Moral evil and natural suffering


Evil is a cause of human suffering. There are two types of evil:

  • moral evil – the acts of humans which are considered to be morally wrong, eg murder and theft
  • natural evil – natural disasters, eg earthquakes or tsunamis, which humans have no control over

These two types of evil can work together - moral evil can make natural evil worse. For example if a drought (natural evil) causes crops to fail, the policies of a government can make food shortages for the poorest people worse (moral evil).

Religions differ in what they teach about the origins of evil.

Some believe evil forces have been present in the world from the beginning.

Some believe evil is part of God’s creation and it may have a purpose that humans cannot understand.

Some consider evil to be the outcome of ignorance and to have no beginning.

Most religions teach that moral evil should be opposed and attempts should be made to minimise the impact of natural evil.


Suffering is the bearing or undergoing of pain or distress.

Most people experience suffering at some time in their life. Religions attempt to explain suffering, to help people to cope with it and to learn from it. For some religious people, the fact that people suffer can raise difficult questions about why God allows this to happen.

Some people say that God allows humans to make decisions for themselves and that suffering is caused by the choices that people make.

Questions raised by the existence of evil and suffering in the world

What does the presence of evil and suffering say about God’s love, power and purpose?

Is there a purpose to suffering?

Is suffering the price humans pay for free will?

How do different religions respond to evil and suffering?

How do individuals respond to evil and suffering?