The question of suffering has long plagued the religious world and I've yet to find a definitive answer that covers all the objections. The real dilemma is that our scriptures are pretty "plain in who and what, but not so hot on why" (to paraphrase Jesus Christ Superstar). So we're left to speculate from clues in our scriptures and to our own reason, experience, and traditions. Over time we've developed two views to explain the burning question of "why?"
In Genesis 1, we read that God created humanity and made us managers over the rest of creation: "Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth'" (1.26). Later, in Genesis 2, the humans are charged with caring for Eden (2.15). In both instances, it is clear humanity was charged to take care of God's creation.
This, then, gave rise to the first of the two views: We've managed on our own to destroy our "Garden of Eden", our earth. Our water and air are polluted, and myriad cancers have been linked to the quality of both. Our diet, at least in America, is inappropriate and the number of diseases linked to that diet is staggering. We choose to build homes along fault lines, in the known path of tornados, hurricanes, and flooding and we're dismayed and surprised when people are struck by natural disasters there. We deliberately consume alcohol and other drugs at inappropriate times and are dismayed when our progeny are born less than perfect. Or we're shocked when an innocent is run down by an intoxicated driver. It's clear much of our suffering stems from our own behaviors.
But this view does not explain all the suffering of the world. Indeed, much suffering cannot be linked to our behaviors either good or bad. And so we've developed another answer to "why?"
The religious world has explained the "why" of suffering by blaming the forces of evil and our cooperation with it. Our behaviors are often ungodly and reflect evilness and/or self-centeredness. In other instances, such as in unforseen disasters, disease, and accidents the devil, Satan, or evil has been blamed. This seems to have satisfied many a theologian and adherent alike.
However, scripture doesn't lay all suffering at the foot of evil either. In the words of Dr. Scott Peck, "Life is difficult" (The Road Less Traveled. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1978. p. 1). His words reflect much of what Jesus said and what scripture often reflects. Jesus admitted there would always be poor people (Matthew 26.11). He implied that sometimes bad things "just happen" without reason (Luke 13.4). And other times suffering allows the opportunity for the grace of God to be seen (John 9).
And so we are left with a dilemma. One popular view explains suffering this way: God created paradise, but humanity fouled it by giving in and cooperating with the forces of evil. Thus, suffering was introduced to the earth by humanities' sin. Our hope is in the future, in the Day of the Lord and/or the Second Coming, with its promised return to paradise on earth. Then the lion shall lay down with lamb, the leopard with the kid, and suffering will be no more (Isaiah 11.6-9 cf., Revelation 7.16-17). But until then we must wait.
But then there's the other view: An acceptance that God has created the heavens and the earth and we exist to care for that creation. All children of God have been charged to care for the earth and to put an end to suffering earth where it can be, to share the burden where it can't be, and to offer hope and comfort to all (Matthew 25.35-360; Luke 4.18-19; Matthew 10.7-8).
There is suffering on the earth -- this is the reality. But humanity has been given the gifts and the graces to do something about it. The question is, will we?