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Why God Provides Room to Build a Better World

The civil rights leader Martin Luther KI

NOTE: This is the last in our four-part series by philosopher Fr. Robert Spitzer addressing the question, "Why Would God Allow Suffering Caused by Nature?" Instead of focusing on the existence of moral evil, or suffering caused by the free choice of humans, he examines why an apparently good God would create an imperfect world replete with natural disasters, physical disabilities, and unavoidable heartache. Find the other parts of the series here.

We now move from an individual and personal perspective on suffering to a social and cultural perspective. We saw in the previous three sub-sections how God uses an imperfect world (and the challenge/suffering it can cause) to call and lead individuals toward life-transformations, courage, self-discipline, empathy, humility, love’s vulnerability, and compassion. However, the value of an imperfect world and suffering is not limited to this. God can also use suffering to advance the collective human spirit, particularly in culture and society. There are three evident manifestations of this collective-cultural-societal benefit of an imperfect world and suffering: (1) interdependence, (2) room to make a better world, and (3) the development of progressively better social and cultural ideals and systems. Each will be discussed in turn.


We cannot be completely autonomous – we need each other not only to advance but also to survive. Our imperfect world has literally compelled us to seek help from one another, to open ourselves to others’ strengths, to make up for one another’s weaknesses, and to organize ourselves to form a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. We could say that our imperfect world is the condition necessary for the possibility of interdependence, and that interdependence provides an almost indispensable impetus to organize societies for mutual benefit.

The reader might respond that this is a somewhat cynical view of human nature because we probably would have formed societies simply to express empathy and love. I do not doubt this for a moment. However, I also believe that necessity is not only the mother of invention, but also the mother of social organizations for mutual benefit and specialization of labor. An imperfect world complements the human desire for empathy and love. While empathy and love allow us to enjoy one another, the imperfect world challenges us to extend that love to meeting others’ needs and making up for others’ weaknesses. Challenges (arising out of an imperfect world) induce us to extend our empathy, friendship, and enjoyment of one another into the domain of meeting one another’s needs, organizing ourselves for optimal mutual benefit, and creating societies which take on a life of their own beyond any specific individual or group of individuals. Yet an imperfect world does far more than this. It calls us to make a better world, to the discovery of the deepest meaning of justice and love, and even to create better cultures and systems of world organization.

Room to Make a Better World

An imperfect world reveals that God did not do everything for us. He has left room for us to overcome the seeming imperfections of nature through our creativity, ideals, and loves – not merely individual creativity, ideals, and loves, but also through collective creativity, ideals, and loves. As noted above, individuals can receive a tremendous sense of purpose and fulfillment by meeting challenges and overcoming adversity. Yet we can experience an even greater purpose and fulfillment by collectively meeting challenges which are far too great for any individual; challenges which allow us to be a small part of a much larger purpose and destiny within human history.

It would have been noble indeed, and a fulfillment of both individual and collective purpose to have played a small part in the history of irrigation, the synthesis of metals, the building of roads, the discovery of herbs and medicines, the development of elementary technologies, the development of initial legal codes, the initial formulation of the great ideas (such as justice and love), the discoveries of modern chemistry, modern biology, modern medicine, modern particle physics, contemporary astronomy and astrophysics, the development of justice theory, inalienable rights theory, political rights theory, economic rights theory, contemporary structures of governments, the development of psychology, sociology, literature, history, indeed, all the humanities, arts, and social sciences; to have played a small part in the great engineering and technological feats which have enabled us to meet our resource needs amidst growing population, to be part of the communication and transportation revolutions that have brought our world so much closer together; to have been a small part of the commerce which not only ennobled human work, but also generated the resources necessary to build a better world; to have been a small part in these monumental creative efforts meeting tremendous collective challenges and needs in the course of human history.

Yet, none of these achievements (and the individual and collective purpose and fulfillment coming from them) would have been possible without an imperfect world. If God had done everything for us, life would have been much less interesting (to say the least) and would have been devoid of the great purpose and achievement of the collective human spirit. Thank God for an imperfect world and the challenges and suffering arising out of it. We were not created to be self-sufficient, overly-protected “babies,” but rather to rise to the challenge of collective nobility and love – to build a better world.

