The Problematic of Human Suffering 19

Love is also the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery: we are conscious of the insufficiency and inadequacy of our explanations. Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and to discover the “why” of suffering, as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love (John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris §13)

For many believers and unbelievers alike, perhaps, the greatest scandal is the undeniable fact that suffering and evil exist in the world — that innocent human beings suffer, for no apparent reason. Children suffer and die of cancer. Natural disasters wipe out peoples’ livelihood and destroy their lives in a matter of seconds. Oppressive dictatorships imprison, torture, and slaughter innocent people simply on account of their having different beliefs and political views. The fact that these things happen has lead a lot of people to question, “How could God allow these things to happen to happen?” It has lead many to conclude, there is no God.

Christmas 2004, the day the word "Tsunami" became a part of everyone's vocabulary. Estimated 200,000 people killed in this disaster.

Dec. 6, 2004, the word “Tsunami” became a part of everyone’s vocabulary. Estimated 200,000 people killed in this disaster.

The problematic issue of God’s allowing evil and suffering is often described as a contradiction, where if God exists, then evil should not exist; yet evil clearly exists in the world; therefore, God does not exist. How can an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God, allow evil when surely, if he were omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, he could and should prevent all evil from happening? Yet the one thing we can be sure of is the presence of evil in the world.

Joseph Stalin, personally responsible for the deaths of 50 Million people.

Joseph Stalin, personally responsible for the deaths of 50 Million people.

To summarize the “problematic of human suffering” argument, if There is a God, then God must be:

  1. Omnipotent — he has the power to stop evil things from happening
  2. Omniscient — he knows what evil is and knows when it will occur, so he could prevent it
  3. Benevolent — he is good so he should oppose all evil
  4. Yet evil exists in the world… therefore either God does not have the power to stop evil, or he is ignorant about it, or else he just does not care or wants bad things to occur
  5. But if that were the case, then God would not be perfect, and therefore, not God
  6. Due to the existence of evil and unjust suffering in the world, one can only conclude that there is no God

As I said at the beginning of this post, the greatest scandal is the undeniable fact that suffering and evil exist in the world.

Why “problematic”? I use the term problematic, because this issue is more that a problem. It compounds several difficult to resolve issues into one. For instance, many people find divine omnipotence to be problematic by itself: “Can God make a rock so big he can’t lift it?” No. “Then he’s not omnipotent.”

I cannot open too many cans of worms here, so today I am not going to respond to the pseudo-problem of omnipotence not being possible because it cannot impose limits on itself and therefore it must be limited and not omnipotent. Recently, I wrote a post on Understanding Omniscience (and Omnipotence, and Free Will, etc…), so I don’t intend to return to that issue, although in order to resolve the problematic of suffering, we need to take into consideration some of the things I said in that article, such as:

  1. God’s omniscience is not tantamount to him predetermining everything
  2. God’s allowing things to happen is not the same as his wanting them to happen or making them happen
  3. God’s omniscience also allows him to see further consequences that humans cannot see; hence some evil can be allowed for a greater good, unforeseen to us, but not to God.

These considerations, however, are only key distinctions that one needs to make so as not to succumb to the misguided logic in the argument presented above. Ultimately, no matter how you argue against the problem, the problem does not go away. Evil persists and that is the real problem we ought to be concerned with. Blaming God or denying him will not make things any better.

As long as human beings dwell in this Valle of Tears, there will always be suffering. The reality of evil in the world will always be a problem, until Christ comes again. The response to hardship, therefore, has to be hope, patience, love, and mercy. We do not rise above evil by turning our backs on God. Rather, we rise above it by turning to God in hope of salvation, and doing our part to help alleviate the evil and suffering in this world.

As God’s children who are all brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters in the human family, our duty is to do God’s work of bringing hope, peace, and consolation to one another in the face of the most difficult trials that all of us have to endure from time to time.

So long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, decrees of damnation pronounced by society, artificially creating hells amid the civilization of earth, and adding the element of human fate to divine destiny; so long as the three great problems of the century— the degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of light— are unsolved; so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world;—in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Miserables cannot fail to be of use. (Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, Preface)

The response to suffering can only be love.


  1. I always compare God in heaven to “parent” on earth. I, as a father, have a particular will for my children, but I cannot force them to do my will. Unfortunately, I have to let them learn on their own, even though I tell them and express to them what is good and what is bad. I don’t want them to hurt, but hurt sometimes happens. And, if learned from, hurt can be learned from and realized.

    “Why does God allow suffering?” someone once asked.

    In response, “Why does the parent allow the child to suffer a tetanus shot? Why does a parent allow a child to fall down when the child is insistent on skating on the sidewalk? Does the parent love the child any less, or is the parent allowing all these realizations to occur in the child through experience and suffering?”

    And finally, what is the goal in the end? For eternity in heaven, is starvation worthwhile? Is pain? Torture? What brings a man closer to our Blessed Lord: warmth, pleasures of the flesh, wealth, and food, OR, pain, suffering, and longing for God in the cold, wet streets?

