The Puzzle of Evil and Suffering

Bible Book: Exodus  1
Subject: Suffering; Hardships; Abuse; Trials; Trust in God

Exodus 1:8, 11, 13, 14, 22

"Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph,.... Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens...And the Egyptians made the Children of Israel to serve with rigour.. And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage....And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river........." Exodus 1:8, 1 1, 13, 14, 22.

“Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.. " John 9:2-3

Some people enjoy working with cross-word puzzles.  Some become masters at putting together "jigsaw puzzles." The Spanish name for a puzzle or riddle is "rompecabezas" - meaning "breaker of heads” or that which breaks heads. Almost every day we face situations which baffle our understanding and leave us dumb-founded.

One of life's puzzles is that of evil and suffering. The Christian knows that Satan is the original sinner and the primary cause of evil and its consequent suffering. But even when the first cause of evil and suffering is known, there remain many unanswered questions about this problem.

The righteous sometimes suffer when they do good. Jesus suffered, although He never sinned. Shakespeare's Macbeth said: "Fair is foul and foul is fair." What about Ecclesiastes 7:15? "There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness." Some evil-workers go through life without any apparent suffering for the wrong they commit. Suffering often is the consequence of some wrong which is done; and yet again, there may be no relation between the two.

The first chapter of Exodus tells the story of Israel's suffering and Egypt's sin. The chosen people of God did not understand the agony of their enslavement. They could not push back the gloom that settled upon them. As tough Egyptian task masters shuttled among them, the Hebrews trembled like horses in a hailstorm. What could the enslaved ones do? Nothing! As confined as a corpse in a tomb! Help had to come from some other source, or Israel would never see the mangled pieces of life put together again.

Modern man continues to face evil and suffering. How does he solve this intricacy? this enigma? Is there an answer to the dark riddles of life? Yes, because God wants to help those in every dungeon of despair. He understands the entangled, twisted puzzle of evil and suffering. God has the answer that perplexed people need.  Let's examine this puzzle.

I. Suffering Happens When One Abuses Another

Suffering happens when one person abuses another. Israel lived in Egypt for four centuries. Nearly one-half of that time she suffered "under the taskmaster's lash." The suffering intensified. The captains over the work forces had authority to carry whips and clubs and use them. Abuse became a common practice, a way of life!

The story of Israel's suffering is reflected in several passages in chapter one of Exodus: "They did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens" (v. 11); ..."If it be a son, then ye shall kill him" (v. 16); ..."Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river" (v. 22). Evil and suffering increased for God's chosen people. Man abuses man! How does this abuse happen?

A. Abuse is inflicted through jealousy or envy

Jealousy is a giant-like evil. We recall the background story of Joseph and his brothers from Genesis (Chapters 37-50). Jacob loved his younger son and made Joseph a "coat of many colors" which provoked his brothers to jealousy. Once Joseph told his brothers that he dreamed he was the sun and they were the moon and stars who bowed down to him. He also told them he dreamed he had become the principal sheaf of grain in the field and all the others inclined before him. That did not prove to be a good course in public relations!

One day Jacob asked Joseph to go search for his sheep-herding brothers and bring back a report concerning them. When Joseph found them, they decided "the dreamer" had bragged enough about his superiority. They grabbed their teen-age brother and sold him to a band of Midianites, who resold their hostage, and he landed in Egypt.

Jealousy remains an evil with which we have to contend. Proverbs 6:34 declares: "Jealousy is the rage of a man." One nation becomes jealous of another; one race lets the destructive fire of jealousy flame up against another race. Many homes rip apart because of this devastating evil. Sin and suffering often are related. Do you ever notice any streaks of jealousy in your life?

B. Abuse is inflicted on others because of spiritual ignorance

Exodus 1:8 reads: "Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph." Historically, this new line of Pharaohs knew about Joseph. Spiritually, they did not know how to appreciate the fact that Joseph had saved the Egyptians from "mass starvation" as he prepared them to confront a seven-year famine. The "new king" of Egypt did not understand Joseph's contributions to their welfare.

Why do wars take place today? Why does the Vietnam war-skeleton of 1960-75 rattle in our Nation's closet as well as the Iraq debacle? Why do multiplied thousands of inmates in federal and state penitentiaries suffer mental anguish? It must be that we have all committed atrocities against our fellow man. Falsehood and physical abuse against others lives on.

A pastor and wife received temporary custody of children from the Welfare Department. They received one child who had been severely and cruelly mistreated, apparently by the mother and other sadistic-minded people. The three year old had been burned, gouged, and lacerated time after time. The burns from cigarettes scarred her body. Hot instruments such as an iron or spatula left indelible marks all over that precious little body -scars upon scars! That physical frame somehow endured beatings those stripes refuse to go away. The pastor and wife helped heal that little one's deep psychological scars inflicted upon a tender life by calloused, wicked people. Is this a case of spiritual ignorance? Yes! It is wickedness that blinds a person to the worth of man created in the image of God.

C. A person sometimes abuses another because of greed

The Midianites bought Joseph and sold him for financial gain in Egypt. Those traders were greedy. A few years later when Joseph arose to prominence in Egypt, a famine caused the brothers to travel there in search of grain. Soon the entire family located along the Nile delta. The Israelites multiplied. The Pharaoh upon the throne realized he had an enlarged labor force at his fingertips. Whereupon, the Egyptians took them over.

The enslaved ones worked in the fields. Their captors forced them to build "treasure cities" (Ex. 1:11) and do back-breaking work beneath the Nile valley sun. One group exploited another! They crushed, but never conquered the Hebrews.

