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Session 3: Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?

It's a difficult question. Probably one of the hardest to answer. Why does God allow pain and suffering? The Curiosity Collective brings together thought leaders, subject matter experts, pastors, and theologians to explore this difficult question.

Watch the Pulse of the World video above, pause to consider the questions displayed on the screen, and then continue on to The Curiosity Collective video by pressing play. Below, you will find questions for discussion and reflection related to The Curiosity Collective video.

Questions for Discussion and Personal Reflection

  1. In what ways can you identify with any of the stories in The Curiosity Collective? What did you find intriguing or compelling?
  2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how difficult is it for you to reconcile the existence of both suffering and God (1 = easy; 10 = impossible)? Why?
  3. One of the Pulse speakers noted, “Some of the best lessons I’ve learned in life . . . came from very painful times.” In what ways might good come from bad? Do you have any experience with this?
  4. If there’s a God, why do you think he allows evil in the world?
  5. In the video, what did you think of James’s suggestion that God “understands our suffering . . . [and] is seeking to heal it”?

Pain, pain's a part of life. You know, it's, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. It's— you just have to learn from it. 

I think some people believe it's a test of your faith, but if you don't have a faith to believe in, it kind of makes you wonder why, why is there suffering in this world, and famine, and death? That sort of thing. 

It was a reason why he took them. Uh, maybe he needed some angels up there to protect, protect— to help him in the fight against the devil. 

A baby is a beautiful, wonderful thing. Why doesn't he want me to have this? 

I think that bad things are just the way that you see them. I think God's in everything we do. 

I don't think God does these things to people. I think he has a way of getting us through it. 

Why would anybody want to create people who do horrible things to each other each and every day? It doesn't make any sense. 

People suffer because sometimes they put themselves into it. And others, just, it just happens to them. 

When my grandma died— she died of cancer, like, six years ago— and I remember, like, when she was, like, a few days before she passed away, she was like, No one would ever want to, no one would ever want to inflict this pain. 

Some of the best lessons I've learned in life and the best, um, feelings in my heart came from very painful times. 

I don't think God's sitting there and saying, "These people are hurting, and maybe I should help them," or... or "I'm gonna pray to this, you know, being, and he's gonna save me." I don't think that happens. Um, I think he's just there. I guess. 

I'm constantly struggling— I suppose I'll be brutally honest— with, uh, suicidal ideation, and I find it very miserable, often— despite the beauty of the world— to be made conscious in this form.

Why? Why, why is there pain? Why was, why were the little kids shot the other day? 

I wanna know why this happened, but... he's showing me that he's here with me, so... I suppose the answers will come. It's just... I'm going through a journey right now that's painful.

(Pause)

My son has had severe epilepsy since he was born. For 15 years, he'd have 10 to 20 epileptic seizures every day, and, uh, our whole life was basically revolved around his disability, and yet I would pray for other friends who had sick children, and it seemed like their kids got better, um, but my son didn't. 

The one moment that redefined this question for me was probably in 2004 with the tsunami that happened in Asia, and just the sheer devastation of a natural disaster just brought me to my knees and where I was at the television saying, "God, seriously, why?" 

The question, "How can God allow these bad things to happen?" I think is a, it's a reality. It's a hard, hard question, in fact maybe the hardest question. 

God allows humankind to make their own choices, and ultimately they can lead to some magnificent things. I mean, you have a look at the extraordinary things— extraordinary things that human beings have been able to accomplish, uh, in the freedom and autonomy that God has given us. But the downside or the dark side of this autonomy or this freedom is that we can just create the most vile and contemptible and cruel and vicious outcomes of being human. 

A lot of what we see in the world— in my opinion, of what I've experienced— is, you know, you have generations of men, you know, women, father, mother, children. When they make the choice not to love— love God, love each other— you play that out, and um, there, there's a lot of pain that comes with that. 

