In the preceding chapter we saw that God has a purpose that extends beyond this life. His grand purpose takes into consideration the suffering of each person who responds to His call. However, most members of the human race either are not responding to or are unaware of this fantastic purpose. Therefore in this "present evil age" (Galatians 1:4) God is allowing human beings to learn important lessons.
He wants mankind to know that sin produces horrible consequences and that, ever since the Garden of Eden, we have brought much grief on ourselves by rejecting His instructions. Although swayed by the corrupt and evil influence of Satan, human beings must take full responsibility for the consequences of their actions. The world could have been a place of peace, security and happiness if only man had chosen to follow God's ways rather than Satan's.
God is determined that we learn that lesson, painful though it may be. The Bible records that on many occasions He attempted to dissuade people from continuing in their evil ways. But the overwhelming majority have repeatedly rejected His commands, just as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
For example, after God delivered ancient Israel from Egyptian slavery, the Israelites made a covenant with Him to keep His commandments. But they reneged on their agreement.
Then God sent many prophets, whose messages are preserved for us in the Bible, to warn them and urge them to repent. "But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy" (2 Chronicles 36:16).
Instead of listening, they persecuted and often killed God's messengers. Through Isaiah God spoke of how they repeatedly spurned His offer of help. "I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people" (Isaiah 65:2).
Because they refused to respond, God sentenced them to national punishment. The Assyrian Empire conquered Israel and removed its people into captivity in the eighth century B.C. (2 Kings 17:5-8). The kingdom of Judah was subjugated by Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon and removed into exile a little more than a century later (2 Chronicles 36:15-20).
Part of the nation of Judah returned to the Jewish homeland in the fifth century B.C. so that Jewish descendants lived in the land at the time of Christ. When they heard Jesus' message commanding repentance and obedience, what was their reaction? The majority rejected Him as they had the earlier prophets. Then they killed Him!
On occasion God sent prophets to warn gentile nations. In all history we read of only one example of a non-Israelite people temporarily repenting of its sins en masse after God's warning. The prophet Jonah preached to the ancient city of Nineveh, warning its residents, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" (Jonah 3:4). The king and the rest of the people responded by repenting of their sins, and God spared them (verses 5-10). Later, however, they returned to their wickedness. As a result, invading armies conquered them in 612 B.C.
The historical record shows that, even when God freely offered His help and guidance to nations, they customarily rejected them—just as Adam and Eve had done.
We're no different today. Mankind still rejects God's instruction. His Word—the Bible—is readily available throughout most of the world. Yet relatively few read it regularly, and even fewer obey it. Not only do they disobey its instruction, but increasingly, particularly among those who presume themselves to be intellectual, people hold the Bible in disdain. Even some religious leaders pay mere lip service to the Bible while disputing major portions of it. They pick and choose which parts they will adhere to and which they feel free to ignore.
Israel's king Solomon aptly summed up the human condition when he wrote, "What is crooked cannot be made straight" (Ecclesiastes 1:15). Mankind has historically rejected God's instruction and continues to do so. Having rejected God's revelation, we have cut ourselves off from the only lasting solutions to our problems.
The result is a continuation of pain and sorrow among the nations. As a result, God's practice from the first century until now has been to call only a few individuals here and there out of this evil age to become His faithful servants.
The rest of humanity gropes in the dark. They search for understanding and meaning in life but remain largely ignorant of the reasons we are plagued with so much suffering. "Always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" is how Paul expresses it (2 Timothy 3:7). Duped by the devil and captive to sin, mankind as a whole is cut off from godly understanding and is the unknowing target of Satan's hatred and wrath (Ephesians 2:3).
Humanity consistently blames God for evil and suffering in the world. But it is not God who is to blame. The responsibility rests squarely on us for our decision to reject His guidance and choose a life of disobedient rebellion—and on Satan for his deception of humanity and incitement to sin.
The good news is that God has not given up on mankind. Just as He allowed Adam and Eve the freedom to choose, so He lets the nations and the nations' inhabitants go their own way. He allows the world to suffer to teach us we cannot find lasting peace, security and contentment without Him.
We are learning the hard lesson that we cannot rightly govern ourselves apart from God and His laws. The eventual result of our efforts is that, just before Jesus returns to the earth, humanity will teeter on the brink of annihilation. "If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive" (Matthew 24:22, REB).
This was Jesus' warning nearly 2,000 years ago. Only in recent times have we entered an age in which we actually possess the power to destroy the world. Leaders of government, science and religion believe that the only way we can avoid destruction is to establish a system of international cooperation.
Michio Kaku, scientist, author and television host, writes that the "sheer power of ... scientific revolutions will force the nations of the earth to cooperate on a scale never seen before in history." He adds: "In the background always lurks the possibility of a nuclear war, the outbreak of a deadly pandemic, or a collapse of the environment" (Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century, 1998, p. 19).
Christ prophesied that the nations, not surprisingly, will fail in their efforts to peacefully cooperate. He warned that warfare will not cease, but will increase (Matthew 24:6-8). Suffering will not disappear; it will intensify in the years leading up to His return(verse 21-22).
God is allowing people to attempt to rule themselves even as they fumble in spiritual darkness. But because they have cast His commandments aside they cannot succeed. God will bring all people to realize they cannot achieve world peace and bring an end to misery and suffering without His intervention.
As the living and just God, our Creator will not allow an evil and unjust world to continue indefinitely. He will not allow us to annihilate ourselves. He will send Jesus to earth, this time to rule as King of Kings (Revelation 19:16). The Messiah will intervene at the hour of man's gravest crisis (Daniel 12:1).
