First, I do believe in God. I believe God loves us. I've had problems in my life but nothing compared to other people. I've always had enough food (too much, really); I've always had a place to live; and I have a good family. But I know people who have been homeless, had terrible diseases, been physically or sexually abused, or even grown up in war-torn environments where killing and rape are common. The funny thing is, those often aren't the people who complain about God. No, it's the armchair judges who sit back with their big dinners in their comfortable living rooms who see the news on TV and say what a horrible world it is. But many of the world's poor, and starving, and lonely people profess love for one God or another (whether this be Allah, or Jesus, it doesn't matter for this argument). I know this is a generalization. But here's an example of how I often think we misjudge the world and the people in it. Look how much focus we put on the 'poor starving children in Africa'. Yes, I know this is a real problem. There really are poor starving children in Africa. But we look down on them with an eye of pity and think how fortunate we are, and how lucky they would be to be over in the developed world with us. Well, recently I got a different perspective from a Facebook post by an old roommate from Guinea. He posted a picture of some African children talking about how children in the West were forced to sit in classrooms all day, and if they moved or spoke too much they were given drugs, and their most popular sources of entertainment was television. And one of the little boys expresses his alarm and suggests perhaps they should take up a donation for the poor children in the Western world.
The point is, if you know anybody from an extremely difficult background, I'll bet that they're often some of the wisest, strongest, bravest, and happiest people you know. Yes, they suffer. But the end product of that suffering often creates somebody very wonderful. Here's an example I'd like to share. It's a little girl with progeria (aging disease) who made a video before she died. She shares a bit of her story for other people who may have progeria. She comes across as a very kind and positive person. In fact, a friend of mine knew her and indeed said she was a very sweet girl. Watch the video (I'll give the link at the end of this post) and see for yourself. Here's a girl with a terribly debilitating disease-a life experience I'll wager more difficult than almost everyone who reads this post-and has turned into a very strong and brave individual.
Then scroll down and read the posts. Or don't - some are positive, but some are horrendously vile comments about her appearance. This girl, who, through a difficult trial that I believe has made her into one of humanity's great souls, is set upon by humanity's worst. And I'm willing to bet, though I have no proof, that none of the people saying mean things about her have been through anything even close to what she has gone through. They are the result of a soft life. Not always, but many times. I'll bet you can see this same pattern in people you know. Not always-but often-the people with the difficult lives are the great ones.
How does this relate to the question as to 'why would a loving God let this happen in the first place?' Well, imagine your own children. Let's pretend you could see their futures. You understood how everything that happened to them would affect the end result of their life. As an example, let's say you had a college-age son who had wasted his money at school and, ashamed of telling you, has become homeless. You know about it. You desperately want to swoop in and help. That is a natural, positive, and appropriate way to feel. But let's imagine you could see the end result. What if you saw the future, and you knew you were able to swoop in and help your son out of this mess, but his behavior never changed? He never learned to care for his own finances or live for himself. He became lazy. Laziness drove him to boredom. He wastes his life drinking and doing stupid things that he knows you will rescue him from. But then you looked at the future and saw that if you let him suffer the consequences. Maybe he'd suffer for a year or two, but then, out of desperation, he picks himself up and straightens out. He works hard, determined to make something of himself. He becomes a great leader and a great success. If you knew the end result-wouldn't you suffer a little sorrow for your son, knowing what the difficulties and pain would turn him in to?
Now, don't misinterpret me. I'm not saying pain and suffering are always the best road available. I like to avoid both as much as I can. And I think helping your children is a good idea. What I'm saying is, if you knew the end result, and you knew the difficult path was the one that ended in your son's greater success and happiness, wouldn't you let it happen? It would hurt both of you, while times were tough. But only for a while.
This is what I believe about God. I believe God is greatly pained by our suffering, especially when we inflict it on each other. But I believe he knows the end result, and therefore lets it happen. I also believe he is there to comfort us when it does happen (an experience I have felt many times, as well as many other people I know). He doesn't leave us alone. He allows us to learn, even when learning is hard. And he does it because he sees what great people we can become at the end.
So here's the video by Ashley Hegi, the girl with progeria. I hope get the same sense of strength and optimism I do from her.