Q. One question that I constantly struggle with is the presence of suffering. Now in small cases, such as events that won’t matter in a year from the occurrence or events that we will recover from, then I understand that in order to know happiness you must know it’s contrast. What I struggle with is if our God is an all loving, merciful God, then why are there children dying of starvation or cancer? I don’t understand why an all-powerful, ever-loving God would allow this type of suffering to happen. How can we explain this?
A. Well, that certainly is a deep question! And a good one. In fact, I’d say this is one of the all time most important questions to understand. The answer actually goes to the core of our faith and the saving Cross of Jesus. Let me do my best to explain.
First of all, we are in a fallen world. God never intended us to be in a state of “fallenness.” Or, as we call it, a “state of original sin.” Rather, God’s original intention was what the Bible presents as the Garden of Eden. This original state, the state of original innocence, was a state of pure happiness and oneness with God and one another. The problem is that in order for us to be able to truly love God and one another, God had to give us free will. Without free will there can be no love. True love of God and others is an act that each person freely gives and freely chooses. But by giving us free will God gives us the option of turning away from Him. Thus, our first parents chose to turn away from God by committing a personal sin. And the effect of that personal sin was separation from God. And separation from God meant the loss of all God provides: life, happiness, unity, harmony, health, fulfillment and the like.
But what about us? And what about children who have not personally sinned? I think the best way to understand this is to consider the idea of an inheritance. If your parents have a million dollars and name you in their will as the heir of this money you will receive it upon their passing. However, if they squander that money and spend it all, say, in a casino, then you lose your inheritance. Perhaps that doesn’t seem fair but it the way it works. So it is with us. We lost the inheritance of the Garden of Paradise because our first parents lost their right to be there when they rejected God. We, then, are born into the state of fallenness that they entered into.
So disease, disorder in nature and even death are now a part of our existence. And sometimes this causes great suffering for us. Furthermore, all people still have free will which means others can sin against us and cause us pain. And, sadly, all of these realities can affect children as well as any of us.
But the story would not be complete if we didn’t speak of the answer God gave! God, the Father, seeing our fallen nature, chose to come down to this fallen state so as to reestablish a relationship with us all. He did that by sending His Son into the world. God the Son, took on our fallen human nature, entered into every kind of suffering we can endure and even died. But, as we know, death did not have the final victory. God the Son conquered sin and death by rising again! We now have the ability to unite ourselves to Him so that we can also share in that resurrection.
So God’s answer was not to destroy human existence after we fell. Rather, His answer was to meet us in this fallen state so as to elevate us even higher than our first state. As for the innocent who suffer (especially children), we should know that God loves them more than we will ever realize. In Heaven this will make perfect sense. But for now we must constantly look for signs of that love and discover the countless ways that God reaches out to them in their need.