The Problem of Human Suffering
“WHY GOD WHY?” That large headline appeared on the front page of a widely circulated newspaper after a devastating earthquake in Asia Minor. An accompanying picture showed a distraught father carrying his injured daughter out of their collapsed home.
Wars, famines, epidemics, and natural disasters have caused immeasurable pain, innumerable tears, and countless deaths. Add to this the suffering of victims of rape, child abuse, and other crimes. Consider the huge number of injuries and deaths resulting from accidents. And there is the anguish experienced by billions of people because of sickness, old age, and the death of loved ones.
The 20th century saw the worst suffering ever. From 1914 to 1918, World War I killed nearly ten million soldiers. Some historians say that it brought death to just as many civilians. In World War II, about 50 million combatants and civilians were killed, including millions of defenseless women, children, and elderly men. Throughout the last century, millions more were the victims of genocide, revolution, ethnic violence, hunger, and poverty. The Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century estimates that over 180 million people died because of such “mass unpleasantness.”
The Spanish influenza of 1918/19 killed 20 million people. In the last two decades, about 19 million died from AIDS, and some 35 million now have the virus that causes it. Millions of children are left without parents—they died from AIDS. And untold numbers of babies are dying from AIDS, passed on to them when they were still in the womb.
More suffering is being inflicted on children in other ways. Citing information provided by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), at the end of 1995, England’s Manchester Guardian Weekly stated: “In the wars of the past decade, 2 million children have been killed, 4-5 million disabled, 12 million made homeless, more than 1 million orphaned or separated from their parents and 10 million psychologically traumatised.” Add to this an estimated 40 to 50 million abortions worldwide—every year!
What of the Future?
Many view the future with foreboding. A group of scientists stated: “Human activities . . . may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.” They added: “Even at this moment, one person in five lives in absolute poverty without enough to eat, and one in ten suffers serious malnutrition.” The scientists took the occasion to “warn all humanity of what lies ahead” and said: “A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”
Why has God allowed so much suffering and wickedness? How does he purpose to remedy the situation? When?
[Picture Credit Lines on page 3]
Top, wheelchair: UN/DPI Photo 186410C by P.S. Sudhakaran; middle, starving children: WHO/OXFAM; bottom, emaciated man: FAO photo/B. Imevbore