Discourse 55 – Why does God permit suffering?

Who is responsible for human suffering?

9/11: How could God let such a thing happen? / Interview Anne Graham 00, 2002-07-08

How can we prevent suffering?

How God answers prayer.

The prayers of the Christian believer.

The death of innocent children.

People who are unable to believe. / Book Wilhelm Busch pp 123ff.

Is Catholic moral theology right after all? / Reply Benedikt Kromlechner 00, 2003-10-13

Does it make sense for anyone to take the pill? / Reply Helga M. Vinagreiro 00, 2005-03-22

Some while back the Bavarian Abbess Assumpta, of the recently rebuilt Convent of Helfta in Sachsen‒Anhalt, made the claim in a television interview that the question why God permits suffering in the world is one to which, in the end, no human being can give an adequate answer.

Now this may well be true of the average man in the street, who mentions God only in the context of swearwords like ‘goddam’ or ‘for godssake’, hardly being conscious when he does so that he is actually speaking of God the Lord. But for the head of a Catholic convent, who at age 77 claims to have been speaking to God on a daily basis for 40 years, to utter such an opinion is more than a little surprising.

The question "Why does God permit suffering?" is frequently asked, and it comes more often than not from people who have no religious belief, but who as a result of some painful event suffered by themselves or those near to them suddenly find themselves wanting to raise the question of God. This, though, can be compared with the question of the student who has flunked his high school diploma: "Why did the teacher let me fail in Math?" Plainly the pupil has confused cause and effect, and so betrays the fact that it is not just in Math that he has problems of comprehension.

Just as our pupil should have been working intensively on Math over the school year, so the person who here finds himself wanting to arraign God because of a painful event that he has experienced should have been looking for this same God at an earlier stage of his life. But at that time, of course, he didn’t have any problems, and if he had been asked to devote just one day, out of the thousands of days that he had lived, to the question of God’s existence, he would have seen it as a complete waste of time. And yet even many individuals who have already engaged, more or less intensively, with such issues, often voice the opinion that the Bible is a ‘book with seven seals’ and that God ‘in his transcendence’ is inexplicable (see the above‒quoted remark) and inaccessible to human beings.

But we have not obeyed His voice.

Jn 9,14 "Therefore the LORD has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice. Dan 9,14;

Who is responsible for human suffering?

Here we can see an analogy between God and the domestic power supply. In every room of the house we have a light switch. But if a person declines to press the switch, he has no cause for surprise if he finds himself sitting in the dark. In just the same way, God may be reached by any human being. But those individuals who have never before seen any reason why they should turn to God are hardly in a position to complain now, if they find that they have no direct hotline. So when they accuse God of responsibility for the suffering that they or those dear to them have experienced, their complaint has been misaddressed. God is not the guilty party – it is they themselves, who did not take any interest, while there was still time to do so, in this same God who could have shielded them and those near to them from the experience of pain.

On this same subject, Billy Graham's daughter Anne Graham stated her views in an American television interview:

(Texts in a black frame are quotations from visitors to this site or from other authors.)

(9/11: How could God let such a thing happen? / Anne Graham, Interview AG00, 2002‒07‒08)

World Trade Center New York
Source: AFP_Archiv/Doug_Kanter

Billy Graham's daughter Anne Graham gave a television interview on the events of 11 September 2001, on Jane Clayson’s Early Show. We would like here to give an extract from her answers to the question "How could God let such a thing happen?"

Anne Graham:

I believe that God must be as deeply upset about this as we are. But over the years we have been asking God increasingly to disappear - from our schools, our governments and our lives. And as God behaves like a gentleman, he has quietly backed off. How can we expect His protection and His blessing, when we just wanted Him to leave us alone?

I think it started when Madeline Murry O'Hare (she was murdered, they recently found her body) complained about prayer in our schools, and wanted it done away with. And we said that was OK.

Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. And we said OK to that. Then they told us we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem. And we said that was OK too. Then someone said that teachers and principals had better not discipline children when they misbehave, and the school administrators agreed to that - they didn’t want any bad publicity, and they certainly didn’t want to be sued.

Then someone said, let’s let our daughters have abortions if they want and they won’t even have to tell their parents. And we said, that’s a grand idea.

Then some wise school board members said, since boys will be boys and they’re going to do it anyway, let’s give our sons all the condoms they want, so they can have all the fun they desire. And we said, that’s another great idea.

Then some of our top elected officials said it doesn’t matter what we do in private as long as we do our jobs and the economy is good. First of all pictures of naked women were printed in magazines, and after that the entertainment industry set out to promote profanity, violence and sexual perversity. And music recordings were made that encourage drugs, murder and satanism. And we said it’s just entertainment, it has no adverse effect, and nobody takes it seriously anyway, so go right ahead.

But now we are asking ourselves why our children have no conscience and are unable to distinguish right from wrong. I think that we reap what we have sown.

"Dear God, why didn’t you save the little girl who was murdered in her classroom?" Sincerely, a Concerned Student. And the answer came back: "Dear Concerned Student, I am not allowed in schools. Sincerely, God."

