One of the biggest challenges Catholic kids, teens, and young adults face today is how to reconcile faith in God and suffering in the world. They’ve been taught that Christ is a loving God in church, in school, and at home,. But when they see earthquakes, disease, social injustices, poverty, and the suffering of friends and family—or when they experience suffering themselves—it becomes difficult to understand God and accept His will. The secular world and media today constantly bombard kids with messaging that makes it even more difficult to believe God is loving and that suffering can, in fact, lead us to a transcendent relationship with Him. In this article, you’ll learn how Catholic educators can address one of the toughest questions their students will ever ask: Why does God allow pain and suffering if He loves us?
Plus, you’ll get access to our FREE Most Asked Questions video series sneak peek—ten videos on various challenging apologetics topics, including God and suffering. Use these videos to deepen your knowledge and strengthen your faith, or share them with students and parents in your religious education program. In addition to our Most Asked Questions video series we have a Prayer for Those Who Are Suffering Prayer Card you can download for free and share.
The foundation of any strong apologetics program is planning, preparation, and a scaffolded exploration of the topics. Unlike other fields, you can’t jump right in and charge full steam ahead. Lesson by lesson, Catholic educators must lay a foundation in order for the seeds of apologetics teachings to fall on fertile ground. This article provides some tips and strategies to consider when incorporating apologetics teachings into your curriculum—strategies that will ultimately lead your lessons toward success and your students towards a deep understanding of the concepts.
What teachers, parents, and students need to know about God and suffering.
The apologetics approach to talking with kids about God and suffering.
How God uses suffering as an opportunity to draw us nearer to Him.
Why It’s Important for Catholic Educators to Teach Kids About God and Suffering
Many young Catholics in the 21st century are coming to the same, false conclusion: a loving God cannot exist in a world with suffering. It is vital that Catholic educators address this topic in order to keep our youth from abandoning their faith and leaving the church.
No one likes to experience pain and suffering, but it is an inevitable part of life. Unfortunately, many young Catholics have spent years fleeing from pain and towards comfort. Millennials, Generation X, and Generation Z are pleasure-seeking; these generations have grown up in an era where humans constantly try to avoid suffering. The media they consume, the products they purchase, the shift from in-person communication to text-based communication—every aspect of life is designed to diminish the feelings of pain and discomfort. In fact, the very thought of suffering, pain, and sacrifice makes them uncomfortable!
It is imperative that Catholic religious educators teach young children, teens, and young adults about suffering and God, so that they understand the connection and importance of both. But it will take a fair amount of convincing. The secular world uses suffering and pain to say there is no God or to claim that if God does exist, he is not a loving God.
If a loving and all-powerful God exists, He would not allow any suffering;
Therefore, a loving God does not exist.
This false reasoning is rampant; it is one of the four big factors keeping young Catholics from finding God and contributes to them leaving the Church. Catholic educators must be intentional about addressing this challenging topic if they are to equip Catholic youth with a resilient, fortified belief system. To learn more about what Father Spitzer has to say on the four big factors keeping millennials from finding God, click here!
Download a Prayer for Those Who Are Suffering Prayer Card now and use it in the classroom to pray for those going through hardships and are in need of comfort.
An Apologetics Approach to Answering the Question: Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?
When faced with pain and suffering, we have a wealth of encouraging phrases at the ready. But the reality is that platitudes like, “It’s all part of God’s plan,” or “God will never give you a cross you can’t endure,” and “Suffering makes us stronger” are not faith fortifying. There certainly may be truths to these statements, and they are usually offered warmly and sincerely by those with caring hearts. However, they don’t promote the apologetics approach of using reason, evidence, and faith to examine why God allows people to suffer. By not tackling the issue head on, statements like these oftentimes make it seem like faith can’t in fact explain the existence of pain in the world, which is just not true.
Using an apologetics approach to discuss topics that challenge our faith will model to students how to keep learning and searching for evidence. Instead of letting emotional turmoil eat away at our students’ Christian beliefs, you can teach them to use reason, logic, science, history, Biblical texts, etc., to find the evidence they need to understand the pain, suffering, and realities of human experience.
It can be really upsetting and confusing when our students see pain or experience trauma. The emotional turmoil that comes from witnessing or feeling suffering, oftentimes leads young people to ask “Why,” to doubt God’s love, or to question His existence entirely. Apologetics shifts the focus away from the question “Why does God allow people to suffer?” and instead examines a new set of inquiries:
- What is the purpose in suffering?
- What is beyond the emotional feelings that arise when suffering occurs?
- Who offers us hope and peace in the midst of suffering?
- What reasons do we have to trust God when we can’t understand suffering?
Helping Students Understand Why God Allows Pain and Suffering
Once you’re able to shift the focus towards these new questions, you’ll want to guide students in how to find answers and evidence. There are five key strategies you can use to help your students use an apologetics approach to figure out the nature of suffering and its existence in a world created by a loving God.
Using Scripture as a Starting Point to Talk About Suffering
- Discuss the idea that we live in a fallen world due to sin (Genesis 3).
- This means conditions, things, and people are not perfect. Suffering is inevitably a result of living in a fallen world.
- Share in Christ’s suffering by exploring 1 Peter 4:12-16.
Discussing the Reasons an All-Loving God Allows Suffering
- Help your students shift their mindset when it comes to approaching the topic of suffering.
- Asking them different questions than they're used to can help them see the purpose and benefit of suffering in the world:
- WHAT is the purpose of suffering? Can suffering help us?
- HOW can suffering lead us to the path of salvation?
- WHO offers us hope and peace in the midst of suffering?
These are huge topics for anyone to tackle. You don’t have to answer these questions alone!
Explore Why God Allows Some People to Suffer More Than Others
Naturally, students have a lot of questions about suffering, especially when it doesn’t seem fair. Young people oftentimes have a deep sense of justice, and they want to know…
If someone suffers more than others does that mean they did something wrong?
If someone suffers more than others does that mean they are more faithful?
Do disadvantages allow for greater faith and love?
Father Spitzer answers these questions and more in our Most Asked Questions video series.
Why Would God Allow Wars, Genocides, Plagues, and other Disasters?
- Large global issues and widespread pain can feel really scary and confusing to young people. They’re trying to reconcile the loving God of scripture with the catastrophic events and large scale suffering they see sometimes in the news or learn about in school.
- They might have a lot of questions, and they’ll want to know why a loving God would allow tragedies like this to happen.
- Try to shift their focus towards a different set of questions:
- Is there purpose in disasters of all kinds?
- If so, what?
- Watch our Most Asked Questions video to hear about how widespread pain or global disasters can…
- Lead to advances in communities.
- Transform the human spirit.
- Liberate the persecuted.
As the Catholic youth in your parishes, schools, or homes start to grow up, they’re going to experience or see pain and suffering, as we all do. When faced with the inevitable suffering of human experience, some young people question whether a loving God can exist in a world filled with chaos and turmoil. But, these moments of confusion and existential reflection can also be opportunities for students to strengthen their own beliefs. Using an apologetics approach to teach kids about why suffering exists in this world and its purpose will help Catholic kids, teens, and young adults work through their doubts and frustrations, fortify their belief in God, and stay faithful members of the Church body.
We know that answering these difficult questions can feel really overwhelming to even the most experienced of catechists. That’s why we created the Most Asked Questions video series for you to edify yourself, develop your own understanding of challenging topics, and use in your classroom!
And don’t forget to download the Prayer for Those Who Are Suffering Prayer Card and share it with students! These prayer cards can be shared electronically or printed for students who attend in-person classes.