I want to answer the question partly from a scientific point of view, but the rest will have philosophical or religious underpinnings. My background is Catholic, Agnostic then Catholic again. I am now a retired medical doctor, but I am always committed to lifelong learning.

So first things first as we navigate in search for an answer. Regarding suffering, we suffer because we feel. It is an inescapable aspect of living. The nervous system introduces as to suffering from the earliest moment of life outside the mother’s womb. Right after birth (normal delivery) the newborn feels uncomfortable and cries out in protest when exposed to the noise, cold temperature, and metallic sounds of clicking forceps or surgical clamps.

What was once comforting sound emanating from mother’s beating heart, the constant body heat, and the internal milieu of the uterus all of them soothing to the baby, dissipate in the blink of an eye at birth. Doesn’t that make you wonder if the real meaning behind happy birthday greetings connotes something else? Is it an expression of joy or more realistically a statement of reassurance in the face of woes and troubles to come?  After all, birth starts the clock ticking for pain and suffering. There is no question the baby testifies to comfy living in the womb by growing faster than even the growth of cancer. However, life is not always meant to be comfortable. Suddenly there is a new life to live in the outside world. It will offer more excitement and enjoyment but at a cost. There is a price to pay.

Unbeknownst to the baby, his pain and suffering lead to crying that squeezes out the birth fluid from the lungs and makes them expand. This process prepares the lungs and heart for breathing on land (baby in the womb is an aquatic mammal). Here we can see how suffering leads from one thing to another and eventually to something desirable. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that nature has a caring mind of its own. Nature obeys physical laws relentlessly inflexible and without remorse no matter what the consequence is.

To be alive therefore is to continue adapting to the changes and challenges that natural environment throws on us. Nature provides us with neural sensors to survive. Inevitably we feel pain. We rely on a sensory processing unit called cerebral cortex. Here is where pain assumes a personal existence and gives rise to suffering by way of interpretation.

But the same neural sensors are responsible for pleasure sensation as well. Like a conjoined twin, pain is tethered to pleasure inextricably. If you have recently been to the dentist for tooth extraction, you know what I mean. After the dentist injects the anesthetic drug to numb the area, tooth extraction follows. The patient feels no pain. However, the anesthetic medication also removed the sensation of taste. Now your favorite soup becomes tasteless. It is even worse if the heat sensation were also down because a hot soup will scald the mouth and you won’t feel it. The pain would have served a useful warning here in preventing a sore mouth. So pain is not all bad and tasty food is pleasurable. No pain no gain is an apt expression in this instance. Feeling pain but enjoying the pleasure. They are inseparable. Can you begin to imagine what is life if you are all numbed and cannot feel anything?

Now, what about earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, plane crashes, drowning, and other calamities. Do you notice a common denominator here? They are all useful and destructive at the same time. It’s all rooted in bifurcation effect of one factor. That factor, in this case, is gravity. It is what keeps us firmly secured on the ground so that we don’t fly off into space. For brevity I will itemize below as follows:

Earthquakes – shifting tectonic plates causes surface movement so that what is below comes to the surface top. It recycles depleted elements on the uppermost by bringing in fresh ones from below.

Hurricanes – rainmakers, distribute and regulate global temperatures. Brings hot air from the tropics to the polar areas. It prevents the equator from getting hotter and the poles from getting colder.

Volcanic eruptions – gives us diamonds, recycles soil nutrients. Produce water of the oceans. It’s a slow process but has been going on for billions of years, and the earth has since then never dried up.

Plane crashes – the air atmosphere and gravity provide the lift for airplanes. We travel faster and farther. But gravity also causes planes to crash.

Drowning – water gives life because of its natural property. It quenches thirst. Unfortunately, this property also causes drowning. If you sink in water (w/o oxygen tank ) and does not drown, it’s not water. We are always submerged in the air, yet we do not drown. Air, however, cannot quench thirst.

The rigidity with which nature carries out its task is essential to decision making. We can not say we have free will without the ability to make decisions. If laws of nature change from time to time, it becomes impossible to make decisions. Data collected become unreliable. We can’t even make promises for tomorrow. The sun may not rise on time. If nature laws keep changing depending on whims instead of logical drive, science cannot produce the benefits of technology that gave us smartphones, GPS, microwaves, and computers.

