Someone asks, “But why all this suffering—why should it be permitted at all? Is it not bad for the world, and so bad that God, if He be God, should prevent it?” Well, that is a difficult question. But it is, I admit, a fair one. It is, of course, a very old one. Many stricken hearts have asked it in all ages. Many fine minds in every age from the time of Job have tried to answer it. And the real difficulty about answering it satisfactorily is that there is no one answer. It is a subject on which we cannot generalize.
Nevertheless, two principal explanations of sorrow and suffering do stand forth in the history of mankind—two answers to that insistent inquiry, “Why should this or that agony be permitted in the scheme of a world created and governed by a wise and benevolent God?”
The first is that sorrow and pain are the first fruits of sin. By this it is not, of course, meant that every sorrow is a direct penalty for some particular wrong. No doubt some sorrows are. If, for example, a father neglects to train and discipline his boys and they grow up and rebel against him and break his heart, he is largely the cause of his own grief, and his neglect of his duty finds him out. Or if a woman neglects her health, or takes drugs or lives an unnatural life, she brings trouble upon herself.
It would, however, be absurd to say that all sorrow has this character. For it is evident that while much of it has, much of it has not. Suffering goes on its way to afflict many who have no responsibility for the wrong which brought it about. This is one of the most hideous facts about evil; but the responsibility for it is no more to be placed upon God than upon any other sufferer. He is one of the many who suffer from the consequences of sin—perhaps it will turn out at last that he was the greatest sufferer of all!
Why, then, is it all permitted? I answer not for punishment, but for discipline, for instruction, for warning, for training, and for turning men’s hearts away from the earthly to the heavenly, from the human to the Divine. Unnumbered multitudes have realized in suffering a gift of priceless value, renewing the soul—refining character, and developing sympathy, humility, patience, strength—and bringing with it a revelation of God and His grace and power which had before seemed impossible. Suffering is permitted, not only to refine our spirits, not only to strengthen our faith, but to make us perfect for the work of saving others—of reaching other hearts, of carrying the heavy burdens of others, of healing the wounds and woes around us.
Bramwell Booth, Life and Religion