How is it fair for someone to suffer all their lives and then go to hell?

Hi friends,

I will be talking with a new friend about this question:

How is it fair for someone to suffer all their lives and then go to hell?

In a sense, their question challenges the idea of God’s justice: first, their entire life was full of suffering. And second, that their eternal destiny is full of suffering. Yet, surely such people exist.

Have you ever wrestled with this question? What conclusion did you come to?

If you had a friend with this question, what questions would you ask? What thoughts would you share?

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@Carson

This line of thought is similar to suicide and the dilema involved there, with hell as the destination.

Both are vastly complex due to the unknowns of both, as well as the persons preconcieved thoughts about each.

God knows their every thought and intent, as well as what the individual knows intelectually, spiritualy, as well there are things we dont know. Which makes the dynamic humanly impossible to comprehend, the trillion different facets of each persons life, and how each affected or influenced the person.

The mental capacity of each individual is another dimension to consider which we can only deduce with time and study, but Gods knows that instantly.

as the word says
“Work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” each of us are unique individuals.

Only God can be perfectly just and fair and miliseconds of thought and contemplation are important to HIM.

No one truly knows what it is like to be absent from the body and present with the Lord.

Thats how I would approach that question given the minimal context.

Talking with a non christian, new christian, person with other beliefs?

I feel that every human has blank spots or distorted memories, of the past traumas due to that trauma to help cope with the hurt or anger. The importance of forgiveness is much needed to live a life free of pain and to love those who remind us of that old wound that wasnt healed.

Michael

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Thanks @michael1, your compassion and care give me a helpful perspective.

I agree with you, I think it is important to recognize how much we don’t know about other people and where they stand with God. The realities of eternal life - with God or apart from him - are well-established in the Scriptures. But this does not mean we are omniscient. And there are so many different circumstances - as you put it, “the trillion different facets of each person’s life.”

One of the ways I started this conversation was to affirm that the doubt expressed reflected the heart of God.

To see people suffering and not be moved to action? To see people hating God - and not want to restore them to wholeness? This is the storyline of the Bible!

Over and over again, God acts in sacrificial, merciful, and astounding ways to reveal his loving compassion for his image bearers. Most dramatically, Jesus came - fully God and fully man - to die on the cross as the payment for our sins.

So, do I think God is a harsh tyrant who looks forward to tormenting people for eternity? This is a ridiculous stereotype that stands in opposition to the gentle kindness and sacrificial love revealed throughout the Bible.

We also discussed The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. We considered - if you gave into your worst impulses, unchecked, for decades, what kind of person would you become? Wouldn’t it dehumanize you? Even if you were invited to heaven, you would find it repulsive. The goodness, beauty, and solidity of God’s home would seem offensive — because it wouldn’t be about you and you getting whatever you want. If our greatest love is for ourselves, even heaven would be hell.

Another point that was raised in the conversation is the question of justice. If God is perfectly just, how can evil be without consequence? Or if there is no God, then death is how we escape accountability. If we believe in a moral order where justice prevails, then we are pressed to believe that hell is real.

I look forward to hearing other thoughts on this topic.

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Hi @Carson , this is a really important question to consider. I just wanted to acknowledge that my answers are only given from a broad sense of suffering, not out of ignorance but as a means of getting partway to the answer, and I understand that the reality is often more nuanced than I make out here.

We all endure suffering to some level such as relationship breakdown, financial struggle, grieving the death of loved ones, abuse, mental illness, physical illness etc. Each of these examples are common to everyone and therefore important to consider what this means for the individual. The suffering from these circumstances will lead to deep emotional pain, loss, grief, hurt, broken trust, desperation, broken identity etc. Healing from the suffering will vary in time needed, and the totality of healing may or may not come in this lifetime. The suffering might have occurred from the natural state of things or as a result of someone else’s sin or one’s own.