It is strange how easy human beings find it to treat God like dirt, and then express their surprise when the world goes to hell in a hand basket. Strange that we believe what we read in the newspapers, but question the Bible. Strange that everyone who wants to go to heaven makes it a condition that he should not have to believe, think and act as we are told to do by the Bible. Strange that many people will say "I believe in God", and still follow Satan (who by the way also ‘believes’ in God). Strange that coarseness, vulgarity and obscenity have an absolutely free rein, while in schools and workplaces alike any open discussion of God is discouraged. Strange that someone who on Sundays is a Jesus enthusiast can spend the rest of the week being an invisible Christian.

Pass on this message if you think it has merit! If not, then just discard. But if you discard this thought process, then don’t just sit back and complain about what a bad shape the world is in.

(This interview is taken from the periodical "Philadelphia Kreuz und Reich", no. 1/2003.)

(Ernst Panzer info@philadelphia‒verlag.com / https://www.philadelphia‒verlag.com)

(See also Discourse 110: "The latent hatred of Christians in the USA")

How can we prevent suffering?

With God’s help, suffering can be prevented. Not only can believing Christians confirm this truth on the basis of direct experience – we find the same promise in the Bible, expressed in clear and unambiguous terms:

If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

Jn 14,11 "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. 14,12 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.

14,13 "Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14,14 "If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. Jn 14,11-14;

If you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.

Jn 16,23 "In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. 16,24 "Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. Jn 16,23-24;

All things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.

Mk 11,24 "Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.. Mk 11,24;

And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments.

1Jn 3,21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 3,22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. 3,23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. 3,24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. 1Jn 3,21-24;

These New Testament assurances that God will grant our requests are not without precedent. Long before, David was inspired by the Holy Spirit to say, in Psalm 37:br>

Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.

Ps 37,1 A Psalm of David. Do not fret because of evildoers, Be not envious toward wrongdoers. 37,2 For they will wither quickly like the grass And fade like the green herb. 37,3 Trust in the LORD and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. 37,4 Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. 37,5 Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it. 37,6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light And your judgment as the noonday. Ps 37, 1- 6;

This promise of God, however, does not apply to the whole of humanity. It emerges plainly from the quoted passages, and from the context in which they appear, that unbelievers cannot expect to be helped by the Lord:

-  Jn 14,12 ‘… he who believes in Me’ (whoever believes in Jesus Christ as his Savior)

-  Jn 16,23 ‘… if you shall ask the Father for anything…’ (whoever is privileged to call God his "Father")

-  Mt 11,24 ‘… believe that you have received them…’ (whoever believes that he has received what he has asked for)

-  1Jn 3,22 ‘… because we keep His commandments…" (whoever keeps God’s commandments)

-  Ps 37,4 ‘Delight yourself in the LORD’ (whoever delights in the knowledge of God).

All these criteria can only be fulfilled through faith in God and in his Son Jesus Christ. And yet, alas, there are a good many Christians who are perfectly sincere in their belief, and who nonetheless complain that they have repeatedly suffered painful experiences without receiving any help from the Lord.

Just as we have to say to unbelievers that they must first come to faith in this God before they can expect him to shield them from suffering, we must say both to unbelievers and to the Christians mentioned above that the help of God is not a self-service store. If I want to buy a loaf of bread, and just post myself in front of the counter without saying a word and wait, I may have to wait for a long time. But this is just the kind of attitude that many Christians apparently think "prayer" to consist in. They say nothing and do nothing, and then suppose that God will finally be obliged, somehow, to intervene. It doesn’t work like that! Are we actually too proud to bring our requests before God in prayer? Or do we imagine that God functions at the touch of a button?

As James, the eldest brother of the Lord, tells us in the passage below (Jam 4,1-3), it is often the case that we do not have, because we do not ask.

You lust and do not have; you do not have because you do not ask.

Jam 4,1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 4,2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask; 4,3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. Jam 4, 1- 3;

But when we, as Christians, ask and do not obtain, we too must take these words as being addressed to ourselves: "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures."

How God answers prayer.

The very first condition for God’s answering our prayers is - as I said earlier - that a person should be a believer. And not one who believes in just any kind of God, as a visitor to the website put it in a recent communication:

"please, i don’t want to go into detail about allah, god etc. - the basic structure after all is the same ….. and that there are a whole load of deviations following on that - well yes, without words as well."

In the Bible, the one and only God is presented to us in his threefold nature as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and it is to him that our prayers should be addressed. Nor is there anything in the Bible about our addressing our prayers to a "Mary" or to any so-called "saints". Any prayer which is not directly addressed to the God of the Bible or his Son Jesus Christ is being sent to the wrong address, and is therefore idolatry.

What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all inside itm Inneren jeglicher Odem.

Hab 2,18 What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it, "Or an image, a teacher of falsehood? For its maker trusts in his own handiwork when he fashions speechless idols. 2,19 "Woe to him who says to a piece of wood, ‘Awake!’ To a mute stone, ‘Arise!’ And that is your teacher? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, And there is no breath at all inside it.

2,20 "But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him." Hab 2,18-20;

In Jesus Christ God has not only sent us his "Word" (Jn 1,1) - the Lord Jesus is also the "ear" of God so to speak. He is the one and only mediator between God and humanity. Not Mary, not Francis, not Benedict - or whatever other names may be given to the Catholic Church’s idols of stone and wood. The same conclusion can be clearly drawn from the Lord’s saying in Jn 14,6.

No one comes to the Father but through Me.

Jn 14,6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. Jn 14, 6;

There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

1Tim 2,5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 1Tim 2,5

A person who does not have Jesus as a mediator has no connection with God, and so cannot expect that his prayers will be heard - or answered. In Jesus Christ God himself became man and came to us. If we believe in him and pray to him, we are by that same token believing in and praying to God himself.

He who has seen Me has seen the Father.

Jn 14,9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 14,10 "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Jn 14, 9-10;

(See also Discourse 107: "The denial of the Trinity, the false Catholic Trinity and the true biblical Trinity.")

Now as James says in the passage quoted earlier, not even the prayers of the believing Christian will be heard by God when we "ask with wrong motives". Our requests, then, cannot be either selfish or malicious. They must not harm anyone, nor may they bring us benefits we have not deserved. And above all, they must be requests that come from the heart and that have existential relevance either for us or for others.

But even if we meet these conditions, it is still by no means always the case that our requests will be answered just in the way that we have imagined. The older brothers and sisters among us know from their own lives that God often takes action long before we ask him to. This is also what is implied when the Lord tells us in Mk 11,24: "believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you". This is how we recognize that our prayer has been answered. It is the Holy Spirit in us that gives us the certainty that the things we have asked God for will also be granted us.

This is the case, whether it is a matter of the outcome of an operation (for our nearest and dearest or for ourselves), the resolution of a family problem or professional difficulty or help in coping with a financial emergency. If we have prayed about it, we know that we will receive what we ask for - but it may be at a time and in a way that will not necessarily conform in detail to the way we have imagined in putting our request. And yet we can be certain that it will come at the time and in the way that is the most suitable in the light of our needs.

Another important condition for God’s answering our prayers is the way in which we present them. And here the Lord has left us precise instructions:

Do not pray like the hypocrites in the synagogues (churches) so that they may be seen by men.

Mt 6,5 "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
6,6 "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 6,7 "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 6,8 "So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Mt 6, 5- 8;

As the Lord tells us here, we should not pray in public or in synagogues (churches) where we can be seen by men. To begin with, in most cases this is only pleasing to our vanity, and our prayer becomes a rhetorical and artificial exercise. This kind of exercise in prolixity receives its reward from men and not from God.

But much more importantly, the Lord states here that we cannot have any effect at all by praying in this public manner. Not even if we keep our prayers going - as happens in certain quarters - for hours or whole nights at a time. Such prayers are ineffective, because God will not hear us in such a place. God is not to be found in ecclesiastical buildings and in public places! Nor is God to be looked for in the places where Christian congregations assemble. God does not have to be visited, he is already present. He is in us, in our spirit, and we have the possibility open to us at all times of speaking to him, if we turn to him in spirit in prayer. And this is much more likely to happen in the seclusion of our inner room than in any place of assembly, wherever it may be. Gottfried Daniel Pomacher, a revivalist preacher from Wuppertal, takes the same view of the matter:

"Christianity does not consist in words but rather in the power of the Holy Spirit in the believer. The pillars of the temple are not those who attract the admiration of their hearers with their public utterances of ‘Lord, Lord’, but rather those who - at home, in the stillness of their own room, and without any audience - address their prayers to the Lord: these are the ones who really support the congregation."

And here we must also point to a misunderstanding that has become prevalent recently, especially in Catholic circles. We hear talk of "meditation" as that term is understood in the Far East. This involves emptying the mind of all thoughts, and then maintaining this state as long as possible, until some kind of "light" manifests itself (as a result of "sensory deprivation").

This is not just wrong, it is positively dangerous! In Mt 12,43-45 the Lord warns us of what happens when the spirit of a person is emptied.

When the unclean spirit finds the house unoccupied it goes in with seven other spirits.

Mt 12,43 "Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. 12,44 "Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. 12,45 "Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.". Mt 12,43-45;

The same kind of meditation technique is also practiced in the New Age movement, as we learn in this extract from the article "Okkulte Praktiken" ["Occult Practices"] by Prof. Reinhard Franzke:

"These trance techniques of the New Age movement are supposed to put the individual into an altered state of consciousness - a quasi-hypnotic trancelike state. This is a state that can be counted on to open the door to the worlds and powers of the Beyond. From a Christian and Biblical point of view, this is always going to be the wrong door. If we try to open this door by our own will and at the time chosen by ourselves, we will find the wrong entity on the other side of the door: not the Lord, but the eternal Antagonist."

But not only in the New Age movement - even in Christian Charismatic Movements such occult practices are more and more disseminated and pretended to be the "work of the Holy Spirit".
So if the Lord urges us in the passage quoted above (Mt 6,6) to go into our inner room when we want to pray, and to shut the door, he most certainly does not mean a form of meditation in which we just sit there with closed eyes and an empty head and wait for something to manifest. Quite to the contrary - we should fill our spirit with all the requests and all the gratitude with which our heart is charged, and our Father who is in secret is bound to hear and answer us.

This is because, as the Lord Jesus tells us in the passage below (Jn 4,23-24), our Father in heaven is spirit and asks to be worshiped in spirit and truth.

God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

Jn 4,23 "But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 4,24 "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" . Jn 4,23-24;

Finally, it remains to consider those prayers of believing Christians which fulfill all the conditions we have mentioned, but which all the same are not answered by God. We find an example in Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians:

Concerning this I implored the Lord three times.

2Cor 12,6 For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me. 12,7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me to keep me from exalting myself! 12,8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 12,9 And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 2Cor 12; 6-9;

Here Paul writes that he was "given a thorn in the flesh". Of course it is not possible for us today to determine what he meant by this, but it may be inferred from the context - seeing that he speaks of the "flesh" - that it was some kind of physical handicap or troublesome illness. Paul himself knows well why he has to put up with this form of suffering - he had performed truly incredible feats in his proclamation of the Gospel, and had also received a great many revelations from the Lord. And as he himself writes, this entailed the risk - on the basis of his personality, so it seems - that he might be tempted to "exalt himself" on that account - that he might become vain and arrogant on the strength of the special graces he had received. That is why the Lord gave him this "thorn in the flesh", as a reminder that he was guided and directed by the Lord and the Holy Spirit - so none of these achievements came by his own desert.

Now although Paul had "implored the Lord three times" that he should heal him of this infirmity, the Lord did not answer his prayer. And moreover the Lord gave him to understand that he would have to continue to bear this cross. And as the Lord tells him that "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness", his suffering was clearly the lesser evil, by comparison with the risk of self-conceit which it served to prevent.

From this we can see that even many of our sufferings may be intended by God, as a means of restraining other propensities of our character or disposition. Let us not glorify, then, in our achievements, but in our weaknesses - putting our trust in the grace of the Lord in hope that in our weakness his power may be made perfect in us.

The prayers of the Christian believer.

From what has been said so far, we learn that we as Christians have a responsibility for ourselves and for our neighbor (in the literal sense, those close to us), and should present our requests in prayer. This in no way justifies a form of prayer that focuses on "the world" - such as is favored in the Catholic church. Quite apart from the fact that such prayers are generally offered to the "Mother of God", and so are in any case sent to the wrong address, they cannot have any kind of effect either - as has been shown by the testimony of past centuries.

(See also Discourse 52: "Can the action of Mary be effective in warding off the Bible’s prophecies of the Last Days?")

It would be presumption to pray to God for people we have not ever even spoken to. If we pray for "humanity", "the Third World", "the poor countries" and so on, we are not in a position to know how many criminals, unbelievers or atheists are to be found in the ranks of these people on whom we are asking God to confer his blessing.

But this is just the form of behavior we find in those nominal Christians who are unwilling to take the trouble to familiarize themselves with the problems of individual human beings, in order to make their lives and their needs part of their prayer. They want to put in as little effort as possible, while having the greatest possible effect on the world out there - pouring out as if from a watering can, to the benefit of an anonymous humanity, something that they are not in a position to dispose of: namely, the blessing of God. It is not individual human beings that they care about: the important thing for them is that the ceremony should be as impressive as possible - in optical and acoustic terms - for the outside observer. Here we find disputes about who, at the Mass, is permitted to say what and at what point, who is the first to be allowed to make his pronouncement in church and what the congregation is supposed to say in answer to it - and so on. We are familiar with this kind of things from the Catholic Mass - though that is not the only place where such attitudes are to be met with.

Apart from praying that they may be converted to the true faith, then, the Christian should not pray for people whom he has never seen or spoken with in person, and of whose detailed life circumstances he is therefore ignorant. If it is the will of God that prayers should be made on behalf of these people, he will put the matter into the heart of a believing Christian who lives in close contact with these individuals, and who is thus aware of what they are lacking, in spiritual and material terms, and what they truly need. But if these people are obdurate sinners, whom God has abandoned to their perverse ways, our superficial prayer on their behalf would put God’s justice in question, and the blame would fall on ourselves.

WBut neither should we as Christians (again with the exception of a prayer for conversion, when we have non-believers in mind) pray for people who make a deliberate point of rejecting us. This is because either the reason for their rejection of us is to be found in ourselves, in which case God will not hear our prayers until we have gone to them and sought reconciliation; or, on the other hand, the blame patently attaches to the other person, who for his part is not prepared to be reconciled with us. Then he, in his turn, is in a spiritual state where our prayers for him will not be able to help to any great extent, so we would do better to leave it to other brothers and sisters.

And finally we should reflect on the fact, too, that just as it is impossible for us to come to believe by proxy on another’s behalf – seeing that this decision can only be taken, in an absolutely personal way, in the life of the individual - so it is not possible to bring about the forgiveness of another’s sins either, however close to us the other person may be. The confession of sin and the request for forgiveness is a process that can only be performed by each individual before God, and obtained from God, in a totally personal way.

Our prayers, consequently, should focus on those people who are personally known to us, and of whose needs and concerns we are acquainted as a result of our exchanges with them, so that we are in a position to bring these before God in prayer. Anyone who follows this practice will undoubtedly have prayerful requests for which he needs half an hour’s time, or even longer, if he is to bring them before the Lord. And that, of course, on a daily basis – in the quiet of our inner room – and not just on Sunday, in the church or congregation.

