One of the old canards about explaining suffering in a world with a omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and benevolent god is that suffering is somehow good for us, a necessary condition if we are to come to god with free will. It’s a very silly explanation about a very serious and all too real condition. Ophelia Benson takes a crack at answering the question here. I’ve included a few excerpts for your consideration:
Whether or not suffering improves us depends first of all on how we define “suffering”. Real suffering – pain, disease, thirst, starvation – don’t improve us; they don’t leave us room to improve. “Improvement” is an activity for healthy people in tolerable circumstances; when things are desperate improvement becomes a luxury.
The idea that hardship improves us looks like a rationalisation of an old superstitious fear that too much prosperity will trigger the opposite. The gods are jealous, and if we don’t have any suffering, they’ll see that we get some – and they always overdo it, the bastards, so it’s much better if we do it to ourselves first so that they don’t come along and wallop us. It’s a good bargain if it works: I give up chocolate for a month and the gods don’t drop an asteroid on my head.
There are some sick views on all this in Christianity, doubtless thanks to its preoccupation with torture as atonement. (Before you swell with outrage, remember that it’s Christianity that has an implement for execution by torture as its central symbol, worn as a necklace and decorating the covers of hymnals.) There is “Mother Teresa” for example. Dr Robin Fox, editor of The Lancet, visited her hospice in Calcutta in 1994 and reported, “I could not judge the power of their spiritual approach, but I was disturbed to learn that the formulary includes no strong analgesics.” This was not for want of money, it was policy. It is notorious that she once said in a filmed interview that she told a patient suffering the agonies of the final stages of cancer, “You are suffering like Christ on the cross.”
Ultimately this has to do with the obvious fact that the world is full of suffering, so people who want to believe in a benevolent God have to reconcile the two in some way. Claiming that suffering improves us is one such attempt.
But it’s still silly.