Ask a friar…Why Does God permit suffering?

    I have been raised Catholic, and have always attended Catholic schools, I am now in my 12th year. Recently I have struggled to believe in an loving and all powerful God because I don't see how a loving and all powerful God would allow suffering. Most of the answers that I have gotten explain it through free will, or the adam and eve story. About free will, why would God tempt us through free will, and how does that explain where the first evil came from. And I don't find any answer using the Adam and Eve story helpful because I don't really believe it, and if it was true why would God put the fruit in the garden, let the snake in the garden, and where would Eve's desire to disobey God come from? Also why would God create a Hell, wouldn't he want to forgive everyone even after death? I have heard that people who go to hell have chosen it, but why would God make the ability to chose it an option?

Please any kind of answer will help


The discussion of where evil comes from is complicated, but I think there are two points to keep in mind: first, God loves us and only permits evil so that more good can come about in the universe; second, we don't know why God allows this or that particular bad thing to happen - it remains beyond my individual grasp. Often, to try to give meaning to something that happens only makes it seem worse and petty, because we give God our own motives. However, there is a third truth: God became man and suffered and died alongside us, experiencing all of our suffering. He did this to show us that He is constantly with us, that He despises suffering, and that it will eventually be destroyed. That is the best answer, I think, to the question of suffering. Christ is with you when things go wrong, as He is with everyone everywhere.

As to the specific questions you asked: God does not tempt us "through" free will. Free will is just part and parcel of being intelligent beings that can choose their own actions. We made it a possibility to sin when we chose against God in the garden of Eden. But God's plan was not for this. Evil just came from us - God did not desire this. Moral evil came from our turning freely against God. While I certainly think the Adam-and-Eve story is true (despite the "literal" details being somewhat ambiguous, we can say that there were first humans who were privileged by God and who turned against Him freely), you don't have to believe it in order to see how sin has infected our world. Nor do you need to believe it to see even how people who grow up in good families can still make bad decisions. Why? Because they remain free. Their parents could chain them to the bed, but that would just make them worse parents and their children less good as a result. God knows what happens in peoples' hearts and is more loving even than the best parent - He gives everyone the opportunity to come to Him or to freely turn away. The details of the Adam-and-Eve story might be misleading to someone just reading them, but the point of the snake and tree and all that is to say that Eve and Adam were given complete knowledge of moral good and evil. They knew the wrong and the right, they were free-er than we are now to make good decisions. Yet, they sinned. We suffer from that mistake. But, at the end of the story, God promises a saviour to redeem humanity - "He will smash your head." That's why we sing at Easter, "O happy fault that won so great a redeemer." God allowed original sin to bring us closer to Himself in Christ. There is an ultimate good and an ultimate victory that will come: the end of suffering and death at the end of time, and it begins now with our spiritual union with God. 

As to Hell, God doesn't want to chain people to the bed. It would be a far worse punishment to manipulate people than to let them do what they want. The chief punishment in hell is just that people "get what they want." Wanting something other than God leads to an eternity of having that thing other than God. And that is a punishment worse than death, because they realize how shallow and empty that thing they wanted is. They realize their mistakes. But God is merciful in allowing them to seek this, and in not annihilating them or doing something worse. God allows people to do these things because He loves them. Just like He did in Jerusalem when they crucified Him, He prayed that they would see the error of their ways and made every effort to help them see the truth. But He let them be really free - to even strike Him and kill Him. God allowed it, at least in part, because He wanted us to be like He is - truly free and able to love freely. You can't force people to love you. 

This might be stuff you've heard before. I think, in the end, we have to remember the clear truth that God exists, that He controls everything, and that He only wants our good. If we cling to a firm belief in His providence, we know He permits suffering only because it is part of His great love for us. 

Hope this helps!