Since God is all-powerful and all good, how could He allow suffering to exist? Such is the dilemma which all people face at one time or another in their lives. It is a question which the human mind may never be able to fully comprehend.
There are three common questions which are raised about suffering. The first is the question of what suffering and evil are. The second is the question of why suffering exists. The third is the question of why suffering happens to good people. The first question is one that no man has been able to answer. Many philosophers have formulated ideas as to the nature of evil, but no one has been able to adequately explain what evil is. The idea of the absence of good as a positive malignant force is one that will always elude human comprehension.
For Christians, the answer to the second question is simple. Sin ultimately causes suffering in one form or another. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans says that “the wages of sin is death.” Sin causes infinite separation from God, for any evil is completely separated from a good and perfect being. Therefore, the effects of sin separate man from God’s good gifts; as goodness brings happiness and comfort, so also evil brings suffering.
The third and most important question to a Christian is why suffering happens to good people. If God is just, surely suffering can be parceled out by the gravity of the evil which a person commits. The Jews of Jesus’ day believed this, seeing illness, poverty, and physical maladies as the mark of sin on a person or a family. Christ, however, turns this idea on its head. He came into the world poor, associated Himself with the outcasts and mistreated members of society, and died the death of the worst criminals in the Roman Empire. If God Himself took on a human life full of suffering, then a human being’s personal association with evil cannot be the measure of that person’s suffering.
For Christians, suffering in reality is a gift that allows us to re-examine ourselves. We lose our pride in the face of being confronted with the same suffering that others experience. Suffering forces us to make important decisions, both about our current actions and our future ones. This process can bring out the best in others, prompting decisions to benefit whole groups of people or ones which will strengthen a person’s personal integrity.
The measure of a gift, however, depends on the person’s response to it. A person who takes suffering and broods over it only begets more suffering for himself. The person who uses the suffering of others as a means of manipulating people to seize power does irreparable harm not only to himself, but to others around him. All gifts, misused, bring destruction; this is true of suffering.The person who accepts suffering and resolves to be better because of it achieves fullness of life. This is what Christ means for us when He tells His disciples to take up their crosses. We cannot simply acknowledge that suffering exists; indeed, we must embrace it.