How can there be an “all-loving” God, yet so much suffering in the world?
This is a very common question, and although answered more thoroughly (and I’m sure more accurately) than I ever could by people before me, if someone were to ask *me *this question, how would I respond?
The question, I believe, is designed to be more of an argument: “Because there is suffering in the world, I don’t believe God is actually all-loving.” The first question I think is worth clarifying is why these things are necessarily at odds to begin with? Why does suffering automatically seem to somehow “diminish” the level of love from someone/something else through the simple act of existing?
For example, as a father, I plan on raising my children in a way that will allow them to live happy and healthy lives. “Don’t eat so much candy” and “brush your teeth everyday” would be a set of instructions I would certainly impart for the sake of avoiding the potential suffering of dental decay. Should my children choose to disregard my words, they will almost surely suffer consequences of pain, displeasure, and everything that entails the recovery and remedy of their cavities. I think most people would not question the love I have for my children in this case, since it is a logical result of their own (foolishly applied) free will. So I do not believe the question is generally asked under this premise (although I think it is somewhat relevant regardless).
In other words, if you agree with the above, you have already established that the notion that “the mere **existence **of suffering automatically negates the level of love for my children” is false. We must narrow down the question then.
I believe the question is generally made with the mindset that “many innocent people are suffering around the world.” Well, continuing with the fatherhood analogies: despite my best efforts in raising my children to be obedient and safe, let’s say now in the older teen years when they learn to drive, even if they heed my instruction this time around, they may **still **suffer injury or stress due to the recklessness of other, disobedient people on the road. This hasn’t changed my love for them either. Regardless of my child’s obedience or disobedience (i.e. whether they are “guilty” or “innocent” in a way someone may want to justify the suffering), my love for them is **not **altered.
If you agree with the above, then you have also established that “the mere existence of suffering endured by an innocent party negates the level of love for my children” is false as well. We have yet to establish any direct correlation between suffering and love, or how one affects the other. Ultimately, the question seems to narrow towards “why is there suffering at all?”
Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, so death has spread to all men, because all have sinned.
Start of Suffering
Assuming that the question is being made with the Christian God in mind, it would only make sense to substantiate my explanation with the written texts attributed to Him, i.e. the Bible:
In Genesis we are introduced to Adam and Eve, the first humans God created. Given the free will to obey God or disobey Him, they opted to do the latter by eating of the fruit of the only tree they were forbidden to eat from. Living in paradise (a time without suffering), they knowingly chose to do the thing that would bring a consequence (which God had warned them prior about). We have already established the parallel in the first section, and I believe most would not have an issue understanding why Adam and Eve would suffer (as warned) and how that has zero effect on God’s love for them, or his all-loving nature.
Unfortunately, the sinful nature that man chose to succumb to from that point is what every human to this day inherits. You can think of it as a “spiritual gene” that continues to pass down (which I phrase in such a way as to also establish another parallel in how any genetic deficiencies that pass to my children also do not play a role in my love for them, as destructive as some may be). That, combined with a true, free will (i.e. one that allows the wrong choice to be made) ultimately accounts for every bit of suffering that stems from mankind (and by proxy, society), from the least to the greatest misdeed. This is the world we live in.
Another comparison one could make is if one of my children decided to move up north where his family, from then on, will suffer the consequences of those cold winters and blizzards throughout their lives. Does that alter the quality or quantity of the love I have for my children? Or the love for my grandchildren? No, the suffering they endure is a simple consequence of their (or for the later generations, their ancestor’s) action and/or the continual inhabitance of a land filled with suffering. Although one could try to argue the “fairness” of it (a totally separate discussion), I do not think you could make a case for the initial father’s loving nature.
Level of Suffering
Admittedly, the suffering in this world (and the one generally thought of during the course of the question) is intense. Without God, mankind is simply wicked, and can really commit some atrocious and evil deeds.
