It’s one of the biggest questions we ask–and one of the most difficult to answer. Why does God allow suffering in the world?

To understand the problem of suffering, Dr. Gerald Peterman says it is helpful to consider the overarching answer God’s word provides.

“If we’re going to give a biblical answer, we have to say that God allowed suffering to come into the world through us. In Genesisand 2, things are very cool and we’re good with God.  In Genesis 3,  it all goes south and our first parents (Adam and Eve) bring sin and death into the world. Because death comes into the world, all kinds of suffering come into the world and these things multiply.” 

“That’s the overarching answer: He has allowed suffering to come into the world because, in His great wisdom and sovereignty, He can work with it to still bring about His glory and our good.”

When we go through times of suffering, we can start to feel distant from God. Can He, as an all-powerful God, understand what we’re going through? Does He suffer too? Dr. Peterman says yes, citing the books of prophets as evidence.

“Take Jeremiah: why does that prophet cry so much? Why does he seem to be in such agony? He understands the heart of God, and God’s pain is coming out through the prophet.” 

“We can see several good glimpses of the God of the Old Testament suffering– with His people, suffering because of His people. And then this God becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ our Lord and what do we find? He still suffers. But now we can see the tears streaming down His face.”

The Bible shows God’s suffering is different than our suffering.

“I see a great consistency from Genesis to Revelation that God is suffering with His people. Not suffering in the sense that He’s trapped, or He can’t bring victory, or He’s at our mercy. No, He will bring eternal glory out of suffering. But indeed, He suffers with us.” 

In seasons of suffering, we can find ourselves drifting into despair. Is that a sin, or an indicator of lost faith? Not according to the Apostle Paul who, in a time of unbearable affliction, despaired even of life. And when we begin to despair today, we can follow Paul’s example:

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will deliver us again.2 Corinthians 1:9-10

In those darkest, most difficult times, our dependence on the power of God becomes evident:

“There are many times when God brings Christians through despair, if they will hold on through it. God will teach them a new level of faith. It’d be painful. It’ll be very dark…no one wants to go there. But sometimes God’s great mercy and sovereignty can bring us out the back side of something horrible and transform us.”

Gerald Peterman is a Bible professor at Moody Bible Institute and the director of the Biblical and Theological Studies program at Moody Theological Seminary. He’s the author of   (2013) and coauthor of  .

Suffering- Between Pain and Grace