The Question Is Not, “Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen?” It’s, “Why Do We?”

The Question Is Not, “Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen?” It’s, “Why Do We?” November 8, 2018

When I first started doing public speaking engagements, a philosophy professor contacted me and asked if I’d like to come speak to his Theodicy class.

I said, “Sure,” and then as soon as we got off the phone I Googled “Theodicy” because I had no idea what it was.

I learned that Theodicy is the study of why bad things happen in the world if the world is controlled by a loving God.

I’ve definitely asked that question.  A lot, actually. Why did I get breast cancer when I was 27 years old?  Why did the Somali girls’ three brothers die in Somalia before they could get out?  Why do six million kids under age 5 die every year in the developing world?

We like to ask that question, don’t we?  Why does a loving God allow so much suffering?

We like to speculate.  We like to do mental and theological gymnastics to get our theology to fit with the world we experience.  Philosophers have filled books with theories.  Universities have courses that explore this difficult-to-answer question.

I thought a lot about it until I went to Togo and began practicing medicine at a hospital in rural West Africa that had no air conditioning, no ventilators, no mosquito nets and, sometimes, no water.

I handed dead babies back to their parents because they’d brought them to the hospital too late for us to save or because the children were simply too sick to survive.

I watched a wife weep over the body of her husband, a 55-year-old man with severe respiratory distress who kept looking at me with pleading eyes saying, “Madam — I — can’t — breathe — ”  And I kept telling him, “I know.  We’re trying as hard as we can.”  And then his body gave out and he lapsed into a coma and died.

I watched skeletal, starving babies admitted to pediatrics lie weak and motionless in their cribs as flies crawled over them.  Their mothers swatted the flies and mosquitoes away with strips of fabric that all too often became shrouds when the babies’ souls left this world.

I lost more patients in one week in Togo than I’d lost in 10 years of medicine in the U.S.    And yet, in spite of how much suffering I witnessed there, the question I came back to was never, “Why does God allow this suffering to happen?”  Instead, I kept asking, “Why do we?”

We go on all-you-can eat cruises, get mani-pedi’s, waste food, spend hundreds of dollars a month on cable TV and other forms of entertainment, buy  10,000-square-foot houses, drive SUV’s that cost a fortune and get 10 miles a gallon, buy $100 jeans and designer sneakers, drink expensive espresso drinks every morning and….

It’s not that any one of these expenses is wrong per say.  It’s that all together, the picture of life in the U.S. is that we are wealthier than the overwhelming majority of the world.  We have more expendable income than we realize. And we use our resources on amusement and entertainment rather than being generous and sacrificial and making a tangible difference in the world.

We literally amuse ourselves to death while

  • Six million children die in the developing world each year of preventable, or easily treatable, causes.
  • Nearly a billion people live in extreme global poverty — living on less than $1.90/day.
  • In our country, one in six Americans faces hunger as 49 million people struggle to put food on the table.
  • There are 123 suicides a day in our country, making it the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • Rates of loneliness have doubled since 1980, with 40% of adults saying they feel lonely on a regular basis.
  • Tens of thousands of Americans die each year from gun violence.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Suffering continues not because God doesn’t do anything about it but because we don’t.

And this isn’t meant to make anyone feel guilty.  Instead, I think it should give us incredible hope!  Because solutions to problems that have plagued our world for far too long are absolutely within our reach.

Rates of child mortality and extreme global poverty have dropped by 50% since 1990 because people have gotten involved and loved the world enough to do something about it.  We’re on track to end child mortality and extreme global poverty by 2030 — if we make the effort.  If we give, if we work, if we sacrifice, if we act as though the wellbeing of our fellow human beings depends on us (because it so often does!)

So let’s stop sitting around, wasting time asking why God allows suffering to happen in the world and let’s ask ourselves, “Why do we?”

And then let’s roll up our sleeves and care enough to do something about it.


If you’d like to make a tangible difference in the world, here are a few opportunities.

Sponsor a child with Compassion International to provide a child in the developing world with food, medicine, clean water and mentoring.

Make a contribution to The Invisible Girls’ Trust Fund to help send five Somali refugee sisters to college.

Donate to St. Gregory’s Food Pantry.

Partner with Heifer International to provide families and communities in the developing world with a sustainable food supply.

Make a micro-loan with Kiva so an entrepreneur in the developing world can get a small business off the ground.





"If you are referring to the Great Orange Maggot, then we know him by his ..."

Three Things Evangelicals Should Stop Saying ..."
"Know the man by his achievements, not by what the media say about him."

Three Things Evangelicals Should Stop Saying ..."

Browse Our Archives

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Pope Hilarius II

    let’s see, god murdered over 40 million humans including every baby on earth
    yet, you say he isn’t responsible?
    Hitler must be a hero of yours

  • Nimblewill

    I’ve got a cousin who went to Africa to dig a well so that the people could have fresh water. Within months the warlords had filled the well in so that they could control the people in the village. It happens with food and water all over third world countries. Should we go in and destroy these evil regimes?

