As Christians, we acknowledge God is good, all-powerful and all-loving. If this is the case, why does God permit the pain and suffering we see all around us? A good god would not allow the kind of suffering we see in our world, would He? Those of us who have tried to comfort a gravely sick child understand the difficulty of explaining how a good God could allow such agony, particularly when the person suffering appears to be innocent or helpless. If an immaterial, eternal God exists, however, it is reasonable to expect this God to value immaterial and transcendent realities over the physical and temporal comforts we often seek as humans.
We Sometimes Overvalue the Pursuit of ‘Comfort’ A good God values character over comfort. Creature comforts are temporary, but character transcends time. It shouldn’t surprise us that a transcendent God would understand the difference, even when we don’t. Unfortunately, character is often best developed as a result of our temporary pain and suffering. Patience, determination, the will to persevere and the ability to retain hope all result from the trials and tribulations of life. God may allow some level of temporary pain and suffering in order to develop our eternal, transcendent character.
We Sometimes Misunderstand the Nature of ‘Love’ A transcendent God understands that ‘love’ is the perfect balance between mercy and justice. We, as humans, often hold a very temporal understanding of love; we think of love as a warm, instantaneous feeling, a lustful desire, or a passionate season of romance. But God understands that true love transcends the moment and often requires discernment, discipline and judgment. We could hardly say we loved our children if we didn’t care enough about their future to discipline them, and discipline often feels painful. Love sometimes requires a concern for justice that focuses on the future, and justice often requires the infliction of pain and suffering to achieve the greater good. God, therefore, may allow some level of pain and suffering to maintain the just and transcendent character of ‘love’.
We Sometimes Underestimate the Danger of ‘Immediate Gratification’ An eternal God provides humans with an existence beyond the grave. We usually want our desire for comfort, love, mercy and justice to be satisfied in this life (and immediately, if at all possible. But our pursuit of immediate gratification often leads us to do things that are ultimately harmful. Most crimes, for example, are committed in an effort to immediately satisfy some perceived desire. If there is a transcendent, eternal God, our desire for happiness, love, mercy and justice need not be satisfied in this life; all these desires can (and will) be satisfied in eternity. God, therefore, may allow some level of pain and suffering because he knows (and has communicated) the fleeting, short nature of our mortal experience.
So, how can a loving all-powerful God allow pain and suffering? The same way a loving father can allow his infant child to suffer the doctor’s needle. From the child’s perspective, the shot is terribly painful and unwanted, but the father knows that the pain of the injection will result in something beneficial to the infant. The father also knows he is acting in love, even though a painless day (from the child’s perspective) might seem like a more loving approach. Finally, the father knows that the pain of the injection is fleeting relative to the life of the child. For these reasons, it is reasonable to surmise that a good, loving God might allow pain and suffering in our own lives as well.