And here we can make out a distinguishing feature of those of us who are truly concerned for their brothers and sisters and pray for them to the Lord. Rather as a gardener will visit his plants, after setting them in the earth, on a daily basis and will continue to monitor their development, so as to see in good time if there is anything they need (more water, say, or protection from too direct sunlight) and to give them what they require, so also the one who prays will be continuously concerned with the people he prays for, both so as to learn how far the Lord has heard his prayers, and also to find out if any additional considerations have entered the picture which must be included as a new ingredient in his prayer.

So we should be able to see the difference between a person who – in the style so common today – gives us a quick, "Hi, how are you doing?" and then flounces off, practically without waiting for an answer, to get on with his own currently pressing concerns – and, on the other hand, one who really enters into our situation and wants to find out whether and how we are coping with our problems. Such a person could be one whose prayer to God on our behalf might really be effective.

The death of innocent children.

One of the most touching arguments – one frequently brought up in connection with the question "Why does God permit suffering?" – is this:

"We can understand that adults should suffer – but why should innocent children who have done no harm to anybody have to die, and why does God allow this to happen?"

Here we must make a distinction between those children, first, who have died a natural death – in consequence of a prenatal or postnatal disorder in the mother or child (miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth) or as a result of an illness in childhood – and, on the other hand, all those who have been killed, whether in an accident, in war or for any other reason. Now it sometimes proves to be the case that those women who throw this question into the discussion with great vehemence have themselves aborted a pregnancy. Whether this amounts to the murder of a child, and how long it takes from the moment of conception before it can be regarded as murder, is still of course a highly controversial subject, and we will not go into it any further here.

But it is undeniable that the Catholic church is greatly to blame. It was the Catholic church which condemned contraception, and forbade its members to use either condoms or (later on) the pill. We do not find a single statement in the Bible in support of the view that sexual intercourse within marriage is only permitted for the procreation of children. Quite to the contrary, the creation itself makes use of a natural means of contraception, seeing that on days when the woman is infertile it allows for sexual intercourse without conception.

So if in Catholic moral theology the intelligent exploitation of this natural period of infertility (the Knaus–Ogino or rhythm method) is permitted, there are just no grounds whatever for the condemnation of other intelligent and non–invasive methods of contraception. Above all at the present time, when in wide areas of the world, especially in Africa, hundreds of children die every day because Catholics (and also Moslems) ban the use of condoms on religious grounds, with the result that these children are infected by the mother with AIDS from the moment of birth, this whole issue becomes significant not just from the point of view of demographic planning but even more, and increasingly, in terms of hygienic preventive medicine.

Nor can we allow the Catholic church any competence, any authority at all to pronounce on this question. Quite apart from the fact that those of its representatives who call the tune deviate from the Bible in inventing commandments at their human and arbitrary pleasure (papal infallibility, the church as the only means of salvation, denial of wine to the faithful at the Lord’s Supper etc.), in view of their own invented precept of priestly celibacy they cannot base their teaching on any kind of experience of this often highly problematical area of human life. These Catholic functionaries thus have neither the right nor the qualifications to lay down the law to the faithful of their church in an area of life which they themselves have never experienced.

After centuries of secrecy and hushing up, the result of such otherworldly precepts can now no longer be swept under the carpet. Having been forbidden to take wives, Catholic priests have been getting off with men – and what is a whole lot worse, with children. In the US, a Catholic priest was just recently condemned by a court of law (and this was a first), after he was proved to have committed well over one hundred child abuse offenses. The Bishop who was his superior knew of his doings for years, but repeatedly transferred the man to another parish, rather than casting him out and calling him to account. On the other hand, outcast status is the fate reserved for those individuals who cast doubt on the infallibility of the Pope, like the reputed Catholic theologian Hans Küng.

And so it strikes us as a kind of paradox of history that it is precisely the Catholic church which has finally now – thankfully – come out against homosexuality, while all other Christian churches either draw a veil of silence over this area or even – like the evangelical churches – are prepared to celebrate the "blessing" of homosexual unions.

Just like the unnatural precept of priestly celibacy, so too the condemnation of contraception puts people into an agonizing dilemma of conscience. In extreme cases the first leads to child abuse, the second to "infanticide" in the form of abortion (one thousand each workday only in Germany). And even if abortion were to be judged as being not a case of infanticide, but just a minor surgical intervention, these women in particular (of whom there are more and more all the time) quite simply do not have any moral right to ask why God allows innocent children to perish.

Much rather should we ask, from a Christian view – what actually happens to these children when they die? As Scripture makes no distinction from the rest of the human race in this respect, we must assume that all human beings, whether children (of whatever age) or adults, will come to life again in their spirit in the General Resurrection at the end of the world. In place of their corrupt physical body they will receive a spiritual body and will appear at the Last Judgment. Those of the dead who have already been raised to life in the Rapture are of course no longer included here.

See also Chapter 062: "The Return of the Lord – part 2: The Rapture.")

At the Last Judgment, then, all these souls will be judged in accordance with their actions during their earthly life – in accordance with their works, that is, as we are told in Rev 20,11–13:

The dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.

