This essay was my first attempt in college at grappling with the issues related to Theodicy, that is, the problem of reconciling the existence of an all-powerful, all-good God with the presence of evil and suffering in the world. Like many, my first exposure to this issue led me to the more traditional view influenced by St. Augustine.
I have since altered my views a bit — influenced by such writers as Gregory Boyd and Roger Olson. But there’s still much of value in this old essay, notably many great quotes from the likes of C. S. Lewis, Mother Teresa, Philip Yancey, Billy Graham, Peter Kreeft and more.
I. UNDERSTANDING SUFFERING
Suffering—a basic human experience transcending race, age, gender, class, and religion—has been defined and understood by poets, musicians, theologians, mothers, and fathers alike. No attempt fails to accurately express its essence, and yet no single attempt can be said to have exhaustively described the universal horrors of suffering. Suffering takes a new shape and form with each new person and circumstance in which it shows its ugly head.
Thus, defining suffering is no easy task and necessitates a highly arbitrary process. Putting suffering in a biblical context, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines it as “agony, affliction, or distress; intense pain or sorrow” and divides suffering into two types:
1) suffering that is “a result of evil actions and sin in the world as a consequence of the past fall in the Garden of Eden”, and
2) “suffering that is not related to past, but is forward-looking in that it serves to shape and refine God’s people” (Youngblood, 1995, p. 1207).
In other words, certainly much of the suffering in the world is perpetrated by humans themselves. C.S. Lewis makes this clear in The Problem of Pain:
When souls become wicked they will certainly use this possibility to hurt one another; and this, perhaps, accounts for four-fifths of the sufferings of men. It is men, not God, who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs; it is by human avarice or human stupidity, not by the churlishness of nature, that we have poverty and overwork (Lewis, 1996, p. 79).
This essay is concerned with the second type listed above and attempts to understand the suffering of the innocent. However, the first type will be inevitably dealt with shortly when discussing the origins of suffering.
Peter Kreeft in Making Sense Out of Suffering, defines suffering as Christ’s invitation to us to follow him to the cross and share his cross. “Christ goes to the cross, and we are invited to follow to the same cross. Not because it is the cross, but because it is his” (Kreeft, 1986, p. 137).
Mother Teresa also sees at the core of suffering an opportunity to share in Christ’s work. When asked how a merciful God can allow the suffering of the innocent, Mother Teresa responded:
All that suffering—where would the world be without it? Innocent suffering is the same as the suffering of Jesus. He suffered for us, and all the innocent suffering is joined to his in the redemption. It is co-redemption. That is helping to save the world from worse things (Egan, 1994, p. 56). Continue reading ESSAY: A Theology of Suffering (2001)