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‘Why does God allow pain and suffering’

‘Why does God allow pain and suffering?’

why does God allow pain and suffering


‘Why does God allow pain and suffering?’

I saw this on a sign outside of a church in NZ a couple of weeks ago.

You probably won’t ever see a sign that says ‘why does God allow joy and happiness?’  Why not? Because, in a very black and white fashion, we see joy and happiness as good…and pain and suffering as bad.

Right?  Actually, no not always.

We only see pain and suffering as bad when we don’t understand the point of it.

I can’t imagine many new mothers with a healthy baby in their arms have friends and family apologise to them for the pain of birth, or cry at the thought of the terrible physical suffering they went through as they gave birth.  Nope, because we get the pain and suffering here.  We understand why they do it.  It’s part of something much bigger.

I have plenty of friends who are covered in tattoos, sometimes over a very large chunk of their body. That’s meant to be pretty painful. Now you may or may not be a fan of tattoos…but you are unlikely baffled as to why they go through that pain.  You certainly don’t feel sorry for them. We understand that they are prepared to go through that pain….for the pay-off.  The tattoo.  Same with piercings. At 6 years old I had holes punched in my ears.  Because my mother was a sadist and wanted to see me suffer? Nope.  Because I wanted to wear earrings.  Yeah it was going to hurt like hell and you bet I cried my eyes out…but there was a reason for it.  And I went on to get a bunch more holes punched in me as I got older.  I even got my nose pierced about 2 months ago.  I knew it would hurt…and it did…but the pain had a point.

So when we see the point to pain it doesn’t upset us and we don’t ask any questions about why this is allowed to happen.  The problems begin when we have no idea what the pay-off is.  When we don’t even imagine there could be one.

Death and dying.  Pain and suffering.  This is where most people get very lost and very upset and can’t see anything other than misery, hence asking the question of why God allows it.  Now I won’t be answering any questions on behalf of any God, or indeed talking about whether there is actually a God at all, what kind of God that might be, etc, etc…that’s for you to decide, this blog isn’t about God…but I can show you how to find the point in pain and suffering when it comes to death and dying. And it is ALL about the questions you ask.

And the question here is what was good about this pain? What did it bring? What was the pay off?  Notice those aren’t ‘if’ questions.  I’m not asking you ‘if’ there was something good, some pay-off, some gift.  There was. There is.  It’s just a matter of figuring out what it was.

You might remember my 96 year old nana almost died recently. In a nutshell, she broke her hip and went through a serious operation that no-one thought she would recover from.  The doctors were preparing us for her death…and we were all waiting for it.  We got called to the hospital more than once when it looked like she was going to die.  Turns out she isn’t quite ready to go anywhere and she is still very much alive (and making quite the menace of herself in the dementia ward at the hospital, I might add).  But during that process I got to witness her pain and suffering and also hear the many comments about how it would better if she just died, that she wouldn’t want to go through this, that it is terrible to see someone you love suffer, and that we should all wish for a much more peaceful ending.

It can initially seem disrespectful to find good in the pain….but why? Think that through. Why wouldn’t you want to find some beauty and meaning in every part of their experience, for their sake and yours?  Why would you want to see some part of their life, no matter how small, as pointless or a pity?  How does that honour anyone? We honour those we love more by finding meaning in their experience of death. Add meaning to their death and you add meaning to their life.  Simples.

So here’s the reality.  And here’s the beauty.  Sure – my Nana could have died in her sleep one night and happily avoided the fall, the nasty broken hip, the operation, and all the pain and suffering it brought.

But what else did it bring? What was good about it?  What was the gift?

I spent more time with my grandmother in that single month than I probably had in the previous 15 years put together.  Do you think that would have meant something to her?

My brother, who hadn’t seen her in a year, came with us 3 times to visit her.  And she was so happy to see him.  (Sometimes it was to look at him, repeat his name with the biggest smile on her face, and hold his hands. Other times it was to scream at him to get her ‘out of this bed right now!’) Do you think that would have meant something to her?

My mum, her daughter-in-law, sat with her for many hours too.  And in Nana’s vulnerability, she gave my mum a beautiful and touching compliment.  One of very few in all the time they have known each other. Do you think that would have meant something to her?

The more pain she was in, the more attention she got from the doctors and nurses.  The more confused, upset, fragile she was, the more time we spent with her, the closer we sat, the more patient we were.  Do you think that would have meant something to her?

We sat and told her stories.  We held her hand.  Sometimes both hands. Do you think that would have meant something to her?

I told her one day I loved her.  Something she hadn’t heard from me in….well I can’t even remember how long but definitely not since I was a very little girl.  Do you think that would have meant something to her?

And, as an extended family, we spent more time together.  I reconnected with my cousins – having all lived overseas in different countries for years we don’t have a heck of a lot of contact, even filming a video of Nana for them, which she found very amusing.  You know what I’m going to ask, right?

Sure she could have died in her sleep and missed out on pain and suffering….but make no mistake, she also would have missed out on all of the above.  Think forward to your own death, whenever and however it comes.  Would you be willing to agree to some pain and suffering, even really bad pain and suffering, if it brings those you love so much closer? If it opens them and you up more? If it allows conversations that wouldn’t have happened any other way? If it gives you more time with those who matter to you?  Even if you don’t remember that this is what you would want when he time comes?

I know I’d be good with that.

