Why Doesn’t God Stop Suffering?
I hate humans. Please don’t take it personally, I mean it at a species level. Let me give you a few phrases to show how I came to feel this way: Hannah Baxter and her kids, Willow Dunn, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. All poo!
This feeling has extended to God, He is also in the poops with me. Let me add a few more phrases to show you how I got in the divine poops: Covid-19, drought, Rohingya people, Syrian refugees, porn hub, Madeleine McCann.
I’m over it.
I looked up to the heavens this week and asked with emotional zeal, “God, aren’t you over it?”
I think at times he is, I found this in Micah 2, “Doom to those who plot evil, who go to bed thinking up crimes….who see people only for what they can get out of them. God has had enough….your not walking away from this. Its doomsday for you” (MSG 1-3).
Alright God, if you have had enough, why don’t you stop the suffering?
Ah, the BIG question. We all land here sometime, often we find ourselves repeating the question over the years, just like I did this week.
I’m not the only human over the ages to ask this big question. You get the same feels from Habakkuk, “O LORD, how long shall I cry, And You will not hear? I even cry out to You, “Violence!” And You will not save”(1:2).
I am no philosopher or theologian but if you’re interested, I’d like to share some of my wrestling with this question.
I have to preface this by saying, this a complex question, way too complex for a mere blog. This blog is more about exploring an issue rather than finding a complete answer. Consequently, I am going to use the Socratic method, which basically means asking questions to stimulate my grey matter.
Ok, why doesn’t God stop the suffering? To even begin to answer this question, the question itself infers a couple of premises. First premise: there is a God for whom to ask this question. If you accept this, then I propose a second premise: God is powerful enough and cares enough to do something, capish? Otherwise, this BIG question is immaterial.
If you are not jiggy (feel free to cringe) with these premises, then I suggest you go by a black beret, a long scarf and read Camus and Neitzsche with a pipe and scotch.
Since I agree with these premises, I am then compelled to explore two options:
To end suffering does God eliminate the human ability to choose to inflict pain OR get rid of all the humans who cause suffering?
If I choose option 1, then how do you separate pain that harms from pain that hurts. For example, getting a flu shot inflicts pain but stops us from coming to harm. So is it about intention then? Should God then eliminate the humans that inflict pain out of a desire to cause suffering?
Jesus describes this state-of-the-heart criteria in Matthew 5:28, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart“.
If we use intent as the guide, I am personally in trouble, not just because of the lust thing, but I have angrily fantasized about inflicting pain on people plenty of times.
I can go further down the rabbit hole and ask, what if I believe my violence is justifiable? For example, recently, some one said racist stuff to one of my kids and in my mind I smashed them in the face. Does this violent urge qualify me to be put out with the human trash when God purges the planet of evil?
Does my own desire to eliminate suffering, eliminate me?
Furthermore, would selecting number one, that is removing a human’s ability to choose to inflict harm, mean removing the human ability to choose? If God decides to end suffering by removing the ability to choose, has God then removed a trait that defines us as humans, that is, free will?
If God removes our ability to choose to cause pain, could this not also alter our ability to develop self control, to grieve or even to forgive? Would removing the ability to choose pain distort our ability to feel anger, to feel passion, to debate, to wrestle with emotions?
Would altering free will mean the ability to truly, deeply sacrificially, recklessly love be irrevocably be maimed? This would not just devastate humanity but undermine what defines God as God- that is, love given freely. No- I reject this option. A God that is less than love is not a god.
What about the second possibility: that God rids the planet of humans who cause suffering?
Would any of us be sad if God had prematurely knocked off Stalin, Hitler, or Osama Bin Laden? If this is the case, how do we decide who lives and who dies? Is there a magic number of humans you have to kill or maim or torture before you are eliminated from the human race?
What about members of the KKK or those who watch child pornography? They haven’t physically murdered or maimed yet they take pleasure in watching others suffer? They are inextricably complicit in causing suffering.
Does this mean our point of reference is a person’s intent? Again, I am personally in trouble if it’s about thought and intentions. Perhaps you would be saved, but I cannot honesty quit myself of this crime of the heart.
I have another concern, what about those who have been brainwashed or know no other way than violence? What would become of child soldiers or North Korean children schooled to hate capitalists like us? What about cultures that consider maiming to be moral, for example, genital mutilation or witch burning?
