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Why Does God Allow Suffering?

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One of the toughest problems in the study of both philosophy and theology is the so-called ‘problem of evil’ (also referred to as the theodicy problem). The problem can be formulated in a variety of ways, but is normally considered in terms of a specific question: If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why is there so much suffering in the world?

In this article I would like to focus on what I believe are the key issues related to this question, and I will offer my suggestions for why I believe suffering exists.

Rephrasing the Question

Those of you who are familiar with my theological perspective will know that I have a very high view of the sovereignty of God. I believe that God is by nature omnipresent and omnipotent, and that it logically follows from these attributes that God is in control of all events in existence. I take God’s omnipresence to be literal – His being is boundless which means that all of creation exists within God and is an expression of God. His control over all events necessarily follows from this.

Taking these thoughts into consideration, I believe we need to rephrase the question that is the title of this post. Instead of asking why God allows suffering, it would make more sense to ask: Why does God make us suffer?

Important Considerations

I believe that in order to understand why God makes us suffer, we need to consider a few things about the nature of God and the nature of existence. I agree with many theologians who have, after deeply considering who and what God is, deduced that He holds the attributes of omnipotence and eternality. The fact that God is both all-powerful and eternally existing begs the question of what God is going to do with all this time and all this power. What would you do?

In my article entitled God’s Grand Game I explained how I believe God’s pastime is to create wonderful complex storylines for the creatures He has created. I believe that the unfolding of such stories over thousands of years gives God pleasure; perhaps a sense of anticipation, excitement, and focus.

Does God Suffer?

In another article I argued that God might experience a certain kind of hell – that the restrictions of being unable to ever ‘switch off’ from existence, and also the matter of being alone for all eternity, might be a form of terrible suffering that God has to endure. I speculated that the reason why God makes His creatures suffer might be in order to give them a taste of His own suffering.

On the other hand, it’s perfectly possible that God doesn’t suffer at all. Those who seek union with God through meditation and other spiritual disciplines often report experiencing a wonderful bliss in the deeper stages of their practice, and I myself have experienced something like this when I have been immersed in deep meditation. This leads me to wonder whether God’s essence is perfect bliss, and that He might be perfectly at peace in Himself, regardless of the ‘limitations’ on His being that I discussed above.

The Most Probable Reason for Suffering

If God doesn’t make us suffer to give us a taste of His own suffering, then we must look for alternative explanations for why He makes us suffer. The argument that I find most compelling is that God always brings good out of evil.

It can be hard for us to understand why God might inflict rape, murder, torture, and other such horrors on His created subjects. I have myself experienced some intense episodes of suffering in my life, and have often questioned why God put me through them. But the evidence from my own life, and from countless other testimonies, is that our suffering is always under control, and limited. While God might make us suffer for a time, He always releases us from that suffering, whether it be through healing, a turn of events, or release in the form of death.

While the nature of the afterlife is of course mysterious to me, I have a hope that those who have suffered terribly in this life will encounter marvellous rewards in the next life – perhaps even a peace and joy that will totally eclipse the pain of any earthly suffering.

Conclusion

The whole of existence can be seen as a grand performance or play directed by God as a way of expressing and exploring the infinite possibilities that exist within His nature. The ability to inflict suffering seems to be an aspect of God’s power that He likes to express, and I believe we should trust in His wisdom and that He has good reasons for making us suffer.

The evidence seems to me to suggest that while people often suffer terribly, God is ultimately merciful and chooses to limit our suffering to what is necessary for His purposes and plans. My hope is that all who suffer will receive recompense for their hardship through the experience of an enduring joy and a peace that far outweighs their troubles.


For more on the problem of suffering and an exposition of the spiritual journey that led me to these conclusions, I invite you to check out my book entitled The Philosophy of a Mad Man. The book is available with free worldwide delivery, and you can find out more about it here. Thank you for reading!