The suffering that comes from nature, or, or earthquakes, or hurricanes, or things like that, I, I find harder to explain, and, uh, I guess you got to live with the mystery of it. Um... I think the Christian answer's the best one, but when you go out East into the Eastern religions, it doesn't make any sense of suffering at all. Uh, it's kind of like, "Suck it up." It doesn't make— it doesn't attempt to try and make sense of it or derive meaning. So the Buddhist answer, for instance— and I have great respect for Buddhism— the Buddhist answer says, "it's not real." Um... suffering has no reality. Well, I, you know, I, I think you tell that to a suffering person, and I don't think it makes sense to them. The Christian answer actually doesn't answer everything, um, particularly when you're suffering, um, but it is the best one around, uh, without a doubt. 

About five years ago, I was pregnant, and I heard the words that no mother ever wants to hear: Your child is not going to live. Um... On April 7, 2008, I delivered a little girl who was alive when she was born. Her name was Audrey Caroline, and she lived for 2 1/2 hours. We loved her a lifetime's worth that short amount of time. Watched her get her first bath and little haircut. But later that night when everyone was gone, and it was just my husband and I alone with her, as time went on, we knew that we were going to have to call a nurse to come in and take her. Um... I had to hand my daughter to someone and watch her be taken away from me, knowing that I wouldn't see her again this side of Heaven. And as I lay in that hospital bed, and everything in me wanted to just bang on all the buttons and tell them to bring her back, I really called out to God in a way I never had before, and I just said, "I can't do this, and I need you to just be here right now. I just need you to hold me." He did. He did. I will tell you that, in that moment, I saw, um, a side of God that I've never experienced and I've never forgotten since then. Just His faithfulness to one girl in a hospital room who was devastated. And I just really felt that He was there. Sorry. 

When I talk to people about the stuff they've gone through, I— to be honest, the, for me, the best answer and the, the most appropriate response is— as a Christian, as a believer— is to cry too. To hold the hand and to weep too, and then to introduce them to someone who helps pull you out of a pit, and not in some weird, messed up, quick-fix kind of a way. I get really annoyed when we Christians propose it as an answer as, like, the quick, in a box, fix that changes everything. Um... But there's a, there's a phrase, I— it's in one of the books of the Bible— which talks about— I... and it's this, it says, "I know my Redeemer lives." And, um, and that part of the Bible has always won me, because it talks about this person who buys back all that's been lost, um, through your own helplessness, um, through violence, through your own foolishness. And, um, that's who I met: someone who, who helped me over, over years and blood, sweat, and tears, um, bring back that— what was lost.

We have seen God use our son's sickness, um, in amazing ways, and people have found faith in Jesus through his life. And I guess maybe God does, uh, use some people and their disabilities and their struggles to help other people to find God. You know, I do think, like, if there really is a Heaven and if what is said about Heaven from the words of Jesus is true in that there— my son will never be sick again and someday I'll see him as this perfect body in this perfect form— and then Ryan looks at his life, and we all see the amount of people that have been influenced by his life, am I gonna argue with what God did? Probably not, I'll probably be thankful that he allowed our family, um, I guess, to, to struggle through, um, and yet why does he just help other people? I don't know, but I'm glad he does. I'm glad he just helps. I'm glad that, no matter what we see, apparently God has some plan for that. 

We see that God actually comes to the planet, he actually lives among us so that he understands our suffering, our hurt, our pain. He understands it all. Then Jesus dies on the cross, and in the mystery of faith, all the junk of the world, all the junk that's in our hearts, all the junk that's in our relationships, all of that junk dies with him. So in the Christian world view, God doesn't leave our world in the state that it is but actually is seeking to heal it and bring us back. 

We feel as though we're in this battle, and, um, really what we need in the midst of that battle is a hero to step in for us. The hero obviously is, is God. I believe that God considers those who struggle with Him to be heroes also. In fact, I, I would go so far as to say that those of His children who struggle against all of these terrible things that we see in the world, um are cheered on by the population of Heaven. And, um, if they should die in their struggle, I believe they get a hero's welcome when they meet Him.