Why does a loving God allow pain and suffering?

In a world filled with war, illness, abuse and greed many ask why a loving God would allow such things to be. As I have pondered this question, I think there are three reasons: teaching, agency and perspective. God wants to teach the important lessons that each one of us needs to know and he wants us to make choices for ourselves. God is also interested in the long term, way beyond just this life as we know it.

God created this world so that we, his children, could come and learn lessons for ourselves. These are not lessons of math, literature or economics, but character, strength of purpose and love. He is interested in who we become rather than what we know. God knows us individually and personally in ways that I do not understand. Because of this he sends each of us into our own personal life challenges. As a teacher I always gave hard assignments, not to punish my students but to build their success. Illness, disability, devastating family situations and war are all challenges from which we can learn. One must take great care with this principle. Just because some of us have lessons to learn does not justify those who cause the pain or refuse to help. How we respond to the suffering of others is enormously important to our Father in Heaven. “It serves them right” is not a principle taught by God.

Agency, or the ability to choose is very important to our Father in Heaven. He carefully protects our ability to choose for ourselves. With choice comes the freedom to choose badly. The majority of our bad choices will harm others and frequently harms the innocent. Eliminating the possibility of choosing harm for others eliminates choice. Fidelity to a spouse means little if cheating is impossible. Honesty where theft is easity detected means less than honesty in the face of a very real opportunity to defraud with impunity. Truly giving us the freedom to choose war over peace will cause many innocents to suffer when some choose badly.

God has a long term perspective. He can see beyond the sufferings of this life to the opportunities for those who choose well. For him a lifetime of disability is but a short part of an eternity of growth and progress. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay for all the inequities and harm that we might suffer from others and they might suffer from us. In the long term the wrongs we suffer and the pains we inflict will be made right. He knows that justice will prevail despite the pain of here and now. Teachers who assign difficult projects to their students know of the opportunities that await beyond the class. God knows the opportunities ahead of us and assigns challenges that will best prepare each of us individually. God is not ignoring us. He is teaching and loving us.