Why doesn’t God intervene to relieve suffering?

Q. If God is all-loving, why does God not intervene in times of great physical suffering when people are asking for his intervention? There is evidence that God can intervene and has done so in the past.

You’re right, the Bible tells us about many times when God has intervened to relieve suffering—for example, on those occasions when Jesus healed every single sick person who came to him for help.  Today when we pray for the sick and suffering, sometimes relief is granted, but not always, and we don’t really know why.

We do know that God is always pleased when we pray for the sick and suffering because, as Jesus showed us, God has great compassion for them.  (Jesus had such great compassion for Lazarus, for example, that he wept over his death, even though he was about to raise him from the dead!)  So the problem isn’t that God isn’t loving.

I think it’s helpful to recognize instead that God might answer us in different ways and still be glorified when we ask for His intervention (for example, when we pray for someone’s healing).  Prayer is really all about seeking God’s glory and reputation, that these might be known and upheld throughout the world, even in the face of the mystery of suffering.

God can be glorified when someone is healed or delivered.  But God can also be glorified when someone shows great courage because of their faith, even though they continue to be sick or to suffer, and when the community of faith cares for them with loving compassion.  Finally, God can also be glorified even if a person dies, if that person’s faith in God enables them to face death with strength and the hope of being with God forever.

Recognizing all the different ways God can answer prayers (that is, requests that He intervene in situations of suffering) can take us some small way towards understanding the great mystery you’re asking about, which thoughtful people of faith have wondered about in all ages.  But in the end I think this mystery is simply something that invites us to trust God, even though we don’t fully understand, as we seek to be His agents of compassion in this world, knowing that we are carrying out His loving and compassionate intentions as we do this.

I have shared some thoughts on a similar question in my post entitled, “Should we try to heal people today the way the apostles did?

El Greco, “Christ Healing the Blind Man”

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

2 thoughts on “Why doesn’t God intervene to relieve suffering?”

  1. I’m sorry, but I disagree. Being all loving, as God supposedly is, would mean NOT being glorified by His creation’s suffering. What possible effect can a puny person’s (like me) suffering have on Him? And why would He, being omnipotent, need it anyways? It is as if on the one hand we say He needs us not at all, but on the other, that He needs our glorification of Him, through suffering, etc. As evil as I am, I would not have ANYONE suffer is I had in within my power to stop it.

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