Why does a loving God allow children to suffer and die?

My sister is Catholic who has deepened her faith in recent years but still does not fully embrace Catholic teaching on all moral issues. Her 12-year-old child was recently diagnosed with the worst childhood leukemia possible. Understandably, my sister is struggling. She is especially struggling with why God would allow her child (or any child) to suffer and even die. She also has become very adamant about stem-cell research (of all types) and is encouraging her friends and relatives to fight for stem-cell research. Before her child was diagnosed, we discussed and disagreed about the Church’s teachings on such moral issues as birth control, sterilization, abortion, and fetal stem-cell research. I feel that she knows where I stand on those issues so I have not said anything more when she has talked about the need for stem-cell research. I believe it serves little purpose at this time to oppose her views about stem-cell research. I would like some suggestions on how to talk to her and her children about why God allows innocent children to suffer and even die.

This is a difficult question to answer in a mere paragraph or two. For more information than I am able to give you here, please see Making Sense Out of Suffering by Peter Kreeft and The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis.

God does not positively will that anyone, much less a child, suffer and die. The fact that all human beings, including children, are subject to suffering and death is a result of original sin (cf. CCC 400). But God is also able to bring good out of tragedy. He redeemed the world through his own innocent Son’s suffering and death. And it is through the sacrifice of God’s own Son that your sister has the hope of being reunited with her child in the next life where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

This is, of course, abstract knowledge, and difficult to accept when one’s child is suffering a terrible and life-threatening disease. Suggest to your sister that she keep a small crucifix always nearby, perhaps on a chain, and whenever she finds herself angry with God to look at the crucifix. God himself is a grieving parent and able to understand her sorrow. If she offers up her pain and encourages her child to offer up his pain in union with Christ’s own suffering, their suffering will not be in vain because God can bring good from it (cf. Col. 1:24).

Catholic Answers’ staff will keep your sister and her child in our daily staff prayers and asks our forum participants to do the same. God bless.

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