In effect, God must tear everything down and start over. Once the worldwide destruction described in Revelation 6-19 and other biblical prophecies has run its course, Christ will intervene to establish a kingdom of righteousness and begin to rectify the injustice and unfairness in the world.
God's plan includes a way to redeem all who have suffered and died in the past without understanding why they suffered. Billions of men, women and children have lived and died throughout history without knowing God or realizing His purpose. The majority of these never heard of Jesus during their lifetimes. They lived and died ignorant of why He came and with no comprehension of God's plan.
The Bible reveals that, 1,000 years after Jesus returns, God will bring back to life all who ever lived but received little or no understanding of God's purpose. He will resurrect them to a temporary physical life and give them a final opportunity to exercise their free will—but this time with an understanding of true spiritual knowledge in a world in which God's way, not Satan's, holds sway.
At that time they will have to choose, or knowingly reject, God's way of life. Their choice will determine whether they will receive eternal life or perish in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
This will be their first opportunity for salvation, because they were previously alienated from God through the deception of the devil (2 Corinthians 4:3-4; 1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9).
With Satan blinding them, they never comprehended God's purpose. When God resurrects them into a world in which His truth will be freely available (Jeremiah 31:34; Isaiah 11:9), they will reflect on the immense suffering that sin caused down through history and can choose anew, this time with full understanding of the consequences of sin and the suffering it brings. Most will begin to make right choices and accept Christ as Savior—a path that, if chosen, will lead them to eternal life.
Revelation 20:12 describes this resurrection: "And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books [books of the Bible, revealing the right way to live] were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books" (Revelation 20:12).
God will resurrect these people, and they will then be judged by biblical standards according to how they respond to the spiritual enlightenment they will have now received for the first time. (For more details about the resurrections described in the Bible, be sure to download or request the free booklets What Happens After Death? and God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.)
This present evil world is not just and never can be. As we have seen, it is Satan's world, not God's. But God is perfectly just, righteous, merciful and fair. His plan provides for a transformed world, a way for all mankind to be redeemed and, when all is said and done, all suffering to be erased.
Revelation 21:3-4 describes the time when suffering will be no more: "And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.'" What encouraging words!
Many people hold to an erroneous concept that was popular in Jesus' day. At that time people commonly assumed that a person's health and wealth were an indicator of his righteousness or guilt. Those who had a comfortable, prosperous life were presumed to be blessed by God while those who suffered from poverty, disease or other adversities were thought to be divinely cursed for their sins.
Jesus addressed this notion when people told Him of a tragedy that had stunned the inhabitants of Jerusalem. On the Roman governor's orders, several men had been brutally killed while bringing sacrifices to the temple.
Jesus asked: "Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:2-3).
It was incomprehensible to those who heard Christ's words that such a tragedy could befall people who were in the very act of doing good. They couldn't begin to understand how God could allow such a disaster.
Jesus made the point that no one is immune to the twists and turns of this life. The lesson? Unless we repent we will perish.
Jesus reinforced the lesson with another example. "Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (verses 4-5).
Untimely deaths, such as the murder of the Galileans bringing their sacrifices, were simply a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The victims of these tragedies weren't greater sinners than other men and women; they were random victims of random events. They were sinners, however, and, as with all who sin, they were destined to die.
The same is true for us. We may not be the victims of random violence or a collapsing building, but we are sinners, and eventually something will do us in. When we realize that, Jesus' warning should pierce our consciousness: "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish."
Knowing that we live in a world awash in misery, in which tragedy can strike at any time, shouldn't we heed Christ's warning to repent and begin aligning our life with His? As Jesus told a man He had healed of a longtime affliction: "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you" (John 5:14).
Christ expects us to repent and turn to God. Indeed, God "now commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). Knowing our time on earth is short, we had better be sure to concentrate on the things that are most important to Him. (To understand what repentance is all about, download or request our free booklet Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion.)
If you are suffering, what should you do? Take your problem to God through prayer in faith and ask for His comfort and encouragement! In the book of Psalms we read of King David asking the Creator many times to relieve his sufferings.
Jesus came to earth to ease our sufferings. He is no stranger to the suffering of humanity. He offers comfort, help and hope to those who suffer. "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden," He says, "and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28-29).
We need not be discouraged by the evil that pervades the world. Knowing that suffering occurs for valid reasons helps us deal with the question of why God allows it in the first place. God is sovereign and ultimately in charge. He has promised to liberate the world from suffering—not now, but when Christ returns to establish God's Kingdom. He tells us to pray for the arrival of that Kingdom and to wait patiently for that time (Matthew 6:9-10; Luke 21:19). Only then will suffering end.
As for your own life, be sure you have surrendered to God in genuine repentance, as Jesus commanded (Luke 13:3, 5). When Christ came to live on the earth as the Son of God 2,000 years ago, He realized He was coming to a people groaning under the burden of injustice and pain. Of that world He said, "The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned" (Matthew 4:16, NIV). The light Jesus spoke of was Himself and the truth of God that He revealed.
Jesus told the people that their responsibility was to turn to God: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (verse 17). This, above all else, is what we need to do. We cannot avoid suffering in a world full of evil, but when we turn to God we can experience the comfort and hope of looking forward to a world free of suffering.
Take strength, courage and hope from the promises of God. In spite of the sorrows of this life, we can experience great joy in living according to His will today while having faith in His revealed truth about the world to come. As we've seen, Paul explained that the sufferings of this age are not worthy to be compared with the glorious future we will experience in God's Kingdom (Romans 8:18).
So wonderful will it be that, in the scope of eternity, all the pain and suffering of today will seem minor and fleeting, though it is hard to bear for the moment. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (New Living Translation): "For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever."