That suffering is a consequence of sin is easy to understand, but why does God let us suffer so much?
If he truly loves us, would it not please him to minimize our hardships?
The answer to these questions has five facets.
God Is Active
God routinely limits suffering, just not as much as we want. He works directly through his own efforts and indirectly through his agents.
If we could see everything God was doing daily to restrain evil globally and to curtail the consequences of sin, in our lives and in the lives of others around the world, we would realize he is continuously active.
Life would be much harder for everyone without his constant mitigation.
God limits our personal suffering by never letting us encounter afflictions we cannot endure, if we walk in harmony with him.
He provides a way to escape every temptation, which prevents the suffering our moral failures would otherwise cause for us and others, if we utilize his provision.
When we do yield to temptation, he limits the extent to which our moral failures harm our future generations.
God lessens our suffering through the efforts of others. Conversely, he lessens the suffering of others through us.
He designed us with an empathy that compels many people to develop products and provide services that alleviate global suffering and thereby improve life for everyone.
This same intrinsic compassion motivates us to personally help hurting people in our orbit and thereby reduce their individual suffering.
God gave us a moral code, commonly called The Ten Commandments, to guide our relationships with him and each other.
His commandments, and the principles inherent in them, prioritize life, liberty, justice, honor, equality, and harmony. Several of these precepts are so intuitively true that even unbelievers consider them natural laws.
Adherence to God’s moral code, individually and corporately, even for secular reasons, builds strong, healthy families and just, compassionate societies. These outcomes reduce suffering in general.
God ends all suffering for reborn believers when they enter heaven.
Goodness From Affliction
God uses our afflictions to produce goodness in us, for us, and through us. Sometimes this goodness takes time to materialize.
For example, God let the Israelites endure four centuries of Egyptian slavery before he orchestrated their release. It took that long for a small nomadic family to become a nation of millions, with a common identity and unique traditions that could endure subsequent dispersion.
God may similarly let us endure prolonged distress to prepare us for the future. He knows we will eventually need the wisdom and experience that can only be acquired by working through our adversity.
God sometimes lets us suffer intensely so he can produce personal goodness in us.
For example, he may allow affliction to diminish our self-sufficiency so we seek his aid. He knows this process will humble us, help us understand his excellence at deeper levels, and make us more usable in his service to others.
Sometimes God allows us to suffer unfairly so he can produce personal goodness in those we influence.
For example, he may use our response to suffering to draw our family and friends closer to him. He may use our example to teach them how to persevere, how to be thankful in every situation, and how to be truly content.
Sometimes God lets us suffer severely, while he produces a manifold good through the temporary ascendance of evil. The death of Jesus is the premier example of God letting evil prevail momentarily for this purpose.
Many hardships are the unfortunate consequences of decisions made by us and others.
God is unwilling to restrict our volitional freedom, even if doing so would mean we encountered fewer problems. He considers our will sacrosanct, because we cannot be reborn spiritually without it.
Thus, God allows that which he dislikes—our suffering—to enable that which he cherishes—our decision to be reborn spiritually and thereby qualify for heaven.
We can hypothesize many scenarios in which God could intervene in world affairs to minimize suffering without jeopardizing our volitional freedom. For example, he could prevent natural disasters from occurring in populated areas.
For reasons only he understands, God does not always intercede in these situations, from our earthly perspective anyway.
This brings us to the fifth—and least satisfying—facet of the answer about suffering.
God does not always disclose his complete rationale for why he allows us to suffer so much. In these cases, we will have to wait until heaven for his personalized answer.
This is a deal breaker for some of us.
Absent a satisfactory explanation for our distress, we infer that God is either mean, aloof, powerless, or non-existent. However, God has deemed his current level of disclosure sufficient for us to trust him amid every affliction.
For us to demand that God first answer all our “why” questions before we trust him is to suggest his current revelation is inadequate and his determination to the contrary is incorrect. This demand implies our judgment is better than his.
If that was true, he would not be God. We would be God.
God Recognizes Our Dilemma
God understands our dissatisfaction with this answer about suffering. He is not offended by our dismay.
In his written argument for why we should trust him—the Bible—God highlights the bewilderment about suffering expressed by the saints he cites as our role models.
However, God goes on to describe what these people learned about his excellence, as they walked in harmony with him through their adversities, despite their skepticism.
Their experiences assure us that we can indeed trust God by faith when afflictions raise doubts about his character, compassion, and capabilities.