Why would our one, all-loving God allow people to suffer? Why would He allow children to suffer illness and disease? Why would He allow people to undergo harsh trials and tribulations in life? Why do bad things happen to good people? These questions are often pondered by many, and they are definitely good questions. The answer to these questions is neither crystal clear nor black and white, but can we find anything in Scripture that would possibly help us understand?
Let’s separate the topic of human suffering into three categories:
- Human suffering at the hands of others
- Human suffering due to illness and disease
- Other trying situations (financial difficulties, natural disasters, etc.)
Human Suffering at the Hands of Others
A good example of this could be a bank robbery. Let’s say an individual robs a bank and shoots me while I’m standing in line. What was the cause of this? The truth is that God gives people free will to make decisions. Because of that free will, people do evil things. The greatest example of a righteous man being inflicted by evil men is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ:
“The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” – Acts 4:26–28
Jesus was perfect and without sin, yet God had a greater plan through His pain and suffering (Psalms 22). If Christ had not died at the hands of evil men, then we would not have a savior. We would not have the forgiveness of sins, as it was Christ who bore our sins on the cross:
“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” – 1 Peter 2:24
Another example is the story of Joseph. Joseph was sold into slavery by his evil brothers and, through trials and tribulations, ended up being an Egyptian governor and well admired by the Pharaoh (Genesis 38–39). Because of him, the people of Egypt survived a 7-year drought and they were saved. God used Joseph’s suffering for the fulfillment of a greater plan:
“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” – Genesis 50:20
Human Suffering Due to Illness and Disease
What about illness and disease? First, we have to understand that illness and death entered into the world as the result of the fall of Adam:
“And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field” – Genesis 3:17–18
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” – Romans 5:12
Prior to the fall of mankind, there was no illness or death in the world. But after sin entered into the world through Adam’s transgression, along with it came the stain of sin on all mankind resulting in illness and death (both physically and spiritually). Except Jesus Himself, no human being that has ever lived is righteous – we all have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:10, 12, 23).
So why do humans suffer through pain and death? It is a consequence of sin on both the world and our mortal bodies. But why does God allow people to suffer? Why does God allow such pain? It is a difficult question to answer, but the Scripture gives us some insight:
- Suffering produces a deeper relationship with God:
“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.” – Job 42:5
- Suffering refines us:
“Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” – Isaiah 48:10
- Trying of our faith results in patience:
“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” – Romans 5:3–5
“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” – James 1:2–4
- We are conformed unto God’s image:
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” – Romans 8:28–30
- When we suffer and cope, it allows us to comfort others:
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3–5
The apostle Paul also wrote about his “thorn in the flesh,” which was apparently some infirmity of his own. Paul wrote that the strength of the Lord is “made perfect in weakness”:
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7–9
Other Trying Situations
What about the other types of trials and tributations in our lives? The truth is God allows certain things to happen for several reasons – some of these reasons we know, and some we don’t. But what can we glean from Scripture? Let’s look at a few others reasons why God allows us to experience trials and tribulations, which can also apply to illness and disease as well:
- God disciplines and teaches us:
“My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” – Proverbs 3:11–12
“The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise. He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.” – Proverbs 15:31–32
“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” – Hebrews 12:6
- God allows us to suffer to drive us to repentance:
“And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years.” – Judges 6:1
“And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD.” – Judges 6:6
“They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in. Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses.” – Psalms 107:4–6
- God teaches us his will:
“It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” – Psalms 119:71
“I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.” – Psalms 119:75
- God promotes His glory. In John 9, Jesus healed a blind mind – he was part of the greater plan:
“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” – John 9:1–3
God promotes His gospel:
“As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” – Acts 8:3–4
The bottom line is we will never fully know the reasons God allows certain things to happen. We just have to trust that His plan is greater than ours. Ponder these situations:
You hit a deer on your way to work and you’re late. Maybe you missed an accident down the road.
Your pet got sick and died. Maybe that saved your child from running after it across the street and getting hit by a car.
Your child got very sick and maybe even died, but you clung to God and your faith. Maybe the nurse who cared for your child was so moved by your faith that she accepted Christ and then led her entire family to Him.
Just think about those situations. We will never know our mighty God’s plan – all we have is our trust and faith in Him:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8–9
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” – Revelation 21:4
In early 2016 at the age of 29, I set out on a journey to discover the truth. At that time in my life, I looked around this world and saw the laundry list of Christian denominations with each of them having different beliefs: Roman Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Non-Denominationalists, Churches of God, Churches of Christ, Lutherans, and the list went on and on. From my understanding, each of these denominations under the single umbrella of Christianity claimed to hold the truth. How could I ever know for sure which one was true? My religious upbringing as a child was not straight-forward. I was not raised up entirely in a single denomination, and because of this mixture I was even further confused. It was at this time in my life that I set out determined to uncover the truth and solidify my religious beliefs once and for all. My eternity depended on it!