Alternatively, God could simply wipe out all humans. (Yes, I know, we could debate the great flood of Genesis but just bookmark that one, OK?) Preferably, and it seems to me more justly, God could examine each person on earth on a case by case situation. To examine actions and intent, to consider culture, upbringing and extenuating circumstances?
For this to happen with equity and justice, God would need to be incredibly wise!
To have credibility, we may even demand this God is perfect, so not to invalidate his position as omniscient judge and jury.
Alright, let’s stop a moment and collate these thoughts. So far, I believe we have God who is powerful enough and cares enough to actually intervene. We have a God who needs to judge us individually, but to do this credibility and veracity, it is best if this God is perfect.
Take a deep breath before we jump in again.
My next query is this: when would this infallible judgement take place?
When we are intellectually mature? Isn’t that different from morally mature? Is it just about maturity or something more spiritual? Would this moment of judgement happen periodically in our lives, say every decade or after particular incidents of note such as smashing someone in the face?
Or do we wait to the end of our life? If God waits until the end of our life to judge whether we are responsible for adding suffering to this world, what is the point unless there is more life afterwards?
For us to exist beyond death as a sentient being, with the ability to love, to feel pleasure, to feel peace, there would have to be a God. A supernaturally powerful being with the capacity to create a vast realm of existence in which to express that love, pleasure and peace.
If there is no meaningful afterlife, we must either cease to be anything but landfill or a we become mindless matter floating in the universe. In this case, our BIG question is once more immaterial, so best to go off and make a sandwich.
If you have not left to make a sandwich, let us return to this concept of periodic judgement in which to decide who goes and who stays on this planet.
If we are periodically examined by a God, would there be opportunity for redemption? Could I take responsibility for the suffering I have caused and change my modus operandi?
Could such a confrontation with the reality of the pain I have caused actually make me more compassionate, more gracious, more morally substantial? Could redemption increase my capacity to make the world better than before I created suffering? I think this is what Jesus was shooting for in Matthew 6:10, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Let’s mull on that one later.
Back to the big question.
OK God, this is what I believe I need from you to end suffering:
I need you to exist, to be powerful, to care.
I need you to be all knowing, incredibly wise and frankly, perfect!
I need you to judge us on a case by case basis.
I need you to periodically challenge our status as humans who are deemed worthy enough to live.
I need you to allow a chance (or multiple if not infinite chances) for redemption and the ability to make this world better .
Hmm, I think I just described what God is already doing.
So I am back where I started.
So I guess my new question is this: when will God stop all the suffering, when is enough, enough?
When will God stop the spinning madness of earth? When will he stop all wars, human trafficking, the amazon burning, rape, bloated bellies from malnutrition, child pornography, cruel diseases, miscarriages, car wrecks, greedy corporations, con artists and cancer?
When God, when will you make it all go away? No more war, no more suffering, no more tears? Just peace. Just kindness. Just beauty. Most of all, love is its oxygen.
Hmm, I think I just described heaven.
In that case, I think my question has morphed into this: who goes to place devoid of suffering, who gets into heaven?
I need to establish another premise before we answer that. Here’s the deal, heaven is not an institution, a structure that contains humans considered good enough, moral enough, worthy enough. It is not super system that attempts to measure the immeasurable worth of human life.
That would be cold. It would not be heaven. That’s my premise, you need to decide if you agree. If not, go reorganise your cooking utensils drawer.
The deal is this, heaven isn’t an institution, it’s a home. Jesus said, “I if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you into my presence” (John 14:3). A home for a family. It’s a place not built on moral standards but built on love. A place of warmth. A place of infinite beauty.
Let me illustrate this concept with an earthly metaphor. In my human home, you belong not because you are good enough but because you are my child. You belong because we share a name, you are legally identified as my family. We know each other. I am intimately acquainted with you, we are committed to each other, we love each other and we trust each other.
Heaven works in the same way. It’s God’s home, a home he shares with his children. If I want to belong to this perfect and peaceful place, a place where the suffering ceases to exist, then I need to be identified and named as a child of God.
If at the end of this human journey, I want to go home, to the place without suffering, no pain, no grief, then I need to be close to God, really close. I need to be adopted into his family, intimately acquainted, committed to our relationship, to love and adore him, to deeply trust him.
Especially trust. Trust him enough to decide who lives in his home. Trust him with when it’s time to go home. Trust God enough to know when the suffering should end.
by Elissa Macpherson
Who incidentally believes in God, yet has a black beret, a knitted scarf and plans to read Camus and Nietzsche with a pipe and scotch.