Rev 20,11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 20,12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 20,13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Rev 20,11-13;

On the day of the righteous judgment of God He will render to each person according to his deeds.

Rom 2,5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 2,6 who will render to each person according to his deeds: 2,7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 2,8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. 2,9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 2,10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Rom 2, 5-10;

(See also Chapter 13: "The Last Judgment.")

These texts inform us that in the day of God’s judgment all human beings who in their lifetime were selfishly ambitious, who did not obey the truth but obeyed unrighteousness and did evil, will be condemned at God’s judgment seat to eternal damnation in accordance with their works.

If we now apply these criteria to the children whose fate we are here trying to assess, we can see that these innocent children cannot be charged with any of the crimes listed above. It follows from this that all children who die here on earth – at any rate up to the age at which they would have been capable of doing wrong deliberately – are saved, and will be given a "free pass" so to speak that permits them to enter into God’s eternity. We have further confirmation of this from Our Lord when he tell us, in Mt 19,14:

Do not hinder the children from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

Mt 19,13 Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. 19,14 But Jesus said, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." 19,15 After laying His hands on them, He departed from there. Mt 19,13-15;

It must be said, however, that the fact that the murdered children will then, in the General Resurrection, confront their murderers (whoever these may be) as adult human beings, will be for the latter – if in the time that they were alive they did not take advantage of the redeeming sacrifice of Our Lord for the forgiveness of their sins – the beginning of the weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous and will throw them into the furnace of fire.

Mt 13,47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; 13,48 and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away.

13,49 "So it will be at the end of the world; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, 13,50 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 13,51 "Have you understood all these things?" They said to Him, "Yes." 13,52 And Jesus said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old." Mt 13,47-52;

And so we might meet with the following scenario: a Christian mother loses her daughter when still an infant to a childhood disease, and then brings up a son on good Christian principles. The son subsequently turns away from his Christian belief. In the Resurrection, the mother might then be separated from her son, while her daughter would be able to go with her hand in hand into God’s eternity. So we can see that in the reality of God it is often the case that death means life, and vice versa.

This applies, incidentally, in another respect as well. We formulated the question above – and it is a question prompted by the love of children, and so by the love of humanity – "Why should innocent children who have done no harm to anybody have to die, and why does God allow this to happen?" But the question reveals the short–sightedness of the view to which it gives expression. Hitler and Stalin too were once "innocent children who had done no harm to anybody" (as yet). But if these two children had died in infancy, almost 70 million human beings would have lived out the natural course of their lives. [1]

In connection with the argument quoted above about the "death of innocent children", we also frequently come across people who say "I can’t believe in a God like that". This remark insinuates that the speaker has had a great many thoughts about God, and after weighing the arguments for and against has come to the final conclusion that he cannot believe in this kind of God.

In fact, of course, in the great majority of cases the situation is quite different from this. It is not a lack of ability that has made it impossible for these people to believe, but a lack of volition. The speaker here has hardly taken serious thought about God in the whole of his life. His life has always gone well up to now, and he never saw any necessity in the past of getting to grips with these issues. And this business of the innocent children now comes along quite conveniently, as it enables him to demonstrate to the outside world – and to himself, for that matter – first, that God does not exist, and then that even if he does, this is a God who does not deserve to be believed in. And with that he can comfortably settle back into his attitude of godless denial.

Pastor Wilhelm Busch takes a similar view in his book "Jesus, unser Schicksal" ["Jesus, our Destiny"]. I would like in conclusion to quote a short extract from this – and I must say that I would like very much to quote the entire book with all of its 237 pages, but I’m afraid I might get into serious trouble with the publishing house if I did.

(Texts in a black frame are quotations from visitors to this site or from other authors.)

(People who are unable to believe. / Wilhelm Busch, Book WB00, pp 123ff+))

(…) The second group consists of those who say "I just can’t believe!", but in reality, if they were completely honest, they would have to admit that what they really mean is "I just don’t want to believe!" This is because if they were to come to believe they would have to change their whole lives. And they wouldn’t like that. They know that everything is wrong with their lives. If they were children of God, they would have to come into the light. But no, they don’t want that. Besides, it might make them look silly in the eyes of their colleagues. And what would their nearest and dearest say, if they suddenly became Christians? No, definitely not! So if you come across people who say "I just can’t believe", take a closer look, and see if they shouldn’t really have said "I just don’t want to believe!"

There is a devastating story in the Bible. Here is the Son of God, the Lord Jesus, sitting on the Mount of Olives. In the valley below him is the city of Jerusalem in glorious sunshine. Over there the Mount of the Temple stands, with the glorious Temple built on it, of which even the heathen said that it was an edifice that really had to be counted among the wonders of the world. All this is outspread below him. But all of a sudden, the disciples see to their horror that tears are running down his cheeks. They turn to him in surprise and puzzlement. And then these words break from the Lord Jesus: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling. Now you are confronted with the judgment of God. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!" (a free quotation from Mt 23,37-38). This is one of the most devastating sayings in the Bible: "But you were unwilling". The people of Jerusalem also doubtless said, "We just cannot believe" – but actually they did not want to.

