Human Suffering


There can be no real question as to whether there is any purpose in human suffering. There is no question that suffering exists. Even the atheists can find purpose for suffering, but such purpose is that which man infuses into his misery.

The problem comes when we think of ourselves as God's creatures. Then we ask, "In a world made by a loving God, why does suffering exist?"

Man, A part of the universe:

When God created the universe, He chose to ordain principles of operation which we usually call laws of nature. The effort to understand human suffering must begin by considering man's place in the natural order of things.

At first, man lived in a perfect realm where he could eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life and live indefinitely (Gen. 3:22; cf. 2:9). Because of the entrance of sin, paradise was ended and the universe no longer operated as it had. It was subjected to vanity (Rom. 8:20). Therefore, although most of the time, the laws of nature are beneficial to each individual, occasionally those same laws can cause great distress to man.

We are unique among the creatures of earth in that man is the only one who can deliberately, knowingly, place himself in harmony or out of harmony with nature. The fact that he is an intelligent being, a free moral agent, makes man different in his relationship to nature from all other creatures. Let us look at some illustrations.

Why does an apple fall from a tree? Let us be specific. Imagine that we are standing before a big apple tree. We see the dark, rough bark of the tree. The yellow-green apples are hanging profusely from the limbs. The wind stirs and moves a limb. Suddenly an apple snaps its moorings and falls to the earth with a little thud.

Now, did God make that particular apple fall? The answer depends on what you mean. If you mean, did God reach down from heaven and snap the apple's stem, no, God did not make it fall. Yet, in the sense that God made the universe and the laws governing the growth of fruit and the chemical process by which the apple is made to fall, plus the law of gravity, yes, God made it fall -- but only indirectly.

Now picture the Golden Gate bridge. High above us stands one of the tall towers from which the bridge is suspended. A tiny speck is standing on the top of the tower. A glance through binoculars reveals that it is a man. Suddenly, with a gasp, we realize the man has jumped. Horrified, we watch as, for several seconds, he falls, slowly turning until he crashes into the waters of the bay.

Did God cause that man to fall and die? If you mean, did God shove him off with an omnipotent finger, no. Here, however, the analogy between the falling apple and the falling man breaks down. God is not responsible for the death of the man, even indirectly, though He did make the law of gravity. The parallel breaks down because the apple could not choose to fall. The man could. He man chose to jump. It is not God's fault. It is the man's.

This incident was one in which the man chose to destroy himself. What about situations where one does not so choose? Let us illustrate again.

One of the laws of nature is inertia. A body in motion tends to retain its motion until contact with a restraining force causes it to stop.

Imagine a blue car with a driver and a passenger. They are moving at fifty-five miles an hour. A car pulls out in front of them, and the blue car plows into its rear. The blue car stops, but the occupants of the car continue to travel at fifty-five miles per hour. In a fraction of a second, they are violently lifted from their seats, and the passenger is rammed through the windshield head-first. The windshields disintegrates, and the passenger's whole body goes out through the opening and careens from the still twisting car ahead and flops over onto the roadside. He is dead.

Did God cause that wreck? Why would God want to cause it? Did God put the streaks of burned rubber down the highway? No, the driver did that trying to stop. Maybe we ought to argue that God was trying to stop the car. Did God smash the car? No, they were smashed because of human mistakes and because of the laws of inertia.

Then maybe God is responsible because He made the laws of inertia. Remember the apple that fell? God made the laws so that the apple fell. Thus He made the apple fall.

Wait just a minute, though. First, remember that we said that indirectly God made the apple fall. Secondly, if someone had taken a stick and had shaken the branch so that the apple fell, then he would be the one who made it fall.

In other words, man is an intelligent being who chooses to utilize the laws of nature. Sometimes, he miscalculates. Then, he pays for it. Miscalculating in shaking an apple from a tree might cause one to fall on your head. Miscalculating in driving a car could easily cost your life. In either case, it is not God's fault.

It is not a sin to get out of harmony with the laws of nature unless one does so deliberately to injure or kill himself or another. The people in the wreck did not choose to have a wreck. They did not sin in having a wreck, but they did violate the laws of nature, and they paid the price.