  • Adrienne Reda Regnier

    The question still stands. It should be answered. This essay is fine for those things we can prevent, but what about the horrible things we cannot prevent? God could, yet doesn’t. Why?

  • st

    Sorry, what are you talking about? How is this helpful to fostering a productive discussion?

  • st

    There isn’t any one single strategy; I think the solution to situations like these is multi-fold. Personally, one of the reasons I’m a spokesperson for Compassion International (and support several Compassion children myself) is because I think that when you raise children with love and morals, they grow up to be men and women with character and integrity who find non-violent ways to lead their countries up and out of poverty. So that’s where I choose to spend my time and energy and resources….on raising up the next generation.

  • st

    That’s definitely an important question that has many complex and differing answers, depending on who you ask. I believe that solving all the suffering we’re capable of as soon as possible is a place to start. Too often, “Why does God allow suffering to happen?” is a blanket statement that covers not only things like natural disasters that are beyond our control, but extends to issues like poverty and starvation and sex trafficking, issues we can very easily do something about.

  • Adrienne Reda Regnier

    It’s not a statement; it’s a question. Our doing absolutely everything we can to prevent horrible things happening to children does not change the question. It continues to stand

  • Nimblewill

    I absolutely agree. I’m a 29 year veteran of public education in the South.

  • I’m assuming he’s talking about Noah and the Flood.

  • David Peebles

    In reply, I repeat my earlier maxim: If god exists, nothing makes sense. If god doesn’t exist, everything makes sense.

  • Adrienne Reda Regnier

    Bingo, David Peebles.

  • Maya Bohnhoff

    Interesting. My experience has brought me to the opposite conclusion.

  • bill wald

    As “Devil’s Advocate,” why does God always get a free pass? We have no logical or pragmatic procedure to test God’s statements about himself except possibly statistical analysis and our only source of information is what we can observe about the universe around us.

  • bill wald

    I have concluded that God is “totally other” and we are not able understand anything about God. My personal question why has God apparently given me a free pass for the last 78 years? I thank God most every day.

  • cowalker

    From Merriam-Webster: “‘Whataboutism’ is a rhetorical device that involves accusing others of offenses as a way of deflecting attention from one’s own deeds.” “Why does God allow suffering? Well whatabout humans?”

    Humans allow suffering mainly because our resources aren’t infinite. Knowing this, each individual decides how much they can give away to assuage the suffering of others, from the unfortunate, addicted sibling who needs rehab–again–to the unknown baby 12,000 miles away dying senselessy due to contaminated water. Some people are far more generous than others, undoubtedly due to the behavior they saw modeled during their early years.

    Now, by definition, God has infinite resources. But instead of creating a universe of angels, God created an earth where life evolved by by means of inflicted and experienced suffering. Creatures devour each other alive. Microbes kill their hosts, or are killed by them. Old age and death allow change in species to happen. Species change through random mutations that might help a creature adapt, or might result in early death, before reproduction takes place. It doesn’t matter, God is ok with billions of octillions of sacrificed lives to achieve the design. When this world produces rational creatures who are inevitably flawed in their understanding and emotional makeup, God watches to see if they happen upon the “right” understanding of God and morality from God’s stingily distributed and contradictory “revelations.” If the rational creatures happen on the “right” understanding, they will follow the rules on how they treat their fellow humans and earn their eternal life.

    God sure sounds like a kid with an ant farm, doesn’t it?

    If David Peebles is right, the whole situation is a lot easier to understand. “If god exists, nothing makes sense. If god doesn’t exist, everything makes sense.”

  • April Davidson Hollingsworth

    My thoughts exactly!

  • swbarnes2

    Uh huh. You don’t understand anything about God, but you are 100% sure that you haven’t been smitten because God has mercy, and not because a “totally other” God is indifferent. And you don’t understand this “totally other” God at all, except to know that it wants thanks, and it definitely doesn’t get really pissed off at gnats who presume their tiny opinions matter to it.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Why do I allow children to die of cancer?
    I had no idea I had any involvement in childhood cancers. Or congenital deformities or handicaps.
    But I am still expected to sweep up god’s messes, apparently.

  • Widuran

    I like Compassion and sponsor children

  • Sarah W. Isom

    I mostly make somewhere around $16000-$17000 per month through the internet. After doing work so wholeheartedly, I ended up losing my job in my company where I have given many years. I truly needed a reliable income source. I am not into “get rich overnight” package deals as you can see all over the internet. Those are all kind of ponzi multi level marketing strategies in which you need to first make interested customers and then sell a product to friends and family members or any person so that they will probably be in your team. online work provides lots of benefits like I am always home with my spouse and children and can enjoy loads of free time and go out for family vacations. Here’s the fastest way to start >>> KAVENHI.TUMBLR.COM

  • The Antagonizer

    Isn’t it only atoms dying though?

