Suffering in the world is as inevitable as the birth and death of human beings. The Buddha’s First Noble Truth states the inevitability of suffering in the world. Old age, sickness, death, the transitoriness of material objects, relationships, achievements, and the very condition of being born many many times entail pain and misery. Two questions arise here. First, if human souls are minute parts of God, why are they inflicted with so much suffering birth after birth? And second, if God is omnipotent and merciful, why does He allow His children to suffer? Why doesn’t He mitigate their miseries and free the world from evil?
Our parents in the world are always trying their best to make our lives easier and more comfortable. They put their best efforts to insulate us from hardships and difficulties in the world. However, they are mortals too, so sometimes, it is beyond their ability to help their children. But that is not the case with God. God is omniscient and omnipotent. Why then, doesn’t he remove suffering from the lives of his devotees?
1. Free Will
It is true that God is the doer of all actions. Whatever action we undertake in the world is powered by God’s energy. However, He has given us the Free Will to choose to do good or evil. One might argue that if God did not give us free will, we would never be able to do evil. One can not infer from this that we would be able to do well either. Bereft of free will, human beings would become machines unable to dispense actions either good or evil. There would be no progress of the soul. It would be a static object unable to learn the difference between good and evil. Lord Shri Krishna, imparts the most profound knowledge to Arjun in the Bhagavad Gita, but as chapter 18 reveals, He leaves his dear devotee with a choice of whether to accept that knowledge and act accordingly or not:
इति ते ज्ञानमाख्यातं गुह्याद्गुह्यतरं मया |
विमृश्यैतदशेषेण यथेच्छसि तथा कुरु || 63||
Translation: “I have revealed to you this profound and secret knowledge. The choice is now yours: ponder over it deeply and do as you wish.” Arjun was able to win the battle of Kurukshetra because he could pacify his perturbed mind by internalizing God’s knowledge and putting it to action.
2. God is a Fair Judge
Swamiji addresses this question in his pravachans: If God is merciful why do we suffer? He pragmatically explains that God does the work of the referee. So, like an umpire, in a game of cricket, God is unbiased. He keeps an account of our good and bad karmas from innumerable lifetimes and gives us our prarabdha karma in our present life. Therefore, if one is not intelligent or rich or famous, if one’s aspirations are not fulfilled, one should not blame God. We sow as we reap. God acts as a fair judge to all souls. However, one is free to make one’s choices and create one’s Kriyaman karmas in the present life. God has made laws conducive for souls to stick to a righteous path and engage in bhakti. One may or may not choose to follow it. So, like in a game of cricket, one can keep on scoring runs or ducks. No one but ourselves will have to bear the consequences of our karmas, whether good or bad.