To find out why God allows suffering, we need to think back to the time when suffering began. When Satan led Adam and Eve into disobeying Jehovah, an important question was raised. Satan did not call into question Jehovah’s power. Even Satan knows that there is no limit to Jehovah’s power. Rather, Satan questioned Jehovah’s right to rule. By calling God a liar who withholds good from his subjects, Satan charged that Jehovah is a bad ruler. (Genesis 3:2-5) Satan implied that mankind would be better off without God’s rulership. This was an attack on Jehovah’s sovereignty, his right to rule.
Adam and Eve rebelled against Jehovah. In effect, they said: ‘We do not need Jehovah as our Ruler. We can decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong.’ How could Jehovah settle that issue? How could he teach all intelligent creatures that the rebels were wrong and that his way truly is best? Someone might say that God should simply have destroyed the rebels and made a fresh start. But Jehovah had stated his purpose to fill the earth with the offspring of Adam and Eve, and he wanted them to live in an earthly paradise. (Genesis 1:28) Jehovah always fulfills his purposes. (Isaiah 55:10, 11) Besides that, getting rid of the rebels in Eden would not have answered the question that had been raised regarding Jehovah’s right to rule.
Let us consider an illustration. Imagine that a teacher is telling his students how to solve a difficult problem. A clever but rebellious student claims that the teacher’s way of solving the problem is wrong. Implying that the teacher is not capable, this rebel insists that he knows a much better way to solve the problem. Some students think that he is right, and they also become rebellious. What should the teacher do? If he throws the rebels out of the class, what will be the effect on the other students? Will they not believe that their fellow student and those who joined him are right? All the other students in the class might lose respect for the teacher, thinking that he is afraid of being proved wrong. But suppose that the teacher allows the rebel to show the class how he would solve the problem.
Jehovah has done something similar to what the teacher does. Remember that the rebels in Eden were not the only ones involved. Millions of angels were watching. (Job 38:7; Daniel 7:10) How Jehovah handled the rebellion would greatly affect all those angels and eventually all intelligent creation. So, what has Jehovah done? He has allowed Satan to show how he would rule mankind. God has also allowed humans to govern themselves under Satan’s guidance.
The teacher in our illustration knows that the rebel and the students on his side are wrong. But he also knows that allowing them the opportunity to try to prove their point will benefit the whole class. When the rebels fail, all honest students will see that the teacher is the only one qualified to lead the class. They will understand why the teacher thereafter removes any rebels from the class. Similarly, Jehovah knows that all honesthearted humans and angels will benefit from seeing that Satan and his fellow rebels have failed and that humans cannot govern themselves. Like Jeremiah of old, they will learn this vital truth: “I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.”—Jeremiah 10:23.
Why, though, has Jehovah allowed suffering to go on for so long? And why does he not prevent bad things from happening? Well, consider two things that the teacher in our illustration would not do. First, he would not stop the rebel student from presenting his case. Second, the teacher would not help the rebel to make his case. Similarly, consider two things that Jehovah has determined not to do. First, he has not stopped Satan and those who side with him from trying to prove that they are right. Allowing time to pass has thus been necessary. In the thousands of years of human history, mankind has been able to try every form of self-rule, or human government. Mankind has made some advances in science and other fields, but injustice, poverty, crime, and war have grown ever worse. Human rule has now been shown to be a failure.
Second, Jehovah has not helped Satan to rule this world. If God were to prevent horrible crimes, for instance, would he not, in effect, be supporting the case of the rebels? Would God not be making people think that perhaps humans can govern themselves without disastrous results? If Jehovah were to act in that way, he would become party to a lie. However, “it is impossible for God to lie.”—Hebrews 6:18.