I was recently posed the following question by a Facebook friend: “I was born and lived a great life in the U.S.A. People in Haiti and Afghanistan have awful lives. Why does God permit that?” This is a good question and asked often, sometimes by those looking for an excuse to dismiss the gospel.
The short answer is sin. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God, allowing sin to enter the human race, we have lived in a sin-cursed world. The results were catastrophic. Life guarantees trials and suffering. However, the question posed deserves a more in-depth response.
Much of the Bible was not written to us, but it was written for us. Through the Holy Scriptures God has revealed Himself to us. He has revealed the principles of righteousness to us. Consider the following:
God alone decides upon whom He will extend His grace and mercy. Exodus 33:19 explains: “And he [God] said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name “The Lord.” And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.’”
Sometimes, nations suffer because they have turned away from God. In 2 Chronicles 7 God speaks to His people Israel: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people,if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land…But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight…” (vv. 13-14, 19-20a). In the Old Testament, the blessings of God were intertwined with the Promised Land. Israel was given this land by God, during the Leadership of Joshua and later, King David. The people were blessed based upon their obedience. Today, God still blesses the obedience of the saints, albeit not always through an abundance of physical earthly goods.
Finally, the greatest blessings are not physical blessings. The Christian is one who’s name is written in the Book of Life (Rev. 20:15). This is absolutely the most important thing that can happen to any human being, and is only possible because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross and His subsequent resurrection—a great blessing in and of itself. What’s more, Ephesians explains: “…In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (1:13-14) Such an inheritance is a blessing beyond understanding.
We understand that today the phrase “God’s people” refers to those who have trusted Jesus for salvation. Two things are sure: first, life will never be free of trials. Second, we can do nothing to gain more love from God, but greater obedience may result in greater blessing. The Bible promises an abundant life for those who are obedient, according to the Holy Spirit (John 10:10) who dwells within every believer and is there to guide the believer according to the will of God. Contrarywise, if we turn from God, we will suffer the consequences.
The Bible presents enough evidence to conclude that a people’s physical situation does not by itself indicate their obedience or disobedience toward God. The Gospel of Luke says the following: “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (13:1-5). Furthermore, 1 Peter declares: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed,” (4:12-13) and “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (5:6-7).
Regardless of outward appearance, or what we may think, life is not all about us. It’s all about God! Those who repent of sin and trust Jesus for salvation will dwell forever with God. Those who ignore God’s gift of salvation through his Son, Jesus, will suffer eternal death, a separation from God that will include physical suffering. Forever. Our eternal destiny is based upon what we do during our lives, regarding salvation: “…for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:12b-13). There is good reason why the following is among the most well-known passages in all of God’s Word: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:16-18).