Why do the innocent suffer?

Must the good suffer because of the wicked? Every time we open a newspaper we face this question. Those who work for peace in Syria say the problem could have been resolved in a few days after it first erupted but those in power refused. Two years later, after tens of thousands have died and hundreds of thousands have become refugees, a solution is further away than ever. Innocent children and their mothers crowd the cardboard camps of nearby Jordan.

It is an old question and three thousand years ago, in the same part of the world, Abraham bargained with God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. “Are you really going to destroy the upright with the guilty? Suppose there are 50 upright people in the city” (Gen 18). It is an amazing almost playful passage where Abraham whittles down the number from 50 to 10 and still God agrees, “I will not destroy the city if there are 10 good people in it.” Clearly not even 10 could be found and the cities were destroyed.

Centuries later the same happened to Jerusalem itself. Jeremiah reported that not even “one individual who does right “could be found in the city” (5:1). It was a grim statistic and the city was destroyed. But it prepares us for what Paul tells us: that Jesus himself was the one just man who was found in the city: “one man’s good act has brought justification and life to all humanity” (Rom 5:18).

Paul goes on to offer his answer to the question about the suffering of the innocent which weighs us down every time we switch on the television. The innocent do suffer and we are more and more aware of how much pain and injustice there is in our world. We cannot anaesthetise their sufferings by saying that Jesus, innocent that he was, also suffered and that he has set down a marker which says suffering no longer has the power to destroy. It is ultimately a gateway to life. I believe this. But not everyone does and it cannot make me indifferent to what I see around me. It is true it will all come right in the end as the 14th century mystic, Julian of Norwich, wrote “all will be well and all manner of things will be well.” But we cannot sit on our hands in the face of suffering in the meantime.

Combined with the hope that Paul and Julian describe there is the need on our part to do everything we can to combat suffering. And the same TV tells us how much is being attempted. The call is for us all to reach out; to ask, to seek and to knock (Luke 11:1-13).

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *