Learning Why God Permits Suffering Changed My Life
AS TOLD BY HARRY PELOYAN
Why does God permit suffering? That question had bothered me ever since I was a little boy. My parents were hardworking, honest, and family-oriented. But my father was not religious, and my mother, only a little. So they could not provide me with the answer to that question.
I WONDERED about that question even more during and after World War II, when I was in the U.S. Navy for over three years. After the war ended, I was assigned to a ship that was sent to China to deliver relief supplies. I was there for nearly a year and witnessed suffering on a large scale.
The Chinese are industrious, intelligent people. But many were experiencing severe hardships because of poverty as well as the violence unleashed by World War II. I was especially affected by the adorable children, many of whom, undernourished and in rags, would beg from us when we went ashore.
I was born in 1925 and raised in California, U.S.A. I had never seen anything like it. Thus, over and over I asked myself, ‘If there is an almighty Creator, why would he permit such conditions to afflict so many people, especially innocent children?’
I also wondered why God, if he indeed existed, would permit such destruction, mass murder, death, and suffering as had come upon mankind over the centuries—particularly during World War II, when over 50 million people lost their lives. Moreover, throughout that war, why would people of the same religion, encouraged by their clergy, kill one another because their nationality was different?
When World War II began in 1939 and wholesale slaughter came upon the human family, I felt that there could not be a God. Then, in a science course in high school, each of us students was required to build something of a scientific nature. Since I was interested in astronomy, I undertook building a large reflecting telescope with an eight-inch-[20 cm]diameter mirror.
To build this telescope, I bought a piece of glass over an inch [2.5 cm] thick and eight inches [20 cm] wide and had a glass cutter make it round. Then I began the laborious task of grinding it by hand to make it into a concave mirror. That took all my free time for an entire semester. When the mirror was finished, I mounted it in a long metal tube and fitted the telescope with eyepieces of various strengths.
On a clear, moonless night, I took my completed telescope outside for the first time and focused it on the stars and on the planets of our solar system. I was astounded at how many heavenly bodies there were and how well-organized everything was. Then, when I learned that some “stars” were, in fact, galaxies like our Milky Way, each containing billions of stars, I was even more astounded.
‘Surely,’ I thought, ‘all of this could not have happened just by itself. Nothing that is organized happens by accident. The universe is so well-organized that it looks as if a genius made it. Could there be a God after all?’ The experience with the telescope caused me to back away somewhat from the dogmatic atheistic viewpoint that I previously held.
I then asked myself: ‘If there is indeed a God powerful and wise enough to create this amazing universe, could he not correct the pitiful situation on earth? Why did he permit all this misery in the first place?’ When I put such questions to religious people, they could not provide satisfactory answers.
After high school and several years in college, I joined the U.S. Navy. However, chaplains in the military could not really answer my questions either. Too often, those who were religious said something like, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
My Search Continues
After I left China, the questions I had about why God permits suffering persisted. I could not get them out of my mind, especially when I saw military cemeteries on the various islands we stopped at on our way home across the Pacific. Almost all the graves were for young men whose lives had barely begun.
When I arrived back in the United States and was released from the navy, I had one year of school to finish at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I graduated after that year and got my degree, but I did not go home to California. I decided to stay on the East Coast for a while to try to find answers to my questions. I had in mind going to New York City, where there were many religions, in order to attend some religious services to see what was taught.
In New York my aunt, Isabel Kapigian, invited me to stay at her home. She and her two daughters, Rose and Ruth, were Jehovah’s Witnesses. As I did not think that I would be interested in their beliefs, I began attending the services of other religions, talking to people and reading their literature. I would ask them why God permits suffering, but they did not know the answer any more than I did. I concluded that perhaps there was no God after all.
Then I asked my aunt and her daughters if I could read some of their literature to learn the views of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When I read the publications, I quickly saw that the Witnesses were very different from other religions. The answers came from the Bible and were very satisfying. In a short time, my questions about why God permits suffering were answered.
Not only that, but I could see that Jehovah’s Witnesses backed up their Bible-based answers with actions. For example, I asked my aunt what the young men of Jehovah’s Witnesses did in Germany during World War II. Did they join the armed forces there, say “Heil Hitler!,” and salute the swastika flag? Her answer was no, they did not. And because of their neutral stand, they were sent to concentration camps, where many of them were murdered. She explained that during the war the position of Jehovah’s Witnesses everywhere was the same—that of neutrality. Even in democratic countries, young men of Jehovah’s Witnesses were put in jail for their neutral stand.
My aunt then asked me to read John 13:35, which states: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” True Christians must have that identifying mark of love on an international scale. Never would they be found on opposing sides in war, killing one another because their nationality was different! She asked: “Could you imagine Jesus and his disciples taking opposing sides in Rome’s wars, killing one another?”
I was also directed to 1 John 3:10-12. It says: “The children of God and the children of the Devil are evident by this fact: Everyone who does not carry on righteousness does not originate with God, neither does he who does not love his brother. . . . We should have love for one another; not like Cain, who originated with the wicked one and slaughtered his brother.”
The Bible is clear. True Christians love one another, no matter which nation they live in. Thus, they would never be found killing their own spiritual brothers or anyone else for that matter. That is why Jesus could say of his followers: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.”—John 17:16.