My earliest memories in church are of two churches: Church of God and Roman Catholicism. My maternal grandmother was a member of a Church of God church, while my father was a lifelong Roman Catholic. I remember my grandmother taking me to church on occasion, as well as my father taking me to Catholic mass. I surely noticed the difference in worship styles between the two, but as a young boy I never understood or questioned the differences. For the most part, religion was not a big part of my upbringing. Rather, it was an occasional experience.
In August of 1997 at the age of 11, my parents enrolled me in a Catholic junior high school. I spent three years there in grades six through eight, and it was also there that I officially became a Roman Catholic. Having never been through any Catholic religious education before in my life, I was behind my other classmates in the sense that they had already had their first communion, first confession, etc. So at the outset of my enrollment at the school, I began meeting regularly with the Assistant Principal, a nun, who helped get me caught up in learning the basics of Roman Catholicism. I remember she gave me a Catholic educational book that helped me learn the basics of the Catholic mass, the Eucharist, confession, etc. These classes probably lasted a number of weeks, and at the conclusion of my sessions with her I made my first confession and first communion. I also began serving in the church as an altar boy.
My service in the Catholic church came to an end when I graduated from junior high school and moved across town to a non-Catholic public high school. During these years, I still considered myself Catholic and would attend mass on occasion. My involvement with the Catholic church, or any church for that matter, trickled away as I left home for college.
The years of my life between college in 2007 and the beginning of my truth-seeking journey in 2016 were very non-religious. Yes, I believed in God. Yes, I believed in Jesus Christ. Yes, I believed in the Bible although I had never read or studied it. But even knowing those truths, religion was not a part of my life. When I married my wife in 2012, I was asked by her pastor if I was “saved.” I told him I was, as I had prayed a prayer during my years in high school. I believed I was indeed “saved” because I surely believed in Jesus Christ. But as far as knowing doctrine, Scripture, or any teachings in the Bible, I was very ignorant. Even for the first few years of our marriage, I continued to believe that I didn’t have anything to worry about when it came to eternity. Sure I had my doubts, but doesn’t everyone doubt? This time of confusion for me was not helped by the fact that my wife and her family were Southern Baptists, while the majority of my family were devout Catholics. As an adult I knew there were distinct differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestant churches, but we all believe in Jesus Christ right? I figured it’s just all the same.
So in early 2016, I set out to determine the truth for myself. I had this nagging in my inner-self to figure out this “religion thing.” My entire life had been a wishy-washy see-saw of religious beliefs, and I knew I had to satisfy this internal nagging to know the truth. So, I began to ask questions.
Why do Roman Catholics believe what they believe? Why do Protestants believe what they believe? Where does everyone get their beliefs from? I knew for me to find the truth, I would have to have a “control” in this “experiment.” What could I use as a baseline? What could I use that I knew would be absolute truth? The answer I knew was simple: the Bible. I knew that the Bible was God’s written Word. I knew that all truth would agree with Scripture, and anything that’s not true would contradict Scripture. So with my “control” in hand, I began.
I got saved on April 6, 2016, a short time after my journey started. I will never forget that day, as the way the Lord has moved in my life from then on has been an undeniable experience. I was driving home from out-of-town work training while listening to a sermon on YouTube. As I was listening to the preacher’s message about hell, its reality, and the need for salvation, I began to cry uncontrollably. For the first time in my life, I realized how dead in trespasses and sin I truly was. Of course I had always had a head knowledge of Jesus Christ my entire life, but I had never trusted in Him alone with my heart. That day has long since lived in my memory, and my life has not been the same since.
My finding of true, saving faith was followed by the Lord calling me into the ministry. I first didn’t know what aspect of ministry work He wanted me to do, but I immediately heeded His call and enrolled in the seminary. As time has gone by, it has become quite clear to me that He has called me into the field of apologetics. I have had an insatiable craving for reading and learning the Scripture, and for studying various doctrines and teachings of the Bible.
Since I began my truth-seeking journey in 2016, I have poured countless hours into reading, researching, and studying the Bible and various church doctrine. This website is the fruit of that work. I pray it will be a blessing to all who read it.
May the grace and love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be with you all.