Look – if you don’t want to believe, you really don’t have to! Can I tell you something? In the church there are still all kinds of compulsions enforced. In the Kingdom of God, there is only an absolute freedom of the will. If you want to live without God, you can do it! God offers himself to us. But we can refuse him. Do you want to live without God? You may. Do you want to live without having made your peace with God? You may. Do you want to live without prayer? You may. Do you want to live without the Bible? You may. Do you want to transgress God’s commandments? You may. Do you want to profane the Lord’s Day, be sexually promiscuous, drink, lie and steal? You may. Anyone who does not want this Savior whom God has sent to save sinners is at liberty to turn him down. Anyone who wants to go to hell can do just that. 

With God there are no compulsions. But please be clear on one point – you will have to live with the consequences. In Jesus God offers you peace, and the forgiveness of your sins. You can say, "I don’t need it! And I don’t want it either!" And you may live accordingly. But then you are not to suppose that in the last five minutes of your life, when you are on the point of death, you will still be able to grasp what God has been offering to you for the length of a whole lifetime. You are free to reject God’s offer of peace in Christ Jesus, but then you must live for all eternity without having made your peace with God. And that is hell.

Hell is the place where you have finally and truly succeeded in getting rid of God. You are no longer invited. There is nothing calling you any longer. Perhaps you may want to pray, but you can’t do it any more. Perhaps you may want to call on the name of Jesus, but you can’t remember it any longer. You don’t need to accept this message I have for you. You can forget about converting to belief in Jesus, if that is what you want. But be clear about what you are doing, because you are choosing hell – and you have absolute freedom to do so!

"But you were unwilling!" Jesus tells the people of Jerusalem. He did not compel them in any way. But what they chose was horrible!


Wilhelm Busch (1897‒1966) was a Pastor and youth worker in Essen, an evangelist, preacher, writer and author.

+) This extract and the photo are taken from the book "Jesus unser Schicksal" ["Jesus our Destiny"], by W. Busch, Schriftenmissions‒Verlag Gladbeck/Westfalen [Scriptural Mission Publications, Gladbeck/Westphalia], ISBN 3-7958-0364-0.

(See also the Discourse 24:"The divinity of Jesus Christ and the power of faith.")

(Texts in a black frame are quotations from visitors to this site or from other authors.)

(Is Catholic moral theology right after all? / Reply BK00, 2003-10-13)

I am essentially in agreement with your arguments about the Catholic church. But then when you give your support to contraception, my sympathy for your position flies out the window again.

You do not seem to have considered that the pill – even if it is a "non‒invasive intervention", as you put it – still uses chemical means to alter certain physical functions of the female organism, and therefore is just as "invasive" and so (as Catholic moral theology rightly says) should be rejected from a religious point of view.

Benedikt Kromlechner B.Kromlechner@aol.com

Earlier on, on the first pages of this Discourse 55 on the subject "Why does God permit suffering?", I expressed the view that banning Catholic Christian believers from using contraceptive methods based on condoms or the pill and so on is incomprehensible, seeing that Catholic moral theology admits the Knaus‒Ogino or rhythm method, and thus there can be no valid argument against other non‒invasive methods – like condoms and the pill. Above all at the present time, when in wide areas of the world, especially in Africa, hundreds of children die every day because Catholics (and also Moslems) ban the use of condoms on religious grounds, with the result that these children are infected by the mother with AIDS from the moment of birth, this whole issue becomes significant not just from the point of view of demographic planning but even more, and increasingly, in terms of hygienic preventive medicine.

As the author of the comment quoted above quite correctly says, taking the pill has an effect on certain physical functions of the female organism.

After ovulation, at the start of a woman’s fertile period, the hormone progesterone is produced by the ovaries. The presence of this hormone prevents the coming to maturity of further egg cells (which might result in double fertilization or dizygotic twins), as well as blocking further ovulation. If the egg has not been fertilized, after 28 days of the cycle it will be discharged in the woman’s monthly courses, along with the endometrium. The ingredient the pill contains, gestagen – a synthetically produced and better tolerated hormone substitute for the naturally generated progesterone – has just the same effect as the latter: only its presence has the effect of preventing ovulation in the first instance. As now no mature egg is present, and further ovulation is likewise ruled out, fertilization is unable to take place.

This method, then, can in no way be described as an "invasive intervention" – a term that can be applied only to surgical or to other (minimally invasive) forms of treatment, like acupuncture for instance. If we use this principle to justify our banning this method of contraception, in all consistency we would also have to reject all other forms of pharmaceutical treatment, as in cases of headache, acid stomach and so on, on religious grounds.

Turning the matter about, the question suggests itself whether Catholic moral theology has given the right amount of thought to these issues, or whether – as with priestly celibacy, the denial of communion wine to the people of God at the Lord’s Supper or the ban on women’s holding consecrated functions in the church – we have here a case of authoritarian and ivory–towered decisions made in the board room, without any real understanding of or reference to reality.

As a Christian whose faith is in the Bible, too – and for that very reason – I can only react with astonishment and incomprehension to these words of Cardinal Meissner of Cologne:

"The ordination of women is just as much of an absurdity as if men wanted to give birth to children."