Why did God made the laws of inertia that could cause people to die in wrecks? Why does the circulation of the air in the atmosphere sometimes result in tornadoes? As we said in the beginning, it is because we do not live in paradise. Since Adam and Eve would have lived indefinitely in the Garden of Eden if they had not sinned, God must have planned for the laws of nature to work in a totally non-destructive manner. With sin, however, came the thorns, the tornadoes, cancer, and the many other things men have learned to dread so badly.

Even now, we are far better off with these laws than we would be without them. Let us take the laws of inertia as an example again. Would you prefer living in daylight constantly with the other side of the planet in perpetual darkness? If inertia of motion did not keep the earth spinning, that is what would happen. Life would cease very quickly under such conditions. Would you prefer having winter all the time? That is what would happen if inertia did not keep us moving around the sun. Even worse, if our movement about the sun stopped, the earth would be drawn into a fiery death.

Most of the time, therefore, when someone dies in an accidental or catastrophic way, it is because they or someone else violated a law of nature. It is certainly not a visitation of God's wrath.

In the Bible one can easily tell when one died from natural causes and when God directly caused it. Most Biblical characters died naturally. Some, like Er (Gen. 38:7), Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Num. 16:31-35), and Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-2), were actually slain by God. Moses plainly distinguished between "the common death of all men" and the Lord making "a new thing" (Num. 16:29-30).

It is appointed unto men to die:

It is God's will that all men eventually die, but He does not single out each individual for personal attention. In this world there are diseases, forces that can snuff out life, and the inevitable corruption and decay that are all woven into the warp and woof of life. Eventually, each one of us is going to fall victim to one of these things. By being careful, we may avoid some accidents. But even if we escape accidental death, or serious disease, one day our heart will fail, or some other vital organ will fail, and we will die. It is appointed to man once to die, and after this cometh judgment (Heb. 9:27). Whether death comes soon or late, when it comes, man meets only his inevitable future. The only exceptions will be those who are alive when Christ returns.

Why death?

A question then comes to mind -- why did God appoint that man should die? It is because man was offered endless life and he forfeited it through sin. Adam and Eve demonstrated the course of humanity. Each of us does what they did. We were born innocent; and we sinned (Rom. 3:23).

God made plans for the redemption of mankind even before Adam and Eve sinned, because He foreknew they would sin (2 Tim. 1:9). Yet how could God redeem man and forgive him without making it seem that forgiveness was cheap and sin of no consequence? God's answer was to set a price for forgiveness. That price was life, the life of Jesus Christ.

Think, however, if no one had ever died before Jesus, what would death have meant? Life was made valuable by death. Just as I prize life because I know it will end in death, so I can know a little of the price Jesus paid when He died for me. It is a price each individual who has ever lived can appreciate, no matter what his social standing or his geographical location may be.

Death is also an ever-present reminder to us of the corruptibility fo man. An awareness of death makes us keep an ear turned toward heaven. It keeps us from getting too attached to this world from which we soon shall leave. We must remind ourselves that death is not, as we view it, the end, a closed door. In reality, it is a passageway from one existence to another.

God does not look at death as we do. To God, death is not the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing is to be separated from Him. Physical death is a flippant subject compared to sin and eternal death. Sin and spiritual death are the most important things to avoid. If a person is saved, it matters little if he dies. Sooner or later he must. There is shock, sorrow, and dismay to those left behind -- and then life goes on. If that person is saved, he has entered a life of never-ending bliss. Therefore, mourn not for the dead, but for the spiritually dead.

Sources of suffering:

Does suffering come from God? Again, the Bible does not show God to the be the one who causes our problems. Satan is our adversary. The Bible tells us specifically that the devil caused the suffering Job experienced. Job, like many people today, thought God was responsible for his problems and was dismayed when God confronted him (Job 38-42).

We have already indicated that we may bring suffering upon ourselves by running afoul of the laws of nature -- deliberately or inadvertently. There is also a certain amount of suffering built into the process of growing old and in approaching death. This suffering is not because someone has been wicked or because God is mean. It is just because it is appointed unto man to die (Heb. 9:27).

Instead of thinking of God's manipulating all the influences and forces of life so as to make us suffer, we should realize that our suffering is caused by chance combinations of various forces and factors of life. Now, it is true that God allows these things to occur, but He does not cause each particular episode of suffering to happen.

