Why does God allow pain and suffering? This age-old question, of course, presumes that a higher power exists -- a notion that some individuals most certainly reject. Regardless, the vast majority of society believes in a creator and, when tragedy strikes, most people find themselves questioning the allowance for such horrendous events and personal pain.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Friday, a traumatic event that left 28 individuals dead, including 20 small children, this pertinent question is at the forefront of peoples' minds. While it's perfectly natural to wonder why an all-loving and all-powerful deity would allow such horror to befall kids and families, alike, finding viable and definitive answers is a monumental -- and some might argue, impossible -- task.
People pray at Mountainside Assembly of God Church in Coal Township, Pa., during a interfaith prayer vigil, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, for the victims of Newtown, Conn. Twenty-six people, including 20 children, were killed in Friday's shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Credit: AP
TheBlaze reached out to faith leaders and Biblical experts to ask why, from a Judeo-Christian perspective, the Lord (for those who believe in his existence) would permit such horror. Their responses may bring comfort to some, may satisfy others -- and will likely still leave additional Americans with new and unanswered questions.
Dr. Darrell Bock, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and author of "Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith," explained the role and prominence of personal decision-making when asked why God allows pain and suffering.
"We are human beings endowed with the image of God. So God made us to make choices and have responsibilities for how we exercise our choices," he wrote in an e-mail, going on to also explain that personal freedom and choice are mutually exclusive.
"Although it is a mystery why such specific and quite tragic things happen and no one can explain them, those who often ask where God is and why he does not stop it are often those who wish to have the maximum freedom to be humans and makes choices for their lives," Bock added.
Clergy pray at Mountainside Assembly of God Church in Coal Township, Pa., during a non-denominational pray vigil, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, for the victims of Newtown, Conn. Twenty-six people, including 20 children, were killed in Friday's shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Credit: AP
The point here is that, unfortunately, the freedom to make choices -- which the professor believes is God-given -- comes with it the potential for damaging decisions that may harm others. Dr. David D. Ireland, senior pastor of Christ Church in New Jersey and the author of "The Skin You Live In", also noted the power and potential role of personal choice in inflicting pain.
"God established humanity with free will," he said. "We can choose to do right or wrong, evil or good. Certainly there are consequences to our choices."
With this dynamic at play, Ireland gave an important caveat -- one that many people of faith likely know well: "When tragedy strikes in response to evil behavior, God graciously pours out His comfort to medicate our aching souls."
These two men of faith weren't alone in their assessment of why God allows horrific and life-altering events to take form. Rabbi Aryeh Spero, president of Caucus For America and the author of “Push Back: Reclaiming the American Judeo-Christian Spirit”, mirrored these assessments, noting, too, that God affords human beings free will and the power for personal decision-making.
While some question why God doesn't step in to stop massive crimes from unfolding, Spero has an answer.
"So as to allow us continued free will and, more or less, control our own destiny, God mostly does not interfere," he told TheBlaze. "We learn lessons and grow, as individuals and as a society, by living with the results of what we do and don't do."
And unfortunately, these "results" and negative choices can be monumentally damaging. Notice, though, that the rabbi said that God "mostly" leaves free will to its own devices. Spero also noted, though, that at times God does intervene but that the reasons for this protection are a "mystery."
"Occasionally God spares us from impending doom, and sometimes He even performs the extraordinary in our behalf," he added. Moses wanted to know precisely this: What is God's yardstick? But it is not mathematics; and man, not being God, does not know all the whys and whats of God."
A sign reads 'God Bless the Families' outside of a home near the Sandy Hook School on December 15, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Spero believes that pain is a part of life and the human condition and that, regardless of how hard we seek out an answer, obtaining a complete one will never be possible. Some people are certainly uncomfortable with this notion -- not knowing why an all-loving God would permit such intense horror.
Yet others understand what these men of faith are saying: In order for true individual freedom and choice to rule the day, the potential for both negative and positive decision-making is essential.
Fox News analyst and priest Father Jonathan Morris, who also noted this dynamic, gave some advice to Americans who are coping with this difficult question about God and his allowances.
"When I see such terrible abuses of our God-given free will, I first cry, then I stand in awe of how much God must value love -- the reason he risked gifting us this most delicate and powerful freedom in the first place," he told TheBlaze. "Beyond any political or social solution, the first is this: Double down on love."
For a more intense and elongated discussion about why God allows pain and tragedy, consider reading Christian author Lee Strobel's extensive comments. What do you think about these views on matters of faith, personal responsibility and free will? Take the poll below and tell us your views on these issues: