If God is good and loving, why did He create suffering?
Yours is a question which religious hearts and minds have asked throughout the ages. It is also a common question with which atheists love to challenge any belief in God.
Even Yogananda battled with God:
"I know the answer, but still I argue with Him: 'Lord, if You wanted to create this little play world, why did You have to make suffering a part of it? What is play to You is death to us. Why didn’t You create this earth with beautiful flowers and no weeds; with life and no death or pain or other sufferings of karma, and no mass karma to plunge us into the terrors of war? Why, Lord, didn’t You create a world without delusion?'"
Yogananda himself gave three answers I am aware of.
1) Suffering as a teacher
God, the ONE, in order to manifest creation, had to establish duality. There is an Indian legend how He first created without dwaita (duality), and immediately everything and everyone merged back into His bliss – creation ended. Duality (contrast and opposites) is needed for creation to exist.
Both sides of duality (beautiful and ugly, light and darkness, joy and suffering) have their special role for us: the beautiful side is there because "God wants to enjoy Himself through many." We are here on earth, Yogananda teaches, "to entertain and be entertained." The beautiful things are also supposed to remind us of the Creator.
The other side, suffering and evil in creation, also has an important role for us: it is our teacher.
Suffering means that a man or a nation has erred in the past, has gone against nature’s laws. Eat a nail and you get the result. The result is supposed to teach us not to eat nails anymore, but to use our free will more wisely. During every moment of suffering we should ask: "What is life teaching me here?" Suffering, according to Yogananda, is also making 100% sure that we will return back to God, instead of getting lost in His creation.
In the Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda asks God in a vision: "Why this suffering?"
The Heavenly Voice answers him:
"Creation is light and shadow both, else no picture is possible. The good and evil of maya must ever alternate in supremacy. If joy were ceaseless here in this world, would man ever seek another? Without suffering he scarcely cares to recall that he has forsaken his eternal home. Pain is a prod to remembrance. The way of escape is through wisdom! The tragedy of death is unreal; those who shudder at it are like an ignorant actor who dies of fright on the stage when nothing more is fired at him than a blank cartridge. My sons are the children of light; they will not sleep forever in delusion.”
You or someone else might ask: "But what sense does that make? Leaving supreme happiness in God to enter a creation in which the plot is that suffering pushes us to return to where we already were at the start? Why Lord? The world is weeping."
2) Suffering as the spice to make the happy ending glorious
So here is Yogananda’s second answer, maybe a bit more satisfying for some people: Life is an enormous drama, like a story in a book or a film, created by the great "Stage Director."
Imagine reading a book in which everything from the beginning is only rose-colored and happy; we would get bored at page five!
But if the story is tough at times, and later there is a glorious happy ending, we will have fully enjoyed the book.
The same is true for the story of life: in our evolution all of us pass through happy chapters, tragic chapters, funny chapters, painful chapters, interesting chapters, odd chapters, rich chapters, poor chapters… a story so complex and varied that no Shakespeare could ever write it. Here is the good part: in the end, the last chapter will be so intensely glorious that we can not even imagine its ecstasy ("enjoyable beyond imagination of expectancy"). It’s the moment of our final homecoming.
This is why every saint who experienced that last chapter has exclaimed: "Well done Lord, it was all worth it." No saint has ever said in the end: "Oh Lord, that certainly was a bad story."
We are all like the prodigal son in the biblical story: we leave the Father to experience the world; we get lost; we first enjoy, then suffer, and finally decide to return back to Him. At home an enormous feast is waiting for us. Moral: the only sane choice for us is to hurry back Home – now!
3) Ask personally!
The third answer is for those whose minds are still not satisfied. "Leave a few questions to be answered by the Divine." When you are finally standing face to face with the Creator, then you are truly ready to ask Him for an explanation. You may even scold Him, just as Yoganana did many times. If you do so, you can be sure that you'll have billions of people behind you!
I hope one of these answers is satisfying for you.
Greetings from Assisi,