In most suffering, there is no inherent cause. Most of it is a matter of chance. The Bible teaches that there is such a thing as chance. The writer of Ecclesiastes said, "I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all" (Eccl. 9:11).

Although God does not purpose every act of suffering, He has a purpose in allowing each act of suffering. It is to discipline us (Heb. 12:4-11), in order for us to develop patience, humility, courage, and willingness to depend upon Him.

Sometimes, people do bring suffering upon themselves as the result of sin -- for example, the mental and physical ills that stem from drinking and promiscuity. I almost hesitate to mention this point because people are all too prone to assume that any suffering they undergo is because they have done some terrible thing of which they are entirely ignorant. The suffering for sin to which I refer here is usually very obvious as to its source.

There are occasions when God pours out His bowls of wrath on mankind or sends trumpets of warning to the wicked. We will discuss this aspect of suffering in more detail later.

God sometimes places challenges before men to try their faith, as when Abraham was told to offer his son Isaac. God always wants men to do right and to grow stronger from the test. His commands sometimes involve suffering in carrying them out, but God's desire in such matters is always for our spiritual growth.

God permits nature and life to run their course. We are given life to make the best of it, not to have all our obstacles and hurdles removed. We must accept the good and the bad.

Trials are for overcoming:

From whatever source, suffering does come to everyone. We are not to take a trial and say, "I wonder if this is from God, or if this is from Satan." "God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempteth no man" (James 1:13). God provides the way of escape from temptation (1 Cor. 10:13).

If it is a matter of suffering, it may be from any of the sources we have already mentioned. The more practical question is, how should we respond when the trial comes? Job is a classic example of the proper response to a trial. He overcame and, thus, caused God to be glorified. Never did he give up his faith in God although he did not know the real source of his problems any more than we do today (Job 1-2). If we are steadfast and do overcome, then God is glorified -- whatever the source of the trial may be.

Many people begin questioning the existence of God when suffering strikes. They cannot reconcile suffering with a loving God. Is the belief that there is no purpose anything more satisfying than the belief that there is purpose in all things even when we cannot understand what it is?

One time a couple stopped all efforts to serve God. As they put it, "We have served Him all our lives, and He has never done anything for us." They were woefully ignorant and perhaps willfully ignorant as well. Do we not have our very being in Him (Acts 17:28)? Does He not maintain the very conditions of our existence (Col. 1:17)? After all, the real thing that we have as our reward for obedience to God is the promise of eternal life.

The New Testament makes it clear that the people of that day suffered also. In fact, they suffered more than we do. They were persecuted even unto death. James was beheaded (Acts 12:2). Stephen was stoned (Acts 7:57-60). Did they quit? Of course not.

Was it God's desire that the saints be tormented? No, but it was God's will that James, Stephen, and others should be faithful even unto death (Rev. 2:10)! The Psalmist said, "Precious in the sight of Jehovah is the death of His saints" (Ps. 116:15). Assuredly, God does not enjoy watching anyone suffer. He does not want someone to suffer or die in the same way a child wants ice cream. But there are other considerations which God is interested in. Sometimes these considerations must outweigh suffering or death.

To the materialist who believes there is nothing beyond death, life is more important than anything else. The political and theological liberals of our day are much more interested in the here and now than in any future life. That is why the emphasis in their thinking is social programs and things that involve this life.

To the Christian, there are many things more important than whether one lives. If one dies in order to accomplish one of these things, it is worth it. White robes were given to those who had been beheaded for the cause of Christ. They were told to "rest yet for a little time, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, who should be killed even as they were, should have fulfilled their course" (Rev. 5:11).

Most people can accept this kind of suffering because they can see the purpose for it. But what about random suffering, suffering that "makes no sense"?

Here is a young mother. She is a tower of strength. Her husband and small children need her so badly. Then she is killed in a car accident. Why was she killed? It was an accident! God did not "push her button." There was no sinister purpose behind her death. What the living should do is to determine that her life was not in vain. Her husband can develop into a strong character. Her children can grow up to be faithful to the Lord.

