Thursday, May 1, 2008


Read/Post Comments (3)

        All my life church folk have told me that one reason we suffer is because God “tests us.” Testing by God apparently takes many forms—psychological and political persecution, or physical suffering and disease—anything that leads us to doubt the faith we were taught. Does God really do things like that?

       A casual reading of the Jewish Bible (the Protestant “Old Testament”) confirms that the ancient Hebrew writers believed it to be so. For example, in Deuteronomy 13:1-3 God sends a “false” prophet to mislead the Israelites with “signs and wonders.” God wanted to see who loved him with “all their heart and soul” and who would go after “false Gods.” How about that?—a false prophet working for God to mislead the faithful!

       In the Jewish Bible God either deliberately puts his people to the test (Isa 1:25-25; Mal 3:1-4; Jer 20:12; Ps 11:5), or for no good reason allows his sidekick Satan the “Accuser” to test them. At that time people believed that Satan worked for God uncovering hidden sins (Job 1:1-12). Even Jesus thought God tested the faithful and so taught his disciples to pray “do not put us to the test” (Matt 6:13). Oddly, however, the psalmist prays to be “put to the test” (Ps 26:2-3).

       In the New Testament the situation is different. On the one hand, there is a specific denial that God tests believers (Jas 1:12-13). But make no mistake, believers are still tested. They suffer various trials so that the “genuineness of their faith” may glorify God. But the testing now originates with Satan (who in the New Testament is now God’s adversary). By suffering persecution believers can prove the genuineness of their faith, share in the suffering of Jesus, and in that way glorify God (1 Pet 4:12-17). The writer of James thinks that believers become stronger through testing, and John thinks believers are more productive if they suffer (John 15:2). Paul (Rom 8:17) and James (1:12) even connect sharing the sufferings of Jesus with a believer’s ultimate “glorification” (Rom 8:17); that is, if you don’t suffer, forget about your place in heaven! This is an odd idea because not all believers can withstand the rigors of persecution or disease; some will fail the test, and give up the faith. Apostasy does happen in real life—even though Paul thought that Christians would not be tested beyond their ability to bear it (1 Cor 10:13).

       We have all known people “tested” beyond their breaking points. There are two well known cases in the New Testament of such failure. According to Matthew, one disciple of Jesus (Judas) betrayed him apparently for greed (i.e., for thirty pieces of silver, Matt 27:1-6). If the “greed” tradition is historical (none of the other early gospels report it, cf. John 13:2), then the conclusion seems inevitable that Judas was tested by “love of money” (1 Tim 6:10), and failed the test. Another failure of faith is a man named Demas, a companion of Paul (Phlm 24; Col 4:14), who deserted Paul “for love of the present world” (2 Tim 4:10).

       One would expect, however, that the God who sees into the human heart (Ps 44:20-21; 94:11; 139:1-2) would know the answers without the tests. If that is correct, why would God even bother with tests, and particularly with tests that cause human suffering? A God that causes, or permits, human suffering for any reason can scarcely be described as a caring deity!

       None of the reasons for suffering offered in the New Testament make any sense. Why would anyone voluntarily want to share the sufferings of Jesus (particularly after seeing Gibson’s “The Passion”)? Isn’t the traditional Christian view that Christ suffered in our place (1 Pet 2:21)? According to Paul, it is the common lot of humanity to suffer (1 Cor 10:13), so how then do we sort out suffering as a part of the common human experience from suffering for a religious reason, such as “suffering with Jesus”? Is having terminal cancer “suffering with Jesus,” for example? As to being more productive: suffering and tragedy tend to incapacitate us, which, it seems, makes us less productive. Certainly one’s personal suffering may result in empathy with others who suffer, and recognizing our vulnerability to suffering may decrease our arrogance. But I doubt people would claim to be “better” because they suffered. Such a concept may be one religious fiction, among others that we have invented, to explain God’s apparent inability or disinclination to eradicate human suffering. Suffering of any sort is irrational when considered in the context of a compassionate and all powerful God. And hence arise multiple theories to explain suffering in such a context. Some answers given are: Adam and Eve sinned, and therefore we suffer because of their sin. Sin causes suffering, and so we, being sinners, must suffer. We suffer because God tests us so as to improve the quality of our spiritual life and “bring glory to his name,” etc. For me the bottom line is this: Paul was likely correct: suffering is simply a natural part of life in an unregulated world. In our world bad things happen to good people for no particular reason. God isn’t mad at you, and it is not because of some sin you committed. We have made suffering into God’s test of our piety (Jas 1:2-3) as one way of explaining the disconnect between a caring God and tragic human suffering.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Posted by Charles Hedrick at 2:32pm

OK, Charles. From reading your reply I would surmise that on some things we do agree, but for probably different reasons. I don't have time now to give an extended reply but maybe in a week. But for now a couple of items.

