When I was a layman I did a lot of work with teenagers. My home parish had (and continues to have) an outstanding LifeTeen program. Our teen years some pretty amazing years. Indeed, they are painful. However, they are wondrous. When you're on the cusp of entering the adult world everything is exciting. Everything is new. But, unless you have experienced great trauma as a child you are never quite prepared for just how cruel the adult world is. This, I think, is why teens are always asking the theodicy question. How can there be an all good, all knowing, all powerful God and there still be suffering in the world? It seems that one is mutually exclusive of the other. Either God exists or suffering exists. Either that or God is a sadist.
My answer is simple yet unsatisfying. Evil exists in this world so that love can exist in this world. To put it more precisely, the same underlying principle that resides in the human powers of action that allows us to commit the greatest atrocities is the same principle that allows us to commit the simplest act of love. We call this power of action freedom. If we are to be free to love, then we must also be free to not love. This is a simple fact of our human world. The possibility of real love could not come about in any other way. Like I said, however, this answer is true but it is unsatisfying. It leaves a bitter taste in our mouth.
We desperately want to the world to work another way. Deep down inside we want the world we thought existed when we were children. We want to be sheltered from the adult world. We want heaven. As children we were protected from the brutality that characterizes most of human experience. But, as we get older we gain entry into the brutality of the adult world – the real world. It's in our teenage years that we are first fed the vile bitterness of real human suffering. We all know this. We have all experienced it. I think this is one reason why we become so outraged when a child is exposed to the adult world. We know that children aren't ready. Hell, we aren't ready!
When we see images of children crying, terrified, eyes closed, following rescue personnel to safety, we react. We react with every fiber of our biology and every ounce of our spirit. Rightly so! Who wouldn't? Who couldn't? But it's not just their plight that we are raging against. It's also our own. When we see senseless tragedy all the hard won comfort we achieved in our world comes crashing down on our heads. We become scared children again, looking out on a world that we can't fully understand. A frightening world where everything is reaching out to harm us and those who we love.
When this fear takes hold of us we eventually turn to God. Even the atheist does, if only to mock God's existence. Some turn to him for comfort and shelter. Others turn to him with seething anger. Eventually we blame God that children were murdered. Why? Do we think that God has failed because there is a tragedy of unspeakable sorrow? It seems that this is our instinct. But why? Why do we think that God is supposed to make things better? Why do we assume that he is some divine safety blanket who exists to shield us from sorrow, pain, madness, and suffering? Because he has told us to call him Father. When we become those terrified children we look for a savior. Aren't fathers supposed to protect their children? God seems no better than any deadbeat dad.
My own natural tendency is cynicism. This is born from my own battle scars. Maybe you have the same ones? When there is a tragedy I start looking for God's used car salesmen. I look around to see who is trying to sell me God and I want to know what they're selling. Are they selling a God who is a safety blanket? Will be comfort me in the darkness and feed me in times of famine? Will be he carry all of my suffering? Will he make me feel good about myself? Will he make me feel safe in this world? Will he save all his children? When a salesman is offering something too good to be true, it probably is.
We must learn to hold some difficult things in tension. First, we must remember that God gave each of us the freedom to love or to not love. When we chose not to love God isn't happy. He empathizes with those who are harmed. He empathizes with the one who choses to harm. However, he isn't going to interfere with the freedom of the one who has chosen to not love. If he did, we would not be truly free. Without the freedom to do evil we would also lack to freedom to love. So, the question shouldn't be, "Why does God allow bad things to happen?" Instead, the question should be, "Why do people chose not to love?"
This is a question without an answer. Seek your own heart? When have you chose to not love. Why? Why would you chose to not love? You've done it, I've done it. We chose to not love all the time. Why do we fail to do the one thing that we all want? If you can figure that one out, let me know.