    I would say let me experience all the pains of hell now in this life in order to reserve my seat in heaven among the angels!

    This topic of “problematic” suffering will be sung until the very end. Thanks for your words on this subject. God bless!

    • The problematic of suffering will indeed be sung until the very end, because this is our plight here on earth. We do not comprehend purification, because it is a mystery. But we can, through our experiences, come to understand it better, and through those same experiences, we can also grow in our hope of heaven.

      Thanks, Travis, and God bless!

  2. ”We do not rise above evil by turning our backs on God. Rather, we rise above it by turning to God in hope of salvation, and doing our part to help alleviate the evil and suffering in this world.”
    This is our business as Christians. To do the work of God on earth in order to bring others to Him. To have Faith. To live the Faith.
    I will re-read your previous posting on the omniscience/omnipotence and free will. My trail of though immediately led to the fact that we HAVE TO CHOOSE! We are the one’s that have to make the choices. Not God. This is part and parcel of the Story of Salvation.

    From the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
    A Help to Conversion (1041)
    The Last Judgment calls us to conversion. Each day is “an acceptable time of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2). This truth inspires a holy fear, a commitment to justice, and also a hope, because the Lord will “be glorified in his saints” (2 Thess 1:10).

    Great reading, as usual.

    • Indeed, it is our business as Christians to do the work of God on earth, and that work is Charity. Love is the answer to sin and suffering, as Christ taught us by laying down his life for his friends.

      Thanks for sharing the quotes from the Catechism and St Paul. God bless!

  3. Reblogged this on Citizen Tom and commented:
    We are creatures of thought and logic. We are also creatures that love and hate. Because it more clearly shows how we feel about evil, this post is a logical extension of a post I wrote.
    It is not enough for our minds to understand the problem of evil. To love God, our hearts too must accept the fact that God permits evil to exist.

    • Evil and suffering in the world is a mystery we will never comprehend. The short answer is not to deny God, because that still does not answer the question. We understand the mystery better though patience, experience, love, mercy, and prayer.

      Thanks for your comments and for reblogging this post, Citizen Tom.

    • The fact that people choose to sin explains why there is “moral” evil, because sin is just that. And that of couse is a matter of free will. Thanks for the comment, Teresa.

  4. Thanks for a brave attempt on one of the most difficult questions ever. It is something so difficult to understand. I am reading a book by Fr.Richard Rohr that tackles this subject from a different angle, and that is hard to truly grasp as well. I keep plugging along.
    The questions just keep rippling outward, like the splash of a stone thrown into still water.

    • “Like the splash of a stone thrown into still water” — good image to describe what a mystery is.

      On the topic of suffering, I could recommend the book The Promise, by Fr Jonathan Morris. He’s also a Fox News contributor, so maybe you would be familiar with him.

      God bless you on your Advent journey!

    • I have noticed that something certainly is odd. There is a discrepancy between the “number of likes” and the number of gravatar icons under each post. I’m sure it is a WordPress glitch. I have also noticed a number of other changes they’ve been making recently, with associated glitches. No prob.

      Thanks for the “Likes,” Reinkat!

  5. Our parish priest and I had an interesting conversation with my 7th grade Faith Formation class about this earlier in the week. The point we made to the kids is that without suffering, without hardship, we could neither know nor comprehend joy, and we would be bereft of opportunities to uplift and serve one another. You’d be surprised in a good way) at some of the questions the kids asked about how suriviving difficult things brings us closer to Christ. Peace be with you — Kelly

    • Coincidentally, your reflection with your pastor and 7th graders is actually very fitting for Advent.

      It will be like a woman experiencing the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives place to joy because she has brought a new person into the world. You have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. — John 16:21-22

      Peace be with you, and thank you for helping our youngsters grow in their faith.

      Have a blessed Advent journey!

      • Thank you! This particular group is very interested in lifeissues, too, and Advent has been an incredible opportunity for them to learn about the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph’s “plight,” in the eyes of their culture, and compare their response to the message many of their peers are receiving in our modern times. May you have a blessed and peaceful Advent!

        P.S. Your posts occasionally make it into our class reading, too 😉

  6. Thank you for a very well presented position on this often mishandled anomaly (by me especially) good friend. I fear that I often times try to handle difficult topics with an ironclad approach, knowing full well that there are many more questions left unanswered than answered. We should be very cautious in applying Joseph’s words to his brothers, and Paul’s to the Romans, if for no other reason, than we might be checking “love and mercy” at the door of opportunity. I’m learning the hard way that sometimes “I don’t know” and “a hug in silence” yields better results than all the theology in the world. The gospel is “good news” even in the midst of unexplained evil and catastrophe. Blessings

    • The reality of suffering that all people experience can be too real and too harsh to resolve with rational explanations, sometimes. In those cases it is more charitable and compassionate for one to console, and at the proper time, invite the suffering or grieving person to accept the mystery of suffering in peace of heart. Yet we always have to respect the grieving process. And above all things, we have to always bear in mind that the message of the Gospel is Love, not cold rational answers, but Love.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, and God bless!

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