As [Jesus] passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. [Jesus cures the man’s blindness, leading to his giving glory to God and salvation in Christ.]
—The Gospel of John, chapter 9
The question of Jesus’ disciples reflects an ancient assumption: that bad things happen to people as a punishment for their sins. In perhaps the oldest Old Testament book, the friends of Job insist that his great suffering must be his fault somehow. Before throwing out the man born blind, the Pharisees tell him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” While our own personal sins can carry with them their own punishments, innocent suffering also exists. Job was innocent. Jesus Christ was sinless, and his mother Mary, too. Yet each one suffered greatly through no fault of their own.
Why does God (who is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful) allow the innocent to suffer? God certainly does not work evil, yet he clearly permits evils to occur. Why? St. Paul wrote, “We know that in everything, God works for good for those who love him.” (Romans 8:28) And St. Augustine rightly concludes, “God would never allow any evil if he could not cause good to emerge from it.” Like Jesus answered his disciples in regards to the man born blind, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”
It is natural to question the plans of God in times of tragedy. But we Christians have reassurance even in the face of suffering and death. At the heart of our faith is the too-all-eyes senseless death of Jesus Christ, murdered on a cross. Yet from this evil God raised up great good for his Son, for us, and for the whole world. Like Christ’s first disciples, we do not always readily know the why’s and purposes of God, but in all things we have hope.