RE:QUESTA space for resources to help RE teachers and their students explore the Christian faith
Lat Blaylock, Editor, RE Today
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The Problem of Evil and Suffering
If God exists why does he allow suffering?
People are divided on the question of whether or not God is real. Some people believe that we are here by chance, a result of evolution; that we make our own destiny and decisions; that it is down to humans to help each other with no greater power existing to help us along the way.
Christians are theists, that is, people who believe in God. And not just a distant being or power, but a God who knows the people He created intimately and loves them passionately. Christians believe that God is:
- Omnipotent - all-powerful
- Omniscient - all-knowing
- Omnipresent - all-present, everywhere
- Omnibenevolent - all-loving.
An understanding of how Christians view the nature of God is really important in understanding why some struggle with the idea that God exists when they experience suffering.
How do evil and suffering impact belief in God?
Some people struggle with belief in God because of their understanding of God's nature:
- If God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, he must know about and see all the suffering, so why doesn't he stop it? He's powerful enough to help, so why does he let it continue?
- If God is omnibenevolent, how can he allow people to suffer?
- If God is all these things, why do we live in a world where children starve or die from disease, people are killed in accidents, and cancer exists?
These are the big questions that people struggle with when faced with evil and suffering in the world. However, Christians don't believe that evil and suffering prove God doesn't exist, quite the opposite in fact.
CHRISTIAN RESPONSES TO SUFFERING
The Misuse of Free Will When God created the world, he gave humans free will; the freedom to make their own choices. So evil and suffering is a direct result of some humans making poor choices, which brings about all the bad stuff going on in the world (moral evil). God's not to blame for suffering, humans are responsible.
A Result of the Fall Since the Fall - when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were thrown out of the Garden of Eden - the world has been filled with sin, which in turn has resulted in the suffering experienced by many people around the world.
A Test In the Old Testament we read about the story of Job. He was a wonderful man, without sin. God permitted Satan to test Job, to see if he was as committed to God as he appeared. Satan proceeded to unleash all manner of evil and suffering on Job and his family, sons, and daughters, leaving Job very sick. All through this, Job stayed faithful to God, even sticking up for him with his friends. God rewarded Job richly, giving him back much of what he'd lost. Some Christians believe this shows God uses suffering to test us.
Suffering has a Purpose Christians believe that suffering has a purpose; it can teach them things, make them grateful for what they have, and also cause them to reach out and help others. It can also bring them closer to God as they reach out to him for support.
Prayer Christians respond by praying to God for people, directly interceding, asking God to help people.
Social Action They also take action, working in communities, sometimes setting up charities, with the express purpose of helping to ease suffering. Tearfund is one such charity, reaching out to people suffering from poverty across the world. Many churches across the UK run food banks for the poor.