The hardest question for people of faith to answer is, if there is a all powerful, loving, and merciful God why does He allow evil and suffering to exist? How do we answer this legitimate question in a way that is acceptable to the atheist or the agnostic?
A common Christian response is that it is because God gives us free will. But this does not explain deaths caused by natural disasters. In addition many atheists are scientific materialists and claim that free will is an illusion:
“They cheerfully champion the most reductive sort of materialism, including the idea that free will does not exist because our minds are just neural networks that function according to physical laws.” (R.R. Reno The Gospel of Scientific Materialism)
So the free will argument just will not fly.
We can point out that atheists, such as Nietzsche, claimed that human beings only obtain strength and wisdom through suffering. But that still doesn’t adequately explain why God allows his creatures to suffer. Surely an all powerful God could figure out a way for us to gain strength and wisdom in a pain free way.
The problem is that the only way to really understand suffering is through the eyes of faith. By looking to Christ on the cross.
I still struggle to answer this question when it comes up in the RCIA usually from people who come out of curiosity or people who were raised without faith but are drawn to Christ. Of course I attempt to answer the question, but I also tell them that to understand suffering one has to learn about Christianity. It is hoped that if they persevere the meaning of suffering will, gradually unfold.
Those that are drawn to Christ usually stay and eventually have a better understanding, and most of them come into the Church. But the second group, doubters who are just curious, usually leave early on. The reality of evil and suffering is the deal breaker. Sigh.
I have to pray the Holy Spirit enlightens me with a more effective answer.
How do you answer the problem of evil and suffering?