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(Supporting article)

Suffering and Evil?

An assessment of life issues that may oppose
 the existence of God, and 
hI
s role within them.

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1.    INTRODUCTION

Firstly, I consider that the greatest error of all is to theorise that God himself creates suffering and evil, i.e. that they are the will of God’. It just does not make sense with what we are told of Gods loving nature in the Bible.  (The "Will of God" is explained in the article of that name.)

Even so, if there is a God who is supposed to be good, why is there so much suffering and evil in the world? Without doubt, it is a difficult, difficult question, this one. Many thoughts arise when assessing it. Is there any way God could have designed things differently? Importantly, could the world, and us humans, be designed in ways that would minimise or even eliminate suffering and evil?

Ultimately, it does lead us to question Gods role, and also what should be our response, in relation to these issues.

2.    MY WISH LIST

A mere mortal like me can only surmise what I would have done, if I had the responsibility for planning the way the world should be. Like anyone else I have the right to use my imagination.

Could I have left suffering and evil completely out of the specifications?

Could I design a world where no child would suffer pain or, better still, everybody would live perfectly healthy and joyous lives until at least eighty years of age? The random effects of disease and genetic disorders would be redundant.

Could I prevent horrendous accidents from happening? Could an invisible barrier be placed between all people and objects of potential injury or death, no matter what risks they or others took with their bodies?

Could I prevent natural disasters from harming humans? Could I leave them – earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones and even tsunamis  out of the grand design? There would be no storms and the sea could look like a millpond all the time.

Is there any way I could program people so that nobody would be cruel to others – short of turning everyone into biomechanical robots that have no freedom of choice at all?

If everything else failed, and we asked through faith, then could God unleash miracles on all those who are suffering?

My wish list seems to cover most of the angles doesnt it?

3.    REALITY CHECK

But, if I did design such a world where accidents, ill health and adverse environmental conditions were absent, how could I expect it to look natural? Laws of cause and effect must be in this world to make it appear real to us. We would all concede that ‘reality’ must look real, by virtue of its title. If God continually muddled in the space/ time continuum, to alter the outcome of all potentially dangerous events, then we would have noticeable flow-on effects in our daily lives. Resulting warps in the ‘continuum’ could for example cause: moving objects to stop in their tracks; landscape changes; people to recover overnight from serious illness or disease, without any medical intervention. It would not matter what we ate or drank or smoked or injected because our bodies would recover from all forms of abuse. Life, as we know it, would be so visibly different that we would have to acknowledge a considerable force existing beneath reality. In fact, God’s existence would become blatantly clear to us all. As explained in the article, Believing in God, that is not his choice at all.

Surely then, above all else within my plan for humankinds habitat, nature would have to be seen as running its own course rather than the case as described above. If this is true, then its unfortunate impact on our health and the environment in which we live will remain inevitable.

As a twenty first century human being, I also understand that many natural disasters are by-products of the underlying conditions needed on this planet to support complex life forms, such as ourselves. To take them away would give us less than the ideal planet that we require. An expansion of this line of reasoning is included in the article, Science and religion (under the sub-section, Our Lucky Planet). As an example, the Earths molten centre, and  plate tectonics (moving continents), are essential elements in the amalgam of dynamic conditions required by our living planet. Unfortunately, unavoidable side effects of these elements are earthquakes and tsunamis.

From the human perspective too, our free will means that people will more than likely continue to harm themselves and other people, no matter what! Human greed, hatred, uncontrolled anger and intolerance are major contributors to evil. In other words, if we are to have free will, then we must all suffer the consequences. Otherwise, as I have already written above, we would only be programmed robots  not a good alternative at all. The bottom line is there is not a lot that can be altered there by God either.

And what of miracles that might alleviate our suffering? They still happen, dont they? If we have faith, then surely......? Although I do attest to the occurrence of miracles  that is the occasional overriding of the laws of cause and effect by God, at our request  they will always be rare in the scheme of things. Miracles are usually special one offs used by God to build up his Church. Sadly, we must remember that if life was to be a continual bed of roses for all of us we would never become the mature spiritual beings intended by God; beings who are to spend eternity with him after leaving our physical existences behind us. (Present day miracles are discussed in the article, God within the Church.)

4.    GOD'S ROLE IN SUFFERING AND EVIL

So, what of human suffering? I have experienced sufficient physical pain (as a cancer survivor) and emotional pain (loss of a son) in my life to understand the concepts of this article. I recognise through my own experiences that suffering and life are intertwined with each other. I do not blame God for that pain in my life. As I have already implied, it appears that ‘cause and effect’, and chance, are essential in the equation of existence – to make it all real. Science can often tell us how these things happen. However the actual why seems to be beyond the best of us humans a lot of the time. One book of the Christian Bible, “Ecclesiastes”, points out the irony of life; the misery and obvious injustices that so many people suffer. It also points out the senselessness of us trying to understand why. The first chapter introduces the flavour of futility within life.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

God is offered by the Book’s author as the one true constant in our lives that we can rely on.

