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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!