Unit 4, The Problems of Evil and Suffering

Revision cards for Religious Studies B, Unit 4, Religious Philosophy and Ultimate Questions.

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What is the problem of believing in God...

...and the existence of evil and suffering in the world?

  • If God exists, why does he let people suffer?
  • The existence of suffering and evil proves that God does not exist.
  • If He is all-powerful, why does he not use his power to stop suffering? Therefore He is not all-powerful, and the devil is winning over him.
  • If He is all-knowledgable, why does He not stop suffering, if he knows it is happening. Therefore He is not all knowledgable, and does not know when suffering takes place.
  • If He is all-loving, why does He allow people to live with suffering? Therefore He is uncaring, or he does not exist.
  • If God created the world, He also created all its faults. Because of this, He is responsible for suffering caused by natural disasters.
  • He is the creator of all pain, suffering, and evil.
  • Why does he let innocent people suffer? He is unfair and unjust.
  • Why did he give humans free will? Why did he not want them to do good rather than evil? Why does he not stop people from making bad/evil choices?
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Why does God let suffering happen?

The punishment for criminals is fair and just; they deserve it. However, what about the innocent, who suffer? Abuse, disability, disease. This suffering is unfair, but what is its purpose?:

  • Punishment: pain is punishment for the wrong things we do or think.
  • A test of faith: suffering tests our faith and trust in God. If we do not curse God, we will be rewarded.
  • Education: suffering is education for our souls. It develops courage and determination within us.
  • Appreciation: suffering allows us to appreciate and understand goodness. It allows us to appreciate what we have before and after.
  • Free will: suffering is caused by immoral choices, made by humans. He gave us the gift of choice, and we chose to misuse it.
  • To keep us alive: pain tells us if something is wrong, so we can do something about it. Pain stops us doing things that can cause us serious harm.
  • Acceptance: God is superior to us, and we will never understand Him. It is not our place to question God.
  • Satan: It is Satan who causes pain. God does his best to stop and prevent this.
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Religious explanations for suffering

  • Christianity - suffering is caused by 'free will'. In the Bible, Adam and Eve chose to eat the apple, even though God told them not to - they chose to go against God.
  • Hinduism - suffering is the result of sinful actions in your past lives. If you do not sin you do not suffer - 'karma'.
  • Islam - suffering is a test of faith in Allah. Evil is sent to tempt humans.
  • Judaism - suffering is cause by 'free will'. The suffering caused is God's way of disciplining humans.
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How should religious believers respond to sufferin

  • Religious believers are taught to live a way that reduces suffering, for both themselves and others.
  • Religious believers are also taught to offer practical help to those who are suffering.
  • Christianity: they should endure suffering; it is part of God's plan. They should not only have compassion for those who are suffering, but should actively try to help them. Lastly, they should follow Jesus' example, as shown in the bible.
  • Islam: they should donate 2.5% of their annual income to those in need. Helping those in need, and alleviating suffering, is a major part of the Muslim belief.
  • Judaism: they should help those who suffer; giving to a charity is a duty from God. He gave humans they responsibility to look after all of his creations, including other humans. Jews must care for those who suffer, and help to fulfil this duty.
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What are the positive ways to look at suffering?

  • Suffering allows people to care for others. A feeling of love grows between the victim and carer, allowing them to move closer to God.
  • By reading their holy book and praying to alleviate suffering, people become closer to God. It offers them comfort that God is with them.
  • Suffering is a test from God, to see if a person remains faithful. If they do, God will know to reward them.
  • Pain and suffering allow an individual to grow spiritually. They become more caring and loving, and can therefore empathise and sympathise more than before.
  • All suffering will pass. God will not allow someone to suffer for too long. He will end their life or heal them.
  • If the person who was suffering is now dead, you can take comfort that that person has gone to heaven, is at peace with no suffering, residing alongside God.
  • Suffering caused by natural disasters should be accepted as a consequence of nature. We should use our God-given scientific talents to try and alleviate it as much as possible. God set these challenges to us, as Guardians of Creation.
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Evil and suffering keywords

  • Evil - it is the opposite of good. It is a negative, destructive force. It is against all that God wants. It causes suffering and pain.
  • An evil act - it is a deliberate, cruel act, done in the full knowledge it is wrong.
  • Suffering - when a person has to face or live in unpleasent conditions.
  • Natural suffering - they are caused and are part of nature, and often cause pain, suffering, and death.
  • Man-made suffering/moral evil - they are evil acts performed by humans. They are immoral or wicked, and are caused by free will. They cause huge amounts of personal pain, anguish, and suffering.
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Where does evil come from?

  • Nature - evil and suffering is just part of nature and evil. It is a random, negative force at work in the world. We have just accepted it as part of life, and we accept life. Fair or unfair, just or unjust.
  • Human 'free will' - God gave all human's free will. Due to Adam and Eve disobeying God, we have the ability to see between moral and immoral behaviour. We have the ability to choose between right and wrong. This reflects the trust God put in humanity. We make the wrong choices, and therefore cause suffering and evil (just like Adam and Eve). This is the source of evil and suffering in the world - humanity.
  • Satan - some people believe that evil comes from Satan. He is a fallen angel, originally called Lucifer, who was cast out of heaven for challenging God. Since then, he has tried to destroy God's goodness and creation on earth. The two are in a constant battle, as Satan tries to cause suffering and evil.
  • The human mind - many people believe that evil is a state of mind. It is within all of us, and is triggered by emotions of hate (often caused by bad life experiences), and causes us to commit evil acts, so others can feel how we feel. Therefore evil is part of our psychology. It is in every human mind. Based on our life experiences, we may or may not commit evil.
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What is the nature of evil?

  • An impersonal force - humans are naturally sinful. We want to get our own way and fulfil our desires, even if we know that to get them we will commit wrong. Evil is like a magnet we can be drawn to at times.
  • A personal being - this is often described as the devil. It is thought of as a supernatural being existing like a person. It is the enemy of humanity.
  • A psychological phenomenom - evil exists within the human mind, It is the result of human behaviour and how we choose to act. Human behaviour is down to our upbringing.
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What is the problem of believing in God and the...

... existence of evil and suffering in the world?

  • If God exists, why does he let people suffer? The existence of suffering and evil proves that God does not exist, otherwise he would prevent it.
  • Religious believers believe that God is all-powerful, so why does He not stop evil and suffering if he has the power to do so? Therefore God is not all powerful, and the devil is winning over Him.
  • Religious believers believe that God is all-knowledgable, so why does He not stop evil and suffering if he knows it is happening? Therefore God is not all knowledgable, as He does not know when suffering is happening, or how to stop it.
  • Religious believers believe that God is all-loving and caring, so why does He allow people to live in pain and suffering? If He has a responsibility to care for us, why doesn't he? Therefore He is either uncaring, or He doesn't exist?
  • If God created the world, He also created all of its faults. He also created human selfishness, greed and hate. He is the creator of pain, suffering, and evil.
  • If God created us, why did he create free will? Why did he not make us perfect, so we always choose to do good rather than evil. Why does he not stop people from making bad choices, which hurt others?
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How should religious people respond to evil?


  • 'Love your enemies, bless those that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you' - Jesus.
  • 'Forgive those who sin against us and lead us not into tempatation'. A Christian should forgive those who are evil to them, and not seek revenge.
  • A Christian should try and fight against evil.


  • Muslims try to live in peace with others. They should not seek justice, as that is Allah's job. Allah will judge a person by their actions on judgement day.
  • A Muslim should stand up and fight against injustice and evil.
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