“Why does God allow…”


“Why do horrific things happen to completely innocent people/children?”


This is such an important question and needs to be asked again and again. Even if no rational answer can suffice, millions cry it out as a lament every day, while others frame it as evidence against the existence of a good God. It is the question of Job, Lamentations, and so many Psalms. “Why?” and “How long?” are refrains we hear right into the Book of Revelation.

I don’t know if you have my book, A More Christlike Godbut I do a bit of a deep dive in the chapter on “Sh*t happens and God is Good.” I also go into it more deeply in Out of the Embers

I’m that chapter, I’m restating in simpler terms what I found in the works of Simone Weil, whose writings about this in Awaiting God really saved me from despair on this same question. She talks about how a good God does not control the world but does reign in this world through what she called “gravity and grace” or “the necessary and the good.”

The Foundations of Life and Love

Gravity or necessity refers to the reality that as Creator of all things and all people, God established the foundations or preconditions for life and loveThis shows us God’s heart for the world and God’s nature as Lord of life and love. Practically speaking, the necessary foundations or preconditions for life and love are natural law (for life) and human freedom (for love). These foundations are absolutely necessary, or the world would be uninhabitable, and humanity would not be… well, human.

Through natural law, we have life, and we see the beauty of God in the world and in each other. Natural law made planet Earth habitable for living things, including us.

And through human freedom (and only with that freedom) can we have the capacity to voluntarily extend and experience authentic love and be like the God who is love.

The Shadow Side of Nature and Freedom

But both these preconditions (natural law and human freedom) also have shadow sides, where tragedy and affliction are possible.

The shadow side of natural law includes earthquakes, tsunamis, and plagues. Without tectonic plates, humanity would sink into the magma and be burned to a crisp. Without gravity, we would spin off into space and suffocate. Without bacteria (gut Microbiota), we could not digest the nutrients necessary for life. But where tectonic plates grind at each other, earthquakes and tsunamis occur. Where microscopic creatures flourish and assist the food chain, they can also attack bodies and take life.

The shadow side of freedom is when humanity turns from love and lives wickedly, harming God’s good earth and turning on one another in greed, exploitation, and violence.

Weil calls our experience of natural disasters and human wickedness “affliction.” 

Is God Responsible? Is God to Blame?

As the Creator of all things and all people, God is ultimately responsible for what happens in creation. But that does not mean God is directly to blame for our affliction. This dual truth has important implications that deserve observing and describing (‘explaining’ would be too strong a word for the mysteries here).

To begin, another phrase we use for natural law and human freedom is “secondary causes.” That means that while God is the ultimate cause (God laid the foundations of natural law and human freedom), God does not directly cause or direct each tornado or flu (or the affliction they cause), nor does God violate human agency by controlling our decisions or preventing our actions. As I say in my book, God doesn’t “do control.” God doesn’t usurp secondary causes through divine force of will (contrary to Calvinism’s claims).

Both natural tragedies and wicked human choices cause affliction, so Weil says it’s wrong to say God directly causes it. Just as important, we must not act as if affliction itself is somehow good or God’s way of teaching some lesson. That is calling evil good or good (God) evil. Our afflictions can become the occasion for redemptive responses, but that’s a galaxy away from saying that they were sent for that purpose.

While ultimately, far beyond human knowing, God holds the necessary and the good in harmony, in our experience of real life, goodness and affliction are infinitely distant, a real contradiction. This is a real, honest, and even impossible question, but it has to be asked (and at times, shrieked).

Just because God is ultimately responsible for the realm of necessity that doesn’t mean a city obliterated by a plague, a hurricane, or a bomb was for the good.

Affliction just is. It is what it is. And we must not rationalize it.

God is not to blame. But God IS responsible. So…?

Where is God?

Despite the great distance and contradiction between necessity and the good (between gravity and grace), God does not stand aloof and simply ‘allow it’ like some powerless, passive, or uncaring observer. Still less does God “sign off” on every tragedy or evil as if perusing a daily checklist of who the victims of affliction are.

Rather, God enters this realm and undergoes affliction with each of us, and this is ultimately what the Incarnation and the Cross are all about. We are not Deists who believe God wound up the universe and simply let it run down (and down and down) on its own. I have come to a place personally where I could never trust a God who does not and has not borne my wounds… the wounds I and my loved ones have experienced and the wounds I’ve inflicted on others.

So, Weil says, picture Christ’s outstretched arms on the Cross of Christ, spanning the infinite distance between the goodness of God and the affliction of humanity. See how the contradiction intersects in that one man, hanging there–in the Creator crucified on a cross we made, dying from our misuse of the freedom and the gravity God created for life and love. We see on that Cross both the affliction caused by human wickedness and the gravity that is slowly killing the Son of God.

But in Christ, we see by the Way (the Jesus Way) that he dies–through Jesus’ radical identification with every victim and radical forgiveness for every perpetrator)–the love and grace of God flowing from Jesus’ wounds into the world. That vision of love, that encounter with the wounds of God, can heal us if we come to Jesus and learn to wait there as his healing flows from his wounds into ours…

The Healing Gaze

When all we can do is gaze, as Israel did on the bronze serpent, our healing becomes as inevitable as our affliction had been. Weil suggests that we picture our own affliction with ourselves as a nail, driven by the hammer of affliction into the very heart of Christ so that our wounds are his and his life and love are ours.

Where is God in our affliction? God is in Christ on the Cross. And God is in you on your cross. We are indivisibly united to God by (of all things) the “co-suffering love” of Christ in (of all places) our deepest experiences of affliction. Never have I found myself in more intimate proximity to divine care than in the shadows of affliction. It seems counterintuitive. It seems like a miracle. It is a miracle.

Perhaps, like Jesus, we will also experience in this union of God’s wounds and ours the great exchange– the resurrection life of Christ–and receive enough healing in this life to wade into the affliction of others as humble(d), co-suffering (i.e., empathetic) servants.

An Experience, Not an Explanation

Of course, all of the above is an explanation of an experience. The explanation itself doesn’t heal us.

Weil’s explanation (and mine) is nothing more than an invitation to enter a living experience of the crucified and risen Christ, so it’s critical that we learn how to best orient ourselves for that living connection that is already ours. Your way there may be very different than mine, specific to your temperament, needs, and wounds.

But here’s a link to one meditation that I’ve found personally helpful:  https://bradjersak.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/the-meeting-place.pdf. It helps us become aware that Jesus is present to us, and we can bring our affliction to him and ask, “What do you want me to know?” Jesus’ responses to our honest lament are the active ingredient in most of the healing and transformation I’ve experienced and witnessed.

Picture of Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak

Bradley Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC. He serves as a reader and monastery preacher at All Saints of North America Orthodox Monastery. Read More