Link back to index.html
Scripture on God's Control Over Human Suffering
All the passages below are taken from Joni Eareckson Tada’s book, “A Lifetime of Wisdom---Embracing the Way God Heals You,” which was published in 2009.
All Christians acknowledge that God holds ultimate power in the universe. But does He always exercise it, especially when humans suffer? The causes behind human suffering are listed as major categories below. Under each are Scriptures asserting God's active (not merely reactive) control.
I. God exercises control over the inanimate forces of nature
A. Genesis 1:3: And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
B. Genesis 1:9: And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so.
C. Genesis 1:11: Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so.
D. Genesis 6:17: "I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish."
E. Genesis 19:24-25: Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah---from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities---and also the vegetation in the land.
F. Exodus 3:2: There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.
G. Exodus 9:23, 26: When Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, the LORD sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the LORD rained hail on the land of Egypt.... The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were.
H. Exodus 10:21-23: Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt---darkness that can be felt." So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days.... Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.
I. Exodus 14:21, 26-27: Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided.... Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen." Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea.
J. Numbers 16:28-33: Then Moses said, "This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt." As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah's men and all their possessions. They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community.
K. Psalms 147:12, 15-18: Extol the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion.... He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes. He hurls down his hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast? He sends his word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.
L. Amos 4:7-10: "I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away. I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another. One field had rain; another had none and dried up. People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink, yet 'You have not returned to me," declares the LORD. "Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, I struck them with blight and mildew ... yet you have not returned to me," declares the LORD.
M. Jonah 1:4: Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.
N. Mark 4:36-41: Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.... He, got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"
II. God exercises control over the animal world
(includes disease-causing micro-organisms)
A. Genesis 2:19: Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them...
B. Genesis 6:20: Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.
C. Exodus 8:1-2, 6: Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and say to him, `This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs."' ... So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land.
D. Exodus 8:20-21, 24, 30-31: Then the LORD said to Moses, "Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the water and say to him, `This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you. ..."' And the LORD did this. Dense swarms of flies poured into Pharaoh's palace and into the houses of his officials, and throughout Egypt the land was ruined by the flies.... Then Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD, and the LORD did what Moses asked: The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained.
E. Exodus 10:13: So Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt, and the LORD made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts.
F. Numbers 22:28: Then the LORD opened the donkey's mouth, and she said to Balaam, "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?"
G. 1 Kings 17:2-4: Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: "Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there."
H. 2 Kings 17:25: When they first lived there, they did not worship the LORD; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people.
I. Jonah 1:17 cf. 2:10: But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah.... And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
J. Jonah 4:6-7: Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head.... But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered.
K. Matthew 17:27: [Jesus speaking to Peter] "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."
III. God exercises control over human tools and technology
A. Exodus 14:24-25: During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He made the wheels of their chariots come off so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, "Let's get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt."
B. 2 Kings 6:5-6: As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron ax head fell into the water. "Oh, my lord," he cried out, "it was borrowed!" The man of God asked, "Where did it fall?" When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float.
C. 2 Chronicles 18:33-34: [Setting: God has decreed that wicked King Ahab of Israel must die in battle. The prophet Micaiah delivers this message to Ahab, who ignores the prophet and goes to war anyway. The battle is described.] But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armor.... All day long the battle raged, and the king of Israel propped himself up in his chariot facing the Arameans until evening. Then at sunset he died. [The point: God fulfilled his purpose to have Ahab killed in war by overseeing the path of an arrow shot "at random."]
D. Proverbs 16:33: The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.
E. Daniel 3:27-28. [Setting: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are thrown into a blazing furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar for refusing to bow down to a golden image. The soldiers who throw them in are burned, but the three are unharmed. Amazed, the king calls for them to come out.] ... The satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants!"
IV. God exercises control over the thoughts and actions of humans
A. The Bible clearly teaches that God governs even human beings, who have intelligence and a will of their own.
1. Proverbs 16:9: In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.
2. Proverbs 19:21: Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD'S purpose that prevails.
3. Proverbs 20:24: A man's steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand his own way?
4. Proverbs 21:1: The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.
5. Daniel 5:23: [Daniel speaking to the pagan king Belshazzar] ... But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways."
B. Most Christians willingly acknowledge God as the ultimate source of all people's good deeds.
1. Genesis 203-6: (Abimelech, pagan king of Gerar, has taken Sarah, wife of Abraham, into his harem.] But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, "You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman." Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, "Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did [her husband Abraham) not say to me, `She is my sister,' and didn't she also say, `He is my brother'? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands." Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her."
