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Why Would a Good God Let People Suffer?

Question:

How would you respond the next time someone asks you,
“If God is a good God, how can He allow innocent people to suffer?”

Because we humans can’t completely understand the mystery of suffering we feel that a good God would not allow innocent people to suffer. But, do we really know what God, who is the only one who bears all wisdom, has in store for the person who suffers? Furthermore, can we be certain that the person who suffers doesn’t have the joy of God as well giving great meaning and purpose to his life? Is it the person who suffers who we should feel sorry for, or is it the person who has everything that earthly ways can obtain, but has no faith, who we must feel sorry for? Does God hand out suffering with no joy and only misery, or do we perpetuate our own misery when we decide we don’t need Him?

We need to always remember the special people in our lives who inspire us with their faith. These are the people who endure many different kinds of misfortune and still manage to hold the joy of God in their hearts. Many of these people offer their sufferings to God for the sake of the good of His Kingdom. Despite their suffering, they have joy because they have purpose. Mother Teresa willingly suffered for God and maintained her joy, but ordinary people suffer and have joy too. These are people who hold onto their joy of faith. These are people I work with, attend Mass with, go to Bible School with, etc. The person we really need to pray for isn’t the person who suffers, but it is the person who lacks the joy that comes from faith in God. In a sense, you could say that the person we need to pray for most is the person who can’t accept his sufferings because he lacks the faith to trust God in all matters of his life.

There are many types of suffering; loss of a loved one, loss of employment, divorce, hunger, violence, drugs, and the list goes on. There is major suffering and minor suffering, and there is suffering without joy and suffering with joy. I believe that all ‘suffering without joy’ has one root, and that is lack of faith in God. We can look at the once healthy person who is now in a wheelchair and say he should hang his head low in despair, and ask, “Why does a good God allow innocent people to suffer?”. When we do this, we define the conditions of joy for that person, and this is just plain wrong. Who are we to know that those who experience loss of some sort don’t also have joy?

We learn through the saints, that suffering can be a sacrificial offering for the sake of lost souls. We see the joy of the saints through their persistent faith and works. Some people are joyous because they make use of their suffering for the good of God and his Kingdom.

We all know people who seem to have it all, but are depressed beyond reason. By the same token, there is that person who seems to have little in the way of earthly wealth, and yet rises every morning with a smile. We can’t define the conditions which should make a person wallow in despair, and I would be willing to bet that the person who loves God with all of his heart has the strength to weather all types of storms.

How can one compare any length of time on earth to an eternity in Heaven? There is no comparison. Will those who suffer loss on earth dwell on that loss when they are in Heaven? I think not.

All of this brings to mind the words of Job when he first experienced loss. “God giveth and God taketh away.” We recite similar words from the book of Genesis on Ash Wednesday. “From dust you came and to dust you shall return”. In part, I think this is God’s reminder to us that the earth is not the be all or the end all, and we will be sorely disappointed if we put all our trust into the earth instead of into God.

Nothing worthwhile comes without the suffering of sacrifice. I can’t help but think that Job could have continued to show his love for God without question, and by so doing he could have remained a steady and never wavering example of shining faith. His suffering could have given purpose to his life if he never complained or insisted in front of his friends that he needed answers from God. I don’t believe that misfortune takes a person’s joy away. It is when a person feels he is left without purpose that his suffering might get the best of him. When one loses faith in God, one begins to lose purpose. Job, in his weakness, began to lament his woes and beg for answers. It isn’t until Job speaks with God that he begins to see his smallness in the face of the greatness of God. When he sees how little he is in the face of such greatness, his faith is restored. Undoubtedly, with such faith, comes joy.

Then Job answered the Lord; “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer thee? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” Job 40:5

Then Job answered the Lord: I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Job 42:1-3

Today’s Gospel reminded me of the lesson that Job learned. Jesus, in a sense, tells his apostles that they become great by becoming little.

But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. Mark 10:43-44

Mother Teresa suffered for the sake of others. She was a humble servant of God, and in lowering herself to the level of a suffering servant, she becomes a great saint. Job learns this lesson. When Job sees how little he is, he realizes that the most important thing he can do in the face of his suffering, is to trust God.

I believe that faith in God is the only thing that can truly sustain us in any situation, and nothing else compares to the strength that faith in God provides. The most pathetic conditions can’t compare to the dark place a person finds himself in when he forgets God. Some people would argue that the only thing necessary for happiness is a purpose, period. But, I believe that there is no purpose that truly matters other than serving God. We can’t really serve God until we trust entirely in his ways. This complete trust doesn’t demand answers that we can understand and appreciate. This is the lesson that Job learned. God never sufficiently answers Job's question as to why he suffered hardship, because that was not God's aim in finally speaking to Job. Job learns that it is God alone that bears all wisdom, and he must have trust in Him. We must also have this trust; a trust that allows us to accept our limitations and rejoice in our all powerful God for which no limitation exists.

Job 40:5
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
5Clothe thyself with beauty, and set thyself up on high and be glorious, and put on goodly garments.
Job 42:1-3
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
1Then Job answered the Lord, and said:
2I know that thou canst do all things, and no thought is hid from thee.
3Who is this that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have spoken unwisely, and things that above measure exceeded my knowledge.
Mark 10:43-44
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
43But it is not so among you: but whosoever will be greater, shall be your minister.
44And whosoever will be first among you, shall be the servant of all.
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