When guerilla soldiers in war torn Democratic Republic of Congo sneaked into a woman’s house in the dead of the night, she was sure of her safety as she believed in the Almighty God. By the time the soldiers left, she had been raped five times and her children had been slaughtered like animals. She stared into space and wondered why God did not save her children and spare her the humiliation of being raped despite the prayers she had offered. This scenario plays out in every corner of the world today and the question on most people’s lips is whether a God really exists.
To believers of organized religions – Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, there is a God or supernatural being that oversees and controls the affairs of their lives and the world in general. On the other side, there are the atheists and agnostics, who do not believe in any God and are not sure a God exists respectively. Looking at the world today, it is really hard to opine that there is a God irrespective of what the church preachers and the imams say. Our world is bedeviled with natural disasters, many countries are war-torn, and children starve to death, yet the question persists: what God will watch idly while his/her believers go through very hard times? It even gives reason for the belief of atheists, who ask why they should believe in a God who does not have the power or grace to save them from the evils of the world.
The question of the existence of God is as old as religion itself. With God as a supernatural being came religion. It can be said as a matter of fact that there will be no religion if there is no God. People all over the world are still divided as to how the universe came to be. While some believe in creationism, others believe in evolutionism. This in itself is a question about the existence of God. Scientists argue that the world was indeed made from fossils and not created by some supernatural being, but believers of organized religions hold the concept of a seven day creation by God in high reverence. Some religious leaders have even tried to play down the issues of creationism and evolutionism by saying they both serve as complements. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said the debate raging in some countries between creation and evolution was an absurdity, and that evolution can coexist with faith (Di Cadore, 2007). So, does that mean there is indeed a God? And if yes, why does he/she permit suffering? Christians who are followers of Jesus Christ believe sufferings are sacrifices and tests of faith from God. They believe hard times and tragedies are God’s ways to test their faith and make them strong. Muslims also believe there is a reward in the life thereafter for every hardship they pass through on Earth. The simple question: is there even a life thereafter? Not one dead person has ever come back to tell us of a world beyond ours, yet this only bolsters the mysteries of a God, heaven and hell.
Followers of organized religion are taught to endure, keep faith, irrespective of the persecution and evils they face, yet look towards the heavenly home which they are headed after they die. Some absolve God of the evils and hard times, saying they are direct consequences of our actions as humans, in other words, man-made deficiencies. Believers argue that asking God to remove all sufferings can never be justified. Taking into consideration that humans live in a world in which the implications of what they do are inevitable, are we not asking that God should (a) suspend natural law (b) divert the consequences of heredity and (c) turn aside the effects of man’s inhumanity to man? (Christadelphia World Wide, 2012). A profound thought on these questions will reveal God in his infinite existence is just a fair God who allows the principles of freewill and comeuppance.
Truly, if God were to prevent suffering even from people who deserve to be punished naturally for their crimes, then a lot of evil-doers will go scot-free. However, this brings about another question: why do the innocent suffer with the guilty? God being a merciful God should ensure that only evil-doers face the direct consequences of their actions. This relates to a general belief, that both good and bad people enjoy rainfall and sunshine even when the latter should not have this grace. As a matter of fact, a verse in the Holy Bible says that when a sinner suffers, the innocent suffers with him. According to another part of Bible, the sins of the father shall be visited upon the son, up till the seventh generation. How does this justify a God or a merciful God? What kind of God will make innocent people suffer for what they know nothing of? Underlying the free rationale of what has been discussed so far is that hardship is atrocious in itself.
In the heart of Buddhism there is a belief that hardship is an essential evil. The Holy Bible puts it differently, stating that hardship is not evil itself but an evidence of a more profound evil. Christianity argues that man sinned against God through Adam and Eve and thus fell short of the grace and glory of God. Presumably, if Adam and Eve had not sinned, there will be no suffering and people will still enjoy the grace of God today. Furthermore, the Bible tells the story of a Godly man in Job who lost everything he had labored for but stayed faithful in worship to God, and eventually had his lost possessions restored. This shows God does permit sufferings but faith in him/her and patience promise a restoration of good times.
The sufferings and hardship in the world today can be said to be a direct consequence of man’s inhumanity to man. Although non-believers might not understand why God, if there is any, cannot stop the wars and natural disasters that happen from time to time, it is important for people to also look inwards and think of the harm they cause to the planet, which could result in natural disasters. God is not responsible for the deforestation of the Amazon forest, neither is God responsible for the flagrant environmental pollution in China. These are direct human-made disasters which are certain to have dire consequences on the planet in the future. While atheists say either God is not a God of love and is apathetic to human sufferings, or that God is simply powerless to help prevent sufferings and hardship, a critical assessment of the evil people do to each other cannot be overlooked.
Evil is a necessary part of freewill and man has freewill to choose what he wants (Let Us Reason Ministries, 2012). The sufferings and hardship all over the world are mostly direct consequences of our own evil actions. At best, Christians believe that no one is innocent, as we have all sinned and come short of the grace of God, thus, we are all prone to evil and sufferings.