  • The Antagonizer

    Amen. Sort of hard to make sense of something from nothing. Better than magic.

  • The Antagonizer

    Non-Whites flock to White majority nations because Whites build the most desirable societies.

    The problem in racially diverse societies is the following White traits become detrimental to White survival:
(1) moral universalism (obsession with caring, fairness, kindness, compassion and justice) 

    (2) proneness to feeling guilt
    (3) ethno-masochism (celebrating one’s own ethnic displacement) 

    Non-Whites take advantages of these unique White traits. (And no-one can provide evidence that these traits are displayed in non-Whites to the same degree).

    Evolutionary psychologists have shown Whites build societies built on trust and morality. Non-Whites build them on kinship. But most Whites don’t recognize the difference due to heavy Cultural Marxist propaganda telling everyone we are the same. However in a White only society, these weakness are strengths. It’s these traits (especially no. (1) that cause Whites to build high trust, more desirable societies.

    You see Whites over-caring about global issues like “Fee Tibet!” or “Save the blue whale!” etc. You see Whites adopting non-White races far more than other races adopt outside their own race. Examples of unreciprocated kindness (lunacy?) are too numerous to mention.

    Whites are pathologically altruistic. Throw in the problem Whites have been indoctrinated to pretend diversity as a strength and races are interchangeable, and you begin to see why the West is slowly dying.

    “Look at me! I’m morally superior to you!” Whites are virtue-signaling themselves into oblivion.

    Many Whites are so beyond help they truly believe a White minority US will be safer, wealthier and more united than now. The rational would say they need help. The rational and honest would say they are insane.

  • The Antagonizer

    Many well-intentioned Whites have been brainwashed to believe races are interchangeable.

  • The Antagonizer

    Why would you be bigoted against Hitler? Are you a Communist?

  • The Antagonizer

    Okay. I thought you were being sarcastic for a moment. (You said: Hitler must be a hero of yours.)

  • soter phile

    You become like the god you worship.
    “Why do we allow suffering?” begs the question.

    no god (atheism) – suffering is just part of this meaningless life. oh well.
    pain is an illusion (East) – so much for the dignity of your suffering.
    pain is to be avoided in the pursuit of happiness (West) – so much for helping others… unless it makes me look good.

    what about a god who purposefully enters our suffering… to heal it… on the cross?

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Atoms can’t die…..

  • st

    Where did you get cancer from? This is about preventable pediatric deaths in the developing world from lack of clean water, lack of food, lack of shelter, lack of IV fluids, vaccines and medicines. We can contribute to all of those solutions and save millions of lives. The question is, if we have the ability to intervene and make a positive difference, why don’t we?

  • st

    That’s awesome! Thank you!

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Because the third world is overpopulated and if we allow their populations to grow, they’ll be even worse off in a few years?
    eg Ethiopia going from 20 million hungry/poor people to over 60 million hungry/poor people with a degraded environment.

  • Cfl

    You posed a question then did not answer it. If you could explain how we, humans, are responsible for the deaths and suffering of millions of people (including innocent children) who die annually from, say, various forms of cancer, or from malaria, that would be great, thanks.

    You see, we are not the cause of many forms of cancer, and we didn’t create malaria.

  • Chari McCauley

    That is what Romans 1:20 tells us. Plus, He did write ten (10) instructions which basically say stop betraying each other. We are also told that His gifts were given to all life both good and bad. Some people feel they should hoard that which belongs to others, usually by deceptive practices like cheating and stealing and lying and murdering….

    He knows the circumstances in a person’s life, that is why even though we may think someone should die for a crime; there is a reason WE are not to take another person’s life, because WE don’t always know the truth. Father does know, He watches.

  • Chari McCauley

    Whoever said it came from nothing? Chemicals, air that stuff all belongs to what we call Mother Nature. Eternity is older than immortality. (Romans 1:20) The Spirit of Love is older than every religion. Pain is the enemy of Mother Nature. Good health promotes growth and expansion (Infinity or space is a big place.); sickness that is prolonged hinders that growth and expansion.

    She provided both the seed and the egg for emotional intelligence. It was up to that intelligence to learn how to cooperate with Her chemistry, elements, substances, and concepts that existed before any definition was given to them.

    Earth is one giant egg that grows many different kinds of seeds. The seeds define the fruit, flower, dog from a cat, male from a female, etc.

  • bill wald

    God did create a universe of angels and they also rebelled against God, same as humans. Job chapter 1 sounds like God and Satan playing a computer game.

  • bill wald

    A percentage of them grow up to be civilized, same as the children of Christian parents in the US.