There are different ways of looking at the matter. What if God could see something even worse that might happen to her or to her loved ones farther down the line if she lived? If you had been God, and you had considered averting her death on that occasion, what would you have done? Suppose you could see that she would one day fall to some temptation and be lost. Yet if she died today she would be saved. What would you have done? I am not saying this was God's thinking. We do not know what His thinking was. I am simply saying that there are different ways to consider the event.

We have already said that though God does not purpose our suffering, He has a purpose in letting us suffer. We need to understand that we also have a hand in giving thing a purpose. Let us take the lemon life appears to be giving us, and make lemonade out of it!

An old legend I read many years ago beautifully teaches some lessons about suffering. Let me share it with you:

Once the broad prairie was a wide expanse of green, waving grass. The Master of the prairie wanted flowers, so he commanded the birds, and they scattered seed far and wide. Many beautiful flowers sprang up bedecking the prairie with bright colors.

Still, the Master was unhappy because his favorite flowers were not there. He asked the prairie, "Where are the clematis and the columbine, the sweet violets, and the wind flowers, and all the ferns and the flowering shrubs?"

The prairie explained, "Those flowers can not grow in the strength of the sun's rays and before the constant blowing of the wind."

The Master, understanding what had to be done, spoke to the lightning. With one mighty slash, the prairie was cut deep to its heart. For many days the prairie groaned in agony because of the black, gaping wound in its breast.

As time passed, deep, black loam was carried down into the canyon by the stream called Little Swan. Once more, the birds strewed the seed of the flowers. After many days, the barren rocks were decked out with soft mosses and trailing vines. Its shaded grottoes were hung with clematis and columbine. Great elms lifted majestically into the sunlight. Everywhere the violets and the maiden-hair grew until the canyon became the Master's favorite place for rest, peace, and joy.

So it is with the human heart and the fruit of the Spirit -- love, joy, peace, long-suffering, and self-control. Some of these flowers will grow only in the canyon of suffering and sorrow -- particularly gentleness, meekness, long-suffering, and self-control. And, though the others -- love, joy, and peace -- bloom in the open, yet never with so rich a bloom and so sweet a perfume as in the canyon.

If your life has been rent with sorrow, and a bare, rocky canyon is left in your heart, realize that the flowers will come and grow if you will be patient and let them.

How active is God in men's affairs today?

We have discussed the laws of nature at some length -- and rightfully so. Human suffering is explained to a great extent by the operation of these laws. I do not, however, want to leave the impression that God does nothing today. It would be good to note three positions it would be possible to hold with regard to God's participation today in the events of the universe.

God is not behind anything that happens to men today. Sometimes, in order to show that miracles are not being done today, we almost put God out to pasture. The Bible teaches that God is active today.

On Mars Hill in Athens, Paul said, "He made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitations" (Acts 17:26). God's judgment against the Roman Empire, as presented in Revelation, also shows that God is involved in the affairs of men. Many other passages might be cited to show this involvement of God personally in human affairs, including the very basic premise that if there is any hope of receiving help from God through prayer, then God must be active in human affairs.

2. God is directly behind everything that happens to men today. There was among the Jews the common attitude that God was behind everything that happened to anyone, good or bad. If something bad happened, as in the case of the blind man (John 9), God was punishing that person. The apostles asked, "Who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus exposed the error of this concept by saying that sin was not the cause of the blindness, but that God would nevertheless use the blindness of the man for His own purposes.

If something good occurred to someone, on the other hand, then God was showing His approval of that individual. This idea is false as is pointed out in numerous passages. In Job 21:7-16 and in Psalms 73:1-17, it is shown that often the wicked do very well in this world while the righteous suffer. Therefore, suffering cannot be an infallible implication of wickedness, nor can prosperity necessarily be a sign of righteousness.

Let me point out emphatically that there is absolutely no way we can ascertain today if God specifically causes a certain thing to happen. You see, we have no prophet to tell us that this particular drought is God-caused, or that this locust swarm was specifically sent by God. We cannot know.

If God were specifically behind every single thing that happens, we would have a deterministic world in which there would be no chance. God would personally and specifically control every event that occurred. Yet we have already shown that chance is a Biblical concept (Eccl. 9:11).

