Two contributors present brief
essays in response to some perennial questions. Each writes
independently of the other. One comes from a person closely linked to a
Christian denomination. The other comes from a person at the fringes of
the traditional Church.
1. Why does God allow suffering?
Once upon a time an angry young man hurried
up to Jesus and said, "Listen here! You go around preaching that God
loves us all. But if that's true, why does God allow people to suffer."
Jesus replied, "We know from our forefathers that God made the world.
God doesn't make bad things. Have I got it right?"
"Yes," said the young man.
"Well," continued Jesus, "our forefathers also observed that
suffering isn't compatible with a loving God"
"That's what I'm saying," said the youth in an irritable tone. "Get
to the point!"
"Hang on!" said Jesus. "I'm getting there!" He took a copy of the
Scriptures and turned to the Book of Genesis.
"Everyone knows that Adam and Eve rebelled against God," he
continued. "The tale makes the point that everyone, innocents and wicked
alike, are being punished for that rebellion."
"Well!" said the young man. " If that's the case, then God's not a
very nice person."
"I take your point," responded Jesus. "But I tell you truly that one
day we'll find out how God made living things. We'll realise that the
story of the Fall was intended to make us feel better about God's
creation. We can, as it were, blame it on the snake."
The young man smiled. "You're making sense at last!" he said. "What
you're implying is that we've got to start with the world as it is, as
God actually made it."
"That's right!" exclaimed Jesus. "I tell you truly that God
deliberately made our world the way it is. So there's no point in asking
why God allows suffering. The only question is what we are to do in and
with this wonderful world. We're part of nature. We have to work out how
to make the best of it, including the suffering which comes to all of us
in illness and old age - not to mention the trials and tribulations of
surviving from day-to-day. That just the way it is! God is good and
knows best. Our task is to trust in God."
The young man looked sceptical. "I suppose I can swallow that," he
said. "But you've deliberately missed out the most important part."
"Oh! Have I?" replied Jesus. "Tell me more."
"Yes. You've missed out all the suffering human beings bring through
greed or lust for power or plain ill-will."
"I have indeed," replied Jesus, looking grave. "But you can't blame
that on God. Surely we make that kind of suffering ourselves. God
plainly allows us a degree of choice. So if we won't love each other, we
have to bear the negative results, don�t we?"
"I suppose so," said the young man. He looked faintly disappointed.
"If you think carefully," said Jesus, "you'll discover that I'm
right. Now go and try your best to love others!"
The young man went away, somewhat put out, for he was a stubborn and
Most if not all people suffer at one time or
other. The degree of suffering may range from trivial to cataclysmic.
Toleration for suffering depends on the capacity, either constitutive or
acquired, of the individual to endure pain.
In order to better understand suffering it is appropriate to attempt
to define and analyze its nature. Suffering is not a single entity or
faculty that can be easily excised from the human psyche or experience.
It is a complex state of mind that derives from at least three factors.
First, it all begins with a conscious human being.
Second, there is a source of pain, either psychic or physical, that
impinges on the conscious person who is then aware of the personal focus
of that pain.
Third, the pain continues over a relatively prolonged time, requiring
The presence of suffering in the world has often been cited as
evidence against a loving and caring creator. How can anyone allow a
loved one to suffer? Even mere human beings are generally adverse to
causing suffering and history is full of examples of efforts to
Of course, history is equally rife with suffering deliberately
perpetrated by human against human. But how can a benevolent creator be
so callus as to allow suffering in the first place?
If one believes, as I do, that the material universe is the creation
of God and that that creation is perfect, suffering becomes more
understandable. In the context of this creation, all material reality
adheres to universal laws instigated by God. God gave us our bodies that
follow these established principles.
The greatest human gift of creation is that of consciousness. It
distinguishes us from all other animate beings and enables human
dominion over the material world. In order for humankind to be relieved
of suffering, we would have to relinquish our consciousness. If
consciousness were taken from us, we would be reduced to the state of
insentient animals and life would cease to have significance or
Potential sources of pain would remain in abundance but if no
consciousness existed to give that pain a personal reference there could
be no suffering.
Thus, I see no way to avoid suffering. The capacity for suffering is
inherent in our being conscious human beings. A creator, having finished
his work, does not dabble with it continuously. He does not change his
creation just to respond to complaints, either trivial or profound.
Although the physical world cannot be changed in its essential
nature, I think it is possible for God to intervene in suffering by
speaking to the hearts of men and women. God can inspire these earthly
agents to effect change using the tools of the material world available
Though no one wants to suffer, there are positive effects as iterated
by the Paul in his Letter to the Romans, Chapter 5: "... we rejoice in
our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance
produces character, and character produces hope ..."