So firstly, I would say that an individual’s heart response to ongoing circumstances will affect whether there is hope or hopelessness in the suffering. A heart turned to God, relying on his Word, praying through the suffering day by day, will see some sense of hope, that they will see the Lord ‘in the land of the living’ despite suffering through injustice and evil. The suffering in this sense isn’t eternal, although validly deep and painful in the here and now. Perhaps their trust in the Lord will help them see the hand of God despite circumstances, that they see the grace of Jesus in conversations or circumstances of unexpected provision, reconciliation or renewal. There will be glimpses of goodness and hope because they seek the Lord for them.

Secondly, each person will vary in their perception of what qualifies as suffering. If a person thinks suffering is a reasonable expectation in life out of pragmatism rather than pessimism, they may not see the injustice as heavily as someone who thinks they’re entitled to a completely suffering-free life. If a person holds the theology that Christians shouldn’t suffer sickness, for example, how unjust it may seem if they then experience sickness. Their view of God’s fairness will have altered based on this theology. I know two older women who were bereaved at roughly the same time a number of years ago, whose husbands suffered and died of exactly the same disease. One trusts in the Lord and takes joy in life despite the immense pain of loss. She sees the goodness of God in the pain and this affects her character and outlook. The other tries to get on with life because she is practical and resilient, but without a hope in the Lord, she perceives her situation as utterly miserable. To the onlooker, the cause of their suffering might appear equal. Both will carry grief for the remainder of their lives, but the second will suffer further because she does not trust in the Lord for his goodness, nor experience the joy of salvation. There are no glimpses of hope, because this person does not seek the Lord for them. I suspect that the person who blames God for a life of suffering followed by the prospect of a hellish eternity of suffering is the very person who does not know God? If I was sharing with someone who asked these questions of me, I’d probably spend time listening to what they may or may not understand about God. How might you answer this point, though?

I feel more comfortable addressing suffering at the level of the general grief that comes through life, but I am acutely aware of the person reading this that may have suffered the evil of abuse. I want to hold back from making too much comment on that particular form of suffering until I can offer something of value pertinent to that situation. All I can say is that I have walked with someone closely through the on-going effects of childhood abuse that plague their adult life. Whilst I always offered practical answers for their daily needs, my ultimate answer was always to look to God as strength and help. What I learned in this process is that the effects of childhood abuse can so fracture an identity that it will limit a person’s ability to hold onto God’s truth. This is where Christians around that person surround them in God’s love by demonstrating patience, forgiveness and consistency. I learned that God has grace for the eternity of the person whose character has been so destroyed by another human that they lack much faith in God. And yet….even here a person may hold hope. Psalm 13 models this:

1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

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Job suffered and asked the question, “why do I suffer?” God answered, “Shall he that contend with the Almighty instruct Him? He that reprove God, let him answer it.” Job 40:2.

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Michael and Carson,

Oh how your responses moved me! Michael, yours is well spoken and thoughtful with questions about the unique minds and experiences of the individual. Carson, you also speak to the individuality of the person who suffers showing an obvious desire to make an impact on the life of the one suffering.

Let me tell you MY story which is so much like millions of others the world over. I was born to nonbelievers; a father who was a thief, someone with the authority of the state we lived in who abused that power for his own gain. A so- called “father” who had a daughter and 2 sons; who neglected completely the sons, but sexually abused the daughter. Me. I was around 5 years old in my first memory of this abuse. My mother had left him because he was chronically unfaithful. Did she realize what he was doing to me? The signs were there, I’m sure, but did she WILFULLY refuse to see, or just NOT see?

The mother, meanwhile, had unrealistic expectations of a 5 year old, 3 year old, and infant. When her expectations weren’t met, we were whipped - Belt, belt buckle, fly swat, whatever was at hand so that she could release her rage at the world onto her children. So much so that when I was older, I took the blame for my brothers as often as possible to spare them that pain.

My father died when I was 9 and my brothers were 7 and 4. They don’t really remember him at all because he rarely came to see them, only me. Mom is still alive, but refuses to see the physical and emotional abuse she piled onto us; claims she doesn’t even remember it.

