by: Glenn Dallaire
We often wonder why God allows innocent children to suffer for example, or why God permits horrible natural tragedies such as tsunami's, hurricanes etc. Since I am not a theologian, I will not attempt a detailed explanation, but I will try to put forth a brief understanding.
The effects of Man's free will
Firstly, it is essential to understand that God did not create human suffering--suffering came into the world through the Original sin and disobedience of Adam and Eve, our first parents. There was no suffering in the garden of Eden. It was only after the fall of Adam and Eve, and their expulsion from the Terrestrial Paradise that suffering came upon humanity. And so suffering originated from the actions of our (humanities) free will. Natural disasters, on the other hand, normally have natural causes that were put in motion at the creation of the earth. But, we must remember that it was not God's will or intention for us to live upon the earth--God's will and desire was that we live in the terrestrial paradise- the garden of Eden. Additionally, disease and physical handicaps have their origins with Original sin and the fall of man.
As human's, we each have our own individual free will with which we are all free to choose good or evil, and our choices/actions (both good and evil) not only affect ourselves, but often affect others, and in the case of sinful actions, suffering is usually joined to it. Contrawise, with good actions comes grace. Simply put, sinful choices almost always cause suffering to others. The reason God gave us our free will is so that we might choose to love and serve Him, or not. -That we might love and serve others, out of love for Him. Love cannot be forced--you cannot force someone to love you. Our free will is a gift from God, and God will not infringe upon the free will of man, and this is why man is "permitted" to do even the most evil and heinous acts.
God's Sovereign Will and God's Permissive Will
But to understand why God permits suffering and bad things to happen we must consider the two "Wills" of God- firstly, His Ordaining Will---this will operates outside the free will of man--it is sometimes called God's Sovereign Will or Predestined Will--these are the things that He decrees that are not changeable or affected in any way by an influence outside of His own.
And the other is God's "allowable" or Permissive Will which operates in accordance with the free will of man, the laws of Nature that He set forth, and the actions of the angels and demons. Thus God's Permissive Will encompasses all the actions in the natural and preternatural world, including the actions of the free will of man, the actions of devil and the demons and the actions of nature that God "allows" or permits to happen. Examples of God's Permissive Will would be illnesses and disease both physical and mental, natural disasters, physical accidents, and most especially the countless bad effects that stem from evil and sinful actions related to the free will choices of man, and also the free will of the angels and the demons, and their influences and effects upon humanity.
It is essential to note that God does not Will that these things happen! God does not will that man suffer, but He allows it because it is the effect of Original sin and the result of our fallen nature, in combination with the exercise of our free will. However God always seeks to draw good from everything, especially suffering. We need only look at Jesus' passion and death at the hands of humanity to see this truth. And God always seeks to draw good from evil. This is why in Romans 8: 27-28 St Paul says "
And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God's will. We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
The key is that "all things work for good for those who love God". And so for example, out of love for God, and with the help of God's grace, we are able to turn an illness or a suffering into a blessing and a grace, not only for ourselves, but for others as well. And this is essentially the sacrificial offering of a christian who is united with Christ. There are many examples of such individuals on this website. It is accepting our cross and offering it to God, sacrificing and suffering for others out of love for God, just as Jesus our beloved Saviour did. It is not simply a sacrifice or a suffering, but it is sacrificial suffering. It is willingly making a sacrifice or accepting a suffering and offering it to God, thereby turning it into a grace...it is redemptive suffering. It willingly cooperating with God by turning something evil into good. Such is the call of a christian to pick up one's cross and to follow Jesus.
With this in mind, this website offers some wonderful examples of holy individuals who turned tragedies and sufferings into blessings and grace with the help of God. Surely the life of Blessed Alexandrina will be great interest and example. On Holy Saturday of 1918, while Alexandrina, her sister Deolinda and a friend were busily sewing, three men violently entered their home and attempted to sexually violate them. To preserve her purity, Alexandrina jumped from a window, falling 13 feet to the ground. Her injuries were many, and the doctors diagnosed her condition as "irreversible" stating that her partial paralysis would steadily get worse, and eventually she became completely bedridden. With her paralysis and pain worsening, she was eventually forced to remain immobile, and from April 14, 1924 until her death, that is for 31 years, she would remain bedridden and completely paralyzed. At this point her mystical life flourished and called by God she began an extraordinary mission as a victim soul.
Those interested may read more of the holy life of Blessed Alexandrina here:
So, was the attempted rape against Alexandrina God's will? Of course not, but He permitted it and allowed it (once again His Permissive will) and He used this sinful action along with her good will (she forgave this man from her heart) to draw immense good out of it. If we allow Him, God can draw immense good out of everything.
Or again, we have a holy soul named Maria Valtorta who was hit in the back by a young man with a steel pipe. She was another victim soul who was bedridden and partially paralyzed through a sinful act of a man. And again, it was not God's will for her to get hit in the back with the pipe---it was the sinful act of a man which God allowed. Those interested may read more about Maria Valtorta here:
I hope this attempted explanation of the God's Sovereign Will, God's Permissive Will, and the free will of man may benefit those seeking a deeper understanding for the cause of suffering.