2. 1 Samuel 25:32-33: David said to Abigail, "Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands."
3. Ezra 1:1: In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing. [The Jewish exiles may return to Israel].
4. Acts 16:14: One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message.
5. Romans 7:18: 1 know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. [The point: Human nature, left to itself, never chooses the truly good; it chooses good only when aided by God.]
6. Philippians 2:13: For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
7. 2 Corinthians 8:16: I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you.
C. But the Bible is equally clear that God controls even people's wicked, deluded actions. He is not the source of their wicked deeds, for James 1:13 says that God tempts no one. Rather, He sees to it that people give expression to their own sinful desires in such a way as to fulfill His plans unwittingly, not their own. He accomplishes this by infinite wisdom beyond our grasp.
1. Genesis 45:7-8: [Joseph, to his brothers who sold him into slavery.] "But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt."
2. Exodus 4:21: The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go." Cf. Romans 9:17: For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."
3. Exodus 14:17: "1 will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after [the Israelites]. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen."
4. Deuteronomy 2:30: "But Sihon king of Heshbon refused to let us pass through. For the LORD your God had made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to give him into your hands ..."
5. Joshua ll:19-20: Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses.
6. 2 Samuel 17:14: Absalom and all the men of Israel said, "The advice of Hushai the Arkite is better than that of Ahithophel." For the LORD had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.
7. 2 Kings 24:2-3: The LORD sent Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against [King Jehoiakim]. He sent them to destroy Judah, in accordance with the word of the LORD proclaimed by his servants the prophets. Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord's command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done.
8. Psalm 105:25 NASB: He turned [the Egyptians'] heart to hate His people....
9. Proverbs 16:4: The LORD works out everything for his own ends---even the wicked for a day of disaster.
10. Isaiah 10:5-7, 15: [Setting: God is sending the wicked Assyrian armies to punish his people Israel, who have sinned so badly they are called "a godless nation."]
Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger,
in whose hand is the club of my wrath!
I send him against a godless nation,
I dispatch him against a people who anger me,
to seize loot and snatch plunder,
and to trample them down like mud in the streets.
But this is not what he [the Assyrian king] intends,
this is not what he has in mind;
his purpose is to destroy,
to put an end to many nations....
Does the ax raise itself above him who swings it,
or the saw boast against him who uses it?
As if a rod were to wield him who lifts it up,
or a club brandish him who is not wood!
11. Acts 4:27-28: [The early Christians are addressing God.] "Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen."
12. 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12: For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
V. God exercises control even over Satan and demons
A. Judges 9:23: God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechern, who acted treacherously against Abimelech.
B. 1 Samuel 16:14: Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.
C. 1 Kings 22:23: So now the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The LORD has decreed disaster for you.
D. 1 Chronicles 21:1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. Cf. 2 Samuel 24: l: Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go and take a census of Israel and Judah."
E. Job 2:4-6 NASB Satan answered the LORD and said, "... Put forth Your hand now, and touch [Job's] bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face." So the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life." [The point: Satan knew he could not touch Job without God decreeing it: "Put forth Thy hand." God assigns the harassing of Job to Satan, yet clearly defines the limits beyond which he cannot operate: "Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life."]
F. Matthew 4:10-11: Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! ...” Then the devil left him. .
G. Mark 1:23-27: Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are---the Holy One of God!" "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching---and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him."
H. Luke 22:31 "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat ..." [The point: Satan would not ask for permission if the power was already his, for it is not his nature to limit his actions simply to avoid displeasing God.]
I. John 12:37-40: Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: "Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: "He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn---and I would heal them." Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4: The god of this age [i.e., Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ....
VI. In summary, God exercises control over all beings, things, and actions
A. Exodus 4:11: The LORD said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? "
B. Job 42:2: "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can he thwarted."
C. Psalms 33:10-ll: The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.
D. Psalms 115:3: Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.
E. Lamentations 3:38: Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?
F. Isaiah 14:27:
Almighty has purposed, and who can
thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?
G. Isaiah 45:7: "I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things."
H. Daniel 4:35: He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: "What have you done?"
I. Amos 3:6: When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?
J. Ephesians 1:11: In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.
K. 1 Thessalonians 3:3: You know quite well that we were destined for [trials].
In conclusion, God decrees all things, even human suffering, but Satan often is the messenger of those decrees even as he fights against the God who issued them. When Satan, evil people, or "accidents" of any kind bring trials upon us, we can answer with Joseph to his brothers who sold him into slavery, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20 NASB) [209-219]
Link back to index.html