Thank you for raising this issue Christopher and for all those who have contributed above. Your responses have been very helpful. God’s character is an important issue. I am really hesitant about posting this as I know I’m making some assumptions but I guess I am applying your question regarding this issue to the world in general. I just hope it’s helpful here.
I think the trite answers that Christians give to difficult issues such as suffering are one of our biggest downfalls. It’s easy to speak in generalities (sin is the cause of suffering, etc.) but what can we say to someone who is dying or whose loved one is enduring great suffering and losing the battle to live? Words fail and so they should. We can but sit with them, maybe hold their hand and be there and pray.
From great theologians such as CS Lewis who have struggling with God on this issue, there are no easy answers. The Dark Night of the Soul (by John of the Cross, 16th century monk) explores the times when it seems God abandons us despite our desperate need for him. It seems that God wants to strip us of our certainty, our control, our answers, etc. He wants us to find ourselves in him. He is the answer to what we desire most, eg hope, faith and love or if you prefer ‘needs’ such as security, self-esteem, etc.
There is nothing wrong with doubt, fear, questions, anger, etc. God can take it all. There is no easy answer to the issue of how God ‘allowing suffering’ reflects on his character. But Jesus prevents us from seeing God as an uncaring dictator who allows his subjects to suffer for no reason. Jesus, God, has suffered for us. The Roman use of crucifixion was one of the most horrible ways to die, yet Jesus took that course of action for us. This is, of course, a matter of faith. God asks us to trust him through the good and bad, through the questions and doubts. We don’t know why God chose suffering as an aspect of evolution and he has chosen not to give us the answer. We can question but we still need to walk by faith.
There are of course many other questions with no easy answers. It is so sad to see how many people have fallen away from faith in Jesus because they put their questions first. By putting Jesus first, we get our priorities right. Many of our questions will still be there but they don’t rock the boat as much as when we put our questions before our relationship with Jesus.
I read what I have written and think, “How trite am I?” Faith in Jesus? Easier for some than others. A loving God who allows suffering? Tell that to a world where many are suffering because of disease, war and starvation. I am certainly not going to tell that person that they are suffering because they are a sinner. I have loads of questions and this forum is a great place for exploring difficult issues but in the end, as so often happens, I have to admit, I don’t have the answers. When it comes down to basics, all I can do is point towards God who suffered for us on a cross. Isn’t that the best introduction to his ethical character?