Faith Crisis

Why does God allow suffering?

Seeing the sufferings of earthly life, many people think, “Since God created everything, God is responsible for all the bad things that happen.” Presto — God is in the doghouse!

Admittedly, God ought to be ashamed of Himself, if He truly were responsible for the mess on this planet. But He isn’t — not, at least, unless we “blame” Him for giving man free will! For truly, man’s free will choices are the cause of almost all the suffering on earth.

Given the reality of free will, we have to admit that the state of affairs here on earth is not a direct expression of God’s will — not by any stretch of the imagination. The gift of free will necessarily implies that man creates as he wills, for better or for worse. We are under no obligation to align our will with God’s — and much of the time, we don’t. And oftentimes, that’s when, as they say, “S – – T happens!”

Generally, God does not intervene to protect us from the repercussions of our own or others’ wrongdoing, for good reason: Divine intervention would compromise free will. Think about it: God must not obstruct free will, even to prevent misdeeds, because if He did, will would no longer be free. And that would raise this important question:

What’s so good about doing good when you’ve got no CHOICE?

Would you want God to interfere with His gift of free will, so that you and others had no choice but to be good? No! — and neither would He! That, friends, is why “God permits so much misery, wrongdoing, and injustice in the world.”

For us or against us?

We may be inclined to put God in the doghouse for another offense as well: thwarting the realization of our dreams. Whenever our schemes for realizing our precious dreams don’t pan out, we may jump to the bitter conclusion that God was opposed to the fulfillment of our dreams. But is that so?

Even if we presume that the failures of our cherished schemes reflect God’s will, we should consider whether God’s supposed “intervention” is actually a disservice or a blessing in disguise. In other words: Does the setback we’ve experienced prevent the realization of our dreams — or will the required course correction facilitate their realization? Often, friends, it is the latter, though we don’t always recognize that fact.

Wherever you feel thwarted by God, it may help to consider the following points:

  1. Our scheme may not have been the way to realize our dream. If our chosen means is not compatible with our goal, a roadblock in our path may prevent more disappointment than it causes. For example, a person may dream of security, and may be inclined to seek security through the accumulation of material wealth. God knows — as many of His children have discovered — that material wealth does not tend to provide real security; it can even make people paranoid — and yes, insecure. In that light, not getting rich could very well be viewed as security protection.
  2. It is certainly possible that God might have better things in store — things that, for us, may be more fruitful and less dangerous, spiritually. For example, while many people strive to get rich, succeeding in that goal often proves spiritually disastrous. Wealth can distract us from higher thought, inflame our tendencies to self-indulgence, or inflate our egos. (Of course, God surely realizes it is possible to use wealth for the good of others, but He has certainly also noticed that in practice, many of the spiritual benefits of wealth accrue when a man loses his fortune!)

Obviously, not everyone wants material wealth — people have all kinds of schemes and dreams: dreams of romance, relationship, comfort, popularity, power — the list goes on and on. And sometimes, especially if our beautiful goal seems to be beyond reproach, we get oh-so-righteous when hopes fizzle out: “Why are you denying me love, Lord? Is love too much to ask?” It still may be true that we are simply being detoured, not denied.

So often when our schemes fail, “misfortune” motivates us to steer our search in more favorable directions. In that sense, the seeming failure actually furthered us toward our goal. A case in point: The search for security is doomed to fail until we finally seek it where it can be found — by making a stable connection to inner and outer sources of higher understanding and wise guidance.

God's "hands-off policy"

While the foregoing explanations may be applicable, we caution once more against the belief that God intervenes frequently, at the material level, in the mundane affairs of men. More likely, when good fortune smiles, those rewards were earned by our own efforts, were granted to us through the generosity of others, or came to us by mere coincidence! Likewise, the causes of misfortune are more often mundane than cosmic. For example:

A precious goal was unrealistic, for any number of possible reasons.

Through tremendous effort, a girl lands a job as a receptionist in the office of a handsome bachelor. Her dream is that once they meet, he will fall in love with her and marry her. Disappointingly, the marriageable executive takes no special notice of his new receptionist. He has many other pretty girls to choose from. Maybe she should have thought of that.

A man invests all his money in souvenirs to sell at sporting events. However, he overlooked the fact that his competitors had the resources to buy the same items in larger quantities and resell them at prices he couldn’t possibly match. So, when he comes on the scene, they simply lower their prices long enough to put him out of business.

QUESTION: Do the above examples indicate Divine opposition to success — or are they just cases of poor judgment? Everyone makes mistakes. Why blame failure on God?

Other people may have thwarted our dream by the exercise of their free will.

You find a wonderful couch at a bargain price at your neighbor’s yard sale. You rush home to get some money. By the time you get back, another person has purchased it. Now: Did God object to you having that couch? No, someone else wanted it, and she bought it!

You get married, but later your spouse leaves you. Is this God’s choice for you, or simply the choice of your spouse for him- or herself? Or is it, perhaps, a result of certain objectionable choices you made? Some of us have been known to ruin our own relationships! Again, why blame our marital strife on God?

The bottom line is, both bad things and good things happen for many reasons. Let’s give credit where credit’s due! God deserves credit not for the misfortunes man brings upon himself or encounters randomly, but rather, for His infinite confidence that we can learn from our mistakes and troubles — and for the ongoing mercy by which He helps us do exactly that.