Faith Forays

Reconciling Suffering and Faith

One of the most common questions I am asked is: “How do I reconcile the belief in God with all the tragedy that there is in the world?” I’ve often asked that question of myself. There’s an even more simple incarnation of that question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” That is the hardest question that I’ve wrestled with throughout my journey. I have seen too many wonderful, loving, truly and fully good people have terrible, atrocious things happen in their lives. How can I believe in a higher power, a being who is supposedly perfect and wants good things for us, when to believe in such a being would also mean that I believe they have the power to end suffering and do not?I once read in a philosophy class about a particular theory of the problem of tragedy in the world. I wish I could remember the philosopher’s name, but I’ve spent all night researching and come up blank. Essentially, the writer of this philosophical treatise viewed the suffering in this world as incidents of horror. When a terrible thing happened to a good person, he saw that as a horror. He viewed it as the nature of the universe that horrors struck randomly, out of nowhere, with no rhyme or reason as to who they chose. He also believed that when a horror occurred in a person’s life, God was sad with that person; God, whatever God there is, grieved with them. But the fabric of life could not be altered in order to prevent horrors–they were here, the dark in contrast to the light, to stay.This all sounds very abstract and textbook-like. It may make sense in a classroom with a professor scrawling on a whiteboard, but what do you say when a horror’s hit someone’s life? “Don’t worry, it’s just the way the world works,” somehow doesn’t quite cut it. When belief in God is compromised due to God’s seeming impotence, or worse, lack of caring, the textbook fails us.I’m about to tell you a very honest truth: I do not know how to reconcile my belief in God with the suffering I have endured, or with the suffering my friends have seen. I do not know how to explain to you why I still believe in God despite the horrors that strike all around the world. I think anyone who tells you they’ve got a satisfactory answer to this eternal quandary is either lying to you or just not being honest with themselves.

My only answer to this question, whether it’s been others asking it of me or me asking it of God, is that I find my comfort in God. During the horrors that have ambushed me, throughout the tragedies I have borne witness to, the one thing I have turned to consistently has been my faith in a higher order to the universe. What comforts me is that I feel God in tragedy. I like to believe that God, whatever God looks like, is sitting with me, right in the middle of the shock and trauma. I like to believe that we grieve over the horror together. I don’t know why it can’t be prevented; I don’t know why suffering happens, over and over, to everyone we know. I only know that for me, in my life, I’ve chosen to believe in God despite and because of the suffering I’ve been through. I would never judge anyone for their inability to continue in a belief due to our inability to answer this question.

I wonder about you, dear readers. Have you encountered this question in your lives? How have you gone about answering it for yourself?

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  • Mollie Brantley

    I personally struggled more with this question when I was an atheist, it’s what made the idea of god seem like a bad one but things have changed now that I’m a Christian. Now that I’ve started a relationship with God through the bible and pray it makes sense to me. What I have to say wont make anyone feel better honestly, it’ll seem harsh but even if the actual answer came from god himself I don’t think people would be ok with it. How I put the two together is like this. Before the fall everything was perfect but when Adam and Eve fell they allowed evil into this world. It recks havoc all over the place and it doesn’t care who the person is. God is not evil nor does he do evil things to people. Then people ask why doesn’t he stop it? Here is the icky part. The bible says that God will use all things for good for people who believe in him so God is going to use that bad thing for good if you let him. That idea gets pretty heavy when you consider things like hurricanes and massive death tolls. This latest hurricane in the northeast was devistating but God is using it for good, yes people have lost everything but then there are others who are giving so much to help them. God is working through those people to show himself to the world. One should also consider that God never gives us anything he knows we can’t handle, he is there for us through everything. Pray when you need him, praise when things are great and know that everything he does has a purpose.

  • Amalia Pantazi

    I havent really struggled with that question, no. To me, God is not the one who gives us pain and suffering and tragedy. These things happen, they are a part of life. God is the one who gives us the strength to live through them. This is my perspective and it might seem naive or illogical to someone, but my view of God is very personal. After questioning the existence of a God for years, I decided that I WANTED to believe. Because that way I felt better. So my views on God are positive, I so no point in the opposite. If something bad happens, I won’t accuse God, because that would only leave me bitter. I’ll go to God for comfort, tranquility and strength. Ever since I decided that I wanted to have a God in my life, I decided that this God would be my friend.