The people that go to heaven are Christians. However, this answer requires much explanation. The truth is that most people who would identify as “Christian” are in fact not Christians. Jesus said:
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” – Matthew 7:13–14
It is a tragic reality that most professing Christians are in fact lost sinners. Before we can understand who has eternal life (i.e. goes to heaven), we need to define the term “Christian.”
A Christian is a person who has believed and trusted the gospel of Jesus Christ, and therefore has become a follower of Christ. What is the gospel? The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1–4).
A person who believes and trusts the gospel understands that:
- They are sinners
- They cannot save themselves (i.e. through their works)
- They need a savior
- Jesus Christ’s finished work on the cross by the shedding of His blood paid their debt/penalty in full
- Jesus was buried
- Jesus rose again on the third day
- Jesus lives today and is seated at the right hand of the Father
Only by believing in and trusting the gospel is a person justified before God. What is justification? Justification is when God declares a person legally righteous. It does not mean that a person is sinless, but in the eyes of God they are in fact sinless by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” – Romans 3:23–25
“And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also” – Romans 4:11
“Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” – Romans 5:9
“Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” – Romans 5:18–19
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” – 1 Corinthians 5:21
“And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” – Philippians 3:9
Do “bad” Christians go to heaven?
I was asked the question: “Do bad Christians go to heaven?”
To answer this, we first have to define “good” and “bad” Christians. What exactly is meant by the terms “good” and “bad”? Are “good” and “bad” a measurement of the individual’s obedience? Are “good” Christians very obedient and “bad” Christians not so much? Is there any such thing as a “bad” Christian?
First, it’s important to understand that we all sin. Going to heaven (i.e. eternal life) is not dependent upon how good we can be. Why? Because even our righteous acts are filthy rags before God:
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” – Isaiah 64:6
Our salvation dependent upon how good we can be would also equate to salvation by works which is explicitly against Scripture. How are we saved? We’re saved by grace through faith (i.e. believing and trusting the gospel). We are created unto good works, but it is not our works that save us.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:8–10
For further in-depth discussion, see Is salvation through faith alone?
A common belief held by many is that the Apostle Peter is the rock on which the Christian church is built. This claim is based on Matthew 16:18 in which Jesus is speaking:
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:18
At first glance, it seems that Jesus did in fact call Peter the “rock” on which He will build His church. However, there are two interpretations of this verse:
- “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock (speaking of Peter) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
- “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock (speaking of Himself, Jesus) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Are there any clues from the text that could lend credence to either view? Would the Greek text reveal details that are hidden by the English translation? Let’s take a look:
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter (πέτρος, petros), and upon this rock (πέτρα, petra) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
In the Greek text, we find two words: petros and petra. Both are nouns for “rock,” but notice the change of gender between the two occurrences. What are the differences in the Greek between these two words? From Strong’s Concordance, we find the following:
Πέτρος Pétros, pet’-ros; apparently a primary word; a (piece of) rock (larger than G3037); as a name, Petrus, an apostle:—Peter, rock. Compare G2786.
πέτρα pétra, pet’-ra; feminine of the same as G4074; a (mass of) rock (literally or figuratively):—rock.
Throughout Scripture, petros is almost exclusively used to identify Peter. Let’s look at the instances that petra is used:
“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock (petra)” – Matthew 7:24
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock (petra) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:18
“As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock (petra) of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” – Romans 9:33
“And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock (petra) that followed them: and that Rock (petra) was Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 10:4
“And a stone of stumbling, and a rock (petra) of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.” – 1 Peter 2:8
From the above verses, it appears there is a connection between the use of petra as an identity of Christ rather than of Peter. Furthermore if Peter is the rock of the church, how can it be that Peter doubted Jesus while walking on water (Matthew 14:30–31), denied Jesus three times (Luke 22:57–62), and was rebuked by Paul at Antioch (Galatians 2:11, 14)?
From a strictly grammatical standpoint, is the intent of Matthew 16:18 clear? I cannot say it is. However we should be able to look at the rest of Scripture to get a clearer meaning of Jesus’ words, as all of Scripture must be consistent with itself.
If anyone in the world knew the meaning of Jesus’ words, it was Peter himself. What did Peter write?
“To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.” – 1 Peter 2:4–8
In Peter’s writings, we find nothing to indicate that Peter himself believed he was the rock of the church. In fact, we find the opposite. Peter describes Jesus as “a living stone” and a “chief corner stone.”
Are there any other Scriptures that could identify the “rock” of the church? Here are a few, and they point us to Jesus Christ:
“He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.” – Deuteronomy 32:4
“The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.” – Psalm 18:2
“As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” – Romans 9:33
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 3:11
“And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 10:4
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:19–22