This view would also rule out all choice on man's part. Yet that man has a choice in life and in his service to God is one of the plainest lessons taught throughout the Bible. (See Josh. 24:15; Rev. 22:17.)

3. God is directly behind some things that happen today, but not all things. The process of elimination leaves us with the alternative that God does not directly specifically cause every event that happens, but He is involved directly in some things that occur. We must cannot know when He is personally and directly involved and when He is not.

Providence, prayer, and divine power:

Perhaps it would be profitable to study the manner of God's involvement with the affairs of the world. The question of how God's providence works for us and the question of how our prayers are answered are both closely related to God's involvement in men's affairs.

God operates His universe, both physical and spiritual, through laws which He has ordained. These laws are for things which are not absolute or unchanging, including man. The universe remains only because God upholds it (Heb. 1:3). It is what it is only because God makes it so. The universe is not absolute or unchanging (Heb. 1:10-12). It is only what God's ordained laws make it. Likewise, man is not absolute. He, also, must have laws to govern what he is and what he ought to be.

On the other hand, if a Being or thing is absolute, there is no law for it. God is absolute and unchanging. He is simply what He is. We can observe characteristics of His nature, but these are not features He chooses to have, but which are inherent in His being. Therefore, there are no laws which are made for Him to obey. Since Deity is the only thing with these unchanging qualities, then Deity is the only Being that exists, or that ever has or ever will exist, that is subject to no laws. He has made all laws that govern all things, but He is subject to no law Himself. We would do well to remember that.

It is God's dunamis, His power, that upholds nature itself. God channels this power into natural laws that govern the operation of the universe. He works through these laws. But just because we are limited by these laws does not mean that God is. God does not use His power to intrude upon our human awareness in a miraculous manifestation, but He nevertheless uses His power behind the curtain of nature in marvelous ways. I believe that Revelation 4 portrays God's dunamis at work upholding all things and active to perform all of the tasks God does in time and the universe (Rom. 4:5).

Our trouble is in understanding how God can exercise a special providence over us without working a miracle. What we need to realize is that from our human view, we will see providence as expressed in nature by the provisions God has made for our welfare. God will not instantly change a blue sky into a raging storm, but He can certainly cause a cloud to rise and grow into a storm. Read 1 Kings 18 and James 5:16-18. God made a cloud to rise in direct response to a prayer by Elijah. That particular cloud would not have come at that moment if God had not made it come. >From God's side, it was a deed accomplished by His power. From man's side, it was a phenomenon of nature. It was not, however, a miracle. If it had been, then James could not have used the example of Elijah's prayer as an encouragement for us to pray.

That divine power, that infinite power works for our good and awaits our prayers (Rom. 8:28; James 5:16-18). What an incentive it would be for our faithfulness in prayer is we could realize this truth.

From this reasoning, we see how God can definitely be active in the affairs of men without miracles occurring on every hand.

Seals, trumpets, and bowls:

In Revelation 6 we read about the opening of the seals on a scroll given to Christ by God. Results follow the opening of the seals. In this vision, we see God's involvement in human affairs and the results that follow. Revelation 8-11 tells of the blowing of trumpets. These are trumpets of warning to the wicked. Chapters 15-16 show the bowls of God's wrath poured out on the wicked. In these three sections of Revelation, we see the different relationship toward calamities of various kinds sustained by the Christian and by the wicked.

Space forbids an extensive discussion of these passages. Let me summarize and combine the teaching of all three by an illustration:

The Titanic was a British luxury ocean liner that sank on its maiden voyage in 1912 with a loss of at least 1500 lives. The 882½ foot Titanic was the world's largest ship at that time and was considered unsinkable. In fact, the point was boasted. The ship side-swiped an iceberg, and a three hundred foot gash was torn through the hull. It sank within three hours.

It would be interesting to speculate that maybe the hand of God was involved in this great calamity because men had made their boast and had under-estimated the powers of nature. Or, to put it more aptly, men had over-estimated their own powers. Note this point carefully however: It would be completely unfounded to affirm that God caused the accident. We have no prophet to tell us for sure. Sometimes things happen by chance. Sometimes, God makes things happen. But either way, God makes use of all such tragedies.

Let us see how God can make use of calamity by considering three imaginary people. The first is a Christian who died in the sinking of the Titanic. The second is a wicked man who died likewise. The third is a wicked man who survived.

