Love is also the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery: we are conscious of the insufficiency and inadequacy of our explanations. Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and to discover the “why” of suffering, as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love (John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris §13)
For many believers and unbelievers alike, perhaps, the greatest scandal is the undeniable fact that suffering and evil exist in the world — that innocent human beings suffer, for no apparent reason. Children suffer and die of cancer. Natural disasters wipe out peoples’ livelihood and destroy their lives in a matter of seconds. Oppressive dictatorships imprison, torture, and slaughter innocent people simply on account of their having different beliefs and political views. The fact that these things happen has lead a lot of people to question, “How could God allow these things to happen to happen?” It has lead many to conclude, there is no God.
The problematic issue of God’s allowing evil and suffering is often described as a contradiction, where if God exists, then evil should not exist; yet evil clearly exists in the world; therefore, God does not exist. How can an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God, allow evil when surely, if he were omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, he could and should prevent all evil from happening? Yet the one thing we can be sure of is the presence of evil in the world.
To summarize the “problematic of human suffering” argument, if There is a God, then God must be:
- Omnipotent — he has the power to stop evil things from happening
- Omniscient — he knows what evil is and knows when it will occur, so he could prevent it
- Benevolent — he is good so he should oppose all evil
- Yet evil exists in the world… therefore either God does not have the power to stop evil, or he is ignorant about it, or else he just does not care or wants bad things to occur
- But if that were the case, then God would not be perfect, and therefore, not God
- Due to the existence of evil and unjust suffering in the world, one can only conclude that there is no God
As I said at the beginning of this post, the greatest scandal is the undeniable fact that suffering and evil exist in the world.
Why “problematic”? I use the term problematic, because this issue is more that a problem. It compounds several difficult to resolve issues into one. For instance, many people find divine omnipotence to be problematic by itself: “Can God make a rock so big he can’t lift it?” No. “Then he’s not omnipotent.”
I cannot open too many cans of worms here, so today I am not going to respond to the pseudo-problem of omnipotence not being possible because it cannot impose limits on itself and therefore it must be limited and not omnipotent. Recently, I wrote a post on Understanding Omniscience (and Omnipotence, and Free Will, etc…), so I don’t intend to return to that issue, although in order to resolve the problematic of suffering, we need to take into consideration some of the things I said in that article, such as:
- God’s omniscience is not tantamount to him predetermining everything
- God’s allowing things to happen is not the same as his wanting them to happen or making them happen
- God’s omniscience also allows him to see further consequences that humans cannot see; hence some evil can be allowed for a greater good, unforeseen to us, but not to God.
These considerations, however, are only key distinctions that one needs to make so as not to succumb to the misguided logic in the argument presented above. Ultimately, no matter how you argue against the problem, the problem does not go away. Evil persists and that is the real problem we ought to be concerned with. Blaming God or denying him will not make things any better.
As long as human beings dwell in this Valle of Tears, there will always be suffering. The reality of evil in the world will always be a problem, until Christ comes again. The response to hardship, therefore, has to be hope, patience, love, and mercy. We do not rise above evil by turning our backs on God. Rather, we rise above it by turning to God in hope of salvation, and doing our part to help alleviate the evil and suffering in this world.
As God’s children who are all brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters in the human family, our duty is to do God’s work of bringing hope, peace, and consolation to one another in the face of the most difficult trials that all of us have to endure from time to time.
So long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, decrees of damnation pronounced by society, artificially creating hells amid the civilization of earth, and adding the element of human fate to divine destiny; so long as the three great problems of the century— the degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of light— are unsolved; so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world;—in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Miserables cannot fail to be of use. (Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, Preface)
The response to suffering can only be love.