This question and answer was taken from the Life’s Big Questions website:

The problem of suffering

We have sympathy for those who suffer greatly and want to do what we can to help.

We sometimes ask, “If there is a loving God, why does He stand back and do nothing while the world is full of suffering?” Suffering in our own lives can be a big problem.

4 minute taster video

suffering man

We shall look at this problem and see that:

  • We suffer because we live in an imperfect world
  • Suffering can be a warning that something is wrong
  • Suffering can make us stop and think
  • Suffering can help build our characters
  • Sometimes there are reasons for suffering
  • The Bible tells of a future time when there will be no more suffering

Suffering seems to be of three types:

  1. Caused by ourselves – pain and suffering as a result of accident injuries or lifestyle choices.
  2. Caused by mankind in general – war, persecution and pollution
  3. Outside human control – floods, earthquakes, illness and death

We shall look at these three categories and see what we can learn.

elderly couple

Our imperfect world

We live in an imperfect world full of imperfect people. This is the root cause of all suffering. The Bible tells us why there is this imperfection and what has been done to remove it in the future. The “What is the evidence the Bible is special?” section is intended to help you have confidence in the Bible message when it tells us about these issues. Suffering can be a reminder that we should think about why our world is not perfect.

man with back pain

Suffering caused by our own actions

Minor injuries

We cause suffering and pain to ourselves in many ways. We may burn ourselves on a hot object, bruise our hand by hitting it with something or strain a muscle by lifting a heavy object. This suffering is helpful, it tells us not to do it again! Next time we are in a similar situation, we remember the pain and act appropriately. Pain is a warning that things are not right. We must stop and think about the problem.

The importance of this kind of pain is illustrated by an American boy who was born with no sense of pain. He was nine years old when his mother took him to the John Hopkins medical school in Baltimore one November day in 1937. We might think that not being able to feel any pain would be great. However this is what the examining doctor wrote in his report:

  • Partial blindness in one eye because when he had sand in his eye he did not notice it until permanent damage had been done.
  • Scars on almost every part of his body.
  • Enormous scar across his buttocks where he had sat on a heater and did not notice until his flesh was burnt to the bone.
  • One foot permanently deformed, as he had broken a bone and walked about on it for months before it was spotted.
  • Both hands so badly cut that he would never again be able to straighten his fingers.

We can see that pain acts as a danger signal to the rest of us, but this unfortunate boy had nothing to warn him to stop and think when his body was being injured.

car accident


Many of us are willing to do things which we know could involve suffering if things go wrong. Do we consider the risks before we do them? Modern travel is one example. Many of us travel in cars, knowing of the suffering that could occur. Some of us, when thinking about the potential suffering involved in aeroplane accidents, decide that the risk is not worthwhile and do not travel by plane. Like suffering caused by minor injuries, the risk of suffering from accidents sometimes makes us stop and think about what we are going to do.


Lifestyle-related suffering

Many of us suffer as a direct result of the sort of life we choose to lead. In some countries, cigarettes carry a health warning, yet how many people ignore the warning and suffer the consequences later!

Some of us choose to eat too much of the wrong kinds of food and become overweight, with the increasing risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Because of immorality, AIDS is another problem that humanity has inflicted on itself.

All of these problems are warnings that we are abusing our bodies.


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