I think the problem of evil and suffering is one of the most challenging realities to try and deal with, no matter which worldview you approach it from. But at the same time, we can easily see the benefits that pain and suffering allow us. I remember reading an article from CNN that was written about a little girl who lives in Big Lake, Minnesota. She has a disease called CIPA (Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis). Even though she can feel touch and pressure, her brain doesn’t receive signals of pain. This makes her life incredibly difficult to live because if something goes wrong within her body, she has no way of knowing about it. The article went on to explain that her parents had to have all of her teeth removed by age 2 because she would bite on her fingers until they were raw and bloody.
Similarly, she contracted a dangerous infection in her eye as a result of her rubbing it too aggressively. They ultimately had to remove that eye. This little girl lives in complete ignorance of her physical defects due solely to the fact that she cannot feel pain. I think her situation brings out brilliantly one of the primary roles of our suffering, and that is, when we experience suffering, we are immediately made aware that something is wrong. We understand that “This is not the way it should be.” So suffering brings our attention to a problem, and I think it is good to have that mindset when confronted with situations where pain arises.
Of course, the benefit of being made aware of a problem is just one aspect of this question. Why would God allow the problem in the first place? Here we need to talk about the causes of pain and suffering. I think we can distinguish between two causes of suffering, which we can call moral evil and natural evil. Regarding moral evils, suffering can be the effect of our free choice to commit immoral actions. Some of the most significant forms of suffering in the world are the direct result of human wrongdoings. War, murder and even poor eating habits can lead to immense forms of suffering which affect entire societies. So when we consider this type of “moral” suffering, I think it is essential to understand that human beings are the ones who are responsible, not God. But of course, a significant portion of our suffering comes from events that are not moral in nature. Natural disasters, diseases, and accidental events can cause gross amounts of suffering on seemingly innocent parties. If God has the power to intervene, and He loves us enough to do so, why doesn’t He? This has got to be the most challenging question for the Christian believer as well as the skeptic, and I would like to approach this side of the problem from two angles.
Firstly, although we have disassociated this “natural” form of evil from an ethical one, on a Christian worldview, it does come back to the effect of an immoral decision. We understand that this type of suffering is a departure from the way things should be. It ought to be that there is no destruction of the innocent via natural disasters and the like. So why then do we live in a world of disorder and disaster?
When we see actions of an immoral nature, the consequences of these actions do not just affect those directly involved. When the terrorist attacks of 9/11 took place, the effects of that event were felt not only by the victims and their families but by the whole of America and even the whole of the world. When a loved one or family member dies, the relatives and the community feel the effects of the pain brought on by the event. Our actions affect not just us but the world around us. With the introduction of sin into the world, the whole of creation has suffered degeneration and death. The fall of humanity has affected mankind and the things made for him. Disorder and disaster were introduced into the world at that time and “…the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together…” (Romans 8:22). Ultimately, natural suffering is the direct effect of man’s original selfish desire and the suffering we experience keeps us aware that the world we chose is not how it ought to be.
But what about the second aspect of this problem? If God is all-loving and has the power to intervene in our suffering, why doesn’t he? I would like to suggest that God has intervened to solve the problem we created. The solution of which can be seen clearly in the person of Jesus Christ. God has set up an extraordinary plan to justly punish the sin we have introduced, while at the same time, restore the sacred relationship between creator and creation. Now you may ask, why doesn’t God intervene in a more specific way during specific events of suffering? Here I think it’s critical to keep God’s ultimate plan in mind. God’s ultimate goal is to have his creatures enter back into that sacred relationship He intended them to enjoy from the beginning. The only way for that to come about is for humanity to accept the solution He offered in Jesus Christ. God’s ultimate plan of drawing humanity back to Himself may very well include natural disasters and immense amounts of “innocent” suffering for which He would then have an acceptable reason. In fact, at the very core of God’s plan is this very idea. Jesus Christ experienced the most horrific forms of suffering in the purest form of innocence so that the problem we caused would be solved. I think it’s no mistake that God himself chose to take on the suffering that we deserve, not just to solve our problem, but also to be able to relate to us in the most challenging parts of our lives.
As Christians, we can rest assured that God’s plan for humanity is to win us back; and we can trust Him through our times of suffering that He is doing just that. Remember, we were not created to be comfortable and content in this life, we were created to know God and enjoy him forever.
- Pain and Suffering bring our attention to a problem
- Significant portions of suffering are the direct effect of “free” immoral activity.
- Disaster and disorder are ultimately the consequence of sin.
- God has provided a solution to evil and suffering in the person of Jesus Christ.
- God’s plan to maximize the number of people who accept his solution may involve immense forms of temporary pain and suffering.