This is a question troubling many souls. From a human standpoint it is a good question. We see things around us in the world that are difficult to comprehend and we wonder about the nature of God.
The problem truly is that we don’t understand God. Many don’t know God. They may know some things about God, claim to believe in Him, even make some efforts to worship Him, but they don’t really know Him. Because they don’t know Him, they cannot understand Him.
There is a group of people who do know God, but in this life will never be able to fully understand Him. These people are learning to know and understand better every day, but still have questions.
Let’s look at suffering and death from God’s side. God is all-knowing and can see both the beginning and the end of everything. He is able to look at my life and know exactly what I will be doing and where I will be in twenty years from now. He knows the exact moment that I will die and all the details involved in my death.
As God looks across the vast oceans of humanity He recognizes every face and observes inside every heart. He loves each and every soul and desires that they believe, repent, and follow His Divine Son Jesus. But ever since the beginning humans have rejected God even while claiming to believe in Him. They have rejected Him by being selfish, sinful, and rebellious. They have created their own gods and called them The God. They have invented their own ways of worship, but rejected God’s Word about worship.
Part of God’s character is that He is just. A just God must judge sin, and an eternal God must judge it eternally. Thus there is a place called the lake of fire (sometimes people call it hell), which God created as a place of eternal judgment for all who sin, which is everyone.
Other parts of God’s character include love, mercy, grace, and desire to be worshipped. Because of these and other qualities of God, He desired to make a way for sinful humanity, deserving of eternal judgment, to be forgiven and accepted in to God’s heavenly presence. He did this through His Son Jesus. Jesus is and was God. There is one God, but He exists in three parts or persons, the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.
The Father God sent the Son God to earth to become a man. He never sinned but allowed himself to be crucified. While on the cross the Father God placed the sin of the world upon Him. He became sin for us so that we could become the righteousness of God in Him.
Now the free gift of Salvation is offered to all of humanity. The problem is that most reject the gift and many refuse to even acknowledge the God of the Bible.
When God in His divine sovereignty allows or causes tragedy and suffering to happen, it very well could be the direct result of sin – of individuals, or of nations. If people die in tragic circumstances it isn’t because God is uncaring, but it could be that God is dealing with people who have already rejected Him. He, who knows the beginning and the end, knows that they were not going to accept Him. They are already headed for an eternity of judgment, so by ending their life early on this earth God is not being unjust or unloving. Everyday thousands, if not millions of people enter an eternity of judgment because they have rejected Christ. It is not because God is unloving, He already did the most merciful and loving thing possible — it was God that was nailed to the cross for our sin. God didn’t just send His Son, God came as the Son to suffer and die. He only asks that we, humanity, believe with all our being and repent, but most will not and God must judge.
Even in tragedy the mercy of God may be seen. How can this be? Most people live without regular conscious thought of God, but when tragedy strikes God injects Himself into man’s thinking.
When Moses first confronted Pharaoh in Egypt, Pharaoh said, “Who is this God that I should obey Him?”, and what happened next were the plagues, death, and then destruction. It’s almost like God said to Pharaoh, “Oh, you don’t know me, let me introduce myself”. The plagues were so that the people of the earth would learn to know God.
To answer the question that is the title to this piece, “How could a loving God allow innocent people to suffer?” The answer could be stated this way, “There are no innocent people”. We are all guilty and deserving judgment. There are none innocent, but just those who accept Him, and those who reject Him.
When I see tragedy today, my heart is grieved, my stomach is nauseated. I mourn when I think of the loss of life, the sadness, and the suffering. However I can praise God because I know He is the Almighty, and that He desires that through tragedy and suffering men will learn to know Him, surrender and repent before Him, and serve Him. We who already know Him must be diligent to serve Him, proclaiming His name and His truth, particularly in times of tragedy. For such a reason were we saved.