Dokimazo is in verse 2, and that is what I was referring to where the testing is specifically for character building. Verse 13 and following is referring to temptation which leads to lust.

The 'false prophet'? You missed the point. It was the term 'faithful' I objected to. Dt 8:2 specifically states that God uses means to test Israel to prove whether they were faithful or not, be it false prophets or (such as the 'old prophet' of I Kings 13) or not.

Simply put, in answer to your question, God is not the cause of human suffering. Sin, suffering, disease, evil and etc are the consequence of mans rebellion in the garden of Eden and the resulting curse. When someone gets cancer, it is not because God inflicted it. It is simply the consequence of a sin cursed world. I can only think of a few places where God inflicted someone with a disease (i.e. Kings Uzziah and Jeroboam) and always as a direct result of rebellion against God or to show His glory and power (i.e. the exodus). Job would be the major exception, but that was where God allowed Satan to inflict Job and that for specific reasons of which he is remembered to this day.

No, Samuel was not mistaken. Saul was commanded to totally wipe out the Amalakites because of what they did to Israel years earlier as they were leaving the wilderness to inherit the land. And, apparently, because this was not totally done, Israel suffered the consequence centuries later in Persia with Haman the Agagite.

Question for you. My parents were from Missouri. My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were from St. Jo. My great grandfather, Daniel, had 5 sons. The oldest Robert and the youngest Paul. Can't remember the ones in between. Any connection?

Posted by David Hedrick on 12/27/2008 at 5:37pm

Hi David,

I understand the crunch of time, though I am supposed to have a great deal of it at the moment but do not. I was surprised at your answer to the death of the Amalekites, since I would suspect that you think our current abortion laws are unjust and immoral. Having God responsible for the deaths of nursing babies should cause some difficulties I would think. I cannot accept your idea that Samuel got the message right from God, since it is far too egregious for me (but if I have misjudged you, please accept my apology, sincerely given). As a side question: Did any of the biblical writers misconstrue the message they thought they got from God? And I simply cannot accept the rationale of your pleading to the mythical Garden of Eden narratives (that appears in two different forms in Genesis) as the cause for all of the suffering we have in the world. The Greeks explained it by Pandora’s box. Why is one more “historical” than the other?

My family is all from Louisiana/Mississippi and I don’t recognize any of the names you mention but we are undoubtedly related. Mine, however, is from the cotton fields, shot gun houses, and inevitably the wrong side of the tracks. You would have to be from the polite and moneyed side of the family if you come from Missouri (some wealthy Hedricks around here, whom I also do not know).

Maybe we will hear from others who will set us both right!


Posted by Charles Hedrick on 12/27/2008 at 6:55pm


Maybe the question could be framed this way:

Is God caused by human suffering? (And joy, of course).

Posted by Michael Burns on 12/27/2008 at 5:01pm

Hi Michael,

Good to hear from you. I understand your book has been published (assuming you are the Michael Burns I know). Congratulations! I have not yet seen it. Tell us the bibliographical data.

On your comment: You could be right. I have always been told that there are no atheists in foxholes. What you are suggesting is that we invented God to account for things we cannot explain (at least I think you are). Perhaps David or others will have a comment on that. For myself, I am sure we do use God to account for many things we cannot explain but that said I am a firm believer in God. I just don’t think we know much about him/her, and since our age is an age of the silence of God we are not likely to find out, unless things change.

Where do you stand on this issue?


Posted by Charles Hedrick on 12/27/2008 at 7:24pm


Not too sure how to understand your question. Is it rhetorical or are you genuinely looking for clarity? From reading your blog, I suspect the former, but will give you the benefit of doubt and assume the later.

Because of the existence of so many books and articles on the subject (and because the answer is so relatively simple) it amasses me when I encounter someone questioning the existence of human suffering with the concept of a good and benevolent Creator. I have to assume their knowledge in the God of the Bible is greatly lacking

I am not going to make this lengthy because I have neither the time nor want at this point (I was searching for something else when I came across your blog), but will offer a suggestion and maybe a few comments.