24 comments

  1. You wrote that ‘God brings good out of evil’ as the best explanation of suffering. Does this mean that he is using evil as a means for good? If so, this justifies any abhorrent act as long as the result is good. For example, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima would be justified since it brought about a good end result. To quote Mackie: ‘if God has to introduce evil as a means to good, he must be subject to at least some causal laws. This certainly conflicts with what a theist normally means by omnipotence…the suggestion that evil is necessary as a means to good solves the problem of evil only by denying one of its constituent propositions, either that God is omnipotent or that ‘omnipotent’ means what it says.’

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Matthew,

      Thank you for stopping by and reading one of my posts. Much appreciated!

      To quote Mackie: ‘if God has to introduce evil as a means to good, he must be subject to at least some causal laws.

      I don’t agree with this at all. I don’t believe God has to do anything, and I don’t believe He is subject to causal laws. In my opinion, evil isn’t a necessary means for good, it’s just that God often chooses to give people difficult experiences as a way of growing their personalities and experience and character. Also, terrible suffering may make a lot more sense when viewed in the light of the bigger picture of eternity.

      In terms of Hiroshima, I would just refer you to what I said in the post, that I believe it’s possible that those who suffer terribly are rewarded or gifted with great joy and peace, perhaps in the afterlife. I don’t know for sure that God does this in every instance (I believe God can do anything He chooses) but that way of looking at things makes sense to me.

      Best wishes,

      Steven

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Steven,
        I see the reasoning behind this, yet if God does exist and does actively choose to permit suffering in order for people to ‘grow’ as a person, then surely this makes God teleological and fundamentally justifying the means with the ends. This would mean that any act which brings about a desirable end is justified, regardless of how it is attained-an intuitively abhorrent act is permissible because of the result.
        It seems to me that the problem of evil is the greatest problem for theists (Hume called it the ‘rock of atheism’), and furthermore it seems only possible that one must concede God’s omnipotence, or omnibenevolence, or his existence altogether.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Matthew!

          You’re right to say the problem of evil is a difficult one for many theists. But having given the matter a great deal of consideration I have arrived at an understanding that means I no longer struggle with the problem in the way that Christians often do.

          I have never argued for God’s omnibenevolence as it’s clear to me that God is in control of all activity in existence, both those things that human beings describe as ‘good’ and those things that human beings describe as ‘evil’.

          You have said several times, in your comments, that I am arguing that suffering is ‘justified’ by the good God brings out of it. However, I don’t feel human beings are in a position to argue whether God is right or wrong in His actions – it is not our place to determine whether God is just or unjust. As I said previously, God’s omnipotence means He can do whatever He pleases; He doesn’t need to be justified by the opinions of humans.

          But it does seem to me that God takes great care in unfolding intricate plans for our lives – plans that do often involve suffering. My hope is that He knows what He is doing (being omnipotent and omniscient), and that our suffering will make sense in light of God’s bigger plans. I cannot be sure, because God also has the power to make people suffer agony for all eternity, but the evidence to me suggests He is much more merciful.

          Thanks again for the discussion, Matthew, I appreciate your depth of thought.

          Steven

          Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m confident death is a peaceful end to all suffering. What you’ve written here is an interesting philosophical debate.

    I believe that suffering serves no higher purpose and is experienced by us all at some point. Pain on the other hand is an indicator of illness. Suffering has been created by man as a means for control over other men. When we understand that suffering is a choice, we take back control, and others are powerless in their attempts to keep us down.

    The flip side of this, is the human will to take control over others, with suffering. Suffering teaches guilt. It’s the “I am suffering you must help me” angle. People whose suffering gives them a sense of power will ultimately reject any solution. They will definitively not thank you for telling them suffering is their choice.

    I once knew a man whose wife died an untimely death. He did nothing other than suffer in his grief. When I told him about choice he shouted: “Oh and I chose for my wife to die!” I replied no but you’re choosing to maintain your suffering.

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts Thank You.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Andrew!

      Thank you for a very interesting and thoughtful comment.

