As I concluded in the last post, I think it’s important to differentiate between those sufferings caused by God and others caused not by God. Even though suffering is suffering, manifesting itself in a similar way no matter the source, the reason I separate the two is because they require completely different responses. This post will deal specifically with sufferings caused by God.
The very idea of God causing suffering may be very hard for some to accept because it contradicts the image of a “loving God that just wants you to be happy.” Part of the problem in this field of study is that we often believe that suffering, no matter the source, shouldn’t exist. I don’t think that’s true. What sort of world would it be if we only ever experienced happiness, joy, sunshine, and success? What sort of superficial love would we have for God if we never experienced sadness, sorrow, or disappointment? Without the ability to experience all of these emotions we lack an ability to experience God. In some cases, God not only allows suffering to occur, but is also the one who sends it. How do we know the difference?
Like I said before, the approach has to be both/and, not either/or: I think God can manipulate natural forces and send them specifically to an individual in a miraculous way, e.g. the plagues in the Exodus, but I think that it’s more likely that creation exists as an ever-moving machine, always acting within the laws that govern it. For example, God could send a lightning bolt to target your house specifically, but its more likely that the answer is that your house was the tallest in the area, containing materials conducive for the flow of electricity between the earth to the sky. God created the laws of physics, and lightning abides by it, indiscriminate of whether or not humans dwell nearby.
In a way, this explanation is simply splitting hairs: either God is directly responsible by sending it specifically to a given people or place, or indirectly responsible because he allowed his creation, which never acts outside of its intended nature, to cause suffering. If we are to believe that God is all-powerful, why would he let things like this happen?
God created and loves all creation, not just humanity. If he were to intervene in every instance where we had the opportunity to suffer, there wouldn’t be anything left of creation but us! Cancer causes suffering, but it is a creation of God just like dogs, and so sometimes God allows life to work itself out the way it was created. (Other times, he works miracles.) Doing so allows us to more deeply understand God by understanding the nature of creation.
Other times, suffering can be the result of incorrect expectations. In the case of cancer, we experience suffering because we have the expectation of not receiving it; the same can be said about loss of property and death. In cases like these, it’s sometimes helpful to reorganize our priorities and better focus on God: a life in Christ is not free from harm, but it’s one of eternal joy upon rebirth into heaven. Sometimes, we just need to say, “that’s life,” understanding that suffering is just a part of life that we can endure. Can we really say, “I want to follow Christ, but I’m not willing to suffer?”
As crazy as it sounds, suffering may very well just be an experience that God wants us to have. It better prepares us to appreciate the good, it forces us to be dependent on him, it facilitates a society of caring and uplifting, and it opens us up to a more complete experience of God and the fullness of life. God does not send suffering upon us that we cannot endure because he is ever calling us back to him. Sometimes it’s like a parent that punishes a child: the child needs to learn the difference between right and wrong. Other times, God lets us venture out to explore, knowing that we’re going to experience hardship: a parent takes off the training wheels even though there’s a high probability of a crash in the future. Do either of these situations negate the goodness of a parent?
The problem is that a child can experience suffering caused by others, some of which a parent would never wish upon them. Pt. 3 will look at suffering caused by our free will that is completely separate and against the will of God: evil.