Why does God . . .

. . . allow suffering?  If you go to Google and type in “Why does God,” the first autofill answer you will get is “Why does God allow suffering?” When I clicked on that option, I got over 77,000,000 results in half a second.  It seems a lot of people have asked that question and almost as many have tried to answer it.  And they’ve been asking this question for a long time.  

Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who lived in the fourth century BCE, was asking this question before Jesus even walked the earth and long before the Prophet Muhammad received his revelations. Epicurus drew a sharp line between the potential for God’s strength and the capacity for God’s compassion.  He asked, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.” In other words, a God that would allow suffering he is powerful enough to stop must be cruel.


On my Google search, the first page of the 77,000,000 responses comes from mostly Christian sources.  The “answers” put forth included “Well, God doesn’t cause suffering, but he allows it” and “Suffering is a way to enter into relationship with God,” and “The message of suffering is that life is hard, but God is good.” That last one especially seems it might be of little comfort when tragedy strikes. 

The best answer I found was one that recognized the compassion and unity that can result from suffering, but also acknowledged that it’s a mystery. Compassion and unity are vital concepts for a fully realized spiritual being, and it’s true that they often seem to rely on crisis and division to act as springboards for their creation. But an omnipotent God could surely find a way to inject my soul with compassion rather than through another’s suffering, right?  Though if no one ever suffered, would we even need compassion?  

Now, in full disclosure, I want to make it clear that I do not have the answer to the question of why God allows suffering. And, I would suggest that you proceed with great caution around anyone who claims to have that answer.  

I’ve had a few times of tragedy in my life, and I know that doesn’t make me special. It doesn’t make me different from you, and perhaps it even offers ground where we can meet. I may not know your pain or your story, but here are nine things I do know, and I can only hope they provide comfort, if not insight.

  1. I know that sometimes tragedy brings out the best in us. 
  2. I know that although there may not be an adequate reason we might accept to explain tragedy, no grand purpose birthing a trauma, there can still be great lessons and awareness that come from these events. 
  3. I know that although my pain is real, my pain is not me.  
  4. I know that it’s possible to be on a spiritual journey and be mad at God. In fact, it can be among the most transformative of experiences if we retain just an inkling of faith. A mustard seed, even. 
  5. I know that love is God, and the tragedy of my past is a prime contributor to the degree of love I can bring into another’s place of pain.
  6.  I know that my suffering has created compassion and tenderness and gentleness in me that I’m not sure I would have had otherwise.
  7. I know that, as the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield writes, “The question of human suffering is central to the journey of grace and redemption.” 
  8. I know that I would be nowhere without grace and redemption.
  9. I know that awakening to the awareness of our higher Self, our Buddha nature, our Krishna consciousness, our Christ consciousness, can bring freedom.


I have always admired the Buddhist way of respecting all life.  I must admit that I have killed an exceptionally scary looking spider or two in my day, but generally speaking I try not to harm any living creature.  I’ve moved far more spiders from inside of my home to the great outdoors than I have executed.

Most recently, after getting our 25 baby chicks and watching them grow, naming them, having them peck feed out of my hand, gently picking them up and rescuing them when they fly “over the border” of their little area, I made the decision to go ahead and be a full-fledged vegetarian.  We were darn close anyway.

Unlike most people who lean into vegetarianism, I stopped eating fish first.   I was concerned about the way we are decimating the life of our oceans.  I’m really not sure that people who live in land-locked Tennessee are really meant to eat sushi-grade tuna.  It’s not exactly environmentally-friendly locally-grown fare.   But, chicken and beef?  Why, you could get those from right here in Tennessee, and they were in no danger of extinction.

But, then we got the chickens.  And then we had Buffalo wings when Triston came over.  And then I almost wretched up what used to be one of my favorite dinners.  How could I look my precious chicks in the eye at 9:00 when I was smacking my lips over her cousin at 6:00?  It wasn’t a huge leap to also apply this feeling to the beautiful brown-eyed bovines I passed every day on my way to class.  So that was it.  No animal was going to have to die for my consumption again, I determined.   Buddha would be proud.

In a related story, Susie called me in a panic as I was about to turn into the driveway this evening.   There was an injured deer in the woods just adjacent to the big dogs’ fenced-in area.   The dogs were going nuts, and the deer was on the ground and in shock.  We believe it had a broken leg.

After placing several calls, the best answer we could get was that we should call the sheriff’s office.  Now, in the world of animal rescue, “call the sheriff” is code for “there’s nothing we can do” which is code for “this animal needs to be put out if its misery.”  In fact, the one wildlife rehabilitator we called said that he would lose his license if he rehabilitated a white tail deer because they were already so prolific and they really needed hunters to keep the population down.  “Besides,” he drawled, “you can’t rehabilitate a deer with a broken leg.  The most humane thing you can do is shoot it.”

We called the sheriff.  As we waited for a patrol car to show up, I stood out on the front porch wondering what the Buddha would do in this situation.  Was that “respect all life” thing such an absolute that helping to ease suffering was also off limits?   Would the Buddha have simply given the deer food and water and let nature take its course, even if nature would seem to have an inhumane lack of compassion?

In the end, I did what I always do.  I checked my own spirit and tested my own actions and behaviors against my own consciousness.   When the sheriff’s deputy arrived, I showed him the way to the deer.  Then I left him alone with it.  I went back to the house and waited.  Pretty soon, two shots were fired about 10 seconds apart.  They almost seemed to rip through my chest.   Then I felt release.  The deer was gone.  So was the pain.

What would Buddha do?  I care about as much for the answer to that question as I do for the similar question about Jesus, or Muhammed, or Shiva, or Billy Graham.  Consciousness, spirituality, whatever you want to call it, is an art and not a science.  We can’t achieve enlightenment by following the rules or path of another.   We can only achieve it by artfully wending our way along the path that is ours alone.    So, on my path this evening I helped end the suffering of another being on this planet.   For me, it was the right thing to do.

But it still wasn’t easy.