The Development of Progressively Better Social Ideals

We not only have the capacity to meet tremendous challenges collectively, we can also build culture – the animating ethos arising out of our collective heart which impels us not only toward a deeper and broader vision of individuals, but also of groups, communities, societies, and the world. This broader and deeper vision includes a deeper appreciation of individual and collective potential and therefore a deeper respect for the individual and collective human spirit. Thus, we have the capacity not only to build a legal system, but also to infuse it with an ideal of justice and rights, a scrupulous concern for accuracy and evidence, and a presumption of innocence and care for the individual. We have the ability not only to make tremendous scientific discoveries, but also to use them for the common good rather than the good of just a privileged class. We have the ability not only to build great structures, but also to use our architecture to reflect the beauty and goodness of the human spirit. We have the capacity not only to do great research but also to impart the knowledge and wisdom gained by it in a humane and altruistic educational system. And the list goes on.

Perhaps more importantly, we have the capacity to build these more beneficent cultural ideals and systems out of the lessons of our collective tragedy and suffering. One of the greatest ironies of human history, it seems to me, is the virtual inevitability of the greatest human cultural achievements arising out of the greatest moments of human suffering and tragedy (whether these be caused by natural calamities like the plague or more frequently out of humanly induced tragedies such as slavery, persecution of groups, world wars, and genocide):

  • Roman coliseums (butchering millions for mere entertainment) seem eventually to produce Constantinian conversions (taking an entire empire toward an appreciation of Christian love)
  • Manifestations of slavery seem to lead eventually to an abolitionist movement and an Emancipation Proclamation
  • Outbreaks of plague seem to lead eventually to advances in medicine and public health, as well as a deeper appreciation of individual life and personhood
  • Manifestations of human cruelty and injustice seem to lead eventually to inalienable rights and political rights theories (and to systems of human rights)
  • Large-scale economic marginalization and injustice seem to lead eventually to economic rights theories (and to systems of economic rights)
  • World wars seem to lead eventually to institutions of world justice and peace

There seems to be something in collective tragedy and suffering that awakens the human spirit, awakens a prophet or a visionary (such as Jesus Christ, St. Francis of Assisi, William Wilberforce, Mahatma Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, Jr.), which then awakens a collective movement of the human heart (such as the abolitionist movement), which then has to endure suffering and hardship in order to persist, but when it does persist, brings us to a greater awareness of what is humane.

Out of the ashes of collective tragedy seems almost inevitably to arise a collective advancement in the common good and human culture; and more than this – a collective resolve, a determination of the collective human spirit which proclaims, “never again;” and still more – a political-legal system to shepherd this collective resolve into the future.

As may now be evident, the greatest collective human achievements in science, law, government, philosophy, politics and human ideals (to mention but a few areas) seem to have at their base not just an imperfect world, not just individual suffering, not just collective suffering, but epic and even monumental collective suffering.

Was an imperfect world necessary for these greatest human achievements? It would seem so (at least partially); otherwise there would have been no room to grow, no challenges to overcome (either individually or collectively), and no ideals to be formulated by meeting these challenges. God would have done them all for us.

Nothing could be worse for a child’s development and capacity for socialization than an overprotective parents who think they are doing the child a favor by doing her homework for her, constructing her project for her, thinking for her. To remove all imperfections from a child’s living conditions; to take away all challenges and opportunities to meet adversity, all opportunities to rise above imperfect conditions; to take away all opportunities to create and invent a better future; and to remove the opportunity to exemplify courage and love in the midst of this creativity would be tantamount to a decapitation. God would no more decapitate the collective human spirit than a parent would a child; and so, God not only allowed an imperfect world filled with challenge and adversity, He created it.

We must remember at this juncture that God’s perspective is eternal. From the Catholic perspective, God intends to redeem every scintilla of our suffering and to transform it into the symphony of eternal love which is His kingdom. Therefore, a person who suffered in a Nazi concentration camp (which eventually led to the U.N. Charter of Human Rights and to the current system of international courts) did not suffer for the progress of this world alone, as if he were merely a pawn in the progress of the world. Rather, his suffering is destined for eternal redemption by an unconditionally loving and providential God who will bring courage, self-discipline, empathy, humility, love’s vulnerability, compassion, and agape to its fullest unique expression for all eternity. At the moment of what seems to be senseless suffering and death, God takes the individual into the fullness of His love, light, and life while initiating a momentum toward a greater common good within the course of human history. That means we must continually take precautions against reducing ourselves to mere immanentists, for the God of love redeems each person’s suffering individually and eternally while using it to induce and engender progress toward His own ideal for world culture and the human community.