Now the gifts in the pain and suffering of your person who died may be the same, similar, or totally different…but I assure you they are there.  I have worked with people who have stories that would make your hair stand on end…and there are always gifts.  Huge gifts. In fact the greater the trauma, the greater the doubt, the bigger the gifts.  This is not a matter of ‘if’, just ‘what’.  Ask those questions…and keep asking.  This can take some digging and some looking but it is so worth it.  A superficial glance over will be unlikely to offer the full beauty of this up.  This can take you a little patience and time….but it will be one of the most amazing and transformative things you do for them and for you, if you do it.

And…if it hasn’t occurred to you already…there is meaning, beauty, and gifts to the pain and suffering you are going through too.  The answers are all there for you.  All you have to do is ask the question….







ss May 18, 2014 at 9:39 am

Its been said that there is no gain without question is also the same when we have the pain of losing our loved one what is the gain we get aftermath? Its true saying that its is better to have a peaceful death than having seeing undergoing so much is this comforting for the rest of life

Kristie West May 18, 2014 at 9:52 am

Hi there SS,

Thanks for your comment.
I would suggest reading through this blog again…slowly and carefully. Or coming back to it later. There is no one answer to ‘what is the best way to die?’ and it is certainly not ‘a peaceful death’ in every scenario. Every death holds beauty and meaning….but it takes some looking. Because you don’t see it immediately it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The same goes for what going through the death of someone we love can bring to us – naturally the answer may not be obvious to you straight away. It will take much deeper exploration than that.
It is different for each person…but it can be closeness to others, a new life path, the space it takes us to (sometimes the deepest depths) and the questions we ask (and answer) from there, the list goes on and on and on. Death is one of the biggest transformations in life….not just for those who have died, but for those impacted by that death. A death in your life can feel like is destroys you….but out of destruction comes creation, always, though it may not always look how you expect.


Thelma May 18, 2014 at 12:43 pm

HI Krisite
, I so comforted you found your way to me. I lost my dad 11 weeks ago . I nursed him and am very upset as he had a fall the first night he went to the hospice. I wanted to stay with him but he told me to go home he didnt want me to sleep on a chair. I reluctently went outside and walked up and down the corridor. It was about 11.30pm. A nurse approched me and asked me was i alright. I told her my fears of leaving my dad because at this stage of his cancer he was experiencing high tempetures and was very confused with all the medication. (the hospital that transfered him to the hospice that day really drugged him up). I said “I am afraid he will fall or get a tempeture” the nurse reasurred me the would take good care of him.
The next day I went in to see my dad to my horror I was told he had fallen out of bed. He had a lump on his head and was black and blue down his right side.
Im not blaming the nurse but Im very saddened to find my dad in that state. I stayed with him the that night and he told me at 5am he had a pain in his arm. The nurse gave him painkillers and said they would x-ray the next day. At 8am dad told me he had a pain in his head.When I called the nurse they rallied around my dad and to this day all I remember is alot of nurses coming into the room. The washed my dad and changed his bed to a water bed. I instictely knew this was the begining of the end. He was very sore and keep saying I dont want to fall. I kept reasurring him I was there and he wouldnt fall. I have a blank to when they gave him pain releif and that really bothers me.
He took my hand and was trying to say something to me. I felt he was thanking me or saying good-bye.
From that moment on he was very sedated. They didnt x-ray my dad just kept him sedated and he died on the saturday night.
Im haunted to know if they just killed him off because he was in his old age.
The family feel they killed him off .
I want to know if he was in pain at all.
Im so lost not knowing. I havent cried for my dad I feel he is better of out of this crual world. Im so lost.

Kay Sargent May 18, 2014 at 4:08 pm

My husband died last year after many years with dementia We are a large and close family and the pain of seeing our husband, dad, grandpa, great grandpa fade before our eyes was unbearable at times. But after came joy and rememberances. Pictures little ones drew for me that said “Its O.K.” “There are good felilings here.” On one occasion my daughter took her grandkids (4, 6, 9yrs) to our tree in an arboretum where some of his ashes were laid to rest. They decorated the tree and upon leaving she said, “say goodbye to grandpa” and they chorused a round of goodbyes. When they reached the car, the innocence of the 4 year old said, “Is grandpa a tree now?”… How special that memory will be forever. And I know our little ones are accepting of death. We do have sadness and pain, but we are rewarded if we look for the little things. Love your words. They give me introspection, comfort, and truth.

Leo May 19, 2014 at 11:56 am

Beautiful. This needs to be said more and to be a part of every child’s education in the really important facets of our lives.

When Jenny died I experienced the most devastating pain I’ve ever known, and yet now, only 21 months later, I enjoy a greater happiness than I have ever known. And this happiness is increasing and deepening every day.

To paraphrase your words Kristie, “Do you think I would have missed a moment of that pain for the immense gifts my beloved’s death has brought me?”

“There is nothing good nor bad except thinking makes it so.” William Shakespeare.

Thank you for being in our world Kristie.

Kay Sargent May 20, 2014 at 8:25 pm

You were there and he knew you were there. Don’t try and second guess his passing or feel guilty. Share the moments in your heart and mind that you had together. It might be nice to plant a tree or something that you will always know he is with you. Be patient with yourself. It takes a long time to adjust to losing a loved one.

Kristie West May 23, 2014 at 7:40 am

And I thank my stars all the time that you’re around too Leo!
“Do you think I would have missed a moment of that pain for the immense gifts my beloved’s death has brought me?” Absolutely – that is precisely it.


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