What is evil and 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
  • natural evil - natural disasters, such as earthquakes or tsunamis

These two types of evil can work together, eg human evil can make natural evil worse. If natural evil, eg a drought brought on by lack of rainfall causes crops to fail, the policies of a government can make the food shortages for the poorest people worse (moral evil).

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

  • Some consider it to have been present in the world from the beginning as the work of evil forces.
  • Some believe it is part of God’s creation which may have a purpose that humans cannot understand.
  • Some consider it to be the outcome of ignorance and to have no beginning.
  • Most religions teach that moral evil should be opposed. Attempts should be made to minimise the impact of natural evil.


Suffering is the bearing or undergoing of pain or distress. Suffering is often a result of evil.

Most people experience suffering at some time in their life. Religions attempt to explain suffering, help people to cope with it and 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?