Why Does God Permit Suffering?


I apologise if this is a basic question. Two people have told me something which has left me awestruck. One said they’re an atheist because God does not stop a baby from being badly sexually hurt, how can God not intervene & stop it? 2nd one: trees,animals etc on this planet are under demonic rules bx they encourage violence by the survival instinct (eg animals killing each other), as God is all love & non-violence, they’re not acting in God’s rules...? Can you explain please. Thank you 🙏

—KK, United Kingdom


Dear Friend,

The questions that you pose are often stated along these lines: “Because evil exists, then God must be responsible for evil.” The assumption is that God, being “God,” cannot be unaware that evil exists and, being God and permitting evil, God must “therefore” be either non-existent — or not worth being seen as “God” — because what else would God be if not loving?” Does that sound about right?

These are difficult questions and yet they must be faced. We are blessed that great rishis and saints have lived who know the mind of God and who have given us insight into this fundamental question. Let me try to share what Paramhansa Yogananda taught, but I must warn you that even Yogananda confessed that no explanation given in logical, rational, and intellectual terms can fully satisfy the human heart. Yogananda essentially said that when each of us, in our souls, becomes in tune with God’s consciousness, we will see that the great drama of life is essentially a loving one and could not be other than it is. He said, in effect, “Leave a few questions for when you meet God face to face!” But until then…

The great drama of the universe and of human life exists that we might earnestly seek to know the truth of “Who am I?” Why did God set into motion this great drama? It has been said that God, as Bliss itself, had the desireless desire to share that Bliss with another. It is the nature of bliss to share itself. But as God is ONE (and not many), a trick was needed: an illusion of separate, independent “selves” was necessary for God to play out this great drama. Being Infinite, time and space matter very little to God so “who cares” if it takes a billion or more years for self-awareness to appear in the form of creatures we call human beings?

The illusion begun by God is created and sustained through the principle of duality: the play of opposites. When opposites merge back together, they are one and all motion ceases. This universe, and everything and everyone in it, is in constant motion. Our “job” is to unmask this motion as the illusion that it is. We do this by achieving stillness. In stillness, the “music” stops, and the illusion vanishes into a point of singularity (to use the astrophysical or quantum physics term): the single point of God.

Getting closer to the point of the existence of evil, the illusion requires opposites to exist and thus to seem different from each other. Good and evil are one such pair; male and female, another; and so on.

You cannot have the one without the other. What would life be if it was always pleasant and no bad things ever happened? Someone, no doubt, would harm another person just to break the dullness! It is impossible, don’t you see? And if life was only torture and violence, who would want to live?

How does good or evil come into my life? Or into that of a child who suffers abuse, or a baby that dies just after birth? Life would be meaningless if we were to abandon all hope in the law of cause and effect; of action and reaction. This is as true in science as it is in ethics and behavior. Treat people badly and guess how people will treat you?

For the law of action and reaction (otherwise known in metaphysics and ethics as the “Law of Karma”) to operate it is obvious from the observation of human lives that we must have to go through many lives to work things out. As Jesus Christ said, “Be not deceived. God is not mocked. For whatever you sow, so shall you reap!” Or, put more plainly “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

It is each one of us that is the causative agent as to what happens to us. The baby or the child attracts evil by the force of actions in a past life. There really can be no other explanation though in the moment of one’s despair and grief this explanation is not helpful.

As God freely chose to begin the illusion, God must perforce grant to beings, in accordance with their natures, the free choice to act. Rocks have few choices; spiders, a few more; but humans are endowed with reason and intuition. Our progress toward enlightenment is easily thwarted by our wrong choices while the choices available to a dog or cat are circumscribed by their natures and instincts.

Over countless lives, however, we weave a complex spider-like web of consequences of past actions that increasingly bind us tight leaving us ultimately with but one choice: to seek the Maker behind the illusion or be condemned like Sisyphus (from Greek legend) to go on and on. To cut the illusion we must seek God with a pure heart and cut the cord of ego-consciousness from all actions, offering back to God whatever action is ours to do by virtue of our past karma but we do it without thought of gain or dislike. In this way and by the power of divine grace responding to our sincere, loving effort we unravel the knots of karma that bind us.

Those who look upon life’s suffering and evil and who declare themselves disgusted with the whole affair and thus conclude there cannot be a God (worth loving), do so understandably but their decision neither spares them suffering nor does it help others. By contrast, the saints and masters show us how to achieve inner peace and love for all. A saint attunes to the will of God, performing dutiful action with non-attachment.

We have no choice but to act in this world, so why not act in a way that will bring us greater happiness and the wisdom and courage to help others without fear or attachment. Jesus forgave his murderers even as he hung on the cross.

So, my dear friend. I, too, confess that in the throes of evil and suffering speaking of the law of karma is not especially comforting and certainly not satisfying. But worse yet is the alternative which can only give rise to despair, chaos, and greater evils. The “only way out is in.” As Jesus put it, “The kingdom of heaven is within you. Not, lo, here, lo, there.” We are like the prince who thinks he is a pauper. He must re-awaken to his royal status and, like the Prodigal Son, begin the return journey back to his Father’s home. The joy of God resides in your own heart. Meditation is the fastest way to discover “Who am I?” The wisdom and grace of God-sent saints can be one’s raft over the sea of illusion. We can make the choice to return home whenever we want, just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Just say “Yes to Life! Yes to God!”

Blessings upon the journey of your awakening,
Nayaswami Hriman