If there's a God, and God is good, and God is all-powerful, then why do so many innocent people suffer?
It's not an original question, and I don't have an original answer. The best and most complete answer comes from Job, which can be summarized thus: you don't know. Unless you were there when the world was made and you can make thunderstorms and you're in charge of mountain-goats and such, you have no way of knowing why things happen the way they do, and no basis to criticize or defend them.
But at least part of the answer - and it's insufficient, but it's something - is without suffering, we'd never learn compassion, patience, and gratitude. We wouldn't learn about love.
Recently my sister Chris went down to visit our Uncle Charles and Aunt Betty Ann. By "down," I mean down. Chris lives in Iowa City and they live in Pensacola. She drove the whole way. (Yes, she is insane.) She'd driven down for other purposes beside that; nevertheless, she'd made a special side-trip just to see them.
My uncle and aunt are in a very bad situation. I won't go into how bad, but it is bad. My siblings, cousins, and I love them dearly and are working to see to it they are as safe, happy, and comfortable as can be arranged. (Don't worry, they will never see this blog.)
Anyway, Chris drove down to help with some light packing - they'd recently moved into assisted living - and just have a general visit, but while she was there, Aunt Betty Ann had to be hospitalized.
Uncle Charles couldn't go to the hospital with her, owing to a painful and debilitating foot condition, so Chris, naturally, went with her. My aunt, I should also mention, has Alzheimer's.
I won't go into details about the hospital stay, but you can imagine how frightening and confusing it was for Aunt Betty Ann, to be in a hospital, unable to fully grasp her situation, without the man she's lived with most of her eighty-odd years. So Chris did the simple and logical thing. (My eyes well up even as I write this.) She stayed with her. She stayed with her seventy-two hours straight.
At one point Aunt Betty Ann said, "Charlie doesn't love me." This is a calamity. Whatever else can be said of Charles and Betty Ann, they are devoted to each other. Chris explained that of course Charles loves her, but was unable to come to her because of his feet. Then Chris asked her, "Does Charles love you?" And Aunt Betty Ann said, "Yes."
And Chris kept asking that question at intervals over the next three days. You'd have to know Chris to know the playful, pestering way she'd have done it. Sometimes she probably asked in a high squeaky voice like a mouse. Sometimes she'd ask twelve times in a row in rapid succession. Then she'd wait an hour or two, and ask again. She'd ask first thing when Aunt Betty Ann woke up. She'd say, "I'm going to the vending machine, do you want something and does Charlie love you?" And every time, Aunt Betty Ann would say, "Yes. Yes, he does." The questioning would pass from mildly annoying, to infuriating, clean through to hilarious, and Chris would be such a nuisance about it, after a while you'd have to laugh, but the message would be sent home, even through my sweet aunt's addled mind.
Maybe love and compassion aren't quite compensation enough for the terrible suffering people go through to learn about them, but maybe they are. Because right now I love my sister more than I ever have before.
No, that's not true.
I've always loved her this much, but I've never known it so clearly. It hurts to know it this clearly.
We suffer but there is something it teaches us. Do others love us? Do we love them? Yes, they do. Yes, we do. Yes.