Freedom and Suffering


The most common objection to Godís existence is the presence of human suffering. How can there be a God when there is so much suffering in the world? This searing question is reiterated endlessly. Yet, it is an objection that has no legs at all on which to stand.

I have always sensed that behind this question is the presumption that if the questioner himself were God, he would have created a world in which human beings would never suffer. The assumption is truly stupendous because it suggests, to supply words to the atheist's thoughts -- "If I were God, I would do the job right."

Apart from the pride that goes along with such a presumption, there is something that the atheist overlooks. God, in fact, did create a world in which human beings, beginning with Adam and Eve, were not to experience any suffering. The Garden of Eden was Paradise. God created the first human beings with neither death nor disease in His plans.

But, as we know from our reading of Genesis, things did not work out very well. Our primal parents could not leave well enough alone. The reason for this, quite simply, was human freedom. Because Adam and Eve were free, they could reject the Paradise God gave them. They wanted more than was possible; they wanted to be equal to God.

Naturally, a creature cannot be both a creature and a Creator at the same time. But freedom does not necessarily choose what is realistic. The presence of pride makes it possible for freedom to lean toward the irrational and the unrealistic. Suffering is the inescapable consequence of a person refusing to be what he is. If a person overeats, sokes too much, or drinks excessively, the biological laws inherent in his body are unforgiving. He will suffer in one way or another. If a child runs away from home, he becomes homeless. If a creature severs his friendship with God, he embarks on a path of inevitable suffering, just as if he decided not to eat, breathe, or sleep. The Fall brings suffering, as does the turbulent journey back home.

Suffering is not God's idea of how man should live. It is the inevitable result of man stubbornly rejecting his own nature. It is the fate portrayed in Aesop's fable about the horse that, in trying to sing like a nightingale, lost its ability to whinny like a horse.

The great Catholic philosopher, Jacques Maritain, has written a thought-provoking book, entitled, God and the Permission of Evil. In this study, he elaborates on two axioms. This first is that "God is absolutely not the cause of moral evil

It is most interesting that an atheist can presume, if he were God, that he would not permit suffering in the light of the fact that when people do have an opportunity to create, they often make sure their characters suffer both continuously as well as immensely. Consider the soap opera, a purely human creation. It routinely depicts human life as a Hell on earth. A "soap" without a healthy sprinkling of scandalous activity simply cannot survive in the war for television ratings. The following one week synopsis of "One Life to Live" is typical:

After bugging Peter's hospital room, Brad discovered Karen and Marco switched Mary with Jenny's deceased child. Bo questioned Asa's new security system at Olympia's crypt, where Pat and Cliff snooped. Ted tried to turn Vicky against Becky. Wanda filled Clint in on Niki Smith. Marco, who grew more restless, told Karen they would make a nifty couple. Corky, Peter's nurse, made eyes at Brad. Will advised Katrina to work on improving her self-esteem. Marcello drank away his confusion over Katrina and Dorian.

An unplugged lamp does not shine. A rebellious creature, disconnected from God, does not thrive. It is man who inaugurates the chain of human suffering, not God.

The prevalence in the Media of immoral characters inflicting suffering on one another is an indication that its creators and audiences alike have an insatiable appetite for such depictions.

An unplugged lamp does not shine. A rebellious creature, disconnected from God, does not thrive. It is man who inaugurates the chain of human suffering, not God. By contrast, the depiction of goodness seems boring.

G. K. Chesterton once quipped that if there were no God, there would be no atheists. Even the existence of an atheist is an astonishing fact that the atheist himself is reluctant to acknowledge. He is too enamoured with this atheism (something that is truly his alone) to credit God for his existence. According to the great satirist, Jonathan Swift, "That the universe was formed by a fortuitous concourse of atoms, I will no more believe than that the accidental jumbling of the alphabet would fall into a most ingenious treatise of philosophy."

Atheism is unrealistic on several counts. Many an atheist thinks he could do a better job if he were God. Yet, we have invincible difficulties in finding a person who can properly run a country, or a city, or even a small town bank properly. Let us not talk about running the cosmos. None of us could do any better that Goethe's "sorcerer's apprentice". Atheism is about pride, not logic. Theism is about love. Pride and love are mutually exclusive. But love is infinitely more realistic.



Donald DeMarco. "Freedom and Suffering." Social Justice Review. (January/February, 2009): 8.

This article is reprinted with permission from Social Justice Review: A Pioneer Journal of Catholic Social Action and Donald DeMarco.

Social Justice Review was founded by the Catholic Central Verein of America in 1908:

  • To advocate and foster the restoration of society on the basis of Christian principles in conformity with the social teachings of the Popes;
  • To protect and support the honor, dignity and essential importance of Christian marriage and family life, and to defend the rights of parents in the education of their children;
  • In short, to promote a true Christian Humanism with respect for the dignity and rights of all human beings.

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Donald DeMarco is adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut and Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ontario. He also continues to work as a corresponding member of the Pontifical Acadmy for Life. Donald DeMarco has written hundreds of articles for various scholarly and popular journals, and is the author of twenty books, including The Heart of Virtue, The Many Faces of Virtue, Virtue's Alphabet: From Amiability to Zeal and Architects Of The Culture Of Death. Donald DeMarco is on the Advisory Board of The Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2009 Social Justice Review

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