Human nature does not change! Because of the insatiable desire for gain, man often walks over others and takes what they have. Enron and Ponzi schemes and the glitter of gold - - greed is a wicked fountainhead from which many other sins flow. "The love of money is the root of all evil" (I Tim. 6:10). Watch out for this sin. Jealousy, ignorance, and greed are a few of man's moral evils which cause suffering.

II. Suffer May Take Place Through Natural Law

Suffering may take place through collision with the natural laws of life. When a person runs counter to laws which are designed for an orderly and ongoing planet, he most likely will suffer the consequences.

In his book, Suffering: A Personal Perspective, Dr. T. B. Maston concludes that suffering occurs when man violates some basic law. Over-indulgence in eating or over-exertion through activity causes suffering. One who disregards health laws must "reap what he sows." He abuses himself! Or again, a person falls and the "law of gravity" spells out injury for him. Such "tragedies" probably happened to numbers of Hebrews as they built Pharaoh's treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses (Exodus 1:11).

A few facts may be noted.

(1) God is supernatural and can set aside or abrogate His own created laws for a higher purpose, if He deems it wise. For instance, Jesus stilled the storm, raised the dead, and multiplied bread.

(2) Natural or physical catastrophies such as earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, and some diseases are not caused by man violating some laws.

(3) It should be observed that our world order suffers because of Satan and man's original sin (Genesis 3:17-18).

(4) As a harsh "taskmaster," nature one day will be "redeemed" (Romans 8:22).\

(5) "Time and chance happen to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Tragedy and triumph happen to the good and the bad. Thus, an "involuntary violation" of the laws of nature will cause the finest people to suffer as surely as a conscious and deliberate disregard of those laws. Do we ever ask, "Why me, Lord?

III. God Gives Hope To Those Who Suffer

God gives hope to those who live under the blight or handicap of suffering. In the Problem of Pain,  C. S. Lewis impresses us with his words: "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain. Suffering is His megaphone to arouse a dead world." God certainly got Israel's attention through their sufferings. What is God's message to us about pain?

A. If there is no escape from suffering, God promises His sustaining grace

 He watches over us today just as He looked upon Israel in Egypt. This fact should remind the suffering one that he does not have to walk alone. God reassures us of His presence. Isaiah 43:1-2 reads: "Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee." In His love and grace God stays with every pilgrim so he can cope with his difficulties and triumph over them.

B. In God's permissive will, He may allow suffering so the one who suffers may fulfill a purpose which no one else can fill

Suffering becomes a valley for soul-making. Moses' family and many others discovered that character forms during the agony process.

Some of the world's greatest literature has come into existence as a result of a writer going through the crucible of pain. Poet John Milton lost his eyesight. Robert Louis Stevenson lived in a body wracked with pain. Scientist Louis Pasteur suffered a stroke in his mid-forties. Paul endured "a thorn in the flesh" which refused to go away. In his blindness and soul agony, George Matheson wrote a hymn that lives on. The first stanza is:

O Love that wilt not let me go,

I rest my weary soul in thee;

I give thee back the life I owe,

That in thine ocean depths its flow

May richer, fuller be.

C. God may allow suffering and even an early death because He is ready for His chosen one to begin life on a grander scale in His presence

Dr. Hoke Smith is remembered as a brilliant, beloved missionary. Concerning him, Theologian W. T. Conner said that as a student, Hoke Smith ranked among the best he had known in his 40 year professorship. As a young missionary, Smith taught Greek and New Testament at a Seminary in Cali, Columbia,  for eleven years. He accepted a new assignment in the southern half of the South American continent and fulfilled that task in a magnificent way. Hoke endeared himself to missionaries and churches wherever he visited, preached, and labored. The future seemed in front of him and his family, when "minor surgery" proved fatal.

D. God sometimes permits suffering in order to turn His people back to Him

Israel forgot God in Egypt. In the agony of her affliction, that nation looked up and pleaded with God for help. Through that bitter bondage God gave Israel a distaste for Egypt and a desire for another way of life. Don't you feel that God allows difficulties to happen so man will realize his need of Divine help and return to Him?

E. All suffering should be a fresh reminder that Jesus has already suffered for us and will give the redeemed a life without pain in the future

We cope with our trials through God's redemptive love in the cross. There really is no other way out!

The Scriptures are clear. "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by His Spirit" (I Peter 3:18). Jesus has suffered for our sins. He enters life's arena where we live. He knows about us and identifies with us. We may place upon Him our anxieties and burdens. We may trust Him for the relief of sin's penalty. What next? A new world! A life without pain. All broken limbs are to be healed. All twisted minds will be made whole. In God's new, reshaped cosmos, there will be no hospitals, no funeral parlors, no evil nor suffering. Let present privations cause us to reflect upon the glory of that brand new age, even while we struggle to help or eliminate the pain and anguish of crushed people all over planet earth.


Is there an adequate answer to evil and suffering now? Yes, but we can't grasp it. The Bible declares that "now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face" (I Corinthians 13:12). From the human viewpoint there are unknown factors about suffering. Pain keeps on being a puzzle. The experience remains a mystery. But even if man is not able to explain his hardships, he can experience by faith the Savior who is Lord over all unanswered questions. And since God knows the way down every perplexing pathway, isn't it wise to trust Him for ultimate victory over evil and suffering.

(This sermon is a chapter from a book by Dr. Preston A. Taylor. You can find his books at