Why Do we Suffer?

Too often the problem is a deal breaker for people searching for God. Peter Kreeft, one of the few real Catholic professors at Boston University, dissects the problem of  evil (H/T Deacon Greg Kandra):

There are four parts to the solution to the problem of evil. First, evil is not a thing, an entity, a being. All beings are either the Creator or creatures created by the Creator. But every thing God created is good, according to Genesis. We naturally tend to picture evil as a thing—a black cloud, or a dangerous storm, or a grimacing face, or dirt. But these pictures mislead us. If God is the Creator of all things and evil is a thing, then God is the Creator of evil, and he is to blame for its existence. No, evil is not a thing but a wrong choice, or the damage done by a wrong choice. Evil is no more a positive thing than blindness is. But it is just as real. It is not a thing, but it is not an illusion..

Second, the origin of evil is not the Creator but the creature’s freely choosing sin and selfishness. Take away all sin and selfishness and you would have heaven on earth. Even the remaining physical evils would no longer rankle and embitter us. Saints endure and even embrace suffering and death as lovers embrace heroic challenges. But they do not embrace sin.

Furthermore, the cause of physical evil is spiritual evil. The cause of suffering is sin. After Genesis tells the story of the good God creating a good world, it next answers the obvious question “Where did evil come from then?”  By the story of the fall of mankind.  How are we to understand this? How can spiritual evil (sin) cause physical evil (suffering and death)?

God is the source of all life and joy. Therefore, when the human soul rebels against God, it loses its life and joy. Now a human being is body as well as soul. We are single creatures, not double: we are not even body and soul as much as we are embodied soul, or ensouled body. So the body must share in the soul’s inevitable punishment—a punishment as natural and unavoidable as broken bones from jumping off a cliff or a sick stomach from eating rotten food rather than a punishment as artificial and external as a grade for a course or a slap on the hands for taking the cookies.

Whether this consequence of sin was a physical change in the world or only a spiritual change in human consciousness—whether the “ thorns and thistles” grew in the garden only after the fall or whether they were always there but were only felt as painful by the newly fallen consclousness-is another question. But in either case the connection between spiritual evil and physical evil has to be as close as the connection between the two things they affect, the human soul and the human body.

If the origin of evil is free will, and God is the origin of free will, isn’t God then the origin of evil? Only as parents are the origin of the misdeeds their children commit by being the origin of their children. The all-powerful God gave us a share in his power to choose freely. Would we prefer he had not and had made us robots rather than human beings?

A third part of the solution to the problem of evil is the most important part: how to resolve the problem in practice, not just in theory; in life, not just in thought. Although evil is a serious problem for thought (for it seems to disprove the existence of God), it is even more of a problem in life (for it is the real exclusion of God). But even if you think the solution in thought is obscure and uncertain, the solution in practice is as strong and clear as the sun: it is the Son. God’s solution to the problem of evil is his Son Jesus Christ. The Father `s love sent his Son to die for us to defeat the power of evil in human nature: that’s the heart of the Christian story. We do not worship a deistic God, an absentee landlord who ignores his slum; we worship a garbageman God who came right down into our worst garbage to clean it up. How do we get God off the hook for allowing evil? God is not off the hook; God is the hook. That’s the point of a crucifix.

The Cross is God’s part of the practical solution to evil. Our part, according to the same Gospel, is to repent, to believe, and to work with God in fighting evil by the power of love. The King has invaded; we are finishing the mop-up operation.

Finally, what about the philosophical problem? It is not logically contradictory to say an all-powerful and all-loving God tolerates so much evil when he could eradicate it? Why do bad things happen to good people? The question makes three questionable assumptions.

Read the whole article here.

About Susan Kehoe

I am the wife of a Catholic deacon living in Des Moines Iowa. My husband Larry was ordained in 2006. We have two children and five grandchildren.. Our daughter and her family live in Ireland, and our son and his family live in Franklin Massachusetts.
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6 Responses to Why Do we Suffer?

  1. LeAnn says:

    This would be a great article for RCIA to discuss.


  2. Sue says:

    My mother is currently suffering from cancer. She says that the pain is her punishment for her sins. This breaks my heart. It’s also not true. God is not a malicious punisher. We suffer from our sins by their natural consequences.

    I believe that cancer is morally neutral. Sure, lots of sins contribute to its formation, smoking, obesity, and promiscuity are significant contributers to cancer genesis and growth. As an obese person, I know full-well that the consequences of that sin live loooooong after it is confessed and forgiven by God.

    As I watch my mother’s body slowly decline, and her episodes of pain increasing, I am confronted with this issue on a daily basis. I would like to give my mother some words of comfort and love that Jesus would tell her, were he in my shoes. I want to be the hands of Christ that hold her and the voice of Christ that comforts her.

    I’m sure you are familiar with situations like mine. What do you say in my position?



    • LeAnn says:

      Hi Suzanne, I have a few thoughts about pain and suffering. I am not a deacon’s wife, but I’ve experienced true suffering in my family. I think of Jesus’ love for mankind and the suffering he endured for our sake. He truly experienced physical pain and emotional anguish. The pain of the whip, the thorns, and walk to Golgatha and the crucifixion. Your mother is experiencing pain and suffering and she is going to understand the pain that Jesus experienced and therefore what he gave for her. You are like Mary at the foot of the cross. I hope these words bring you some comfort. I’m also anxious for Susan to reply.
      – LeAnn


  3. Sue says:

    Thank you LeAnn. My mother is not a believer, so she thinks in different terms. A compassionate and loving God was never what she was taught. As someone at the foot of her cross, I need to show her Jesus through my love. I truly believe that He cries for her and loves her even more than I do. I have to be His love to her until she meets Him face to face.

    Isn’t that what our faith is all about?


  4. Sophia Origer says:

    LeAnn, I loved your response to this.


  5. Susan Kehoe says:

    Please forgive me for taking so long to respond. Yesterday was a bad day for me, and I did not go online.

    It must be very difficult for you to watch your mother suffer so much. You have it exactly right, you are to be the face to Christ to her by loving her.

    LeAnne said it very well, “You are like Mary at the foot of the cross”.

    I will be praying for you and your mother. She is very fortunate to have you for a daughter.
    God Bless you.


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