Thomas (1605:2-5), Nathaniel (1661:21-24) and John (1662:34-36) each asked Jesus, in effect, why the loving Father permits so many of his apparently innocent children to suffer from so many diseases and other afflictions. The following is essentially the response given by Jesus to these three apostles.
To Thomas, Jesus gave the most significant and profound response. After chiding Thomas for not listening with the "ear of the spirit," He pointed out that God's kingdom is spiritual, and said that he was teaching the apostles as spiritual children about spiritual matters. Their problem was that they took his words too literally, and thus were unable to separate the spiritual realities of the kingdom from literal social problems of the day.
He urged them to listen for the spiritual message instead of the literal physical meaning. (1605:6-25) The evil which produces suffering originates in spiritual deficiency, and ultimately dies; the good which overcomes the evil causing suffering originates in spiritual sufficiency, and ultimately
1. What is Suffering?
Suffering is the unpleasant feeling one gets when things go wrong, the personalized repercussion of evil. Suffering is not evil Per se. It is an inevitable physical consequence of evil. It sounds the alarm that evil has occurred. Suffering and evil are not equivalent. Alleviating suffering does not necessarily overcome the evil which caused it, nor does overcoming evil alleviate the suffering it caused. While evil remains in the world, there will be suffering.
2. Where Suffering Comes From.
Just as God did not create evil, He did not create suffering. Yet God did create the possibility of evil, which includes the possibility of suffering. Suffering, like evil, always enters the world through the evil, sin and iniquity, of a lower intelligent creature, and never by fiat of God.
Jesus and The URANTIA Book teach of four broad sources of suffering.
First, much suffering springs from devastating evil which came into existence through errors and sins of Jesus' own trusted Sons involved in administering the earth. (1632: 2S-27) Unexpected developments in the experiments of Life Carriers resulted in parasitic bacteria injurious to humans (736:25-29); sinful adventures of certain rebellious traitors (Lucifer, etc.) disturbed the natural order of progression on earth (1661:26-27); and the shameful default of Adam and Eve denied to humanity the genetic uplifting so beneficial to physical and spiritual development (851:32-33). These factors impacted adversely upon the conditions of man's temporal existence (1649:39-40) and made disease more prevalent (736:25-35). It will be many ages before the losses caused by the errors and sins of lower celestial beings are attenuated and the world restored to normalcy.(1661:20-30)
Second, humans suffer from errors of their forebears. (1649: 28) We are reared in an environment greatly modified from its natural state by our ancestors. Some of this is good, some is bad. Modern industry provides many useful products, but also causes pollutants and toxins which impact upon health. Our moral and spiritual environments have been created largely by our forebears and their associates. Many now suffer from moral deficiencies as well as spiritual deficiencies in their environment.
Third, humans suffer from the evil of their contemporaries. Man is created a social animal. Each person is a part of numerous social units. Each individual in each unit enjoys the benefits and suffers the penalties flowing from relationships with others in the unit, and from the unit's relationships with other units. When a star player on a sports team has a bad day, the entire team suffers; when the team has a bad day, the star suffers. The individual and the unit move as a whole: the conduct of one affects all; the conduct of all impacts upon each one. We suffer from the evil of others within our community, church, school, state, etc. (138:41-49)
And Fourth, humans suffer the natural consequences of their own evil. They bring down upon themselves unnecessary afflictions by refusing to follow the divine will (1661:34-35), by wrong living (1649:26-27). Individuals reap what they sow. (Galatians 6:7) They should not blame God for the natural consequences of their own choices, nor complain about experiences which are common to life as it is lived on earth. (1661:42-45)
Whether one suffers from evil which is self-imposed, other-inflicted or environmentally-induced, it must be faced in some manner. It will be shown later that the best way to overcome evil is with good.