Perhaps you understand how the Christian explains the existence of suffering, or maybe you even understand what I’ve tried to lay out above in the separation between the love of a father and his children’s suffering. However, the big difference you may decide to point out is that unlike the omnipotent being, I can’t really intervene to protect my child. Surely if I could know the very moment they’d get hurt in an accident, I’d take action by delaying their outing, sending them down a different road, or stopping them out right. Why then does God not intervene to end the suffering of the world? Well, He did.
“I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
You may already be aware, but the Son of God, Jesus Christ, came down to earth as a man to live a perfect life (something only He could do, being born of a virgin, and therefore not inheriting that sinful nature of man!) so that He could die on the cross and use his blood as the atonement for man’s wickedness. After this sacrifice, He rose on the third day to prove his divinity, so that all may know and believe on God. Through the acceptance of His sacrifice, we can undo the separation caused by Adam and reconnect with God through the bridge that is Christ. The suffering ends once this earthly life is completed, and assuming you have accepted Christ’s gift, you can enjoy the paradise God originally intended for mankind, once again.
There is a key aspect to all of this though, and again, we are using Biblical teaching to substantiate this: there is a life after the one we know. That next life is not bound by time anymore, it exists in eternity. This is the domain of God, and it is a domain you can not put aside if you want to fairly assess His decisions.
Life on earth, in the grand scheme of things, is effectively less than a blip, when you consider the “scale” of eternity. It’s a fleeting moment, almost nothing, even if the human exceeds that amazing century milestone. That is not to say that our experiences mean nothing to God though. I’d equate this along the lines of a child you take to the doctor to receive a vaccine. It’s not like my heart doesn’t twist as my child cries out to me because of the pain/fear of the needle going in, or that the fever he may have to endure the following days won’t press on my emotions, however I went through with all of the suffering in the hopes that the immunization will protect my child for the next decade or two. I can put aside the 24 - 72 hours of misery because I know the next 15+ years of immunity will be worth it, on top of how the child will at some point forget the ordeal and go on with life.
In a similar way, although the suffering isn’t intended by God, He knows it’s an inevitable part of this temporary life on a sinful earth, but He can use that to draw even more people to Him so that they can accept the solution, the gift, of His Son and enjoy the rest of eternity with Him. Suffering, at the very least, should have us questioning whether there is an end to it all, a solution. In a strange way, by it’s very nature of being so “bad”, it (hopefully) compels us to seek that which is good, and we can find that goodness in God.
I believe when you understand this, you’ll realize it really flips the “default” understanding of things. For example, the suffering of children, those we deem the most innocent on this planet, is probably something that weighs heavily on us. Those that suffer from so early in life, and die so early as well. It’s difficult to wrap our human emotions around it, but if God allows these innocent lives to immediately enjoy paradise upon their death, is a shorter time on Earth not a better thing?
As much as we hate it idea, it would also be unfair to try and judge God under our limited human understanding of life without considering the domain and scales that He operates under. We want Him to do things our way (e.g. stop all suffering immediately), but wouldn’t He know better? With a full omniscient view of time and space, are we really going to assume that we can conclude anything remotely as comprehensive as he could? It admittedly takes a strong trust in Him to continue on in this life, observing all the suffering, and wondering when the whole situation will be fix. However, God already did the most loving thing one could do: offer his life, to save yours, for eternity. For this reason, many, including myself, have decided to trust Him and his timing, living a life of hope as we wait for His plans to unfold.
As mentioned before, there are probably more and better ways to explain the issue, on top of various other branches and sidenotes that could help support things more, however I hope to have provided at least some insight for this post.
For deeper elaborations on the subject, I’d recommend watching this video which would elaborate on the Biblical case for suffering (or evil) in the world. Additionally this video may provide a more philosophical approach to the topic, which might appeal to others. Ultimately, man’s suffering does not diminish God’s absolute love for us. If anything, it’s because of the suffering that we can better see the contrast of God’s love and peace to be all the more overwhelming and desirable.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.