This teacher’s copy of the Why is there suffering in the world? Lesson Plan is printer-friendly.
Optional: Internet to look up charities, but unfortunately there are many charities that pay their executives extremely high salaries, see:
 What Charity Should I Donate To? opens in a new tab.
For the better side of charities see the lower half of this article:
 What Charities Can I Donate To? opens in a new tab.
We all live in a world that experiences pain and suffering.
We can’t wake up and say, “From now on I am never going to feel any pain, nor am I going to suffer anymore!”
That’s impossible. It is part of our lives, whether we like it or not.
The Bible tells us that right back at the beginning of the world, God made everything perfect.
There was no suffering, no pain, no tears and no death.
But because the human race disobeyed God, that opened the door to all kinds of sin and bad things, which also included pain, suffering and death.
(Teacher’s note: There is a great danger in looking at these examples that we see
every situation the same way. What is being said here is that it could be for this reason and not that it is because of this reason.)
We will be looking at this subject of suffering now.
There are many reasons why people suffer in this world, but here are eight for us to look at:
1) Suffering caused by natural disasters:
Q. Can you think of an example of this?
Natural disasters can happen and many people can get injured and killed by an earthquake, hurricanes, or tsunamis.
- The reason behind it: Perhaps their village was in an area where there was a fault line in the earth’s crust.
The forces of nature are powerful and they can damage or destroy things, especially where people are poor and have weak houses.
We live in a world that is not perfect and sometimes these sort of things happen.
2) Sickness and disease cause much suffering
Even a common cold can be miserable for us. Cancer and other medical problems can dramatically shorten lives and cause pain.
- The reason behind it: Bad viruses, bacteria and other diseases are in this world and scientists keep trying to find a cure for them.
Christians believe that these bad things came into the world because humankind rebelled against God, right back at the beginning. This story of Adam and Eve disobeying God is found in Genesis 3.
3) The actions of one or more people, cause others to suffer:
Q. Can you think of an example of this?
a) A young person beats up an elderly person to get their money.
- The reason behind it: The young man is greedy and doesn’t care how much he hurts someone to get what he wants.
The elderly person has to suffer pain from the injuries because of the young person’s greed, anger and sin.
b) One country attacks another.
- The reason behind it is: A leader of a nation is greedy and aggressive. They don’t care how much suffering they cause, just to get their own way.
Q. Do you know of any situations where a nation has attacked another country?
c) Thousands of people are starving and dying in at least one country in Africa.
- The reason behind it: The greed and pride of various African leaders who store up riches for themselves, rather than helping the country’s inhabitants.
The leaders can’t be bothered to rule the land correctly so the police operate on bribes and injustice thrives. People are not trained to look after the land and food crops are poor.
The residents of that country have to suffer from starvation because of the sin of their leaders.
4) Suffering caused by one’s own irresponsibility:
Q. Can you think of an example of suffering because we have been
a) Situation: Ignoring safety rules:
A boy is larking around on a push-bike, but he crashes straight into the parked car and brakes his arm.
- The reason behind it: He was not behaving responsibly, therefore he had to suffer the painful consequences.
b) Situation: Ignoring nature’s rules:
A child is wasting away, losing weight and getting very ill.
- The reason behind it: The child refuses to eat sensible meals, only cake.
c) Situation: Ignoring God:
Various things keep going wrong.
- The reason behind it: Christians believe that the Bible tells us that God disciplines those who believe in Him.
In other words, God, the Heavenly Father, disciplines His children.
A parent may ‘ground’ you for several days because you have done something wrong.
Your parent disciplines you to help correct your bad attitude or actions.
In a similar way, the Bible tells us that God uses situations to discipline and correct people.
All those things that kept going wrong for that person were because they weren’t behaving correctly, so God as their Heavenly Father disciplined them.
The Apostle Paul said:
For God sometimes uses sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek eternal life. We should never regret His sending it.”2 Corinthians 7:10 (The Living Bible)
5) Suffering caused by accidents:
Sometimes accidents happen even when no one has done anything wrong and no one has acted irresponsibly.
A mechanical part breaks on the car whilst driving along.
The car skids into a wall and one of the passengers gets hurt.
- The reason behind it: The mechanical part was getting old and was wearing out. It just suddenly broke.
We live in a world that is not perfect and occasionally these sort of things happen.
6) Suffering due to helping other people:
Q. Can you think of an example of this?
A little girl falls into the river and a man nearby, who is a good, strong swimmer, jumps in to save her.
He has to suffer being cold and wet for several hours until he gets home.
- The reason behind it: He helped the little girl.
At times the Police, Fire and Ambulance crews can suffer injuries whilst helping people.
7) Someone suffers because they are a Christian:
Jesus told His followers that they would suffer, and for no other reason than they wanted to follow Him.
But instead of causing them misery, this would give them inner joy in serving Him.
Jesus said to them:
Happy * are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”Matthew 5:11-12 NIV
(Teachers note: * ‘Happy’ = The word used here in the NIV is ‘Blessed’ which actually means happy.)
Q. What does persecution mean?
To persecute someone is to be hostile towards them, especially in relation to their faith.
Q. Why should suffering as a Christian give joy?
They could look to their reward from God.
The prophets who were good men and who did what God wanted them to do, could not avoid suffering, they still got persecuted.
The Apostle Peter said:
Be happy if you are cursed and insulted for being a Christian,1 Peter 4:14-16 (The Living Bible)
for when that happens the Spirit of God will come upon you with great glory.
Don’t let me hear of your suffering for murdering or stealing
or making trouble or being a busybody and prying into other people’s affairs.
But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian.
Praise God for the privilege of being in Christ’s family
and being called by his wonderful name!”
8) Suffering caused by training and effort:
Q. Can you think of how training and effort cause pain?
Someone goes to an army training camp.
They endure assault courses and their body suffers because of the long marches and physical training.
The army trains the soldiers to become excellent, fit soldiers, but it does cause them to suffer for it at the time.
But once the soldiers have passed through their time of training, they can look back with appreciation at the experience.
Having looked at seven areas why people suffer, the question to ask is:
Q. What do we do when we see suffering going on?
We shouldn’t try to guess why this person is suffering.
We should help them.
There are many hundreds of charities which help other people who are suffering:
- Concern Worldwide (UK) opens in a new tab.
This charity is an international humanitarian organisation specialising in tackling hunger in the world’s poorest countries.
- Trinity Homeless Projects opens in a new tab.
Hostels providing housing for homeless residents, vocational and skills training, work experience, etc.
- Watoto Child Care Ministries opens in a new tab.
This charity provides holistic care for orphaned children and vulnerable women in Africa.
- Charity Global UK Ltd opens in a new tab.
100% of publicly raised funds bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries.
We can give money to these charities to help them in their work.
Anyone who has been through suffering is more likely to be able to help others who are suffering.
Q. Why is that?
To feel something is to go through the experience of it.
But you can’t learn so much about it by just being told about it.
Either take a short time to discuss these questions, or leave it with them.
Teachers note: There are 2 worksheets to accompany this lesson plan:
Why is there suffering in the World Worksheet 1
Why is there suffering in the World Worksheet 2
See also: Why is there suffering in the World? RE resources