In my previous post I ended by suggesting that God couldn’t remove all suffering in the world without changing humanity: without making human beings something they are not. In this post I’m going to explain why I say that. It comes down to free will, which leads to some surprising places.
We human beings have free will in a sense that other animals do not seem to.* We can choose from among many choices; and though we always choose from among the things that seem good to us, we know we can choose wisely or foolishly. We have ample experience with this just from watching the choices of others. And even in the absence of natural disasters and random violence, we suffer if we choose foolishly. If I eat so as to gain weight, my knees will not be happy with me; and if you have that one more drink for the road you might cause all manner of suffering on your drive home.
And when we suffer we do not suffer alone, because those who love us suffer with us.
I have four kids, and by the nature of things I get to watch them making decisions. Sometimes they choose wisely, and all goes well. Sometimes they choose foolishly, in a way that causes no immediate harm; and then it’s my job as a parent to bring some short-term consequences to the table. And sometimes they choose foolishly and they get themselves into trouble. It hurts them; and it hurts me, because I love them and I hate to see them in pain.
Any loving parent will tell you, sometimes you have to let them get in trouble. You hate it; and it causes you more pain than they can well imagine. You want to fix things and make it better, but they need to learn to fix things on their own. And so you watch, and you hurt, and when they finally get through it it’s a blessed relief.
It’s easy to avoid that kind of pain. All you have to do is avoid truly loving anyone, and abandon anyone who starts to get you down.
Love isn’t simply a warm fuzzy feeling; love is the choice to seek the good of the loved one. More than that, Love isn’t simply a choice; it is a choice that necessarily leads to action. Love that remains purely theoretical is no true love at all; real love involves sacrificing one’s self for the beloved. Again, loving parents know this: parenting involves huge heaping gobs of self-sacrifice, self-sacrifice that is painful even if it is in no way begrudged.
Now, imagine a world in which there are humans but (per impossible) no human suffering. Every little chance of suffering is scotched by God before it can get started. Everyone, consequently, is happy and content all of the time. How could one possibly show love to another in such a world? What could you do to make things better for them? You might have warm feelings for them, and joy in each other’s presence, but there would be no way to take trouble for them. Everything would already be done.
Thus, I think one reason for human suffering is that God wanted us to have both the capacity and the opportunity to actively love each other. It’s not the only reason for suffering; we are fallen men and women living in a fallen world. But it might be a sufficient reason.
* For the purposes of this post, it doesn’t matter whether animals have free will or not. I don’t believe they do; but if they did it would simply give more force to my argument. Now, if you think human beings lack free will please don’t bother commenting to tell me so; I’ll simply exercise my free will by ignoring you (though I might say a prayer for you).