  • Kim Kitson

    Thank you for your open honesty on this issue. I too find comfort in God, which is what I call my Higher Power. I commented on FB and mentioned that I find that God is within me, as love and surrounds me. I can tap into that source for comfort because it is always there. It is only when I choose not to use God for comfort that I suffer variable consequences because of my reactions to situations. I must rely on His comfort daily in order to leave in peace and serenity, surviving within the eye of the storm, staying calm and collected and realizing that the only person I have control over is myself. I cannot control other people, situations, weather, outcomes… knowing and having 100% faith in that helps me tremendously when faced with adversity. We are all born with free will and often that is taken to extremes resulting in awful events. We all know right from wrong but how often do we examine our motives in situations, are they pure or are we looking to get something from them, manipulating without even realizing it a lot of the time? Much, okay most of the tragedy in the world is made by humans. There is cancer and suffering of illness, which unfortunately I believe is coming from humans. With all the cancer causing agents, unknown long term effects of medications we take, things we are exposed to and even eating everyday. It is a terrible reality and very sad. However, all that I can often do in situations is pray for the person or people affected. I often pray for those about me with whom I clash and do not get along with. I never, however, pray for my own selfish ends and am comfortable living with exactly what I have. Enjoying what I have and not wanting for much of anything. It is a more peaceful existence, but takes practice each and everyday.

  • Jessica Jeffers

    I was never a strong Christian, but I struggled with this question for many years. After reading The Problem of Pain by CS Lewis, I ultimately came to the decision that a Christian God is not for me. The idea of an all-powerful God that allows evil or suffering just didn’t sit well, and the idea that it happens simply because we don’t understand God’s reasons felt like a cop-out. When facing a tremendous amount of pain, grief, and loss, I couldn’t just trust that it was all part of a loving plan. I am hesitant to completely surrender the idea that there is NO higher power, but I don’t believe it looks anything like what had been laid out for me by Christian doctrine. That is why I consider myself spiritual but not religious.

  • Leanette Kearns

    I believe in the innate goodness that is present in each and every one of us. I don’t believe in an all-powerful god. I also think it is sad that people believe that good things come from this god (instead of from themselves) and believe that bad things come from people. In my opinion, you can’t have it both ways. I believe that bad things are our doing and good things also are our doing.

  • Laura Nickel

    Thank you for the honesty in this article. This is an issue I have been earnestly wrestling with for the last several months, having experienced a great deal suffering directly and indirectly.
    In one of my college courses we’ve been reading literature from and about the Holocaust (ie: Elie Wiesel’s “Night”, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Jurgen Moltmann). A common theme that’s appeared in all of these is the idea of God being a God who suffers WITH us, like you mentioned. Moltmann, a POW in WWII and a writer/theologian, talks extensively about this idea in his book “Jesus Christ for Today’s World.” Granted, this pertains specifically to the theology of Christianity, but perhaps those of other faiths could glean some insight here as well. He writes that many people see God as “a blind force of destiny without any feeling” but, in reality, he [Jesus] is “our brother, the friend to whom we can entrust everything because he knows everything and has suffered everything that can happen to us, and even more than that.” Moltmann is a firm believer that the crucifixion encompassed all suffering in the history and future of mankind, so when we suffer, God experientially suffered the exact same pain and trials. This is just one of many theologies on suffering and God’s place in it, and everyone is more than free to believe in something totally different, but I have grabbed hold of these ideas as of late. They seem to make sense and be more comforting in a way nothing else has before and make God out to be a more compassionate, empathetic God than the cold, clock-maker some perceive him to be. If this resonates with you at all, I would urge you to read Moltmann’s writings and even Bonhoeffer’s “Discipleship.”
    Thank you again, Becca.

    • Becca Rose

      Thank you for sharing! & thanks to everyone else for creating a dialogue on this. I’m always so excited to read your replies. I’ve never read Bonhoeffer, and I should probably remedy that!

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