There were none in my family who knew or believed in God. Heck, I didn’t know about Him until a local church came around offering to pick us up and take us to church. But when he died, though he had hurt me in ways no child should ever know or experience, he was my father. That summer, and I remember this vividly, mom had brought us kids to Florida. The entire trip, all I could talk about was that, when we got back home, I was going to “bring daddy to church and save him”. In my mind, if I could save him, he wouldn’t hurt me ever again. He would be the daddy that other kids seemed to have.

But when we got back, he was already dead. A motorcycle accident. He died before I could save him. Read that sentence again… he died before I could save him. In my child’s mind, I would save him, but God took him before I could. I raged against God! I hated him for killing my daddy and sending him to hell- and I know with certainty that that’s where he is.

I hated Him and denied Him, I spoke against Him to anyone who would listen. But God… that beautiful 2- word phrase… But God.

I was in my 30’s when I met this beautiful catholic woman at work (I’m not catholic). At first, I questioned her beliefs, trying to refute His love, but she was so patient, so loving with me. I began to question my own beliefs. I opened my heart to Him and He healed me. I don’t forget anything, but I DO forgive. That’s the most beautiful gift He has given me, that ability to forgive my daddy, to forgive mom and be able to spend time with her now that has become precious to me.

And so, I humbly offer my answer to the question posed; God says in His Word that we are able to recognise Him in our surroundings. Even without knowing Him, we can recognise Him. In His very CREATION, we see Him. We feel Him, as I did. We hear about Him and we are given the opportunity to learn about Him. Yet He will never FORCE us to go to Him unwillingly. Just as He gave Adam and Eve the freedom to either obey or not, He gives us that same opportunity. We can choose to open our minds and hearts to Him or not. He wants us to choose Him, but He will NEVER force it. He wants us to come WILLINGLY to the cross, and follow Him. Those of us who do, find a joy we never knew existed! Those who refuse Him, I cry for, I pray for, I long for, but I can only accept their choice because that’s how God wants it.

I still pray for my mom, my brothers and their families, my own husband. I pray they see Him in MY everyday life. I pray that my light will reach them before its too late. I talk about my Savior, I tell them about Him to the point that my mother screams at me to stop. I pray for them, but I’ve learned this lesson: I cannot SAVE them. Just as I could not save my dad, I cannot save them. Only Christ can, and then only if they are WILLING. And so, there is your answer.

Yes, they’ve had a horrible life, but they’ve had the opportunities He has given them to open their hearts to Him, and yet have refused. How then, can He do anything BUT judge? MY question to those who ASK that question is: if they don’t believe in Him, how can they expect HIM to believe in THEM?

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In less than a second a person can put their faith in God and be saved. God hears our prayers, heard your prayers for your father. Don’t give up on seeing your father saved and waiting for you with God.

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@diane1,
While I certainly appreciate the sentiment, I have strong reason to believe that he did not turn to God; he was, by all accounts, an evil man - I can attest to his evil deeds in up to the night prior to the trip we took immediately before his death. Granted, you are right, it does only take a few seconds to turn to Christ, but I don’t believe that he did. I do appreciate the thought though.

I like to THINK that I’ve forgiven him for the unspeakable things he did when I was a child - and in an adults-only forum, I’d speak of those things, but maybe you can imagine. The fact that they’re “unspeakable” might be the problem, though; perhaps if more people DID speak of these things, more children would feel safe enough to speak when it was happening, making the world safer for us all. As I was saying, though, I’d like to THINK I’ve forgiven him, but when I was formulating my reply, I kept having to erase the things I’d written because what I WANTED to say (I’m speaking of what my FLESH wants me to say, not my spirit) is that I hoped I WOULDN’T see him in Heaven.

That desire has made me take a rather uncomfortable look at myself. I thought that I had forgiven him, but I’m obviously mistaken, so I’d like to ask you - and all of the friends I’ve made here - to keep me in your prayers. Pray that I find the way to HONESTLY forgive him for the things he did to me. Meanwhile, I’m praying for that for myself and also for my father’s soul - though that’s not only difficult to say right now, but is also difficult to imagine! I’m also praying for any other little girls or boys who have been (or are currently being) abused - whether that abuse is of a physical, sexual, emotional, or spiritual nature.

