Gospel of John, Musings, Theology

Does God cause pain or difficult situations?

When that question is posed to many people their instinctive response is to say, “No, God only allows pain, suffering or difficult situations.”

The instinctive response seems to be in some way a desire to protect God’s character.  We need a God who cares for us.  We need a God who is concerned for us and will work on our behalf.

And while those two needs are real personal needs, we need to be able to see the big picture.

There are passages that clearly point to God causing difficulty.  For example Isaiah 45:7,

I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things. (ESV)

In the larger context this passage teaches us about God’s sovereignty.

Isaiah 46:9-11 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ 11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. (ESV)

Isaiah 48:9-11 “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. 10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. 11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. (ESV)

But sometimes it is helpful to see these truths in a relational context to see perhaps “the bigger story.”  One place we can see this is in John 11.

John 11 tells us the story of Jesus raising of Lazarus.  But the miracle is only part of the story.

The story opens with several statements of Jesus’ care, “love” of Lazarus, Martha and Mary.

Martha and Mary send messengers to Jesus that Lazarus is sick.  But what Jesus does next baffles the disciples and should cause us to wonder.  Rather than responding to the need, Jesus intentionally delays for two days.  Two days that result in pain.  Two days in which the sisters don’t see their brother improve, rather he dies.  Two days that result in pain and suffering.

And as you read the whole story, not only did Jesus intentionally delay, he did it to teach the disciples a lesson and to make a statement about who He is–with the goal to strengthen people’s ability to believe, trust Him.

That is totally counter-intuitive.  We would expect that God would bless us to cause us to believe in Him.  And He does that too (see Romans 2:4).

And how many times have you heard someone say, “I can’t believe in a God who would do or allow. . . .”  You fill in the blank–“allow that to happen, cause that to happen.”  But maybe the God they want to believe in is not the God of the Bible.

Jesus delays.  Jesus allows Lazarus to die.  He could have healed him from a distance, He had done that before.

Jesus could have done many things. But He doesn’t.  He allows the people to ridicule the sisters’ faith in Him (John 11:37).

But here is the other side of the story.

Jesus allows Lazarus to die.  He causes pain.  But He does care.

John 11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.

35 Jesus wept.

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. (ESV)

Even though Jesus knew what He was going to do–raise Lazarus from the dead–He was still moved by the pain that the sisters were experiencing.  He was deeply moved by the pain and suffering, that He caused.

Perhaps this is the balance we need.

God is sovereign.  He is in control and yes He even causes difficulty.  And if you read the whole book of John you find that God is not only sovereign He is purposing to bring Himself glory.  But as He glorifies Himself He also demonstrates that He love and care for us.

So where does this leave us?  With the need to trust God–to cling to Him.

Author: Steve

I love to study the Bible and I love to engage with others in learning. I had been privileged to do this on a regular basis through church ministry and through part-time teaching at a local Bible colleges. Helping individuals learn to feed themselves through their own study of God’s Word is joy-giving to me. Influencing groups to do life and church from a biblically grounded, theologically faithful perspective is my passion.


  1. I like this a lot. So many times have I had discussions with people who doubt the existance of God because they cannot comprehend why He would allow the suffering and pain that occurs in our world. He is a Sovereign and Almighty God. The references here are a great resource! Thanks, Steve.

    1. Thanks Tony.

      Another interesting thought–those who doubt the existence of God may have a harder time explaining the problem of pain without God, than we do with God.

      Why should the problem of suffering and a good God cause us to stumble.

      Those who don’t believe in God and see the problem of suffering are left with two conclusions. 1. Life if meaningless, random and fatalistic or 2. Man is inherently wicked and the cause of suffering. For, if you removed God, then who do you blame?

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