The above points only answer part of our question about the necessity of suffering to advance the common good; for even if an imperfect world were truly necessary for such advancement, it does not seem that something as monstrous as a world war would be so necessary. Perhaps. But here is where moral evil and human freedom exacerbate the conditions of an imperfect world. Unlike natural laws, which blindly follow the pre-patterned sequences of cause and effect, human evil has embedded in it injustice, egocentrism, hatred, and cruelty which are all truly unnecessary. Nevertheless, even in the midst of the unnecessary and gratuitous suffering arising out of moral evil, the human spirit (galvanized by the Holy Spirit, according to my faith) rises above this suffering and seems eventually to produce advancements in culture and the common good in proportion to the degree of suffering.

In conclusion, the annals of human history are replete with examples of how tremendous moments of collective human suffering (whether caused by human depravity or the imperfections and indifference of nature, or both) induced, engendered, accelerated, and in many other ways helped to create the greatest human ideals and cultural achievements. If one has faith one will likely attribute this “phoenix out of the ashes” phenomenon to the Holy Spirit working within the collective human spirit. If one does not have faith, one will simply have to marvel at the incredible goodness of the collective human spirit. (And ask, was it possible for us to do this by ourselves?)

In any case, the imperfect world and the history of human suffering have given rise to a concrete reality of remarkable beauty and goodness in the areas of justice, rights, legal systems, governance systems, medicine, biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, sociology, and every other discipline which has as its noble end the advancement of the common good.

Without an imperfect world, without some suffering in the world, I find it very difficult to believe that any of this would have arisen out of the collective human spirit in the course of history.

It would seem that the price paid in pain has been at least partially offset by the gains made in culture, society, the individual spirit, and the collective human spirit. I do not mean to trivialize the history of human suffering and tragedy nor the lives of individuals ruined by human injustice and an imperfect natural order. Yet we should not fail to find some hope in light emerging from darkness, and goodness emerging from evil. Inasmuch as God is all-powerful and all-loving, He can seize upon this goodness and light to reinforce its historical momentum, and more importantly to transform it into an unconditionally loving eternity. An imperfect world shaped by an imperfect, yet transcendently good human spirit brought to fulfillment by an unconditionally loving God, may well equate to an eternal symphony of love.
(Image credit: Talib Karim)

Fr. Robert Spitzer

Written by

Fr. Robert Spitzer, PhD is a Catholic priest in the Jesuit order, and is currently the President of the Magis Center of Reason and Faith and the Spitzer Center. He earned his PhD in philosophy from the Catholic University of America and from 1998 to 2009 was President of Gonzaga University. Fr. Spitzer has made multiple media appearances including: Larry King Live (debating Stephen Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow, and Deepak Chopra on God and modern physics), the Today Show (debating on the topic of active euthanasia), The History Channel in “God and The Universe,” and a multiple part PBS series “Closer to the Truth." Fr. Spitzer is the author of five books including New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy (Eerdmans, 2010); Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues (Ignatius, 2011); and Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom and the Life Issues (Ignatius, 2011). Follow Fr. Spitzer's work at the Magis Center of Reason and Faith.

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  • Danny Getchell

    Perhaps a really, really good parent should follow God's example.

    Not only should the parent refrain from doing the child's homework, but occasionally the parent should decline to feed the child, or from time to time the parent should infect her with various diseases.

    It builds character.

  • This article does not even attempt to address the problem of suffering from natural causes. The question is: if an all powerful, all loving god exist, why does he not stop the deaths of millions each year from causes humans have no ability to prevent?

    Human rights, justice systems, economic issues, war are all human caused issues.

    I understand the thesis that a loving god would allow suffering to exist to give us the opportunity to perfect the world ourselves. It is easily stated and doesn't require 4 articles. But just what are we expected to do to deal with the giant volcano under Yosemite that we very well take much of humanity with us? Or a meteor collision that would wipe out everything? Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and so on.

    Consider fatal childhood disease. Pretty much nobody wants these things to exist and we are devoting enormous resources to fight them and find cures. We could all do more and give up some of the excess pagentry and conspicuous wealth, Vatican included. Perhaps we will cure one such disease in 100 years, but how many millions of innocent children will die and parents' prayers go unanswered until we do? To what good end? None that I can imagine.

    Consider the likely billions of lives saved by penicillin. While there was an intent to find something like it, it was largely discovers by accident. What message does that send? Consider the green revolution in agriculture, largely made possible by the work of Fritz Haber. Great, god allowed millions to starve but this led to Fritz's work so that's a good thing. Except that Fritz was also instrumental in developing chemical warfare in world war 1.

    None of this makes sense on Christian theism. It is exactly what we'd expect if there is no God.

    • Danny Getchell

      I have suggested that, Matrix-like, we are living within a universe designed by God to be a perfect simulacrum of a universe in which He does not exist.

      In my humble opinion, this fits both the Thomist "first-cause" logic and observed reality of the universe, quite well indeed.

      • Why should anyone accept your suggestion? Why is it to be preferred over non theistic matrix like models? Why is it preferable to the reasonable conclusion that a cosmos that appears to be godless is actually is godless?

        • Danny Getchell

          I'm not saying it's true. I'm saying it's the only way I can come up with to reconcile "personal God" with "universe as is"

          My -actual- view inclines toward a small-g god who set the universe in motion but is at most a disinterested observer.

          • Ah, deism. You're in good company. I just see no need for such a hypothesis.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      "This article does not even attempt to address the problem of suffering from natural causes."

      Then why do you demand that it must and fault it for not doing so?

      Do you have any criticism of it based on what it actually does?

      • What do you think this article actually accomplishes?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          It is just a chunk of text taken from material which I think Spitzer is developing into a book. Spitzer is not trying to accomplish anything with it in terms of Strange Notions. He did not write it for Strange Notions. Brandon just grabbed it (I'm sure with permission.) This posting just finishes presenting all the reasons Spitzer things God would permit and even create an imperfect world. It is not a theodicy, although it has been attached and mocked as if it were.

          If you want to know if it accomplishes anything, ask yourself if what he actually says seems true. I think if you ask, why hasn't he addressed your deepest concerns, you will be going down the wrong path, because, as I said, it is not a theodicy, that is, a complete account for suffering and evil.

          • Thanks for your response. I find it curious

            This posting just finishes presenting all the reasons Spitzer things God would permit and even create an imperfect world. It is not a theodicy

            How are reasons God would permit or create an imperfect world not a theodicy? What more would be required?

            Do you find the reasons Spitzer offers to be compelling reasons?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I would not call this a theodicy because Fr. Spitzer does not present a comprehensive and systematic defense of God in view of evil. I think it is important to keep in mind that Spitzer did not write this for SN in mind. I suspect it is a part of a theodicy that the author felt he had something original and useful to express.

            The most obvious topic Spitzer has not taken up is why is there terrible innocent suffering? If God is directly responsible for it, why is he still good? If God is not directly responsible for it but still permits it, why is it worth it? I think New Apologetics is on to the answer, but that is still forthcoming.

            As to what Spitzer actually says, I think he is right. For example, seeing the vulnerability and actual need of another person is a call to me to act compassionately. Thus I both really help the other person and become more myself.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      "The question is: if an all powerful, all loving god exist, why does he
      not stop the deaths of millions each year from causes humans have no
      ability to prevent?"

      It seems to me the problem is not that some die before their time but that everybody suffers and eventually dies. This problem is one that Christian theism addresses and makes sense out of.

      • David Nickol

        This problem is one that Christian theism addresses and makes sense out of.

        In many ways, "theism" (and Christianity in particular) is the source of the problem, and only deals with it in a very limited and (in my opinion) unsuccessful way. The reason Christianity needs to explain suffering and death is because it posits an all-good, all-powerful God who doesn't want people to suffer and who allegedly created to live forever without suffering and without dying. So Christianity's story is one with self-contradictory elements that then must be explained away.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I can agree with you that Catholic theology creates problems by trying to articulate everything contained in the deposit of faith, an activity uncovers many difficulties. One of them, certainly, is innocent suffering.

          However, when we just look at the core message of Christianity, it is that this world is replete with sin, suffering and death and all those things are very bad. God became man to redeem us from those evils buy innocently suffering and dying to conquer sin. The result is eternal life.

          If this is true, would you be for that?

          • David Nickol

            If this is true, would you be for that?

            If I may paraphrase Nostra Aetate, I "reject nothing that is true and holy" in Catholicism (or any other religion). I would like to think that I am not arguing in favor of the way I would personally would prefer things to be, but trying to figure out how things are. Having been very much formed by a Catholic education, I am trying to take those values and, in the light of what I have learned in my "non-religious" education and in life in general, trying to figure out what makes sense.

            If the Christian God exists, and if Jesus was God Incarnate, then I have gone seriously astray and hope to find my way back. But very little of what I learned makes sense to me now.

      • David Nickol

        It seems to me the problem is not that some die before their time but that everybody suffers and eventually dies.

        It should not be a problem to explain why everybody dies. The problem is explaining how Catholicism came up with the idea that human beings were not meant to die and brought death upon themselves.

        Another thing that needs to be explained (to me) is how Jesus "conquered death," and yet everybody still dies. I know I am supposed to have learned that in Catholic school, but I never quite understood it.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          "The problem is explaining how Catholicism came up with the idea that human beings were not meant to die and brought death upon themselves."

          I don't see how the idea that human beings are not meant to die was invented by Catholicism. I have never heard of anyone say, "I'm going to die? Cool. No problem." No. We radically reject it, unless special circumstances make life unbearable--like being very old and having nothing to look forward to.

          I also don't think Catholicism invented the idea that we brought death upon ourselves. That idea comes from Judaism.

          • David Nickol

            I don't see how the idea that human beings are not meant to die was invented by Catholicism.

            I am not an expert on the history of human attitudes about death, but clearly the Christian interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve (as commonly given) is that human beings were not intended to die.

            I have never heard of anyone say, "I'm going to die? Cool. No problem."

            Not liking the fact that everyone will die is quite different from believing that if it were not for our "first parents," we would not have to die.

            No. We radically reject it . . . .

            Again, I am no expert, but I believe there are other religious traditions that accept death as a natural part of existence.

            I also don't think Catholicism invented the idea that we brought death upon ourselves. That idea comes from Judaism.

            No, the story of Adam and Eve is just not that important in Judaism. Adam and Eve are never mentioned outside of Genesis in the Old Testament. Jews don't believe in Original Sin, and they don't believe Adam and Eve brought death into the world.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Do you think that Christianity had to invent the idea that men were not meant to die, then sell it to potential converts, and then persuade them that it could solve that problem?

            Here is what good-old Wikipedia says about Judaism in its article on "Original sin":

            Jewish theologians are divided in regard to the cause of what is called "original sin". Some teach that it was due to Adam's yielding to temptation in eating of the forbidden fruit and has been inherited by his descendants; the majority, however, do not hold Adam responsible for the sins of humanity,[11] teaching that, in Genesis 8:21 and 6:5-8, God recognized that Adam's sins are his alone. However, Adam is recognized by some as having brought death into the world by eating the forbidden fruit. Because of his sin, his descendants will live a mortal life, which will end in death of their bodies.[12] The doctrine of "inherited sin" is not found in most of mainstream Judaism. Although some in Orthodox Judaism place blame on Adam for overall corruption of the world, and though there were some Jewish teachers in Talmudic times who believed that death was a punishment brought upon humanity on account of Adam's sin, that is not the dominant view in most of Judaism today. Modern Judaism generally teaches that humans are born sin-free and untainted, and choose to sin later and bring suffering to themselves.[13][14]

          • Max Driffill

            The stoics didn't radically reject it. Some castes in feudal Japanese society, also welcomed death if it came serving their lord, or doing there duty. There are two groups who seem to be okay with the idea of their own demise. There are probably others.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't see your point. Sure there are people who are willing to die for a good reason. The reason why such deaths are considered glorious is because one is sacrificing such a great good for a noble ideal. Many Christian martyrs have welcomed death, too, not because there was anything intrinsically good about it.

      • But not everyone suffers and dies the same way. Right now millions of children are facing certain death from disease, many are only moments old. They and their parents are facing the worst pain they will ever face. Any human with an once of empathy or love would do whatever she could to stop this death and suffering. God could stop it with virtually no effort if he exists. He doesn't. I'll wager that some of these illnesses will be cured in the future. Which will be a great thing, but not worth the suffering of these wretches. Apparently Fr Spitzer disagrees.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          If they are only moments old, as in, it is only moments after conception, neither they nor their parents will suffer, as they are oblivious to what is going on.

          If you mean newborn babies, yes, it is terrible.

          We don't know why God permits it, but we do know that if he exists, he does permit it. Thomas Aquinas wisely said that God would only permit this because he can bring a greater good out of it. I don't have a hard time seeing how that could be so.

          You are putting words in Fr. Spitzer's mouth. He never said that the suffering of innocent babies is worth somebody coming up with a cure in the future. He has only said that the existence of weakness and vulnerability gives us a chance to do something about them, and that is a very good thing.

          • Sure if you start with the premise that God exists and is necessarily all good and powerful then you can explain anything.

            I think you are reasonable to say we don't know why god does not intervene.

            However, Fr Spitzer is clearly presenting an explanation. I am extrapolating as what "chance" God could possibly be providing us, and why it is better than God just curing the child like he did Dr. Manuel Nevado's radiodermititis.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If God exists, is good, all powerful, and wise, then everything is ultimately explainable in terms of this goodness, but I don't know anyone who is claiming they can explain *now* how innocent suffering is reconcilable with God's goodness.

            God evidently thinks it is better or more appropriate that he directly or through our guardian angels not step in at every moment to nip every evil in the bud.

            God evidently thinks it is better for us to live in a kind of cosmic Shakespearean play.

          • David Nickol

            I won't repeat the C. S. Lewis quote from A Grief Observerd, but as I understand him, Lewis raises the question why we should assume that after death, even for the "saved," there is an end to suffering. And of course one might also ask why anyone would assume that once people make it to heaven, they will instantly understand everything that was mysterious about life on earth. Fr. Spitzer things that weakness, vulnerability, and suffering are important personal growth during earthly life. If so, why should they be absent from heaven?

            The Catholic concept of purgatory makes a certain amount of sense to me. How can one expect to make the transition—in an instant—from life on earth, with all its uncertainties and difficulties, to eternal bliss? If there is an afterlife, how can we possibly remain substantially what we have been on earth and suddenly be something radically different?

            When someone has been a prisoner of war or a kidnapping victim for a period of many years, upon being freed, they are usually eased back into normal life quite gradually instead of having a big family reunion their first day back, with lots of well-wishers descending on them and lots of interviews with the press. If there is a heaven, I don't see why anyone should expect to step into it and instantly say, "Now I understand! I have all the answers to the problem of suffering!" Human beings are never going to be omniscient, even after unimaginably long periods in heaven. Why should it be imagined that even in heaven, everything will be made clear?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            My source of knowledge about heaven is divine revelation and this source says there will be no suffering or any harm.

            I would not argue that a person will understanding everything at once. I also would not argue that people in heaven won't learn. Personally, I'd like to learn to play the piano.

          • David Nickol

            My source of knowledge about heaven is divine revelation and this source says there will be no suffering or any harm.

            Well, as we are told, both purgatory and heaven are states, not places. According to Catholicism, there is suffering in purgatory. So it is consistent to say there may be a great deal of suffering in the afterlife even for those who are saved. If you say that there is suffering in purgatory but not in heaven, you are basically saying that heaven, by definition, has no suffering. Exactly how much time is spent in purgatory is not something I think Catholicism has any clear speculations about (assuming time even has a meaning in such contexts). So it seems we can't say that dying in the state of grace will guarantee no suffering in the afterlife. There may indeed be a long, long period of suffering (purgatory). Who is to say it is will not be worse suffering than anyone has ever experienced during life on earth?

            So saying there will be no suffering in heaven seems to me to be tautological. There will be no suffering in heaven, because heaven is a place (or state) where there will be no suffering. The place (or state) of suffering—purgatory—might go on for, say, the lifetime of the universe.

            Also, if heaven, purgatory, and hell are states, not places, it could be that everyone is together in one place and experiences his or her own state internally. There is the old joke that a heaven for fleas could be neatly combined with a hell for dogs. The afterlife might be like high school, were a small number of people thrive, most endure, and another small number dread each new day.

          • Well... isn't explaining "now" how innocent suffering is reconcilable with God's goodness, the point of this series?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No. It is about why God might permit or even create a world in which there is suffering, and the answer his gives is the positive way it impacts people who can deal with it.

            He never mentions any egregious innocent suffering nor does he ever say he is justifying its existence. He is explaining how certain kinds of suffering are reconcilable with God's goodness. I personally agree with everything he says. If you say, "He's leaving out the kind of suffering that most demands explanation," I'd agree with you. But keep in mind, this was not written for SN. We should not put words into his mouth.

          • How am I to know it wasn't intended for this site? There was also an editorial decision to post it in a venue established to engender discussions between Catholics and atheists, in a series expressly described as "addressing the question, "Why Would God Allow Suffering Caused by Nature?" This certainly does seem to me to be an attempt to explain to atheists like myself why God permits non-human caused suffering.

            If it just "might", fine, but that is an amazingly weak position. God might be evil and lying to all of us to torture us with false hope. He "might" just be having an elaborate wager with the devil as is highly suggested by Job. Or He "might" be a myth.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Little that Brandon posts was written for SN. It's why few authors engage with the readers.

            In re. your "mights" I can only agree with the "might" not exist. To me the others are absurd. It would mean there is a being of such surpassing wisdom and power able to bring the universe into existence and yet morally inferior to creatures like us.

          • Max Driffill

            Um, why are you ignoring the very behavior evidence by this character, God, in the story of Job? Why would this being of surpassing wisdom, with perfect knowledge of what Job would do put him and his family through such a terrible ordeal? Vile, and violent capricious whimsy would be the nicest thing we could say about such behavior.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Please note, Max, that I presented a philosophical argument, not a theological one base on divine revelation.

            But to respond to your leap to theology, I'd say the answer is that I'm a Catholic, not an Old Testament Jew. I interpret Job from the perspective of Christ (to the best I can).

            It is a story. I have no reason to believe it is any more than a story. If I'm right then it is a fictional narrative meant to convey certain ideas.

            From my Catholic perspective, God would never actually do such a thing. Even Jesus invents parables in which the character that represents God the Father approves of underhanded things, like the Master who commended the dishonest steward. That does not mean that God approves of dishonesty.

          • David Nickol

            So there are stories in the Old Testament in which God is a fictional character? And since the Bible is the inspired word of God, it's the case that God inspired stories about himself in the Old Testament depicting himself doing things he would never do? What lesson are we to learn from stories in scripture portraying God doing things he would never do that we could not have learned from different stories portraying God accurately?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            In your theory of Biblical inspiration, what part do you assign to the human author? A mere copyist?

            Job has two authors, God and the human writer. The human writer presented God and his actions according to his own mentality. This mentality is imperfect.

            Do you think it is unacceptable that the author of Genesis pictured the earth with a dome of water over it? Are you demanding that God should have fixed?

          • David Nickol

            One huge problem with the whole series, in my opinion, is that pointing out that some good can come from some suffering does not answer the question why God created an "imperfect" world. One would at least have to demonstrate (it seems to me) that more good than evil comes out of suffering. "It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good." Something can be, on balance, extremely destructive, and yet a small number of people can wind up benefitting by it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree. It is not a real theodicy.

        • "Right now millions of children are facing certain death from disease, many are only moments old. They and their parents are facing the worst pain they will ever face. Any human with an once of empathy or love would do whatever she could to stop this death and suffering.God could stop it with virtually no effort if he exists. He doesn't."

          In regards to your thoughts that God would stop this suffering if he existed/cared, the church is of the opinion that there are a multitude of reasons that suffering might exist. I'm sure you have heard something akin to this in your discussions with others. Below are a few questions I came up with that you might want to consider concerning this topic. You might not have thought of some of them before.

          -If there is a God, what is God's ultimate goal for people existing on this planet?

          -If existence on this planet lasts for a hundred years or more (for those who are lucky) and existence in the afterlife lasts for millions of years, does this put the suffering that occurs on this planet in a different light?

          -If there is a God, does he have the same goal for all people? Would there be some people who are meant to be on this planet for a hundred years or more and others who do not live for more than a 100 minutes outside of the womb?

          -If there is a God, what potential reason would there be to let some people live on this planet for over a hundred years and others to not reach their first birthday?

          Here is a link to an article that might more directly address your comments: http://marysaggies.blogspot.com/2007/04/evil-once-again.html

          Take care

    • "This article does not even attempt to address the problem of suffering from natural causes. The question is: if an all powerful, all loving god exist, why does he not stop the deaths of millions each year from causes humans have no ability to prevent?"

      Brian, the whole series has engaged this question, directly and indirectly. Fr. Spitzer has provided many answers. In this particular article, he explores at least two reasons why God might permit natural disasters: to allow interdependence and the room to make a better world.