I soon learned that the Bible tells us why God has permitted suffering. It explains that when God created our first parents, he made them perfect and put them in a paradise garden. (Genesis 1:26; 2:15) He also gave them a very desirable gift—free will. But they had to use that faculty responsibly. If they obeyed God and his laws, they would continue to live in perfection in a paradise. They would extend the boundaries of that paradise until it encompassed the entire earth. Their offspring would also be perfect, so that in time, this earth would be a glorious paradise inhabited by perfect, happy people.—Genesis 1:28.
However, if Adam and Eve chose to go their independent way, apart from God, then he would no longer sustain them in perfection. (Genesis 2:16, 17) Unfortunately for mankind, our first parents abused their free will and chose to be independent from God. They were spurred on by a rebellious spirit creature who came to be known as Satan the Devil. He coveted independence from God and the worship that rightly belongs to God alone.—Genesis 3:1-19; Revelation 4:11.
Satan thus became “the god of this system of things.” (2 Corinthians 4:4) The Bible states: “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) Jesus called Satan “the ruler of the world.” (John 14:30) The disobedience of Satan and our first parents brought imperfection, violence, death, sorrow, and suffering to all mankind.—Romans 5:12.
“It Does Not Belong to Man”
To demonstrate what the ignoring of the Creator’s laws would mean for the human family, God has permitted its consequences for thousands of years. This time period has provided ample opportunity for all mankind to observe the truthfulness of what the Bible says: “To earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step. Correct me, O Jehovah.”—Jeremiah 10:23, 24.
Now, after all these centuries, we can see that rulership independent of God has been a disaster. Thus, God purposes to let mankind continue this ruinous experiment of independence from him and his laws no longer.
A Marvelous Future
Very soon, Bible prophecy shows, God will bring this vicious, cruel system of things to an end: “Just a little while longer, and the wicked one will be no more . . . But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.”—Psalm 37:10, 11.
A prophecy at Daniel 2:44 declares: “In the days of those kings [all forms of rulership now existing] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.” Never again will human rule be permitted. All the earth will be ruled by God’s Kingdom. Under its administration, the entire earth will be made a paradise and mankind will grow to perfection to live forever in happiness. The Bible promises: “[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.” (Revelation 21:4) What a marvelous future God has in store for us!
A Different Life
Finding satisfying answers to my questions changed my life. From then on, I wanted to serve God and help others find these answers. I understood the seriousness of what 1 John 2:17 says: “The world [this present system of things ruled by Satan] is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.” I keenly wanted everlasting life in God’s new world. I decided to stay in New York and began to associate with a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses there, having many good experiences helping others learn what I had learned.
In 1949, I met Rose Marie Lewis. She, her mother Sadie, and her six sisters were all Jehovah’s Witnesses. Rose was serving God full-time in the preaching work. She had many good qualities, and I was drawn to her immediately. We were married in June 1950 and stayed in New York. We were happy in what we were doing and rejoiced in the hope of living forever in God’s new world.
In 1957, Rose Marie and I were invited to serve full-time at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in Brooklyn, New York. By June 2004 we had been happily married for 54 years, 47 of them at the Brooklyn headquarters. They were blessed years of serving Jehovah and working alongside thousands of fellow believers.
My Worst Suffering
Sadly, in early December 2004, Rose Marie was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in one of her lungs. Experts agreed that it was fast growing and had to be removed. The surgery was performed later in December, and about a week afterward, the surgeon came into Rose’s hospital room while I was there and said: “Rose Marie, go home! You’re healed!”
However, only a few days after coming home, Rose Marie began to have severe pains in her stomach area and elsewhere. These persisted, so she went back to the hospital for further tests. It was found that for some reason, a number of her vital organs were producing blood clots that were preventing those organs from getting the necessary oxygen. The doctors did everything humanly possible to counteract this but were unsuccessful. Only a few weeks later, on January 30, 2005, I suffered the most crushing blow of my whole life. My dearest Rose Marie died.
At the time, I was almost 80 years old and had observed the suffering of people all my life, but this was different. Rose Marie and I were, as the Bible says, “one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) I had seen the suffering of others and had suffered myself when friends and relatives died. But the suffering I experienced when my wife died has been far more intense and long lasting. I now fully realize what immense sorrow the death of loved ones has brought to the human family for so long.
Nevertheless, my understanding of the origin of suffering and how it will end has come to my rescue. Psalm 34:18 says: “Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.” A key to enduring this suffering is knowing that the Bible teaches that there will be a resurrection, that those in the graves will come forth and have the opportunity to live forever in God’s new world. Acts 24:15 says: “There is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” Rose Marie loved God intensely. I am sure that he loved her the same way and that he will remember her and will bring her back in his due time, hopefully very soon.—Luke 20:38; John 11:25.
While grief at the loss of a loved one is great, joy at receiving back a loved one in the resurrection will be greater. (Mark 5:42) God’s Word promises: “Your dead ones will live. . . . The earth itself will let even those impotent in death drop in birth.” (Isaiah 26:19) Many among “the righteous” mentioned at Acts 24:15 will likely be resurrected early. How wonderful that time will be! And among those brought back will be Rose Marie. What a welcome she will receive from her loved ones! How satisfying it will be at that time to live in a world where there is no suffering!
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I witnessed suffering while stationed in China
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Since 1957, I have been serving at the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn
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I married Rose Marie in 1950
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On our 50th wedding anniversary, in 2000