Probably the easiest venue from which to answer your question (assuming that's your desire and rather than giving a point by point lengthy dissertation) is to direct you to some articles you can easily find by going to and searching for articles on 'God and human suffering'. There are other sources but this is a good one to start with.

And rather than commenting on all of your questionable statements and assumptions, I will mention a few (assuming you want a straight forward candid critique):

"Sidekick Satan"??? Sorry, but doesn't fly! From the time of his 'fall' he was (and still is) the 'Adversary' of God. To assume anything other is to not understand either his nature or history, or the thesis of the Book of Job.

Matt 6:13. The Greek word for "lead us" or "put us" is an aorist subjunctive, with the idea being "don't lead us or allow us to be put in a position in which I may be tempted to go astray."

"a false prophet working for God to mislead the faithful!" Faithful??? Not quite. The context clearly shows that the purpose of the testing was to 'prove out' those who were genuinely faithful and those who were not (cp Dt 8:2ff).

Js 1:12-13. James talks about two types of 'testings'. Two Greek words are used. One is 'dokimion' meaning 'testing or proving' with the idea of character building. The other is 'peirasmios' meaning 'to tempt' with the idea of failing. God 'tests' but Satan 'tempts'.

Judas was not "tested" beyond his breaking point. He was a thief and a non believer (never quite understood either the person of Christ or His reason for being) from the beginning and was specifically chosen for his desired purpose.

"puts his people to the test for no good reason"; "a God that causes, or permits, human suffering...can scarcely be described as a caring deity!"; "God's apparent inability...."; "bad things happen to good people...." Charles, I am shocked! Or maybe extremely 'dismayed' would be a better word. Considering what the Bible has to say one has to wonder as to the amount of time and research you put into this to make such statements. Nothing could be more diametrically opposed to the simple truth put forth in the Bible.

Coming from someone in academia might be forgivable....but from a Hedrick!

Posted by David Hedrick on 12/26/2008 at 10:54pm

Hi David,

Thanks for pausing in your search long enough to respond to the essay on suffering. Yes, for me it is a genuine personal question, as I suspect it is for everyone who ponders the ways of God. My personal answer to the question is a resounding “Of course not!” But it is a question that every person must answer for themselves.

As I worked through your blog you left me with three challenges to what I said. (Most of your comments I took to be simply dismissive of my ideas without providing any specifics that I could get a handle on. You just generally disagreed with me. If there are specifics that I missed you can follow up.)

Here are my responses to your three specifics:

1. My translation of Matt 6:13=Luke 11:4. Actually I agree with you here. The general consensus on this passage is that it relates to the permissive will of God—not that God puts us into temptation but that he allows us to be tested (which agrees with the character of God in Job but not with other passages in the Bible, as I point out in my entry). And hence I translate “do not put us to the test” (compare the translations in the New English Bible [Do not bring us to the test], Goodspeed [Do not subject us to temptation], Today’s English Version [Do not bring us to hard testing]). If readers want to follow up on this discussion, see Norman Perrin, The Kingdom of God in the Teachings of Jesus (Westminster, 1963),196-97.

2. False prophet working for God: I will stand by what I said here, and readers may judge for themselves. The prophet in question is clearly false and God is testing the Israelites through the false prophets.

3. James 1:12-13: Here again we are in some agreement. The only word used for temptation in James 1:13 is peirazo. Dokimazo does not appear. My point in citing the passage is that in spite of the many passages in the Bible about God putting people to the test or allowing them to be put to the test, James denies it. Your distinction that peirazo is generally used negatively in the NT is valid but one must extend that search to all of early Christian literature.

From your last paragraph I assume you do hold to the belief that God causes suffering although he does it for the benefit of human kind (something I addressed in the last paragraphs of my essay), which simply boggles my mind. Hence you would include the full range of human suffering in that idea, I suppose. Hence God uses cancer, for example, to teach people patience—or something like that. Again it boggles my mind.

It appears to me that you are defending the Gods of the Bible (from my perspective God plays many roles in the Bible). From my perspective your view of God is too small and, from your perspective it seems that God must be controlled by the Bible (which is comprised of human words about God—i.e., how God was understood by the writers). My view of God is that s/he is much bigger than that, and is perfectly to act as s/he chooses.

Would you think that God deliberately ordered the annihilation of the Amalekites, even including their tiny nursing babies (1 Samuel 15:3), or was Samuel mistaken? My answer is that Samuel was obviously mistaken.

Thanks for the exchange; drop in again sometime; always glad to hear from a distant relative.


Posted by Charles Hedrick on 12/27/2008 at 2:29pm