Why does a Kind and Almighty God allow Suffering in His World?
This is the popular question every unbeliever asks. Almost all the atheists propound this argument in support of their claim that there is no God. Their argument goes like this: If God is kind why does He allow natural disasters like tsunami and earthquakes which take away tens of thousands of lives? If you say it is the evil power in the world, Satan, who brings in suffering, then their question is, if so what is God doing? Why doesn’t He control the enemy? Is He powerless in front of this Satan? If that be the case then, they say, there is no point worshipping a God like that.
In case God has the power and still does not control the evil and the suffering in this world, then He appears heartless to them, who does not care for the suffering in this world. In such a case also, they hold, He is not worthy of worship. So God gets it from both the sides as it were!
Then what is the answer? Why is there suffering in this world? The whole world suffers, nature suffers, animals suffer and so also human beings. Not just due to natural calamities, but also in sickness and death, war and famine, oppression and poverty, unjust human laws and traditions. The list could go on. The strong oppress the weak; selfishness rules all the decisions. Why is the world so? Why doesn’t God, if there is One, do something about it? Or is there no One after all?
Different world-views offer different explanation for the presence of pain in the world and prescribe different solutions for the malady. According to Hinduism, suffering in this birth is the result of accumulated ‘karma’ or deeds in the past births of a human being. Because one birth is not sufficient for a man/woman to reap the consequences of a good act/deed or bad act/deed, a person takes many births to pay the penalty for the sins or wrong deeds of the past. This is called the ‘karma theory’ and the ‘reincarnation theory’ of repeated births that goes with it.
The remedy is to patiently undergo the situation where life has placed a person in this life and do religiously the duties of that station, as prescribed in the ‘Varnashrama dharma,’ by ancient Hindu scripts, and in so doing accumulate good deeds which in one birth or the other will overwhelm the bad deeds and lead one to liberation from the cycle of repeated births and deaths. The aim thus is to get out of this world, break from the bondage of ‘samsara,’ the cycle of repeated birth and death, and get liberated from life itself, so that life cannot enforce its sufferings on you.
Well, that is one view. In Buddhism, which came off Hinduism in protest against the religious dominance of priests of those days, karma theory is kept intact. Buddhism considers the world or the life of human being as full of suffering, due to sickness, old age and death. These are due to the bad deeds or karma one has accumulated during past lives.
The remedy suggested here is to get at the root cause of such suffering, which is seen as attachment to life or desires which lead to such attachments. If one can kill desire, then one can achieve detachment and the sufferings will not touch a person. Once a person reached this level, he is said to have achieved ‘nirvana,’ a desire-less status, and get released from the world of suffering.
Well this is another view. Most of the eastern religions, influenced either by Hinduism or Buddhism point to the past deeds of a person as the reason for suffering in this world and the remedy prescribed is to get liberated from this world. Hinduism goes to the extent of calling this world ‘maya’ or an illusion. The material world is bad and the only way to achieve eternal bliss is to give up this world or get liberated from this world.
The dominant religion of the West once was Christianity. One can still claim so, in spite of relativism and pluralism that have eroded their religion of yester years. Christianity based on Bible offers a totally different answer. The material world created by God is good, for He affirmed that it was good after each day of creation activity. A good and beautiful world was created, with vegetation, animals and all the support systems and finally man and woman were created to be His reagents on earth and to look after it.
Humans themselves were created in the image of God and were totally good. They were created as free beings, with a will of their own. They could use it to make decisions that faced them. The immediate decision that confronted them was whether or not to eat the apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, forbidden by God their Creator, but egged on by Satan to eat so that their eyes could be opened. A major decision, perhaps the first ever decision to be made by the first human pair.
Using their free will, Adam and Eve decided to eat the fruit in disobedience to God’s instructions. It seems to people of other faiths that the matter was simply that of eating an apple of a tree. And why should God get so upset about it to punish the whole human race thus? What they fail to notice are the finer details of the decision Eve made and let her husband Adam to follow.
She reasoned out that the fruit was good to look at, desirable to eat, and would give them a status at par with God. Why not be equal to God, was the question. Why not be the God of our own life? Why be under someone else’s control, but be on their own? Does it sound like the rebellious teenager who defies the parental authority with the question, “this is my life and I will do what I want with it! Who are you to ask?” That was what the first human pair did too. Question the authority of God and wanting to be their own masters.
Yes they made their choice, but that choice involved the opposite road to God’s path of wisdom and brought in sin, sickness and death to the world. We became the descendants of the “Fallen race,” according to the Bible. The world itself became ‘cursed’ and what was created as ‘good,’ became ‘marred’ by human sin of disobedience and wanting to be masters of their own life. That is how suffering entered the once perfect world that God had created.
So what is the remedy? We die in such a pathetic condition as ‘marred’ beings? Is there no where to turn to? Has God left us to suffer for ever like this and the world to go on in this manner? Does He not care?
Well, God created human beings as thinking and rational beings with a will of their own, so He would not take it and impose His solution on them. That would be to make a robot out of man. Rather He would take the punishment on Himself and suffer and in so doing alter the condition of the world, so that it would be restored to its perfect nature as it was in the beginning of creation, along with all the animals and the human beings. The communion and relationship with God that was lost due to sin will have to be restored.
So the solution of God of the Bible was not to get out of the world, but to be in the world and transform it, by being renewed by Jesus Christ, who being God, incarnated as human being, lived our life, showed us how to live our life and died as a sacrifice for us, paying the penalty for our sins, so that we could be reconciled with God.
Whoever has faith in this act of Jesus Christ, will receive forgiveness of sins. No need for such a person to take innumerable births to wash of his bad deeds or ‘karma,’ with good deeds. That job was done by Jesus; all that we have to do is to believe in Him, so that we are transformed in our inner beings and our lost connection with God becomes re-established and we become children of God. We come into the family of God, with communication restored.
Why then there is still suffering on earth? It is 2000 years since Jesus died on the cross. Why is there no full restoration? Full restoration will happen only when Jesus Christ returns, return to rule. Time is given till then for all the people on earth to repent and turn to Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation or redemption or restoration or reconciliation, call it what you might. That is happening now and full restoration or consummation will occur only with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. That event will end the world as we know it and a rule of justice and righteousness will be established by the Lord Jesus Christ.
A truthful Christian or a follower of Christ will sincerely await His return and may even say, “Come Lord, come soon.”