Why Does God Allow Suffering?

Lesson 4, Part 6

7/11

Avoiding Unnecessary Suffering

Since sin is the major cause of suffering, much unnecessary suffering can be avoided by faithfully obeying God, by keeping His commandments in the letter and in the spirit.


Avoiding suffering can also involve following sound principles of mental, emotional and physical health. Such principles are based on the Ten Commandments and can be found throughout the Bible.

Does the Bible caution us not to bring suffering on ourselves by sinning?

“But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters” (1 Peter 4:15).

What happens to those who ignore this advice?

“Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, they would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their own fancies. For the turning away of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them” (Proverbs 1:29-32).

We read of many examples of suffering we can bring on ourselves simply by ignoring the basic wisdom in God’s Word. For instance: “A man of great wrath will suffer punishment; for if you rescue him, you will have to do it again” (Proverbs 19:19). Also: “Laziness casts one into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger” (Proverbs 19:15).

Financial problems are frequently the result of assuming legal responsibility for the debts of others: “He who is surety for a stranger will suffer, but one who hates being surety is secure” (Proverbs 11:15).

Accidents and carelessness contribute heavily to people’s suffering. Some occupations and activities are inherently more dangerous than others. “He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, and he who splits wood may be endangered by it” (Ecclesiastes 10:9).

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We read of many examples of suffering we can bring on ourselves simply by ignoring the basic wisdom in God’s Word. For instance: “A man of great wrath will suffer punishment; for if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.”

Disease, of course, is another major cause of suffering. The reasons for illnesses are too numerous to list. However, God promised the ancient Israelites that, if they diligently observed His instructions, which included dietary, sanitation and agricultural laws, He would not afflict them with the diseases He had brought on the Egyptians (Exodus 15:26). He warned them, however, that ignoring His guidance would result in sickness and disease (Deuteronomy 28:58-61).

Controlling disease, then, can relate to whether we listen to God’s advice and follow it.

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Prolonged and obsessive guilt is often a major, but preventable, cause of emotional agony.

By observing such simple principles as prevention, caution, good diet and sanitation, we can individually reduce a great deal of the suffering that comes from diseases. But it will take entire communities—even nations—working together to clean up our surroundings and restore sound principles of agriculture, air quality, food processing and other health-related needs to bring humanity to excellent health. Many of these necessary steps will have to wait until Christ rules the earth in His Kingdom.

Prolonged and obsessive guilt is often a major, but preventable, cause of emotional agony. Some guilt is natural and good. But guilt should lead to repentance, which is the remedy for it (2 Corinthians 7:10). God is merciful. The solution is to go to God, in a repentant attitude, for the grace and forgiveness He promises.

We read that even “a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again” (Proverbs 24:16). We need to seek God’s mercy regularly and frequently. As God has promised us, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be [white] as wool . . .” (Isaiah 1:18-19).

These examples only scratch the surface of the preventable and unnecessary suffering we can bring on ourselves. They also show why we need a balanced understanding of the causes of suffering. Much human suffering could easily be avoided through proper knowledge, understanding, wisdom and obedience.

Where can we find practical instruction on how to avoid unnecessary suffering?

“The proverbs of Solomon . . .: To know . . . wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion . . . And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel” (Proverbs 1:1-5).

We should not neglect the book of Proverbs when we seek practical help in understanding principles of sound thinking and living. It can assist us in vastly improving our human relationships and our Christian living. So much of our suffering and unhappiness stems from mishandling our day-to-day encounters with each other. We often lack diplomacy. We need the wisdom of God in dealing with our fellow human beings.

Even though we bring much suffering on ourselves, God’s preference is that we experience just the opposite. To believe that God would take some kind of perverted pleasure in human suffering is to misunderstand His character entirely. He takes no delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). He often postpones punishment in hopes of repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He wants the whole human family to achieve salvation in His Kingdom (1 Timothy 2:4). He does not prefer that we suffer.

Cause and Effect: An Often-Overlooked Principle

Many tragedies and much suffering can be traced to their source: our own all-too-human actions and decisions.

 In a world of freedom of choice, some choices inevitably lead to bad results.

Actions yield consequences. We know we reap what we sow, but we don’t realize the source of that saying—the Bible (Galatians 6:6-7). Thousands of years ago one of the friends of Job—no stranger to suffering-observed that “those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:8).

Centuries later the Hebrew prophet Hosea looked at the sad spiritual condition of the kingdom of Israel. Idolatry, violence and immorality were commonplace (Hosea 2:1-23), (Hosea 4:1-19). Within a few years the mighty Assyrian Empire would sweep in from the east and lay the kingdom waste, slaughtering thousands of its inhabitants and enslaving Israel’s survivors. God revealed to Hosea what was coming and why. “They sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7). “You have plowed wickedness; you have reaped iniquity. You have eaten the fruit of lies . . .” (Hosea 10:13). It was inevitable that the people’s sins would catch up with them.

When thousands die in natural disasters—hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes and droughts—people blame God. Yet, as God told the ancient Israelites, He would bless them with favorable weather only if they obeyed Him (Leviticus 26:3-4); (Deuteronomy 28:12). Most chose not to obey. That decision affected not only their own lives but the lives of their children, who fell victim to their parents’ foolish choices. The innocent often suffer for the sins of others. That is one of the tragic consequences of wrong choices.

When we analyze suffering, we can learn a great deal if only we will trace the circumstances back to their cause. (Proverbs 22:3) warns us to consider the long-term consequences of our choices: “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.”

When we look for the major causes of suffering, we often need look no further than ourselves. In one way or another sin is the underlying cause of most suffering.

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