We will not achieve cures for many diseases that beset humanity. Well, we still do not have treatments for cancer, but we are getting there. The important thing is to have hope that the system works because of the seemingly built-in logic to nature.

Hope springs out of uncertainty in a world governed by physical laws. Being uncertain of things makes life more interesting. You do not enjoy reruns of movies or TV shows or great boxing fights. Where is the fun in anything if you already know the outcome. That is why spoil alerts found many adherents. Certainty is not conducive to enjoying life.

Up until this point, everything passes through the lens of scientific explanation. Science can answer what, when, where, how. But it cannot explain the why of things. All the natural events reckoned above have scientific backing, but not if we ask why. Should it be that way, why? Are there no other means to stabilize global temperature or to cause rainfall without the destructive aspect of a hurricane, why? Nature is what it is, and we deal with this card. We are helpless that the laws of gravity had to be that way. But why? Why can’t scientists give us all the answers,  who do we turn to?

We turn to God and ask why? Why do you allow suffering God? Why did you create humans with flesh that feels pain and gives in to temptation?

Growing up as a Catholic, I would have a ready answer when somebody confronts me with “Why did God create us?”. My response always has been because God is love and he wants to share his divinity and perfect happiness with us. I did not understand it then, but I was too young to question my faith.

During my college years, I encountered a similar question asked in this forum. I was at a loss to explain why God who loves us allow suffering to happen. I have witnessed a despicable crime committed right before eyes. I knew the victim to be innocent, kind, a loving husband and father. Why?

I cannot make sense of my ready answer anymore, and I have a falling out of faith. God faded slowly inside me until only a vacant shadow of his memory remains. I felt angry and betrayed. So I turned to science profoundly and got the explanations I mentioned above. I was only half satisfied because the crime I witnessed was left untouched by science. I kept thinking can it be averted by a change of will in the perpetrator. Theoretically, a change of mind is possible but what or who controls it.

I looked inside me long and hard. I too have made a decision. Was it inevitable for me to disavow God? Was the decision brought about by some external force acting on me? Was it all like the power behind hurricanes and earthquakes that move me each day. Do I live my life on chemical signals and electrical impulses or do I have a say on what I decide to do?

The answer did not come quickly to me. But over time I began to drift towards the position that I decide what I want to do. For example, if I want to raise my arm and later stop it midstream can I do it? The answer is yes and so can anybody else no big deal. The action ultimately carried out does not reside in external influence. It’s decided inside my head as if I was arguing against myself.

The more I am convinced that I decide for myself, the more I believed that free will outplays nature. I am not a slave to nature. If I do fasting, then I won over the force of nature that wants me to eat. In some extreme situations, there are those who willingly died on hunger strike. Accounts of many saints and martyrs who died more gruesomely are further testament to the power of the will over matter. What a great act of defiance against nature.

But what does defying nature have to do with why God allows humans to suffer.

So far we have elucidated on unintentional suffering that results from the physical force of nature. Insurance companies called it Act of Nature. The other suffering intentionally manifests by personal volition.

The natural force results from all the known laws of physics and life sciences that control human actions. Survival instinct comes to mind. All the bodily processes arrived at optimum balance called homeostasis to sustain life. That means we have to eat drink and care for our selves. Nature will not allow us to give up life easily. We cheat and lie if threatened. We are forced to steal and kill for food. We run away from danger not towards it. I could go on and on, but you already get the point.

Hence the act of offering life for the sake of another is not natural. It is a deliberate act of the will. It supersedes the bio-chemical force of nature acting on every cell of our body. The will is a supernatural force that does not follow the formula: mass x acceleration = force. Free will has no mass nor acceleration, but it is a force. It is a force that can resist nature.

If we can defy the force of nature, we become capable of expressing love. For it cannot be called love if the act is dictated upon us by force. Love does not come easy. It requires defiance of nature and to embrace suffering. Jesus once said there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend. The decision to give up life is the height of rebelliousness against nature. God allows human suffering to give us an opportunity to love and feel the need for love.