Where is God in Suffering?


The other day I received this letter from a distant friend and it occurred to me that his question deserves a good answer. With his permission I have placed both his question and my initial answer on the site in the hope that others wiser than myself may come up with a more helpful response.

First the Query

January 14 2011
Hello Bill
A friend of ours is dying of cancer and has only a few days to live, if that. The comment has been made why would God take the precious life of a person who has been a pillar within the community, and who has a generous nature, and has served mankind unselfishly all her life? My question is this; why does God need to come into the equation, when the whole matter of death can be explained in a scientific and rational way; such as the replacement cell mechanism having broken down producing umpteen million cells which has shut down the various functions within the body, and leading to death. Is the body capable of healing itself, if there is a God in existence?
I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter, Bill
Trust you and Shirley are keeping well.
Kind regards

Hi Charles – good to hear from you.
Some thoughts in response.
First if God could personally intervene to remove suffering, there is little evidence that this happens. A huge percentage of the world’s population undergo serious suffering at some time in their lives and as you imply the suffering tends to follow the laws of nature rather than the principle of the good and the bad getting their respective deserts. A genetic mutation of the P52 gene caused by an encounter with a chance chemical or stray radiation is a better reason for expecting cancer than cancer caused in reprisal for not saying your prayers with a suitably holy look on your face. (Just as well in your case!) I also know from science that stress makes things worse. For example there is recent research showing that the protective telomeres at the end of the chromosomes are shaved off when the body is under stress.
However can I suggest there is another way of looking at it. If we take one of the principles referred to in the Bible that God is Love (or perhaps Compassion) then maybe the notion that one is surrounded by friends who take that principle seriously ie knowing that one is cared for and cared about as one enters these serious situations makes such situations very much easier to deal with. I guess this is why a cynical skeptic like myself still thinks that it is worth spreading this compassion principle as far as possible. If nothing else, having more people around who share this as an ideal for shaping their behaviour must surely make for better communities and better understanding between diverse peoples. So maybe in that sense there is a place for God.
(PS go to my website – I put a cheering up section on it yesterday.)
Altiora Peto


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