After years of reflection on this issue, I have come to the belief that the answer to this question is not that complicated. Christian theism has the best answer:
Christian theism acknowledges that God created the potential for evil because God created humans with freedom of choice. We choose to love, to hate, to do good or to do evil. The record of history bears eloquent testimony to the fact that humans, of their own free will, have actualized the reality of evil through such choices. Without choice love is meaningless. God is neither a cosmic rapist who forces his love on people, nor a cosmic puppeteer who forces people to love him. Instead, God, the personification of love, grants us the freedom of choice. Without such freedom, we would be little more than preprogrammed robots. (Hank Hanegraff, www.equip.org)
The answer to suffering and evil may be quite simply, just hard to accept. There is evil and suffering because God created freedom. Humans make daily decisions to rebel against God’s will. Where there is a human will, there is a way. God does not cause evil or suffering. If there is to be genuine freedom, there must be the opportunity to love as well as to hate. Evildoers cause much of suffering, directly or indirectly, thus suffering inflicted by others is a by-product of freedom. God did not create evil or plan suffering in the first place, so He could ride in on a great white horse and save the world. But God has not abandoned us. God promises life after death with Him, where there will be no sin, for those who want to live with Him for eternity. On earth, God works to bring good out of what was intended for evil. This does not mean God orchestrates evil to accomplish good. God, because of who He is, ultimately permits every evil act but this doesn’t mean ever evil permitted by God is necessarily for a greater purpose. The only way God can totally stop evil is to not create. Evil is not some grand scheme by God!
The problem may be that we do not accept how God has chosen to respond to suffering and freedom. Why doesn’t God intervene or stop more evil and suffering than He does? God seemed to answer Job questioning of His ways in this manner – “When you understand how difficult it is to run a world where there is genuine freedom and what I should and shouldn’t permit, call Me!” Humans may destroy at the first hint of evil, yet demand mercy for themselves and their loved ones. God isn’t human. God does not destroy or annihilate people at the first sign of opposition or even before evil gets out of hand. One time God started over, but The Flood proved evil just grows back. God is patient. God is merciful. Justice delayed does not mean justice will not be served. We have to decide whether to believe and accept that if anyone can best respond to freedom and evil and suffering, God can. God’s ultimate response to evil is the slow, necessary way of the Incarnation. God didn’t skip out on suffering Himself. In an attempt to change the world and turn as many people as possible from evil, God sacrificed His Son. Jesus shows us how to respond to and conquer suffering.
Evil could only have been avoided if God had not created at all or at least not given humans the freedom to choose. But, God is not responsible for choices His children make, though He brings them into the world, any more than human parents are responsible for the decisions of their offspring. God’s risk is no more insane than a parent who chooses to have a child born in an already corrupt world where freedoms exist. God at least initially brought children into a perfect world where corruption and death did not exist. We human parents bring children into an imperfect world, knowing they could commit some evil act or experience evil at the hands of others at some time in their life. But, it is worth it! I believe the pleasures of parenthood far outweigh the risks for evil and suffering as a result of freedom.
It is not necessarily true that if God instantly stopped all suffering, the world would be better off or there would be less suffering. During suffering is sometimes the only time one changes their selfish ways. Sometimes others only consider the important matters in life by witnessing how others handle suffering. I am not necessarily a better person the less I suffer.
Whether our theology likes it or not, things happen not according to God’s will because of freedom. It isn’t heresy to assume that not even God can create life in its very essence, impossible to exist without death, violence, suffering and struggle and yet there be genuine free will. God can’t force genuine love. The problem may be that we do not accept how God has chosen to respond to evil. God may intervene through the miraculous though this is hardly the norm. God’s response to evil is not to destroy the evildoer instantly or impose His will immediately. God has not chosen instance justice but mercy and justice in the long run. We demand independence from God and when He gives it to us, we bitch at Him. Often though, we hightail it back to His promises and peace in the midst of chaos that only He sometimes can provide. God didn’t avoid suffering Himself. He sent His Son to show us the way and give us hope beyond this world.