B: To understand my position on this, once again we have to appeal to God. If there was no God, then of course it makes perfect sense to commit suicide, in place of (probably) having to suffer the slow, painless death. But as I’ve said many times before, life without a God is purposeless. One may as well have taken his own life as soon as he was capable, and it could have made only a negligible difference in anybody else’s existence, since everybody’s life would also be purposeless. And as we’ve assumed that there is a God, if only to preserve purpose for our lives, then, Shirley, He must be aware of such suffering as the kind we’re talking about in this example. So either He can’t prevent it, or He chooses not to. Some would say, if it’s the latter, He must be malevolent. I would argue, however, that this does not necessarily follow.
So what could possibly be another explanation for why an omnipotent God allows suffering, other than the notion that He hates us? Why not the idea that one learns, through trial, pain, and suffering, things that he would not learn otherwise? Indeed, we all become different people when we have endured difficult times. Details
Life’s trials constitute the infamous “school of hard knocks,” which is actually a pretty darned good school, if a bit rough. Everybody knows this. So why do they even ask the question, “why does God allow so much suffering?”
A: I get that there needs to be some suffering, yes – it’s unavoidable. But really, this much suffering? Surely it’s unnecessary.
B: Don’t call me “Shirley.”
A: I didn’t! I distinctly said “surely.”
B: Shirley, you didn’t.
A: Yes I did, Bob.
B (sighs in exasperation): Whatever. In response to your question…you might notice that God is a bit more brazen than most teachers are these days. He’s not afraid to push people’s buttons, whereas teachers who do that in today’s society may fear losing their job or getting sued. By pushing as hard as He does, He gets more out of us. We become more resilient, and we’re strengthened in many of the character attributes He’s trying to improve in us – that is, as long as we don’t choose to be embittered by our suffering.
A: He’s trying to improve us? Why doesn’t He just go ahead and do it? I thought He was omnipotent.
B: He is, but remember that “omnipotence” means possessing of all power that exists. The power to improve others immediately to certain degrees may not even exist. Furthermore, He also allows us our freedom. If we don’t want to be improved, He won’t force us to be. More on that later.
But we’ve digressed. We see, anyway, that God allows us to suffer difficulties in life so that we can learn certain lessons which we may not learn otherwise. Back to the case of Mrs. Maynard: by choosing to avoid the impending suffering of cancer by committing suicide, she precluded herself from learning a bunch of important lessons that could have come with the suffering, lessons that she could presumably take with her into the next life. After all, if she couldn’t, what would be the purpose of God allowing her to suffer so?
Furthermore, whatever lessons God had for her to learn must have been not merely “important,” but probably essential – else, as one might wonder, is God the kind of teacher who would require mounds of homework and further significant effort on a topic that won’t even be on the test?! Therefore, all of God’s lessons are “essential,” meaning essential to our eternal happiness. This distinction between “important” and “essential” is significant because whatever “essential” lesson a person does not learn in this life will necessarily be postponed to the next life.
A: What?! If we can learn all these lessons in the next life, what’s the bally good of us learning them here?
B: Just the question I wanted to hear. Obviously, what could it be but that this life serves as a more efficient way of learning these lessons? If otherwise, we may as well not have had any other life at all but the next one that awaits us. So if a person postpones a lesson to the next life, he will have to learn it less efficiently then than he could have had he learned it in this life. And in the sad case of Mrs. Maynard, by choosing to commit suicide, she’s only avoiding suffering in this life for something worse in the next. If not, she would be, in effect, mocking God, supposing that she could circumvent difficulty by simply taking her own life – which really is no different from just about anybody else who commits suicide.