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Why does God permit suffering?

May 4, 2017

- by Seneca the Younger

Most do not like the answer, and many reject it outright.

First, the Stoic School uses “God” almost synonymously with “Universal Reason,” “Logos,” and “Nature.” So you do not need to believe in a personal God to understand.

Second, answers to this question usually commit the error of using different meanings for “suffering.” A doctor who sets your broken bone makes you suffer. A terrorist who tortures one of your loved ones to death makes you suffer. But, “suffer” is clearly referring to two entirely different experiences in human life.

The answer of free will does not satisfy entirely. 1) Free will has nothing to do with a person dying from a slow excruciating disease. 2) Free will also does not answer the case of the terrorist, because the victim does not get to exercise free will to avoid torture. So, free will is not some sacred gift to mankind that God will not let be violated.

The answer of a fallen world does not answer everything either. 1) The New Testament details how Jesus was slowly tortured to death. The Bible says Jesus was without sin, yet he had the capacity to suffer. He was perfect and chose to suffer. Why? 2) While God is not part of a fallen world, the Bible even says God feels pain (Ps 78:41). This cannot mean physical suffering as if people were punching God. So, it seems emotional suffering is part of God’s perfect image that is in mankind. 3) Even physical pain must have been expected for the world before the fall of man. After all, human bodies are prepared to heal broken bones, deep cuts, burns, and to adjust to periods of starvation. Why would God prepare humans for suffering if there was no need to suffer?

So, what is the Stoic answer? Most do not like the answer, and many reject it. Nevertheless,

Suffering is the only way for our minds to activate certain abilities that they are fully capable of developing.

The Stoic School has been so successful for so long because there is so much involved in developing those rational abilities. Generally, we call them Virtues, which is Latin for, “strengths.” Some refer to it as “mind over matter.” Some, like James B. Stockdale who was tortured in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, refer to it as “the Stoic warrior’s triad.” The Bible refers to this concept in Hebrews 5:8 where it says Jesus, “learned obedience from what He suffered.” The Lord benefited from suffering?

Even mortals who have endured excruciating suffering, such as Pulitzer Prize winning author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Elie Wiesel, often tell of experiencing this phenomenon whether they ever become Stoics themselves. 

Proof of the Stoic answer to why we suffer is all around us throughout history.

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Or just skip the idea of gods, which there is no reason to believe, and the question dissolves.



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