Why does God allow evil and suffering?
This is the most difficult question we face. While all of the Christian Faith, as a whole, contain the answers this question, there are some specific things that can help us.
First, as in all mysteries, it is important to know that God can and does have reasons for what He does and what He doesn’t do, which we don’t know or can’t understand with our limited intellects.
But what do we know? What has God revealed? We can learn a great deal from the very reason God created us – the very purpose of our existence.
The reason and purpose of our creation must allow for the possibility of evil and suffering. God created us to love God and love each other. I am not talking about the emotions that come from love or attraction. Love is a choice. It must be done freely. To force someone to love someone else takes the very meaning out of love. Love is an act of the will, to choose the good for someone else over yourself. Evil is the result of mankind choosing to push God away. When we push God away, evil is left in His place.
When a husband sees a mess made by his two young children, he can choose to pick up the mess before his wife sees it. This not only spares her the task of doing it herself, but also spares her the reminder of how frustrating it is to keep the house in order with two young children. The husband would rather have done something else. He does not enjoy picking up messes. He was not moved by a welling of emotion toward his wife which caused him to pick up the mess. He CHOSE to love his wife, freely.
God made us to love Him and each other. God gave us freewill so we could do this. When we choose against God – against love – we choose a moral evil, which leads to suffering. The ability to do the very thing that brings us the joy we were created for, leaves open the possibility for the suffering that comes from moral evil. This suffering is the wounding or severing of our relationship with God and sometimes others. However, there is also something called physical evil.
Physical evil consists of the things in the world that cause us harm or prevent us from reaching our perfection. Natural disasters, accidents, weaknesses, sickness or physical deformities and injures are all physical evils. Physical evil is in the world because of the sin of Adam and the collective sin of us all, but it is not always directly caused by someones personal sin or moral evil (for example, a car crash (physical evil) can be the result of a deer jumped out in front of a car – no moral evil, or a car crash can be the result of the driver choosing to drive much too fast – moral evil).
An amazing mystery of God’s omnipotence is His ability to maintain total control of the universe despite our freewill. Through His Divine Providence God does not allow any evil to happen that does not ultimately contribute to man’s greater good. St. Augustine explained that God, “because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if He were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.”
There is a second part to why God made us. God made us to live happy with Him in Heaven forever… if we choose to do so. Amidst the greatest sufferings this world has, we must always remember that this life will end for everyone. We all will die. However, DEATH IS NOT THE END. We were made for Heaven. What God has for us in Heaven far out ways any suffering we could experience on earth.
St. Paul was well aware of this. He suffered many physical evils while he served God. In 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 St Paul wrote:
“Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
In spite of all this, St. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote:
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” -Romans 8:18 & 2 Corinthians 4:17-18