      I should also point, again, that our ignorance about *why* God would permit certain natural evils is no argument against his existence. It's simply a humble admission of our epistemic limitations.

    • "None of this makes sense on Christian theism. It is exactly what we'd expect if there is no God."

      I'm curious how you would know, with certainty and precision (cf. "exactly"), what a God-less world would look like vs. a world governed by a good and loving God. To make that judgment, you'd have to have clear and certain knowledge about both possibilities.

      As I've shown elsewhere, the existence of death and disease (even on a large scale) is no argument against God--or against his providence. At best, for the atheist, it yields a quandary we're unable to solve, given our epistemic limitations. But it provides no logical evidence against God.

      • Sure a world with an all loving all powerful god would not be a world that seems to have gratuitous suffering. This world seems to have enormous gratuitous suffering that is independent of human intentions and abilities.

        You can take the skeptical theist move, but this acknowledges a great gulf in ignorance of the true nature of objective morality or reality.

        By contrast, we can reason that if there were no being who has the maximal power and who wanted us not to suffer, natural disease and disaster would just happen by the regular unfolding of natural laws. Earthquakes kill people because of geological forces. No god prevents it because no god exists.

    • mriehm

      If God had really wanted to help humanity through revelation, the bible would have been a microbiology textbook.

    • Maxximiliann

      Actually, there are several compelling reasons why God cannot interfere in man's daily affairs: http://bit.ly/11EyvgO

      • Sure, other posts on other sites may have different reasons. My comments are addressed at the reasons proposed by the article on this site.

  • severalspeciesof

    Why God Provides Room to Build a Better World

    Because it can't do otherwise. It's impotent in that regard...

    *admission to some snarky-ness there, but for a good reason. Think it through...


    • Kevin Aldrich

      "Think it through" = intellectual laziness.

      • severalspeciesof

        A good teacher allows the student to ponder once in a while...


  • One of the best comments on this article has disappeared. I don't remember who said it, but it was to the effect of:

    Excellent advice for parents: Make sure to let your kids do their own homework. While you're at it, deprive them of food from time to time and infect them with various diseases.

    • severalspeciesof

      Funny how a comment that provides an analogous view, albeit a bit more uncomfortable, gets dumped...


      • Max Driffill

        Analogy is more or less despised here at SN. Also not appreciated...irony.

  • Michael Murray

    So God makes the world bad so people can make it good. Why not just make it good in the first place and spare us all a great deal of suffering. Win-win.

  • GCBill

    Without an imperfect world, without some suffering in the world, I find it very difficult to believe that any of this would have arisen out of the collective human spirit in the course of history.

    With a perfect world, I doubt I'd care that any of these good (but still imperfect) accomplishments never happened.

    And therein lies the problem with this entire series.

  • vito

    so if a rat has cancer and dies in terrible agony, how does that provide us with an opportunity to build a better world? And how is that a consolation for the poor rat?

  • John Roesch

    Human suffering exists because we exist. Suffering from natural calamities is the result of natural processes and the laws of physics which are necessary for our existence. Tornadoes destroy towns and people are killed, earthquakes occur and volcanoes erupt, tsunamis occur and people are killed. Also diseases exist and people die of plague and famine.

    The circulation of air currents that causes tornadoes is the result of thermodynamics and is necessary for the distribution of heat to make the planet habitable. Earthquakes and volcanic eruption occur due to plate tectonics which is necessary for the existence of a carbon cycle which in turn makes the planet habitable for carbon based life. Tsunamis and hurricanes occur because the planet has oceans which are absolutely needed for the formation of carbon based life with an ecosystem. Deceases are life that are part of the ecosystem which is needed for humans to exist.

    If God wanted to prevent human suffering from natural disasters and calamities He would have to suspend the laws of nature which are needed for our existence and would essentially destroy our world, thus wiping us out altogether!

    From the stand point of biological evolution all these natural disasters and calamities are necessary for the evolution of advanced life forms and to develop and improve human civilization as Father Spizter correctly points out!

    The important thing about suffering is not why it exists or why God allows it, but how we respond to suffering, both our personal suffering and the suffering of other human beings. Do we rise above our personal suffering or not? Do we respond to the suffering of others or not? This is what is important to God and man.

  • michael

    This article fails because God could've fulfilled all these roles himself first such s b not inventing disease in the first place, being the same soldier that prevented (prevent,d not ended) The Holocaust,t etc.