      Reading between the lines, I have a feeling that you don’t believe in a personal God (or are perhaps agnostic?). If so, that would help me to understand your belief that we are responsible for our own suffering.

      I personally feel suffering is in the hands of God, rather than our personal control. But reading your comment reminded me of a post I wrote following a really interesting conversation with my friend Gregg on the subject ‘Is it possible to be at peace in suffering?’. If you’re at all interested, you can read the post here.

      Whether you read the linked post or not, I’m very grateful for your visit and your thoughts.

      Best wishes,

      Steven

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I believe there is a God but not one that has the kind of consciousness we could ever possibly conceive of.

        Had a look at the linked piece thank you. I always exercise caution with intellectualization of subjects. It can run you around in circles without ever finding certainty of mind.

        Having said this, perhaps it’s time to put my thoughts down relating to God.

        All the best my friend. א

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Andrew,

          Thanks for this, and also for checking out the post I linked to. I can understand your feelings about intellectualisation of subjects, I always try to keep my writing down to Earth and as jargon-free as possible. Perhaps I fail sometimes!

          I would love to read your thoughts relating to God. If you do write a post on the subject, I hope to read it.

          Enjoy the rest of your weekend and very best wishes to you!

          Steven

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Thought provoking. I’ve been asked this question before and my thoughts centered around that that particular soul needing to experience something here on earth in order to ascend to the next spiritual level. Now you’ve given me a different perspective.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi there! Thanks so much for following back and taking the time to read this post, and leave a comment.

      I used to be really into new age spirituality and I’ve heard the same thing said (about souls ascending to another level). Unfortunately, I’ve found a lot of the new age theories and practices to be unsettling and confusing, so for my peace of mind I avoid getting too caught up with them these days. It’s enough for me having a personal relationship with God through prayer 🙂 I appreciate that everyone is different though! Blessings upon you 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Amen! For “all things” work together for the good of those who love Him. And “all things” include sufferings too!

    3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
    4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
    5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Steven,
    I appreciate what you wrote. I, too, am a believer that suffering is allowed, is necessary for whatever God’s plan is at that moment. Our human brains can’t comprehend His plan. We see things through a tiny peep hole, but if we could just step back and see all that He sees, we would be amazed and ashamed for having questioned Him. I have never dealt with real pain and suffering until last September when I lost my 21 month old son to a tragic accident. I questioned Him, yelled at Him, blamed myself and Him, and so on and so on. But I quickly realized through my Faith and Trust in Him, that if He allowed my son to be taken from this temporary home we are living in, then it must have been necessary for him to be taken to heaven earlier than I planned. I will always have this agonizing pain from the absence of my baby boy, but God is good. He brings good to those that mourn and are faithful. I have never hit my knees harder, seek him harder, or prayed as hard as I have done in the last 10 months. Thank you for your blog. May God bless you always.

    Lisa

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lisa!

      Many thanks for your comment, and for sharing about the tragedy you experienced. I’m sorry you experienced the loss of your son at such a young age, I can only imagine how deeply traumatic that must have been.

      My personal view (as someone who is also acquainted with tragedy and suffering) is that everything that happens serves a purpose in God’s grand plan. As you suggest, there is certainly a mysterious element to life and I think it’s certainly possible things will make a lot more sense in the future, perhaps after death.

      I hope you have supportive people around you who can help you to grieve and deal with your loss. I know that psychotherapy was a wonderful support to me after my mother passed away, and helped me in many ways.

      God bless you and thanks again.

      Steven

      Like

  6. I found this conversation interesting. I personally am not in the same camp. I consider that as humans we have been granted the freedom of choice and that freedom has caused much pain in the world. It we do not have that freedom we are in the camp of Presbyterian predestination. As Shakespeare says we are but players in a drama or puppets on a stage.God’s choice to allow his creatures to make decisions that may deviate from a good path. I do consider that I am responsible for the choices I make.

    As you said, this question has been debated for centuries and we each have to come to our own conclusions. Your article creates an opportunity for discussion. Thank you

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi there! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts 🙂

      It we do not have that freedom we are in the camp of Presbyterian predestination.

