Q: If God is omnipresent, why would he create humans knowing they would feel immense suffering? Doesn’t God love and want the best for his creation?
— Elliott Sloan (graduated from Notre Dame Jr./Sr. High School in Burlington in 2012)
A: Elliott, I don’t know! But this is what I do know and believe. I’ve found that when most people ask this question, there’s a hidden personal pronoun in it. It usually is “Why do you, God, let… bad things happen to people?”
It’s an accusation we bring to God, sometimes because we don’t understand, but most usually when we are experiencing an acute pain in our life — relational hurt; a physical problem or illness; maybe even a painful circumstance, like being falsely accused, blamed, fired or generally put upon.
If God is truly a God of love and mercy, why does he not intervene when there is suffering and death? Some have concluded that God simply doesn’t exist. The answer, however, is much more complex. We believe that God does exist. God has willed each of us into existence out of pure love. God gave us his son, so we can be the body of Christ. We in turn are to will the good of the other and to live out the Gospel values.
Whether or not we will the good of the other, the consequences of humanity’s decision to live contrary to God’s will for us is a world subject to the capriciousness and vagaries of time, chance and the actions of others. God has blessed us with free will. Our choices, and those of the people around us, impact all of the rest of us. We see the results of not willing the good of the other in poverty and war, power and control of others. We see the goodness of people after terrible storms or floods have devastated towns and cities. When original sin came into the world, our first parents lost the original holiness and justice not only for themselves but for all human beings.
Since this time, although difficult for us to understand or explain, suffering and imperfection have become a part of human existence. Christ our brother has redeemed us after the fall of Adam and Eve. But God didn’t take away our free will to sin. Similarly, in nature, God allows the chemistry of things to happen. So storms, floods, earthquakes, the earth settling, etc., are allowed to happen. God guides creation towards it completion and perfection.
God has given us this gift of free will and this makes all the difference in the world. We see our interconnectedness and our interdependence. We will all suffer at some time. While it is never pleasant, both history and the Bible show that suffering can, in the end, produce good.
There are two books that you might like to read. “The Shack” by William Young makes this statement: “Pain has a way of clipping our wings and keeping us from being able to fly … “And if left unresolved for very long you can almost forget that you ever were created to fly in the first place.”
God has created us to soar and fly with our gift of free will. He wouldn’t be true to who and what we are as his adopted daughters and sons if he didn’t allow us to practice our free will in all that we do. The other book that seems appropriate to the question raised is the Book of Job in the Old Testament. Job had everything going for him: integrity, character, wealth (but not attached to it), family, and he was prayerful. But God tested Job with unimaginable pain and suffering. God allowed Satan and Job to choose how to respond. Job remained faithful to God, even as Job questioned the reason for his suffering. God has given us our free will and he will not interfere with our use of this great gift.
— Mary Wieser, director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Davenport
(Students in grades kindergarten through 12 are invited to submit questions about the Catholic Church for The Catholic Messenger’s new Young & Curious feature. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Catholic Messenger, 780 W. Central Park Ave., Davenport, Iowa, 52804.)