If God is Good, Why is There Evil and Suffering in the World?
The Old Testament’s book of Job wrestled with this same question. Job was a good man who lost all his children and property and contracted a horrible disease. Always trusting God despite his setbacks, Job’s sufferings helped him grow as a person. And that is one partial answer to why there is suffering: God can come from it. As the old saying adapted from the book of Ecclesiastes states, “God writes straight with crooked lines” (7:13-14).
Job’s ordeal did give him a further insight on the question of evil and suffering. Toward the end of his trials, Job says to God, “You have told me about great works that I cannot understand, about marvels which are beyond me, of which I know nothing…but now, having seen you with my own eyes, I retract what I have said and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:3-6). • Job admits that God’s ways are mysterious and that ultimately we cannot fully understand them. It takes humility and trust to admit that we can never understand the mystery of innocent suffering and evil in the world. But divine revelation helps us understand some things about the world’s evil. Consider these points.
(1) God’s created world is on a journey to perfection. It is not yet perfect. The world is in a process of becoming. Nature’s constructive and destructive forces exist side-by-side. The more perfect exists alongside the less perfect. “What physical good there also exists physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection”(Catechism of the Catholic Church 310).
As the star athlete must experience pain to hone her skills, so the world undergoes pain to achieve the perfection God has in store. We cannot now appreciate the pain involved in this growth process because innocent people suffer at the hands of nature. But we believe that in God’s wisdom this growth is good for individuals and humanity as it journeys to perfection.
(2) The source of much moral evil is the result of the misuse of freedom. Out of divine goodness, God created humans (and angels) as intelligent and free creatures. Intelligence and freedom make us beings of tremendous dignity and not mere automations. But these two gifts require responsibility. We must freely choose to love God and others on our journey toward eternity. When we refuse to love, we sin. And sin brings about incredible evil and suffering.
Christian revelation tells us that when some angels chose to sin, the fallen angels, also known as devils, unleashed evil in the world in opposition to God. This might explain some of the natural evil in the world. Christian revelation also informs us that our first parents abused their freedom and committed a sin whose consequences infected all their descendants. This sin of Adam and Eve is known as the original sin. Moral evil entered the world through the original sin and has led to all types of human sin like war, abortion, drug abuse, prejudice, greed that causes immense poverty, sexual aberration, etc. God does not cause moral evil like this. Humans, but misusing their freedom, are its cause. God permits it, however, because God loves and respects the free creatures he had made. And in a way known only to God (a truth that Job eventually admitted), God knows how to derive good out of all evil.
(3) Christian faith announces the good news of Jesus Christ, who conquered the forces of evil. Certainly, the worst moral evil in the world was for humans to put to death the innocent God-man. Like any normal person, Jesus abhorred suffering and even asked his Father to protect him from it. But Jesus freely embraced the sufferings that unjustly came his way by submitting to his Father, “May your will be done.” The Father heard Jesus’ prayer, not by saving Jesus from death, but by saving him out of death. Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection have conquered the worst evil: death and separation from God. If we love as Jesus teaches us to do and join our sufferings to him, we will share forever in the Lord’s superabundant, joy-filled life. And this “good news” helps us cope with the mystery of evil and suffering.