What are some reasons why God might allow his creatures to suffer?

Lets take a closer look at a puzzle
Lets take a closer look at a puzzle

There’s an interesting article posted at Belief Map.

He sets up the possible reasons with a very good explanation of the structure of the argument. His explanation allows him to balance the existence of suffering with “greater goods”.

Most Christians can name some of the ones that he talks about: free will, character formation, etc.

But what about this quote from a section entitled “Worldly people turning to seek God is good”:

Seeking fellowship with God is a great good (especially in the context of eternity). This is relevant because, with less suffering, fewer would seek God. Indeed,

• “Religiosity declines as worldly prosperity of individuals rises.”[2005 WIN-Gallup International poll]1

• Studies confirm that Christianity grows most rapidly during hardships.2

• It is intuitively clear that suffering would lead us to turn to God.3

Eleonore Stump (Philosophy professor at Saint Louis): “Natural evil—the pain of disease, the intermittent and unpredictable destruction of natural disasters, the decay of old age, the imminence of death—takes away a person’s satisfaction with himself. It tends to humble him, show him his frailty, make him reflect on the transience of temporal goods, and turn his affections towards other-worldly things, away from the things of this world.” [“The Problem of Evil” Faith and Philosophy, 2 (1985): 409.]

A bit later, it says this:

This is not to say God causes suffering, or even that that God permits suffering to bring this about. It only says the world is better to at least some degree for God’s not preventing it for a time, and God’s knowing that could factor into overriding his reasons to prevent suffering.

For example:

• Peter van Inwagen: “If God did what is proposed, we should all be satisfied with our existence–or at least a lot closer to being satisfied than most of us are now. And if we are satisfied with our existence, why should we even consider turning to God and asking for His help? An essential and important component of God’s plan of Atonement—this constitutes an addition to our theodicy—is to make us dissatisfied with our state of separation from Him; and not by miraculously altering our values or by subjecting us to illusion or by causing us suffering that has no natural connection with our separation, but simply by allowing us to ‘live with’ the natural consequences of this separation, and by making it as difficult as possible for us to delude ourselves about the kind of world we live in: a hideous world, much of whose hideousness is quite plainly traceable to the inability of human beings to govern themselves to or order their own lives. Let us expand our theodicy: An essential part of God’s plan of Atonement for separated humanity is for human beings to perceive that a natural consequence of human beings’ attempting to order their own lives is a hideous world—a world that is hideous not only by His standards, but by the very standards they themselves accept.” [“The Magnitude, Duration, and Distribution of Evil: A Theodicy” Philosophical Topics Vol XVI, No. 2 (1988): 174.]


• Paul Moser (Philosophy professor at Loyola University Chicago): “We can make some sense, in Paul’s wake, of why a perfectly loving God would allow certain kinds of pain and suffering. This God, as perfectly loving, would be after something more valuable than human sensory pleasure and the satisfaction of worldly human wants. God would hope that people be liberated from deadly idols in virtue of trusting God as the authoritative Lord who provides genuine human security and contentment, come what may in this world. This divine hope could thus make good use of allowing pain and suffering among us rather than protecting us from all pain and suffering. This would be part of God’s redemptive judgment of human idols, by bringing them to noticeable futility, for the sake of reconciliation of humans to God in volitional fellowship with God. It would be judgment intended, at least characteristically, to correct humans from their reliance on futile idols and to restore them to their creator and sustainer in volitional fellowship.” [The Elusive God (Cambridge, 2008), 42.]

And even mentioned in Scripture itself:

• Psalm 119:71 — It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.

• Philippians 4:12-14 — I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

If you want to check out some of the other reasons, then click through and read the article here. I think it’s worth it to read something if I learn something new, and I found some new competing goods to God’s permission of suffering in the article. I like the references to academic work and the Bible, too.

2 thoughts on “What are some reasons why God might allow his creatures to suffer?”

  1. I’ve wanted to write on this subject for a while and I’ve had some stuff written for a sermon (or maybe a book someday).

