Imagine that a young child has an untreated cavity resulting in a tooth infection which now requires extensive treatment. Now, imagine that the child has always feared dental visits, and that his parents stopped bringing him to the dentist because they didn’t want to go against his will and submit him to the discomfort of dental cleanings. The parents felt this was done in an act of love, believing that honoring their son’s wishes was the ‘good’ thing to do. However, the infection and perhaps even the cavity itself, could have been prevented in part, by those uncomfortable routine dental visits. The child is now suffering serious pain due to the infection but still does not want to go through the pain and discomfort of a dental procedure. The parents are left with a dilemma, do they continue to honor the child’s wish to not be taken to the dentist or do they allow the dentist to intervene and do the necessary, albeit, painful dental work to prevent further damage?
When we are facing potential tragedy or are in the midst of suffering, don’t we sometimes project our desire for God to adopt the attitude of the parents in this story? When we feel helpless in our situation and seek divine intervention to provide the solution to our problems, we hope for, and expect, a certain outcome. If there is a good and loving God, we think, he would want to grant us the wishes of our heart’s desires. He would also want to prevent us from experiencing evil, pain and suffering.Would we ever question the love and goodness of parents who allow their children to experience pain and suffering in undergoing a painful yet necessary medical procedure? We likely wouldn’t, given our understanding that they do so out of love, for the good of the child because they have the knowledge and foresight which allows them to understand that temporary pain is sometimes necessary to prevent or cure a more serious ailment.
A parent’s decision to allow their child to experience pain in this context is based on their broader knowledge, understanding of the future (compared to their child’s) and ability to intervene to prevent the life-threatening consequences that would arise if a medical procedure isn’t performed. When a child learns a new skill, such as riding a bike, a parent can provide protective gear and safety instructions to a child but can ultimately choose to not intervene, letting go of the handlebars and taking a step back when the time is right to allow the child to ride the bike himself, seeing it as necessary for him to refine and own this new skill, even if it means getting a few bumps and bruises along the way. In both of these cases, the parent’s decision to intervene or not is done for the sake of the health and development of the child even if the child at the time may not understand the decision, or perceive it as mean, wrong or painful.
We as humans are limited in our knowledge and understanding, only making sense of our experiences in light of our immediate context and past and present knowledge. In contrast, God sees the full picture extending from the beginning to the end of time. God may choose to allow certain evil in context to how he sees all events are interwoven throughout history, shaping future events to come, helping to build our character along the way.Because we don’t have God’s all-knowing perspective, we can’t understand why He allows some evil (we have no idea how much evil God IS actually preventing from happening that we just don’t see happen.) We can’t always see what good is being accomplished through our or anyone else’s suffering. Sometimes it takes years to understand our previous experience with pain and suffering, other times the answer is beyond us in this side of life.