Quora.com | July 17th, 2014 | "If God is so Merciful, Why do the Innocent Suffer so Much?"
I answer this question from a basis of Christian theism.
This common question puts to the test two attributes of God. We ask, If God is perfectly merciful and all-powerful, why doesn't he immediately cause all suffering to cease? In this we must be careful not to assume we have sufficient knowledge and wisdom to judge him so, for he has another attribute: He is perfectly wise. Job, a man who generously cared for the poor, feared God, and of whom God boasted to be "a perfect and an upright man," was permitted to suffer the severest of tragedies in a single day, losing all his children, his business, and his assets, and was stricken with an excruciating skin disease. "In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly" (Job 1). Paul said "Let God be true, but every man a liar" (Rom 3). Paul even says, "The foolishness of God," that is, that which men regard as foolish, "is wiser than men" (1 Cor 1)
We must insist, therefore, that there is a good and just reason why physical suffering is not immediately eliminated. Most Christians increasingly understand this only over time. But we give God all benefit of any doubt, and this faith is confirmed as we grow in wisdom. We suffer many things, and it is this very suffering that drives us to love God more. I will offer what I understand.
- Suffering is a curse instigated by man's original rebellion (which is continually reaffirmed to this day). Thus being a byproduct of sin, it is redeemed through salvation from sin through Jesus the Son of God. Just as purification from sin is progressive and not consummated until the great re-creation, so is suffering. Romans 8:17-25, rather long to quote here, is crucial to understanding this.
God's allowance of suffering is most absolutely not from a lack of empathy. His Son fully experienced human suffering when he was crucified, not just physically, but emotionally. Isaiah could not have said it better:
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: Yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: The chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
- Suffering gives us cause to seek God's mercy. To the degree to which we are infected with sin is the degree to which we need deliverance. As the pain of a wound compels us to care for it before deadly damage is done, so on a universal scale. The pain that man collectively suffers must drive him to attend to the source, sin. Just as an injured man is foolish to seek to eliminate pain without addressing the causal injury, or to ignore the pain, so is it foolish for him to ignore his inherent wickedness, which deserves no better, ultimately speaking. It reminds us of our inevitable death, and to consider the state of our souls.
Here we must see the priority of sin over suffering. It is the bondage of sin, a force that destroys self, others, and nature, that God focuses on. Jesus explained the relationship between his healing ministry and the forgiveness of sins as he stood over a diseased and incapacitated man in public: "Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. And immediately he rose up before them" (Luke 5).
- God does deliver from suffering. Not only through giving power to overcome sin and its painful consequences. He saves those who humbly believe, specifically or subconsciously, in his mercy. This is exclusive, because those who spurn his mercy become enemies of life itself. God joys to be called upon, as the Bible voluminously shows. 2 Chronicles 16 says, "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him." In Exodus 22 he promises his deliverance unto the poor, the widows and orphans, and the stranger. Speaking of the city of Jerusalem personified, he said, "None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the lothing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born. And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live" (Eze 16), and lovingly raised her to prosperity.
I am not alien to suffering. I watched a younger brother of mine go through multiple heart surgeries after being born with a serious heart defect. He eventually died after over two years interspersed with happy moments. He was innocent, individually, but he inherited the curse of the earth, whose guilt we all share. No other event more strongly drew my family and I to trust in God than his passing, for we knew we were futile and powerless without God.
I welcome cordial comments and questions.