Suffering is very real and very personal, I am always hesitant to address it briefly. I will try to provide some starting points for further thought and prayer, but please forgive me if anything I say comes across as if I am not taking seriously any real-life suffering you are dealing with. My hope is that will not be the case, and that amidst the suffering of this world each of us will find strength, comfort, and meaning in the community of those who have put their trust in Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The challenge is often framed in this way: if a loving and powerful God exists, He would not allow evil to exist; evil does exist; therefore, there must be no God. If a good and loving God exists then there is something we can appeal to beyond shifting cultural trends and arbitrary genetic programming as the basis of morality, as the basis for saying that some things really are objectively good and right, and some things really are objectively evil and wrong. Each and every individual has an intrinsic and inalienable moral worth. And this worth is no less when old age or disability or disease or any host of other things threaten to make us less useful for the evolutionary goal of survival.
If God has good reasons for allowing suffering, we should know what those reasons are.
But why do we think that?
For instance, when parents decide to move their family from one city to another, this can genuinely be very difficult on a young child. At the moment, the child might be certain that all happiness is behind him, that his parents hate him, and that for all practical purposes his life is over. Such outrage on the part of a child does not mean that the child’s parents are wrong to make the move, and it does not mean that they don’t love him. In fact, it’s very likely that it was precisely the good of their children that weighed heavily on the parents’ decision.
You can see the analogy: if parents’ reasons are sometimes beyond what a child can fully grasp, why then should we be surprised when some of God’s reasons are beyond what we can fully grasp? This general approach is referred to as ‘Skeptical Theism’ in academic philosophy. But it’s not a new idea:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.”
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)[iii]
If God is as great as Christians claim He is, then sometimes not fully grasping the fullness of His reasons is exactly what we should expect. And if it’s exactly what we should expect to find if God does exist, then our finding it can’t be strong evidence that God does not exist.