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Human beings have grappled with the question of why God allows suffering since before the origins of Christianity. It is a perennial conundrum for anyone who believes in a deity or deities. In many ancient cultures, including those of the Greeks and the Egyptians, belief in a multitude of gods may have made it a little easier for humans to find an answer to this question. But passages from these cultures’ sacred and mythological texts suggest that people still were not satisfied—and still cried out for the gods to explain.
For Christians, and others who believe in one all-good and all-powerful deity, the problem feels almost insoluble. If God is truly good and truly omnipotent, shouldn’t God be able to prevent war, genocide, murder, rape, abuse, and natural disasters? And why would this God let terrible things happen to good people? This is the question that Job asks in the Hebrew scriptures. God responds, but for many readers, the answers provoke more questions.
Today, when we ask this question, we don’t expect to find an easy answer. Nor do we want to. Facile attempts to explain away or justify pain and suffering are often not only weak and insufficient––they are also profoundly annoying.
On this episode of the Glad You Asked podcast, hosts Emily Sanna and Rebecca Bratten Weiss talk to Father Robin Ryan, C.P. about why God allows suffering. Ryan is a professor of systematic theology and the director of the master of arts in theology program at Catholic Theological Union. He is the author of God and the Mystery of Human Suffering (Paulist Press) and has written extensively on the theology of redemption.
You can learn more about the Catholic approach to this topic in these links.
- “Where there is pain, there is God.” A U.S. Catholic interview
- “What the agony in the garden says about human suffering,” by Annemarie Scobey-Polacheck
- “Being a companion through the mystery of suffering,” by Julia Walsh
- “Suffering is a reality to explore, not ignore, pope says,” by Cindy Wooden
Glad You Asked is sponsored by the Claretian Missionaries.