Why Does God Allow Suffering?

The season of Lent is here! Lent is by far my favorite part of the year, and that is because we are reminded of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.  We know that through His suffering and death the prophecies are fulfilled, we are forgiven our sins, and we are granted eternal life.  But why do innocent people — children, for instance — have to suffer?

The person in the Bible that best exhibits strength through suffering is Job.  Job was a very blessed man.  He had many children, a good job, and enjoyed good health.  Satan believed that the only reason Job was faithful to God was because he was blessed.  In order to prove Satan wrong, God permitted Satan to test Job.  Job lost everything he had — his family, profession, wealth, and health.  Yet Job never cursed at God or lost faith in Him.  When Job was covered in sores, his wife said, “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).  Job replied, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10).  Through this story we learn that we cannot accept only the good that God gives us, but the suffering as well, because through suffering we can see the greater good.  If life were perfect, we wouldn’t be able to see much of God in everyday life.  There would be no need for soup kitchens or local charities, nor would we hear the local stories of the person who saved the child from being hit by a car.  It would be wonderful for car accidents and other such evils not to happen, but it is also necessary to see our faithfulness to God and the greater good.

We may never know the purpose of suffering because it is too far above our Euclidean minds to comprehend.  Bishop Robert Barron says, “The suffering of any one person must be seen within the context of the infinitely greater working out of God’s purpose throughout all space and time.” Because we have Euclidean minds, we understand only 3D things in a 4D world.  We are a bit like our household pets.  Our pets may understand things, but only in a superficial way and with limited capacity of mind, such as key words.  There is so much in the universe that we cannot see or comprehend.  We can see God occasionally in everyday life, but we can’t physically see Him as the Father nor can we comprehend much of what He does or why He does it.

In Doestoevksy’s The Brothers Karamazov, the character Ivan believes there is a God yet denies Him because He allows suffering.  Ivan says that he feels as if he is seeing “the back of God’s masterpiece.”  All he sees is a white canvas with outlines.  However, he believes that when he dies he will see the other side of the canvas; he will see the colors and texture of the masterpiece and will fully understand God and suffering, and that will be the moment he accepts Him.

But we need to be able to accept God even if we don’t understand his plan.  We need to trust that God knows what is right for us, just as Job trusted God through all his sufferings.  Out of our suffering, something good will come.  We are able to show goodness through suffering.  As St. Thomas Aquinas says, “There would be no life in the lion were it not for the death of an inordinate number of animals and there would be no virtue of martyr without the cruelty of the tyrant.”

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