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Why Bad Things Happen to People

Job, Epicurus, Augustine, C.S. Lewis, and other famous thinkers wrestled with explaining why an all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God would allow suffering.

Amid the pandemic and its 6.4 million reported deaths (as of August, 2022), the Pew Research Center surveyed 6,485 American adults—including 1,421 evangelicals—in September 2021. They were asked about how they philosophically “make sense of suffering and bad things happening to people.”

Among the survey’s main findings:

7 in 10 American adults agree that suffering is “mostly a consequence of people’s own actions.”

7 in 10 agree that suffering is “mostly a result of the way society is structured.”

8 in 10 believe—either in “God as described in the Bible” (58%) or in “a higher power or spiritual force” (32%)—yet say most suffering “comes from the actions of people, not from God.”

7 in 10 believe human beings are “free to act in ways that go against the plans of God or a higher power.”

5 in 10 believe God allows suffering because it is “part of a larger plan.”

4 in 10 believe Satan is responsible for most of the world’s suffering.

Less than 2 in 10 say they have doubted God’s omnipotence, goodness, or existence because of suffering.

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