To the Christian, the sinking of the Titanic did not come as a punishment of some kind. It was a catastrophe he was involved in, and, consequently, he died. That Christian, however, overcame because he remained faithful to God to the end and he went to a better place.

To the wicked man who died, the sinking of the ship was a bowl of wrath. He knew that catastrophes do happen. He knew he was unprepared to die. Therefore, when he died, his opportunity for repentance was forever removed. A bowl of God's wrath was poured out upon him.

The wicked man who survived looked upon those who perished and thought how easily it could have been he who perished. To him was afforded a most valuable opportunity to repent. To him, the disaster was a trumpet of warning.

God did not show respect of persons in the case of the two wicked men. He simply did not avert what happened to them, and in both cases, His purpose was served.

The secret things belong to God:

Throughout this whole study, we need to remember Moses' statement: "The secret things belong to God, but the things that are revealed are for us and for our children" (Deut. 29:29). God has a providence that works for our good (Rom. 8:28). He will act in answer to prayer (James 5:16-18). In answer to prayer, He will bless us with good and will deliver us from evil. But exactly how does He do it? We cannot answer with certainty.

The principle of God's hearing our prayers cannot be interpreted in such a way as to mean that we will never get sick or die. It is the same God who hears our prayers who says we must someday die (Heb. 9:27).

All the elements of God's purpose must be considered. One element must not be pressed to the exclusion of the other. In other words, God's care over us does not rule out His allowing suffering.

We must always pray, "Thy will be done." Our will must be subject to the Father's will. God always answers the prayers of the faithful, but He answers in His own time, and, sometimes, the answer is "No."

Questions frequently asked:

1. Is it God's will that a particular person die?

Only rarely. It was God's will that the world's population die in the flood because they would not repent. It was God's will that Nadab and Abihu die (Lev. 10); and that Korah, Dathan, and Abiram die (Num. 16). God used their deaths to teach specific lessons to His people Israel. Ordinarily, it is not God who specifically causes people to die. And today, if He did, no one could know because God does not work miracle before men today, nor is there a prophet to inform us about such activities of God today.

2. Does God know when a particular person will die?

God is all-knowing. Some say He knows anything He chooses to know. Let us not get into endless metaphysical arguments about such things. Merely because God knows a thing will happen does not mean that His knowledge makes it happen, anymore than my knowledge that spring comes after winter will make spring come. This question is closely related to the next question. Notice it.

3. If God does know that a particular person is going to die at a certain time, why does He not avert their death?

Death is ordained of God because of the entrance of sin into the world. We do not live in a paradise. Death has its purpose in God's plan. Therefore, He cannot avert death always without defeating His own purposes.

Besides, if God averted death, would it be for everyone, for just a few? If for a few, would it be only for those who asked Him to do so? That would require that one know beforehand that he is about to die so he would know to ask! How could God avert death for a few without being a respecter of persons? If He did avert death, which occasion of death should He avert, the first, or the nine hundredth? Soon, God would be forced to give eternal life on earth. That right was forfeited by man in the Garden of Eden.

4. Is a person put her to fulfill a certain obligation and then die?

Yes, but not as you might think. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, "All hath been heard: Fear God, and keep His commandments for this is the whole duty of man" (Eccl. 12:13). Most of us do not fulfill this purpose, but that is the only specific purpose God requires of accountable beings.

God has sometimes used men in His purpose without their realizing it. Isaiah said of the Assyrians, "Howbeit he meaneth not so" (Isa. 10:7). God sometimes called men for a specific mission, but those men acted as free, moral agents. God does not use men like a paper towel to be then tossed away. He takes a puny, weak, sinful mortal, cleanses him of his sin and gives him life and immortality through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10).

Is the idea in this question that a person is put on earth to complete some important task and then to be taken away? Or perhaps, some might think that a person is put on the earth because, in the scheme of things, he is to turn on a water faucet on June 3 at 3 P.M. in the year 2,000. When he has done that, then he will die. Regardless of whether the thing be big or little that is thus performed, the idea is false. Such a concept would make each individual merely a cog in the machinery of the universe. It would require a universe in which every single thing is pre-determined. As we have already stressed, in such a world, there would be no such thing as choice or chance. Yet the Bible teaches both (Josh. 24:15; Eccl. 9:11).

