Why is there suffering in the world and why does God allow it?
It’s a big question and much has been written on it over hundreds of years and from many different angles. What makes it even more complex is how can an almighty, all-loving and wise God allow suffering? There are no easy answers and, although there have been many different ways to respond to this issue, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it takes the pain out of suffering. However, understanding a bit more about suffering can often make suffering more bearable. Being a person of faith means not shying away from or giving up on the difficult questions but being patient in the face of them and having faith that there is an answer even if we don’t have it straight away.
While God does allow suffering, it doesn’t mean that God maliciously wants us to suffer…
First and foremost, we need to make one thing absolutely clear: while God does allow suffering, it doesn’t mean that God maliciously wants us to suffer or doesn’t care about it or can’t do anything about it. In fact, God is utterly opposed to all that is evil in the world and God’s power is shown not only in being able to prevent and stop evil but also (and even more so) in bringing good out of bad situations. The greatest example of this is seen in the Resurrection of God’s Son despite being put to death on the cross and buried. Even though Jesus was dead and buried, He rose into life from the dead. This is the great hope that the Resurrection gives us: that even though at times evil, sin and death seem to have the upper hand, God always wins out and so we can always believe in the ultimate triumph of life, love and goodness over evil.
God has given each of us the freedom to choose right and wrong
Sometimes suffering comes to us from what can be called natural causes such as natural disasters, sicknesses and accidents. Other times it comes through the immoral actions of others. Whichever way suffering comes, God does not directly wish that suffering upon us. Suffering in the latter type only happens because God has given each of us the freedom to choose right and wrong. God has only given us this freedom so that we can choose what is right, truly loving and just and that’s how God wants us to use the freedom given to us. However, sometimes that same freedom is used to do what is wrong, hateful and unjust.
God only allows it if some greater good or benefit can come through it.
In whatever way that suffering comes to us, God only allows it if some greater good or benefit can come through it. A simple example is that personal growth can come out of suffering. This can be illustrated in the story of a farmer’s donkey that fell down into a well. The farmer tried to figure out what to do but he decided the donkey was old and the well needed to be covered up anyway. He invited all his neighbors to come over and they began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. A few shovel loads later, the farmer looked down the well. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey did something amazing. He shook it off and took a step. The moral of the story is that the trick is to shake off the dirt that comes through life and to take a step up using our troubles as steppingstones.
Even in the midst of great evil, God’s goodness can still break through and shine out from there.
Sometimes suffering can also lead people to rise above it and do great and remarkable things. St John Bosco grew up with an older brother who could be quite mean, unkind and difficult to live with. However, in many ways this helped inspire John Bosco later in life in founding a religious order that was dedicated to not only to helping the young but particularly through loving-kindness which he didn’t receive much as a young boy. Even in the darkness and evil of the Nazi concentration camps, there were the heroic acts of goodness of people such as St Maximilian Kolbe, Bl Titus Brandsma and many others. Even in the midst of great evil, God’s goodness can still break through and shine out from there.
Suffering is not meaningless and there can be value in suffering.
Finally, from a Christian perspective, suffering is not meaningless and (from more of a Catholic perspective) there can be value in suffering. Still, understanding this doesn’t necessarily take away the painful experience of suffering but it can remind us that suffering is not pointless and help us to find purpose and dignity when faced with suffering. Struggling is a part of suffering and, while we can’t fully understand why or how an all-powerful, all-loving and all-wise God can allow suffering, we can see some reason, purpose and meaning in suffering and so, while suffering is difficult, it can be meaningful.