Again, in the scheme of things, it is necessary to look at God’s role in our pain and suffering. He is not there to continually interfere with the ‘rolling dice’ of chance, that is evident as nature runs its course, i.e. so that we can accept reality for what it is, and lead lives based on rational decisions. Indeed, Gods primary role is one of support and comfort; helping us to ‘grow’ to successfully face adversity – and indirectly to encourage us to strengthen our relationship with him as the “the one true constant” mentioned above.

In fact, God is closer to us in our suffering than we might first think. We must not take the Biblical statement [Acts 17:28] lightly For in him we live and move and have our being.” How can God not know when we suffer? Additionally, God is inextricably linked to our suffering in an extraordinary way, i.e. at the very causation of our own beings existence (see the article So, what is God”). He therefore feels our pain from whatever source, physical or emotional. And most importantly of course in the person of Jesus, God felt real and extreme pain as a human being for himself. Of course I am referring to Jesus torture and eventual death by crucifixion. Yes, God knows exactly what we are going through.

God is literally there to enfold us with his loving support and comforting, if we deliberately open ourselves to him. God is always ready and waiting!

In relation to evil, it is wrong to blame God for its creation. Rather, evil is born in the minds of humankind. It is fanned by the dark power that opposes God’s goodness. (A subject that has great authenticity in my mind, but is outside the scope of this website.)

5.    OUR RESPONSE TO SUFFERING AND EVIL

The Bible encourages us to make the most of our lives: that is accept misfortune when it occurs, but also ensure that we fully appreciate joy in life when it comes our way. It is also our responsibility to find that ideal balance ensuring that along with being faithful to God and contributing positively towards our families and the greater human community on Earth, we also find time for joy; appreciating the so-called simple things of life. It is not wise to work, work, work for example, to later find when life turns a hard corner that we have not enjoyed our opportunities. (Note however, that I am not suggesting an empty life of party, party, party either!) 

But when suffering does actually occur in our lives, Christianity offers us the concept of  Hope”(Romans 15:13). Through hope we can approach suffering differently. Hope for Christians is itself based on the knowledge that although God in the person of Jesus died after suffering on the cross, he was resurrected after that death. (Christians believe that they will eventually have life with God after death, through Gods power of love, as in Jesus example.)

Christian hope is effectively enabled by Gods transforming power of love. Christian hope is not a wishy washy longing for something. It is about opening ones situation to God in full faith and trust. Love, support, guidance, personal inner strength are all available. Actually, hope can be applied by us to any serious issue in everyday life. As far as this article is concerned, hope fuels the present and resists the despair that often arises with suffering. Hope, most importantly, has the ability to give us rest, even if nothing more is available today! Hope can in fact ease the weight of whatever faces us right now, tomorrow or years into the future.

Now whilst I have had some experience of pain and suffering, I certainly know that others have a far harder road to travel than me. Unlike others, I have not endured years of quadraplegia or suffered from a disease causing ongoing excrutiating suffering, and can only begin to understand what despair these events and afflications can cause. Really sad stuff happens to some people.

All I can add with regards to these circumstances is that I have come across Christians who seem to weather these terrible life situations well. The usefulness of hope, when suffering, was brought home to me by a woman very special to my wife and me. She suffers from advanced Motor Nueron Disease and successfully utilises Christian hope to face each new day of that suffering; to get through it with still some quality of life. The womans husband is incidentally also a guiding light to me, such is the unending loving care and support that he devotes to her. I can absolutely assure you that this woman, further along the road of life than my wife and me, does not apportion any blame for her life situation upon God!

Remember also our present physical lives are minuscule in length when compared with Heavens eternity, which is the Biblical promise to the faithful at life’s end. That is the ultimate reward for our Christian hope.

And finally what should our response to evil be? Christians are called to stand up in peaceful protest to resist the evil that is directed by our fellow humans towards those vulnerable in society, both in our own countries and throughout the world.  

6.    CONCLUSION

As I have already alluded, I do know that Gods presence can become both more needed, and obvious, during times of suffering than when the good times roll as it were. From my own experience, these hard times will draw us believers closer to the Lord and encourage us to mature spiritually. So, something positive can occur out of suffering.

Despite all the facts though, I must be honest here and say that I do still find the question “why?”, in regard to human suffering, hard to answer sometimes. I also admit that the suffering of others can strain my relationship with God somewhat at times... And I do complain to him. But it never throws my faith into doubt. I have experienced too much of his presence in my life, and witnessed it in the lives of others, for that to happen. (Even then, I know that doubt is not always a bad thing anyway.) I know too that I will never come close to having Gods level of wisdom, when it comes to human suffering.

Importantly, we must remember that hope sits at the core of our ability to endure the suffering that comes our way in life. Hope transforms! It can even be applied through prayer and human involvement to combat evil in this world. 

If you wish to know more about ‘what’ God actually is, then access the article, “Faith and reason”. If you would like guidance on how to know whether God actually exists, then access the article, “Believing in God”. The final section of the website explains Christianity and presents an understanding of ‘who’ God is.  And, Christianity offers a whole-of-life philosophy that certainly deals effectively with suffering and evil.

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