the view of karma. Suffering is indiscriminate. He calls the entire crowd to repentance. Why? Because of the reality of sin. We can't dodge the realities of sin.

3. To renovate our hearts. Our hearts conform to the heart of Jesus. Suffering is used to change us.

  • Romans 5:3—5—Suffering leads to endurance, which leads to character, which ends in hope. We rejoice in our suffering because it produces something in us. It's not easy, but it creates conditions for growth.
  • Endurance—patience, ability to withstand hardship
  • Character—dependable, reliable
  • Hope—God will make it right. No matter what I'm going through, God will do something about it.

Suffering doesn't break us; it creates people who can endure life with hope and joy. Our pain is shot through with purpose. Pain is a catalyst for transformation.

4. To display His glory. He will show us who He is to us and the world.

  • John 9:1-2—Jesus refutes the claim of karma again. Jesus heals the man to authenticate the message of who He is and give glory to God. He used the man's suffering to show His glory. Broken situations can and will be used to show God's glory.
  • Romans 8:28—Even when we can't understand it, we can be confident that God can use evil and good to do whatever He wants with them. He is working.

We also need to be aware that it's not our job to explain why someone is suffering in their life. That's not always helpful.

Now, we move from the head to the heart.

Three places where we find comfort:

1. God's character. Build your life in His character, not your circumstances.

  • Proverbs 3:5—This is hard to do! False expectations for God lead us to disappointment when things get hard. Lean into who God is and the character of Himself that He has revealed to us.
  • He is all-knowing and all-powerful. We trust that He is sovereign. He is good, loving, and merciful. He is just. Let His character be the hedge of protection around you as you bring everything to Him.

2. His Church. He gives us people to process our highs and lows with.

  • 1 Corinthians 12:26, Romans 12:15—We are an interconnected body with Christ as the head. We are meant to suffer together when someone in the body is hurting. Community doesn't happen by accident—it takes intention.

3. He gives us His Son. We need to abide in Jesus, especially when we need comfort. God cares and is near to the brokenhearted. God can relate to us because He stepped down into our world. He put Himself into the human story. He knows exactly how we feel. He suffered for us on the Cross so we would never have to suffer again.


"Suffering doesn't break us, it creates people who can endure life with hope and joy. Our pain is shot through with purpose. Pain is a catalyst for transformation."

Jacob Harkey

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Scripture References

  • Psalm 13:1-6
Jacob Harkey Spiritual Formation Director at Passion City Church, Washington D.C.