Some twenty years ago the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster was asked this question in a TV interview. He waffled about how nobody really knew, and it was a big and legitimate question. I was shocked that a top churchman could be so ignorant. In those days I hadn’t realised that the Churches represent Constantianism, not Christianity. (See the article on Constantine’s Hijack of Christianity if you haven’t already read it.)
The answer is actually very simple. God gave men Free Will. If you haven’t yet read the Freewill and Predestination article, now would be a good time. God also determined to put men in control of the Earth, which is made clear in the very first chapter of Genesis. People may object here that God made men sinful, but that is a belief of Calvinism, so once more refer to the Freewill and Predestination article. Question answered!
However, those who choose to blame God do not give up so easily. Another criticism of Him is that He is in control of everything and nothing happens outside of His Perfect Will. If this were true, we would all be mere puppets. Such a view is nowhere presented in Scripture. God does not determine whether you have fifty-three or fifty-four beans on your toast today. He knows the number, just as He knows how many hairs you have on your head, and He cares. But that is quite different from micro-managing, second by second, every single thing that happens on the Planet. God is in Ultimate Control, not in Immediate control. Compare your control of a car that you chose to lend to a friend.
Even given the explanations above, people often argue that God has the power to stop bad things, but doesn’t. That is partly true. It is an inevitable outcome of his decision to put Man in control on Earth. He not only puts us in control; He also holds us responsible when we abuse the power He gives. All of that is very clear in the Bible, so Christians, at least, should not be arguing about it. The remaining question here is whether He does intervene at times to prevent bad things. Clearly at times He does. In the Flood He wiped out a wicked and violent generation, and through Noah and his family provided Man with a second chance. In sending Jesus, He provided another chance. These things are documented in the Bible. Does He also intervene in undocumented, lesser ways? Many people can point to events in their lives that were so fortuitous that they seem to have been planned. Were those events coincidence, or did God quietly exercise some beneficial control? In this life we will never know. But what is clear is that such interventions cannot alter the general flow of the affairs of Men, for if they did God would be reneging on his decision to give Mankind control.
This leaves the question of suffering caused by disease, wild animals, earthquakes and the like. A proper understanding of the history of our Planet is vital here, something the Churches are singularly useless at providing, since almost all concur with Darwinian Evolution over millions of years. It is necessary to understand how the Flood changed the Planet. If you are not clear, read “The Rocks Really do Cry Out” and spend as much time as you need on the Science Page. Before the Flood, the Earth really was “Very Good”. When people talk of the beauty and wonder of the World God made with reference to the World as it is today, those statements verge on blasphemy. That is because today’s World is merely the wreckage of the Pre-Flood World. The Flood destroyed everything. After it, the way animals survived was different, the climate was altered, and there was a legacy of volcanoes and earthquakes as the re-formed Earth’s crust settled. A process that still continues today. Much of what we suffer now from “Nature” is an ongoing part of the Judgement and Punishment delivered at the Flood.
Even here people will argue that God is not just, that there should be no on-going effects of the Flood. But these things are given to warn us and to make us think. There is little that is more likely to consign a man to pride and the road to Hell than an easy, comfortable life where nothing ever goes wrong. We need adversity to make us think; we need disease to remind us of our mortality; the very last thing we need is great comfort in this life if we are to think seriously about the next.
So why does bad stuff happen? The answer turns out to have several parts to it. That’s not an excuse for it to be beyond the wit of a Catholic Archbishop. Nor an excuse for it to be beyond the wit of anyone else.