@diane1, I owe you a debt of gratitude for bringing this to my attention, though I realize that was unintentional. Thank you, dear sister. As you pray for me, please know that I’ll be praying for you also. May the peace of our Lord be with you. Your sister-in-Christ,
Cathi

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Is it unfair?

I’ve thought about this quite a lot and tried my best to ask the right questions. I found myself asking a lot of why does God do this? How does God say this is right/fair/true when society tells me the opposite? How does God not agree with what I believe should be true. I question almost everything in my life, so in my instance, I found my answer in the book of Job. In Job 41, God asks Job why Job has the power to question God’s laws and his ways. God is just and he created everything, he is omnipotent. Therefore, everything he does must be just. Who am I to question God’s power? One I my teachers summed it up like this…we only see a speck of speck of dust on the puzzle of God’s knowledge, who are we to question the entire picture? I know that God is loving. I know he doesn’t want to send anyone to eternal punishment, but he is just. Imagine what would happen if he wasn’t loving.

However, that is what I need to tell myself. For others, especially non-Christians, I’m sure that wouldn’t be a valid argument. Those people who suffer, I wish they could go to heaven, I wish everyone could go to heaven, I love them all so much. I know God loves them so much more than we ever could. But they still sinned and disobeyed the laws set in place by the lawmaker, which requires punishment. Even one sin is punishable by death.

Hell is worse than this life. That’s why we work so hard to evangelize, to give people the chance to see Christ and have the option to be saved.

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Hey, there! I have really enjoyed reading all your responses. I think in all of them, it has been highlighted really pretty well that Jesus is God’s answer to suffering.

Depending on context or the need of the person, I suppose I would ask the person why he thinks suffering exists at all. Does a person having suffered all his life mean that person is perfectly good and innocent? What is his idea of hell? What is his understanding of how a person gets to hell?

Right now I have a good friend who lost her baby at birth a few months back. These are not questions I would ask her presently, because when she asks, she is not looking for logical/intellectual/knowledgeable responses…right answers, so to speak. She’s not desiring a course on theology. She needs the ministry of my presence and to hear her and acknowledge the pain in her questions.

However, these questions would be good for a person who is not asking based on an experience he himself is going through and is struggling with the pain of it. These types of questions would show us how to respond, but we can always be certain that any response we have will lead right to Jesus and his work on the cross.

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Suffering is hard to endure. And to some degree we all suffer. Maybe God suffers too. Does a pot say, “why have you made me this way?” Though made from dirt, people are not pots. As people we ask, “why must I suffer and to some even hell?” We don’t have the knowledge to know why. God knows why! Are you good with knowing, you don’t know? And knowing God knows? There are many things we’ll never know. Yet we live knowing these limitations. Seek wisdom, and it shall be found. God has given us His Word. In it, you shall find life.

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@lindsay ,
My heart breaks for your friend. I know her pain personally, and what she’s going through is incomprehensible. I absolutely hated when people looked at me with those sad eyes, as if they knew my pain. I felt so alone, and i desperately wanted a child. After 10 lost pregnancies, we gave up. So i do know her pain, and the best you can do is to just be there with a shoulder, a girls night out, a ready smile, and your friendship.

I lost my last pregnancy about 25 years ago, and i still mourn each of those babies. Someone told me something recently, though, that - after a lot of thinking about it - I’ve found comforting; they told me that I’m still a Mom. Now, I wouldn’t recommend saying that to your friend yet because that wound is still raw, but in a few years, wheen she mentions that her child would be 2 or 5 or whatever, then would be a good time to remind her that her baby is waiting for her to come Home.

She is in my prayers for comfort and peace without guilt (because she IS blaming herself). In praying for her, but I’m also praying for you, that you have wisdom to understand and to know how to comfort her, that you have patience to let her mourn for a long as she needs, and that you have a love and compassion for her born of the Spirit within. My or Lord, Jesus, give you peace, wisdom, and love, may Be shelter you under His wing. Amen.

All my love and blessings to everyone.
Cathi

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