This is a question that almost every person, religious or not, asks at some point in his or her life. How can an all-knowing, all-powerful God allow disease, war, natural disasters and a whole host of other “evils” if He genuinely loves us? For some individuals, the paradox is too great, and thus, they choose atheism. Others do not seem bothered by the question, believing that God works through suffering in ways that humans cannot possibly understand. While there is truth to this viewpoint, it does not quite satisfy my curious mind. Personally, I have struggled a great deal with this question all throughout my faith journey, and I know that I am not alone. Recently, however, God has provided me with some clarity that has given me peace. I hope that they will give others peace as well.
There are two types of suffering in this world: human-caused suffering (terrorism, sexual assault) and natural-caused suffering (tornadoes, cancer). Human-caused suffering can be explained by the concept of free-will, which is our God-given ability to make decisions for ourselves. In other words, God is not a puppeteer, controlling our every move, and we are not mindless puppets. This freedom is a precious gift, but we often abuse it. We make thousands of decisions each day, and unfortunately, we sometimes choose poorly, which naturally leads to suffering. For example, the choice to drive while intoxicated could lead to a terrible accident and a premature death, and the choice to cheat on one’s spouse could cause heartbreak. God could force the intoxicated individual to stay home or silence the lustful thoughts of the spouse, for He has the power to take away our free-will. However, as a result, we would no longer be created in His image, for He most definitely has free-will.
The reason behind natural-caused suffering is much harder to identify than the reason behind human-caused suffering. However, there are two metaphors that are helpful in the search for answers. First, it must rain sometimes in order for a tree to grow, and second, only in darkness can one truly see the stars. The first metaphor conveys that suffering (rain) is often necessary because it strengthens one’s character, relationships, and understanding (the tree). For instance, a few years ago, my brother was chronically ill, and it took the doctors a year and a half to properly diagnose him. This was extremely stressful for my family, but ultimately our shared suffering brought us closer together. The second metaphor conveys that one can experience God (the stars) on a deeper level when going through a difficult time (darkness). When life is going well, people often feel as if they do not need God, and thus, they don’t try to reach out to Him. However, as soon as hardship comes, they lift up a prayer, recognizing their limits and need for help. This is why people generally flock to churches after a natural disaster. Overall, even though it is difficult to recognize in the midst of the storm, suffering can be a blessing in disguise.
Unfortunately, I still find that these answers fall short sometimes, for when considering the worst atrocities in this world, such as the genocide, I simply cannot understand why a God of love would not intervene, even if it meant suspending our free-will for just a moment! How could something so terrible ever be a blessing? In these situations, however, I must recognize my place. We are mere human beings, and God is the ultimate and incomprehensible creator of the universe. This sovereign God owes us nothing, for we have persistently sinned and rejected Him all throughout history, even crucifying His only son. He could justly abandon us. In fact, he could justly condemn us all to hell. Still, He graciously gives us everything by offering us an opportunity to have a relationship with Him through Jesus. This is the best blessing that we could ever receive, for in 2 Corinthians 12:9, God tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Thus, even if we have nothing but a life full of the utmost suffering, we have more than enough if we have God. Therefore, in both joy and pain, I will be grateful to my Lord, for He is all I need!