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One of the most frequent arguments against the existence of God and against belief in a loving God is the presence of suffering. It is assumed that if God existed, and that if he was a God of love as the Bible teaches, he would do something to stop the suffering.

Interestingly, the Bible records occasions on which God has done exactly that. He has intervened in human history and stopped the suffering. He has observed the gross increase of human sin, and the depths of human suffering caused by that sin, and he has, when that sin and that suffering became very great, stopped the suffering.

One of these occasions is described and anticipated in Isaiah. Speaking of the nation of Israel, God said:

‘Your whole head is injured, your whole heart is afflicted.
From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness …’ [Isaiah 1:5,6].

Similarly we read in Genesis 6:5:

‘The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time’.

And some generations later:

‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin is so grievous … The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great …’ [Genesis 18:20, 19:13].

In both of these circumstances God brought an end to the suffering. This action of God was at the same time an act of judgement and an act of love. In both there was the possibility of reprieve. In the first Noah announced the impending judgement for one hundred and twenty years, giving room for repentance. In the second, Abraham interceded with God to avert the judgement if as few as ten righteous men could be found in the city. The responsibility was clearly in the hands of humans:

If humans repented of their sins, the human suffering caused by that sin would cease.
If humans refused to repent, then God would bring the suffering to an end by getting rid of those whose gross sinfulness caused extreme suffering to others.

We see this same forbearance of God in his long delay in giving the land of Canaan to the Israelites. God said to Abraham:

‘In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure’ [Genesis 15:16].

Later Moses stated:

‘It is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going to take possession of their land, but on account of the wickedness of these nations …’ [Deuteronomy 9:4,5].

God’s seeming indifference to human suffering is actually the evidence of his amazing patience with us. All of our sin is offensive to him. All sin of necessity attracts his judgement. Yet, despite the fact that our sin causes others to suffer, God, slow to anger and of great mercy, delays the judgement, giving us time to hear his call to repent and believe. As Peter wrote concerning the delay in the return of Christ and the final judgement:

‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’ [2Peter 3:9].

Peter goes on to say: ‘But the day of the Lord will come …’ [verse 10].

There is a point at which God says ‘Enough is enough!’ A point where the sin, the evil, the suffering, has reached saturation point. A point where the judgement must and will fall.

Isaiah was commissioned by God to expose the extreme sinfulness of Israel and the human suffering it caused, and to warn of the judgement that was inevitable, unless they repented. Through Isaiah, as through all the prophets, God expresses his grief at human sin, and his grief at human suffering, and God warns that he will act, either locally or globally, to end the sin and the suffering by an act of extreme judgement.

It is this space – the space between God’s announcement of judgement, and the time at which the judgement falls – that attracts those questions and accusations against God. This is the space in which God gives us time for repentance. But it is also the space in which sin and suffering increase.

But this space will end. God will say ‘Enough is enough!’ The judgement will fall. The suffering will end. Not in a temporary way as it has done in the past, but in a final way:

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ [Revelation 21:4].

© Rosemary Bardsley 2014, 2023