On the contrary, we read of Our Lord Jesus Christ (in Jn 12,1-3) the following:

Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair.

Jn 12,1 Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 12,2 So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. 12,3 Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Jn 12, 1- 3;

So if Our Lord and God let his feet be anointed by a woman, and then dried with her hair, even the Pope in Rome – let alone the Cardinal of Cologne – is not in a position to cast aspersions on the service of women done to Our Lord and to the people of God.

But it is possible that the Cardinal’s statement has quite a different background. In 1995 the Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer was accused, by one of his former charges, of having subjected him and other boys to sexual abuse for years. Groer apologized and resigned his office. At Groer’s funeral Cardinal Meissner of Cologne gave an address, in which he announced: "Cardinal Groer was privileged to follow the Lord on the Way of the Cross, like Simon of Cyrene."

Quite apart from the fact that the Lord would not have allowed any sexual abuser or pederast to follow him on the way of the cross, this comparison – rather like the one quoted earlier with reference to "men’s wanting to be able to have children" – is so extraordinarily tasteless as to leave us with the impression that the Cardinal must suffer from a complete moral and ethical deficiency.

(See also Discourse 59: "What does Scripture really say about the position of a woman in Church?")

(Texts in a black frame are quotations from visitors to this site or from other authors.)

(Does it make sense for anyone to take the pill? / Reply HMV00, 2005-03-22)

I do not think it makes sense for anyone to take the pill at all, let alone over a period of 25‒30 years. I think it is very invasive. In my view we need to make a start with giving children and young people all over the world timely advice on how to manage their own sexuality. I find it unbelievable that when people have to learn to eat properly and to go to the bathroom, they take so little time and trouble to tell their children about responsible sexual practices and about sexual abuse, about restraint and sublimation. And one aspect of this is that sexuality should only be exercised in the protected space of a divinely willed marriage. I think that the pill is not just damaging to health, it has also – when taken by very young people, and with schoolgirls being prescribed the pill by those who have the nerve to call themselves doctors – done a great deal to contribute to the loose sexual morality that we see today. What is more, while it may "protect" women from having a baby it certainly will not protect them from AIDS.

Helga Maria Vinagreiro HelgaVinagreiro@tele2.at

I am of course completely in agreement with most of the arguments advanced in the above reply. It is not my main concern here, either, to defend the pill as such, but rather to point to the hypocritical arguments of Catholic moral theology. According to the most recent figures there are more than a billion Catholics in the world. And now a handful of men in Catholic holy orders, who in view of their "articles of association" are only able to know anything about sexuality on the basis of hearsay, have the effrontery to lay down the law for a billion people in matters touching this most intimate area of experience. This manner of proceeding could be justified if we had any kind of indication that contraception is prohibited by Scripture as such. But on the contrary, we find a case of coitus interruptus mentioned in the Bible, and then there is the natural phenomenon of the woman’s infertile period, which by the will of God makes sexual intercourse possible without conception (Knaus‒Ogino method).
As for the claim that the pill is a "highly invasive" form of medication, let me state here once more that "invasive" in this context is a specialist term, and denotes a medical intervention, a treatment or examination that involves damage to the surface of the body, internally or externally. So for example ultrasound is a non‒invasive investigative method; investigation using a cardiac catheter, on the other hand, is invasive. An operation that involves opening up the rib cage is invasive; acupuncture is a minimally invasive form of intervention. Among contraceptive measures, the various options based on a mechanical barrier, or for that matter the pill, are to be classed as non‒invasive methods, whereas sterilization and the closing of the womb (by sewing it shut) are invasive interventions.

The statement made in the above comment that "while [the pill] may ‘protect’ women from having a baby it certainly will not protect them from Aids" is a way of thinking that falls a little bit short. Of course use of the pill in sexual intercourse is not going to provide any protection against AIDS. And yet every year – as mentioned earlier – there are millions of children born all over the world who at the time of their birth are already infected with AIDS through the blood of their mothers. It is perfectly obvious that these millions of innocent children suffering from AIDS could have been prevented by the use of the pill.

The rest of the above argument we can assent to without any kind of reserve – most particularly when it comes to the remark that here it is the parents who are called on to meet their obligations and teach their children how to manage their sexuality responsibly. Though this is a crying need, it is one that is voiced all too little today. Of course it depends on the parents actually knowing themselves how to deal with sex in a responsible manner. And this is a condition which is unfortunately less and less frequently met in the families of today.


  o  People murdered by Stalin and Hitler:

In the years 1932/33, acting for political reasons, Stalin cut off his fellow countrymen in the Ukraine from any supply of provisions, and set a military watch over the whole country to make it impossible for them to escape. Altogether at that time

– 7 million Ukrainians perished miserably by starvation in their own country.

In the Second World War, started by Hitler with the attack on Poland in 1939, altogether

– 25 million soldiers and
– 30 million civilians, from all the 61 nations that took part, lost their lives.

Of those whom the Nazis, starting in 1941, deported to concentration camps,

– 6 million Jews, and other internees, were killed.

That is without referring to the millions of people for whose deaths the third mass murderer of the twentieth century, Mao Tse Tung, was responsible.