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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!

8 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.’

    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

      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.

        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

  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.

    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

      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

        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

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