  • bill wald

    Some of the same well-intentioned people only buy pure bred animals, not understanding that “breed” is equivalent to “race,” “sub-species.”

  • bill wald

    Big difference between “know” and “believe.”

    2 Timothy 1:12 For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

  • bill wald

    Agree. It makes sense as long as we don’t also claim to have the mental ability to understand God and what God knows.

  • bill wald

    I trust God only because “The Holy Spirit testifies to my spirit.” I “believe in” the principle of “need to know.” I don’t have any need to understand the mind of God and it doesn’t bother me.

    In the same way, I don’t understand calculus but don’t have any need to understand calculus. That’s why I changed majors in 1963 from engineering to supply chain management. It is as important to know what you don’t understand as it is to know what you do understand.

  • bill wald

    I propose that natural events are not evil in the same sense that humans are evil.

    An example is the wild fires in CA. The fires are not evil. Most of the damage to life and property would not have occurred if the forests were properly managed, the brush cleared, fire roads built, the dead trees and brush removed near power lines . . . .

  • bill wald

    It was not necessary for God or any person to “create” any forms of cancer. God chose to create a “statistical, random) universe.

  • Nick G

    what about a god who purposefully enters our suffering… to heal it… on the cross?

    Well if that had happened (it didn’t, of course), it would clearly have failed.

  • Nick G

    Any decent person would say that you are racist scum. And Sarah Thebarge is apparently happy for you to spread your hateful filth via her blog.

  • The Antagonizer

    What the Hell are you smoking?

  • Alice W. Chandler

    I usually get around $21,000-$22,000 monthly using the internet. After working so passionately, I ended up losing my job in my company where I have given so many years. I really required a reliable source of income. I am not into “get rich overnight” package deals as you can see all across the internet. Those are all kind of ponzi multi level marketing schemes where you are required to first make interested customers and then sell a product to family and friends or any person so that they will be in your team. online job offers lots of benefits like I am always home with my family and can cherish a lot of free time and go out for family vacations. Here’s the simplest way to start >>> DEERGLAD.TUMBLR.COM

  • swbarnes2

    But of course you are claiming to understand the mind of God. You are sure that God wants praise and worship from the likes of you. You are sure that God speaks to you!

    This “I”m so humble and lowly and ignorant” is a bald-faced lie on your part. (Funny how you are so sure that God won’t hate you for lying like that)

  • weathervane

    I agree with “cowalker” but would like to also say that I don’t think the two are in any way equivalent. “Why does God” is an exercise in philosophy/theology, with no right/best answer or any opportunity to test any of the competing ideas. The “Why do we” offers the opportunity for debate, research, and experiment and (maybe) an operational answer.

  • jekylldoc

    Actually, however, what the world has experienced is that affluence, and a high-education economy, lead to low birth rates (approximately replacement level). So in fact that best way to “limit population growth” in developing countries is to bring them into the world economy quickly, so that the choices which have led to rapidly falling birthrates in Asia and Latin America will also be available in Africa and the Middle East.

  • jekylldoc

    I recommend against feeding the troll.

  • Widuran

    This is the correct opening question.

    Why do we let the Islamists cause rape death and destruction to the non Muslims or “not Muslim enough Muslims”?

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Birthrates have also decreased markedly in countries in Eastern Europe; they haven’t entered affluence.

  • jekylldoc

    Sure they have. And education levels, which are the strongest correlate with small families, are very high in Eastern Europe. With the exception of some Balkan countries, E. Europe is considerably more economically comfortable than, say, Bangladesh or Colombia or many other countries that have had steep declines in birth rates.

  • soter phile

    Read Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus & the Eyewitnesses.” At least then you’ll have engaged enough of the scholarship to know you can’t say “it didn’t of course.”

    And even as much as Nietzsche hated Christianity, he recognized it has not “failed”, as you put it…
    “Modern men, obtuse to all Christian nomenclature, no longer feel the gruesome superlative that struck a classical taste in the paradoxical formula of ‘god on a cross.’ Never yet and nowhere has there been an equal boldness in inversion, anything as horrible question, and questionable as this formula: it promised a revaluation of all the values of antiquity.”

  • Summers-lad

    I would enjoy reading how your experience has done this.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    You cant stop people from being people. if you want change, start with yourself.

  • ?? On the contrary, if the existence/the cosmos is meaningless and purposeless, then nothing makes sense, especially not ethics, reason, compassion, etc.

    One of my heroes, the French atheist, novelist, and philosopher Albert Camus wrote that the world is absurd (doesn’t make sense), but he became a strong opponent of slaughter and injustice, and supported human rights.

    It seems like Sarah Thebardge has the right idea and action–Don’t spend time abstracting about suffering. Spend time solving the severe problems, stopping suffering, and help every single human to flourish:-)