Why Does God Allow Suffering? / Spiritual Meditations

In our confusion this question is frequently formed in our minds, if not on our lips, in these crippling times.  Religious commentator, Father Jonathan Morris offers the following brief, but complete, answer in his book The Way of Serenity.

Praying deeply for serenity to except the things I cannot change is nearly impossible if at some level I am still blaming God for not changing these things for me. The temptation to just trust, blame, or resent God’s ways is wholly human. If I were God, I would do things differently. I think I would eliminate hunger, and floods, and earthquakes. I would have thought twice before creating some people who have made so many others suffer. Certainly, mosquitoes would disappear without anybody really missing them. I would change a few things about myself too, airbrushing out a few needless moral and physical blemishes.

Most of us have a good idea about how the world could be made into a better place. So why doesn’t God do it? How to improve things seems so very clear to us. Doesn’t He get it? Doesn’t he care as much as we do about little children who suffer? About poor people who go to bed hungry at night? About people with no jobs?

I have to believe that He does care. In fact, I believe that He cares much, much more than I do. At the same time, He cares so much about us that He is willing to allow our free will to have real consequences. We live in a fallen world because our first parents rejected God and His order for creation in the garden of Eden. They wanted it their way, and God respected their wish. We want it our way, and God respects that too.

Imagine, on the contrary, if every time we try to do evil, God were to intervene and protect us and others from all harm. Would we be glorified robots?

Free will exercised without consequences is fiction.

God was willing to risk the presence of all the evil in this world for the chance of entering into a relationship of love with us. For God, every act of human love is that precious.

God‘s love for us goes even further. Although we have sinned and chosen to do things our way, God makes a promise to us that out of every instance of suffering and sin in this world, He will bring out of it a good even greater than the good that has been lost and that we now mourn. We see the fulfillment of this promise most perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ, who gave up his life so that we might live with him forever in eternity, and where every tear will be wiped away.

For this reason, we can have confidence that God knows what He is doing. If He doesn’t do things my way, I am the one with poor, shortsighted vision, not Him. Someday we will all find out how everything had a purpose and came together in a wonderful symphony of God‘s goodness. Some people would call this a pie-in-the-sky optimism, or a Pollyanna-ish, fairytale faith. I don’t think that’s what it is. My confidence that God knows what He is doing, is not only from the history of Gods dealings with His people, as we read in the Bible, but also from my own experience with God‘s goodness in my life.

When we don’t understand why things are going the way they are, there is good reason to give God the benefit of the doubt.

There are many mysteries in life, and there is perhaps none as troubling as the mystery of evil. In his last published book before his death, Memory and Identity, Pope John Paul II devoted the first six chapters to what he called the Mysterium iniquitatis – The Mystery of Evil. It [evil] has been a stumbling block for philosophers and common people alike since the beginning of time. It is so hard to understand how a God who is all good and all powerful allows bad things to happen in the world. Some of it can be explained as simply Gods respect for human freedom (since much suffering results from people’s bad choices), but much of it cannot be explained this way. What about earthquakes and floods? Little children with horrible birth defects? Terrible diseases and calamities?

There can be only one satisfying explanation for all this. Somehow God must be able to turn evil on its head and bring good out of it. Somehow God must be able to take even the most horrible of tragedies and bring them to a happy ending. In John Paul’s book, what begins as a philosophical study of evil incarnate in history, merges into a broader theological reflection on the roots of evil itself and the victory of redemption. In the mind of this pope, evil has never been total or absolute. It is always, he says, circumscribed by good. “If redemption marks the divine limit placed upon evil,“ he writes, “it is for this reason only: because thereby evil is radically overcome by good, hate by love, death by resurrection.“ Saint Augustine had a great way of expressing this too: “for God judged it better to bring good out of evil then not to permit any evil to exist.“

I often think that this is the great revelation of Good Friday. This yearly commemoration marks the greatest evil in human history: the day we put God to death. It signifies humanity’s rejection of love, purity, innocence, and goodness when we strung up God and nailed Him to a wooden cross. And yet, from the pinnacle of human evil God wrought the greatest good: our redemption. As Joseph Ratzinger once wrote, “In the abyss of human failure is revealed the still more inexhaustible abyss of divine love.” God took evil and exploded it from within, turning it’s venom to nectar and it’s sting into a healing balm.

If God is able to bring forth this immense good from the evil of Good Friday, He can surely turn all the lesser evils of our lives into surprise packages of unexpected grace.

Prayer

Jesus, I don’t know why certain things have happened to me or why people who I love have to suffer so much, but today I reaffirm my faith that you do know why. Lord, I promise to move forward with the assurance that you will bring forth a greater good out of every instance of evil and suffering in my life and in this world. I love you, Jesus.

Relevant Scripture

 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!”  So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying,  ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.  So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Gen 50:15-21)

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