Whether we think of it this way or not, every one of us suffers from
something — whether an occasional headache; a severe physical lack,
limitation, or deformity; a deep sorrow over some loss; an illness or
disease that we had in the past or may yet have in the future; or even
just thoughts that bring us grave distress. Some suffer over worrying
about what “Obamacare” will mean for them; some suffer from what this
political party or that one is doing… or not doing. Some suffer from
fear of losing their job, their home, or all their money. To the
person suffering, there is no degree: all suffering is suffering. And
we wonder why God lets us suffer.
Some questions just keep popping up, maybe because the one asking
doesn’t like the answers he or she has been getting, or because the
asker is hoping to hear something that just maybe will finally be an
answer that makes sense.
I believe that if a question can be asked, there is an answer that
will fit it — even if the answer has to be something like, “There does
not seem to be enough information available at this time to give you
the kind of answer you want, but the minute I get that information I
will be sure to let you know.” I could appreciate that kind of answer.
And yet, even the best answers to the hardest questions will often be
rejected by some. One wonders exactly what those people may be looking
for in an answer. I have a friend who needs such a question answered.
Life is getting far too overwhelming for her these days. I can only
hope that my answer here can be of some use to her.
The question that I’m referring to, as you have gathered, is: Why does
God allow us to suffer?
First, my simple answer — the one that I used to give people back in
the days when I was a teenager and thought it would certainly “clear
things up” real fast — was, “If God was to remove all suffering from
this world, He would have to go around performing miracles nonstop all
over the place; there would be stopping the storms from causing floods
and damage; there’d be holding back the earth from its normal ruptures
(earthquakes); there’d be putting out all those fires before they got
out of hand; He’d never stop having to cure all those people who
somehow managed to get sick or hurt or who were in danger of dying;
He’d be dispatching His angels to hold back those ready to fall off
cliffs or step into a pool of quicksand or swim out into shark
territory or drive their car too fast on a dark and lonely winding
road. And that’s just for starters.”
In other words, as I told people who felt that I might have some sage
wisdom to offer on this ever-fascinating subject and who found their
way to my front gate back in those days, “God would always be rescuing
us from EVERYTHING! Don’t you think that maybe when things were set
into motion — the whole earth, the wind, the rain, the waters, the
creatures in the sea and everything that was set into motion, in
whatever way — they were then free to act in keeping with their
nature, whatever that was to be? And don’t you think that maybe we
were created to be perfect, but somehow we did a thousand and one
things that ‘chipped away’ at that would-be perfection, in whatever
way, from generation to generation, and caused many of our own
problem-kind-of-situations? And finally, don’t you think we might need
that ‘texture’ of life (lack of perfection in ourselves and in nature)
to build our character? That if all went well all the time, with
nothing to try us (so to speak) or cause us to rally ‘round for others
— or call on our own inner strength and resources to get us through —
that we might never grow and bring out the best in ourselves?”
Well, whether or not that was the best answer I could have given at
that time, I have since found a more grown-up way to respond to those
who ask. Allow me to share this more useful and realistic answer — a
short thought-provoking “dissertation” on why God allows us to suffer,
written by someone far more enlightened than I.
“The uncertainties of life and the vicissitudes of existence do not in
any manner contradict the concept of the universal sovereignty of God.
All evolutionary creature life is beset by certain inevitabilities.
Consider the following:
—Is courage — strength of character — desirable? Then must man be
reared in an environment which necessitates grappling with hardships
and reacting to disappointments.
—Is altruism — service of one’s fellows — desirable? Then must life
experience provide for encountering situations of social inequality.
—Is hope — the grandeur of trust — desirable? Then human existence
must constantly be confronted with insecurities and recurrent
—Is faith — the supreme assertion of human thought — desirable? Then
must the mind of man find itself in that troublesome predicament where
it ever knows less than it can believe.
—Is the love of truth and the willingness to go wherever it leads,
desirable? Then must man grow up in a world where error is present and
falsehood always possible.
—Is idealism — the approaching concept of the divine — desirable? Then
must man struggle in an environment of relative goodness and beauty,
surroundings stimulative of the irrepressible reach for better things.
—Is loyalty — devotion to highest duty — desirable? Then must man
carry on amid the possibilities of betrayal and desertion. The valor
of devotion to duty consists in the implied danger of default.
—Is unselfishness — the spirit of self-forgetfulness — desirable? Then
must mortal man live face to face with the incessant clamoring of an
inescapable self for recognition and honor. Man could never lay saving
hold on righteousness if there were no potential evil to exalt and
differentiate the good by contrast.
—Is pleasure — the satisfaction of happiness — desirable? Then must
man live in a world where the alternative of pain and the likelihood
of suffering are ever-present experiential possibilities.
From the Urantia Book, Paper 3, Section 5, Paragraph 5
When one is suffering — and it matters not to the pain if it is
physical, mental, psychological, or even spiritual — one needs some
thought to hang on to, just as one would so wish a lifeboat to show up
when one is drowning. Maybe if all the above thoughts are too much for
one to take in all at once, picking one that comes closest to one’s
own form of suffering could be useful.
We can all appreciate the contrast between day and night; most of us
would never really choose to have just day, with no night to allow us
to experience the difference. And who would REALLY want every single
day to be a perfect (and possibly after a while, even bland)
non-changing temperature, with a possibly boring and predictable blue
sky and shining sun, never to experience any predicted or even
unexpected rain or snow or wind or chill or even dark clouds and
thunder and lighting? We say we might like that, but humans need
variety and change. We really do thrive on that.
So pick a thought from the list above. Maybe it can help you through.
You’ll come to see that nothing good (like loyalty or unselfishness)
means anything if the person so expressing those values or virtues did
not have the choice or free will to do otherwise. How is honesty
anything worth mentioning if the person never had an opportunity to be
other than honest? Where is the virtue in faith if every single thing
about which you wonder is proven on the spot? How does happiness or
pleasure have that special feeling if you ordinarily get everything
you want, and you lack for nothing?
Well, I can only hope it will help my friend. It’s a lonely road if a
person feels they are on it alone and even God doesn’t care. Realizing
God cares enough to set things up for us to experience all that is
important to us should give us another viewpoint of God. At the very
least, we can finally accept that no one is exempt from suffering, not
now or for the duration of this life.
And as a bonus, we may now have something to tell others who ask us
that same old question one more time.
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She
writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email
her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whether we think of it this way or not, every one of us suffers from