5. Does God give and take away life?

After the death of his children and the loss of his property, Job said, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). In the sense that in God "we live and move and have our being," we could say that God gives life. In fact, Paul told the Athenians, "He Himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things" (Acts 17:25).

God has provided for the life force to be given, but how it is given is a riddle. It is not simply a matter of chemistry. Life is generated from life. Whether life is generated purely by physical, chemical, and biological laws, or whether God Himself puts that indefinable spark of life into each living being specifically, I cannot say for certain. I rather think that the spark of animal life is passed through the seed which contains the life germ according to God's laws.

We must distinguish between the immortal soul and the life principle which animates even the brute beast. The soul comes directly from God (Eccl. 12:7). There is no natural law that reproduces souls. But He does not snatch each person's soul away at His whim.

The laws God has ordained in nature therefore provide for the transmission of life from parents to offspring and for the eventual death of all living things. Hence, in a general way, the Lord gives and takes life. He does not do so for each specific person.

6. Can the devil cause someone's death?

In the story of Job, he was afflicted by the devil. Job's children were slain by Satan's work. He could have killed Job, or caused him to be killed, or else God would not have warned, "Behold, he is in thy hand; only spare his life" (Job 2:6).

To what extent Satan can do similar things today we do not know. He is bound (Rev. 20:2-3), but not bound necessarily in that way. It is entirely possible that he can still do these things today. It is certain that he can use calamity to seek to turn men away from God. It is Satan who does this. God cannot shield us from this temptation without removing our opportunity to exercise our free will, but shame on us if we give Satan the occasion to throw our failure into God's face!

7. Why doe we pray, "Thy will be done"?

First, because Jesus so taught His disciples (Matt. 6:10). Second, remember that Jesus prayed in the garden, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me" (Matt. 26:39). That was what Christ desired, but realizing that would not be best, He then added, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt."

The real point of this question is that since God's will is going to be done anyway, why do I have to pray that it be done? Why pray for what I want? We are to want what God wants. That is what "Thy will be done" means. However, we do not know to what extent God's will involves the details of our daily existence. It may be that God may change His will in some detail to accommodate His children when they pray to Him.

In the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, God sent the prophet Isaiah to tell the king that he was going to die and not live (2 Kings 20:1). Hezekiah wept sore and prayed earnestly to God that he not die. God sent the prophet back to tell Hezekiah that He had heard his prayer and had seen his tears. Therefore, God promised to heal him and he would not die. This story clearly illustrates that prayer has an influence upon God and may cause Him to change His will (2 Kings 20:1-11).

If God can grant a petition without upsetting His grand scheme of things, and if He feels that if would be good for us, then He will grant our prayer.

8. If a thing happens, was that God's will?

This question is closely related to the first one. The answer is, "Not necessarily." Many people will perish, but God is not desirous or willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9). There are many things that have happened in history that were not God's will. This does not mean He tried to stop it and failed. We are flirting with the doctrine of determinism again. Merely because God has a will does not mean that everything is pre-determined. If that were so, then there would be no free, moral agency in man to choose his destiny. Joshua told Israel, "Choose you this day whom you will serve" (Josh. 24:14-15). Nor would there be any factor of chance. Therefore, not everything that happens is God's will, though He permits them to happen. Jesus explained that what God wanted was one thing, and what He allowed on occasion was another (Matt. 19:4-8).

9. Where is the line drawn between things that just happen and things God makes happen? Or where is the line between things under our control and things God controls?

Again I say we must reject a mechanical, deterministic view of life which would give us no control of our destiny. Likewise, we have to reject the idea that God has nothing to do with the universe. God controls all things in the sense that all things are under His laws. He does not control all things in the sense that He makes every specific thing happen. Obviously, if I am a creature of choice, I can choose some things. God also exercises a providential control over His creation. To say where a line is drawn, however, is impossible, since we have no prophet to tell us when a specific action as been taken by God.


Suffering is inevitable. It is common to all men. Each Christian, with patience and faith, must endure whatever trials may come. Remember Paul's statement that "our light affliction which is for the moment worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:17).