In order to love, we must be free to choose not to love. If we are forced to love then our love is not love at all, it is just robotic or forced. Love requires freedom.
For this reason, we were all created with the ability to say “no” to God’s love. Unfortunately saying no to God’s love means opting out of His plans for our lives. When we do this, bad things happen. We call these bad consequences “sins”. The literal meaning for “sin” is “missing the mark”.
In other words, when we opt out of God’s plan for our lives we miss the mark of His perfect will for us. This means that we experience something other than His perfect protection and blessing – we experience suffering.
In human history sin was like a snowball. It started small but over time it compounded its size and effect until the whole of creation was affected by it. Even nature was damaged. One of the most painful diseases we can experience is cancer. Cancer is rebellion at the molecular level against God’s design for our bodies – cells multiplying at a rate far beyond that which He designed for them.
Our failure to steward the natural world has resulted in the pollution of our water, soil, air and food. These pollutants are the cause of much of the suffering our world is currently experiencing. None of this was by God’s design. It was and is, a consequence of our ungodly choices.
Some of you might be thinking, “well if he really loved us He would step in and fix the consequences of our bad choices.” But think about it; if every time you did something wrong, God stepped in and immediately altered the consequence, would your action be “free”? Actions over which there are no logical consequences are meaningless.
When we remove the ability to complete a wrong action the the actor is no longer free.
What all this means is that for there to be love, we must be free to say “no” to God’s love. Love requires choosers not clones. Suffering is the consequence of freedom and freedom is the necessary pre-condition for love. Love is the paramount value in God’s world and in our lives. For the sake of love God will allow suffering. For the sake of love, we will even choose suffering. Soldiers do it in every war simply for the love of country. Love is the highest state of experience we humans are capable of. Love is what gives our lives purpose and meaning. Without it we are just clever animals.
So where does this leave us regarding the conundrum of the all-powerful and all loving God who allows suffering? The palmist Asaph gives us the answer in Psalm 73 where he is overcome by the success of evil men all around him and the suffering evil brings.
Vs 2-5 “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.”
Vs 16-18 “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.”
Finally, he comes to one of the most profound truths in the Bible and the place of true peace:
Vs.25 “Whom have I in heaven but you? And being with you, I desire nothing on earth”
Asaph is saying that the answer to our deepest questions and doubts is often not a propositional truth, but a presence. In the presence of God, the question is no longer of concern. If we can find Him in our suffering then we have found the comfort we need, and He can always be found in our suffering. Our God is wonderful because for the sake of love He allows suffering, but He will always enter into it with us. He is the God who can be found in our suffering. He feels what we feel, and He shares our pain. What an amazing God!