    ​”You can’t have an adventure if everything goes to plan. It’s usually when things go wrong, that’s when you have the adventure, the best stories, and the best experiences.”
    – Niall Doherty

    Why do we suffer? Because sometimes we must learn things by being forced into unclear time spans of pain, or despair, or fear, or helplessness, otherwise we might never learn from the experiences and thus not become who or what we were meant to be. The potential of not learning the lesson is the notion that we might be destined to repeat the mistakes of the past. “Those who cannot remember the past tend to repeat it.” The other option of not acting is regret. How manyt people dying think to themselves, “if only I could!…” Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.” Maybe we constantly suffer because we are always running from the past. Selective amnesia in order to avoid confronting our darker past selves or our past sins. Conflict avoidance is not always the best option. Figuring out why we, as individuals sin, will help us grow. It can help us avoid the triggers to those behaviors, it can potentially rewrite our brains to conquer new productive habits. (I.E. Quitting smoking and replacing the habit with meditation) I love these quotes “Smooth seas don’t make skilled sailors.” And “I cannot control the winds, but I can adjust my sails.” Ravi Zacharias tells about how one night he woke up during the night and a thought came to him. God told Noah exactly how to build the ark. Length, width, height, this many animals and so on. If you read the story, you’ll notice two things missing. No rudder, and no sails. I don’t know why these thoughts are so connected to nautical symbolism but I think this message was inspired by a poem.

    I have studied many times
    The marble which was chiseled for me—
    A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
    In truth it pictures not my destination
    But my life.
    For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
    Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
    Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
    Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
    And now I know that we must lift the sail
    And catch the winds of destiny
    Wherever they drive the boat.
    To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
    But life without meaning is the torture
    Of restlessness and vague desire—
    It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.
    – Edgar Lee Masters, George Gray

    Some virtues don’t exist without trouble. How can you be patient without the sacrifice of time? How can you be brave and courageous without fear? You can’t persevere through easy times. Sometimes God reminds us He’s still there by allowing un-pleasurable circumstances to cross our path. Other times we refuse to change our perspectives, pursue self-inflicted misery, chose to see pain as punishment, or just feel comfortable wallowing in attention seeking pity, victim puking because we gain the attention we have been longing for. I’m not saying you haven’t been a victim. I’m not reducing your pain to nothing. I’m saying in the outside view of everything, there has to be a moral reasoning for it. I don’t know the answer why you’ve suffered, but I know there has to be a reason. If God is the moral ultimate, if He is just, if He knows all truth, if He does rightly based upon His character, I’m saying there has to be a morally sufficient reason. If the opposite is true, and there is no moral sufficient reason, if there is no God, than why does this matter? How do YOU answer the question of ‘why do we suffer?’ If there is no God, how do you even explain pleasure? A socio-biological pattern? A ‘feel good’ chemical reaction in the brain? A trait selected to insure you mate?
    Why is it the most “successful”, or shall I phrase it rich, are the least happy, the least satisfied? Why is it the suicide hotline was created? From what I’ve heard, because hard working, striving men who make very good money, had no time to date or couldn’t find a suitable partner poured themselves into work and position and end up empty because it doesn’t satisfy. You can’t take money with you. Your possessions don’t show up to the funeral to give you epitaphs. Your left-behinds fight over what you’ve accumulated, nobody is impressed by the quality of living, and your legacy will one day be forgotten. Unless… there is a God…

    If there was no suffering and only pleasure, how would we meet each other on the same level? How would we build bridges leading to God simply from pleasure? Pain may be uncomfortable but it breaks down barriers we hide behind to avoid the pain of facing the consequences or shame of whatever actions that led to that feeling. It bridges the gap by creating a connection to those who feel alone on a desert island but if you remember “no man is an island.” We may be secluded in this life but there is always a way for God to reach out to you, to be with you, there’s nothing in or beyond this universe that can stop God. God can whisper to you in the deepest, darkest, most secure vault you find yourself in. The problem is sometimes we’re too busy crying to ourselves, too busy trying to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps to listen. Imagine standing in a bucket holding the handle and trying to pick yourself up. It doesn’t make sense. These situations force us to face the fear of asking for help. That’s when we overcompensate and enable bad habits to ruin what could have been an invaluable lesson by trying to alter reality, to change the circumstances ourselves.


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