One of the most common criticism of Christianity is the question “If God exists, then why is there suffering in the world?” Scripture teaches that God is loving and benevolent, such as Psalm 86:15, which says: “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Yet there is still an abundance of suffering and hardship in the world, and to many people there is no way to reconcile a loving God with a world full of pain and despair. Many times, for the Christian at least, the difficulty in understanding God in light of suffering is due to a lack of comprehension when it comes to what it really means that God is love. I see three factors that contribute to this, a misunderstanding of God’s love, a misunderstanding of timing, and a misunderstanding of the Christian life.
It is very commonly stated that “God is love,” but many times people actually mean, “Love is God.” They define God by their subjective understanding of love, and then fit God into that box. The result is a weak and timid God who punishes no one, criticizes no one, a God who would never bring about pain and suffering, and who would never intentionally put us through hardships. This pseudo-God stands in stark contrast to the God of the Bible, not because the God of the Bible is un-loving, but because mankind’s definition of love has been corrupted by her selfishness and flesh. An accurate picture of God’s love is shown in his dealing with the Israelites during the time of the Assyrian invasion and captivity, the prophet Isaiah gives us a view into the working of God’s love in this situation:
“20 In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. 21 A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. 22 For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. 23 For the Lord God of hosts will make a full end, as decreed, in the midst of all the earth. 24 Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts: “O my people, who dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrians when they strike with the rod and lift up their staff against you as the Egyptians did. 25 For in a very little while my fury will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction.”
God used the Assyrians to carry out his judgment against the nation of Israel as a result of their constant turning away and rejection of God. However, while God acted out of his righteousness and punished Israel for their sin, he still held to his promise and said that a remnant would return to the Promised Land, and that he would be their God. Furthermore, he told them not to fear the coming tribulation for he would soon relent and free them from their enemies.
This is God displaying his love by disciplining and restoring his children, Hebrews says “5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” The Christian must understand that God’s love is not just a pouring out of blessings, but it also comes with trials and testing.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Psalm 86:15.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Isaiah 10:20-25.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Hebrews 12:5-6.