In the midst of suffering it may best to get through it than try to understand it. It may be helpful though to thing ahead how we envision coping with suffering. Many seek to reconcile a belief in God with the harsh realities of sufferings in life. Lack of answer can make tragic times worse. We may ask sometimes where is God or what is God doing. “Why is this happening to me or my loved one” can sometimes turn into “why God do you not love me.” How we define God’s role in suffering can determine how we handle suffering.
Why doesn’t God, if good and all powerful, eliminate evil? Richard Rice’s book Suffering and the Search for Meaning is a great read in ways we may try to make sense how the goodness of God and evil can co-exist. (I tend to use evil and suffering interchangeably as suffering is evil and evil is suffering.) The author wisely suggests that our view of suffering may not help someone else. Some answers may be better than others, but we should not attempt to convince one of our views at their expense. All need a personal theory that is comforting during suffering.
Richard Rice addresses the many different views of suffering. Some would say there isn’t a God so there is no need to reconcile God and suffering. Other views seem to be attempts to get God off the hook. Some suggests Satan is behind the suffering in the world but one may question why God gives Satan this much control. Some defend that God determined suffering was necessary for moral growth. Others would suggest God can do a lot but God cannot do all He wants by controlling the amount of the suffering in the world.
One main traditional view to protect a certain view of God’s power argues that nothing happens outside of God’s will. Some prefer to protect a view of God and His power by suggesting everything happens for a reason as designed by God. This implies God controls the amount of suffering in our life and has a predetermined plan for our suffering. This view though is too much for many to bear. Is God really responsible for the timing when a drunk driver kills another driver? Why doesn’t God at least control extreme evils where millions die to bring about a supposed good plan?
There is another view that has helped me and I anticipate helping me cope with possible extreme suffering in the future. If you have struggled with any of the above views, you may consider the below. It is what is commonly referred to as the freedom model, and I will suggest an open view of the future as it makes more sense to me when it comes to God’s creating freedom.
- Evil was not created by God but originates from the hearts of human beings. God had wished for us to freely choose to live with one another in harmony. God longs for what human parents desire – children who freely relate in love than out of fear. No amount of good resulting from suffering justifies the evil actions of others, but freedom was necessary to obtain the highest good in relationships. Not even God can force true love. Without freedom God could be accuse of not creating the “best” world. The only way for earthly or heavenly parents to ensure there is never any suffering is to not risk creating.
- God knows of all possibilities and is never caught off guard, but God did not know if we would choose evil. The future must be open if there is to be genuine freedom. This view of the future preserves the integrity of freedom. This gives more integrity to passages that advise God grieves with us. Some prefer to believe God doesn’t know an unknowable future because it empowers them to relate to such a God. It is easier for many to worship a God who doesn’t control everything as opposed to a God who accepts no resistance.
- God obviously allows suffering because a God powerful enough to create can destroy. God values freedom. God apparently also values forgiveness and the possibility of change rather than instant justice. Human parents nor God are sadistic because they don’t squash freedom to avoid suffering. We give our wayward children opportunities to change despite the harm caused to themselves or others. Also, suffering which is a possibility in a free world can change the hearts of others. Martin Luther King’s suffering moved the scales from the eyes of many who tolerated bigotry.
- God ultimate response to evil and suffering is the slow, necessary way of the incarnation. The Cross was not to satisfy some need in God at the expense of His Son but to satisfy a need in us at His expense. God sought to change our attitude about God, not God’s attitude toward us. God choose to experience undeserved suffering in hopes to persuade us to walk hand in hand with our Creator through any tragedy to bring good from what was intended for evil. God is not the cause but God can be the rescuer.
It is easier to explain moral evil than natural evil with this freedom model. We understand deserved suffering (i.e. consequences of bad actions), but we can ask why God doesn’t at least limit the scope of some undeserved sufferings. It is complicated. God would still be questioned unless God stopped all abuse not some abuse, all natural disasters not some natural disasters. We demand God take control but we seldom give God total control of our lives. We may not be able to explain why God chooses to intervene miraculously sometimes. I do know to intervene all the time is to make a mockery of freedom. God answering all my prayers is not in my best interests in the long-run.
We may wonder why God didn’t go ahead and create heaven on earth if one day there is no sin, but moral growth may be a necessary journey to eventually not choosing sin. Perhaps the only way to defeat evil in us, other than destruction, is for us to persevere and overcome evil. We cannot prove there are no good moral reasons for allowing freedom resulting in so much evil. Argue with God. Question God. Seek to understand God. I am convinced God will never abandon us as we seek to understand and depend on God. God works to somehow bring some good from suffering and provide hope that one day there will not be suffering.