      I would just point out that the absence of free will, in my opinion, is due to God’s active controlling of all events in the present moment, which is quite different to predestination.

      Peace and blessings,

      Steven

      Like

      1. I see what you are saying. I still consider that I have free will and the choice is mine not God deciding to interfere at that moment. If every event is God’s decision then we are responsible for nothing. It absolves us totally. I can’t accept that.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I respect your position and we can agree to disagree. To say God is in control of all events raises serious issues in terms of the Christian worldview, of course. For an in depth look at these issues you’re welcome to download my essay entitled ‘An Almighty Predicament’ which is at the top of the Essays page. Of course if you’d rather not, that’s fine! Thanks again 😊

          Like

          1. I did read your essay. I enjoyed reading. Like Jewish scholars I am a fan of midrash and love dissecting passages of scripture with a group with differing opinions and ideas. You and I are in differing camps but I enjoy your thoughts. Some people reading your thoughts (without perspective) might decide that they can do anything they want without any responsibility. “God made me do it.” Since I have lived 77 years and seen so many instances where people are unwilling or unable to feel responsible for their actions and uncaring about the results I am concerned about us placing the blame with God. Do you absolve us of all responsibility?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my essay, I really appreciate that!

              I have addressed the problem of responsibility both on this blog and in my books. Here, for example, is a paragraph from a recent post entitled On Good and Evil:

              It is true that along with the illusion of free will we have the illusion of decision-making and responsibility. We seem to live in societies, and we seem to be affected by the actions of others. There is nothing wrong, then, in creating laws that protect people’s wellbeing. In the absence of objective morality, this is a difficult, subjective process. It might involve prayer (that God guides us towards right action), and laws that aim to achieve the greatest happiness for everyone.

              My personal opinion is that we need to look at what is the truth about God first, and deduce a response from the truth, rather than imagining what we would like God to be and building our perspective in relation to free will and responsibility on that. It may be uncomfortable for many people to admit God is in control of all, but I firmly believe it is the truth and should be embraced as such, even if it’s uncomfortable.

              Best wishes,

              Steven

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  7. Thanks Steven. It is an interesting take and worth thinking about. It takes the belief that God is omnipotent to its ultimate conclusion. It is also something that could be taken by the masses to excuse evil. Something that (as our founding fathers thought about their ideas) should not be exposed to less intellectual minds. Thanks for the fun discussion. Siuzanne PS I tend to write to the middle ground as my experience has taught me that my thoughts could damage other’s beliefs and I consider my audience.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi Steven!
        Thanks for your blog which reveals your firm faith in God. I like this phrase “I have a hope that those who have suffered terribly in this life will encounter marvellous rewards in the next life – perhaps even a peace and joy that will totally eclipse the pain of any earthly suffering.” Jesus says in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” For us to have an everlasting peace and joy after this life, the Word of God provides only one way, John 14:6 “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
        Just sharing 🙂

        Be blessed!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Rhodenia!

          Many thanks for your comment. Having been a committed Christian in the past, and having read the Bible several times and pondered the deep questions of theology, I very much understand where you’re coming from, and the urge that you have to defend Jesus Christ as the only way to peace.

          However, my studies of the Christian faith and of all the big questions at the heart of philosophy and theology have opened my eyes to some significant problems with the Christian worldview. If you’re interested to read about these problems I invite you to read my essay entitled ‘An Almighty Predicament: A Discourse on the Arguments For and Against Christianity’, which you can download as a free PDF from my Essays page.

          Essentially, I believe God is in control of everything that happens, and therefore we don’t have free will. If you consider that Christians pray for God to bless their lives in various ways, it’s obvious that on some level they know God is in control, but this contradicts the Christian belief in free will. That’s just a very brief summary, the essay makes the problem a lot more obvious, so I hope you’ll read it 🙂

          In any case, I wish you all the best on your spiritual journey!

          Blessings,

          Steven

          Like

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