Front Cover

Archbishop of York

FOREWORD to Suffering : if God exists, why doesn't he stop it?
by the Archbishop of York

The question as to how a loving God can permit suffering is pertinent in every generation, and in every culture and language. This book provides a step by step approach to the issue of human suffering. It will help anyone seeking to understand the reality of pain, loss, and evil, in the context of faith in a loving God.
In my experience it is often those who have encountered searing grief and suffering themselves who offer the best help with this question. This book is evidence of that: it arises out of personal experience, as well as much sound learning. True to form, John Morris, my inspiring former teacher of English, has been rigorous in his enquiry, drawing the insights of philosophy, theology, and contemporary science in constructing a robust intellectual response.
For me, it is Jesus who offers the surest hope that God, who is love, has not made a mistake in creating this world, in which bad things often happen. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we see God's new creation breaking in, the future invading the present, opening up new possibilities, new horizons, and new purposes. John Morris shows us how it is in Christ, whose own agony and suffering on the cross was offered to God in humble obedience and trust, that we find the way through this 'vale of tears's to transforming faith, hope, and love.
For any who wrestle with this question, this is a 'must read!'
+Sentamu Eboracensis


if God exists, why doesn't he stop it?

To buy   Publisher's Description   American Market   Endorsements   Reviews since publication


Since publication 29 January 2016, Suffering has been available for £5.99 from bookshops including Waterstones and Amazon (with over 25 reviews and a rating of 5 stars).


Most answers to this question are unsatisfactory. Morris's book is different: short but not superficial, strong in its science and philosophy, and realistic - as a carer of his handicapped grandson.

Like Stephen Hawking and Einstein, Morris tries to explore the mind of God. Violence began with the Big Bang, long before legendary Adam's sin. Morris's God is typically non-interventionist but constantly interactive, operating creatively within his own physical laws, that allow freedom to particles and people, not always beneficial. Compared with other religions, Christ's cross and resurrection are evidence of a God who suffers alongside us, to create good, responsible persons.

Here is a 100-minute read, of interest to believers and atheists alike. Its brave conclusion gives reasonable grounds for thinking we live in a loving God's best possible world, despite unavoidable suffering and natural disasters.


An American's review on Amazon is entitled: I can recommend it without reservation to Americans as well.

Having lost our 7 year old son to cancer in 1967, after 3 years of suffering, we are especially interested in what is helpful to those facing sleepless nights. There are not many books that are. But this well done book is, so I can recommend it without reservation to Americans as well.

The Rt Revd Charles L.Longest, DD, former Bishop Suffragan of Maryland.

Intelligent Design is popular in America. But John Morris replaces ID with IP, in his explanation of God's loving 'Intelligible Process'.

Many Americans blame Adam and Eve's sin for the world's suffering. But NASA's space probes show a violent universe from the start, long before humans appeared on Earth. So John Morris shows how natural disasters and human choices for good or evil are unavoidable outcomes of a loving Creator's intelligible process."


I found this little book wonderfully concise, free from religious jargon and very thought provoking. John Morris's and my own views are more convergent than might be expected, given that I've been a happy humanist for 20 years. Had I read this as a teenager, I might have clung onto faith for a while longer. Genes have shown me that DNA is full of design flaws, 'mutational accidents waiting to happen'. Genetics get in the way of my agreeing with Morris's evolutionary position completely. Heritability studies suggest that our genetic lottery not only determines who gets genetic disease but also affects our ability to adapt and cope with it. Morris partly agrees, but finds room for God's supporting role in nature and human choices.

Dr Alison M Dunning, Centre for Cancer Genetic Epidemiology, University of Cambridge.

How is it that some intelligent people go on trusting and hoping in God despite the challenges of science and, above all, suffering? I recommend as particularly suitable for group discussion this brief and helpful distillation of the ordinary wisdom about life, the universe and everything which has enabled people to sustain such faith.

Frances Young, OBE, Emeritus Professor of Theology, University of Birmingham, mother of Arthur, born severely disabled, as in Arthur's Call.

Over 50 years I must have arranged about 30,000 funerals, some after significant suffering, and last year I went to Auschwitz. I have read this book twice and found it remarkable for its in-depth study. It very lucidly put each topic and each side of the debate and refers deferentially to other religions. It was a fascinating insight into the author's thoughts and I found myself questioning my own. Many of our bereaved families would find comfort from this book and help them realise they are not alone in their suffering.

Richard Steel, Richard Steel & Partners, Funeral Directors since 1860.

John Morris offers a valuable insight into the paradox that must trouble every believer. His family experience drives him to better understand this question and this brings a deep humanity. His writing is concise, accessible and enlightening, both for people whose faith is tested and for those of us who may not be believers but seek to better understand those who are. A stimulating and well crafted read.

Mark Goldring, Chief Executive, Oxfam GB; formerly Chief Executive, Mencap.

For clarity, brevity, readability and comprehensiveness, this book, on a vexed topic, is one of the very best. It is open to insights from the sciences and the world's religions, as well as those from theology and faith. Ideal for discussion in groups or for private reading, perhaps in a single session, it handles deep problems with a light touch. It will be of great help to believers and agnostics alike.

Professor Adrian Thatcher, Dept of Theology and Religion, University of Exeter.

This book contains so much wisdom packed into so few pages. It is condensed from the author's deep understanding of suffering and is both scientifically and theologically well reasoned. It is an excellent and remarkable book. Inspired!

Sir Colin Humphreys, CBE, FRS, Director of Research, Dept of Materials Science and Metallurgy, University of Cambridge.

When I look at the hand - an amazingly complex structure which underpins all we think and do - I sometimes wonder whether it really could have evolved by chance into this perfect piece of engineering or whether somewhere along the line it was designed.
As a hand surgeon I face every day the paradox between spirituality and science that John addresses in his wonderful book. Each patient tells me how the problem in their hand affects their hobbies, happiness, work, ambition, family obligations; they confide their fears and hopes. I am privileged to have them let me so deeply and openly into their soul, their personality, their humanity. But then to treat them I have to revert to being a scientist- I have to work out exactly what has happened to their anatomy, mechanics and biochemistry.
So are we just chemical reactions, biological processes, mechanical machines? If my patient's medical problem is merely a physical aberration, why does it impart such a human effect that manifestly transcends the science of the hand. And the more I realise that, the more I realise that to treat the whole patient I have to treat the human being, not just the human structure.
John's book, rationalising science with the soul, allowing design yet evolution and anomaly, gives me more insight into this most fundamental conflict and will, I hope, makes me a better doctor.
Professor David Warwick, Hand Surgeon, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton.

This is a very valuable book. The subject of suffering has exercised the greatest of human minds and challenged all who believe in a benevolent creator God. Yet the mystery remains, though it has proved possible to explore some of its depths helpfully. John Morris has condensed his work into a mere 68 pages without dodging the most difficult questions and without being superficial. Like all the best theology, it is personal, and unlike much theology it is expressed in vigorous, direct language accessible to the thoughtful lay mind. It is a remarkable achievement for which many will be very grateful.

Very Revd Trevor Beeson, Dean Emeritus of Winchester Cathedral.

A handy and helpful introduction to the many issues that need to be taken into account before one can arrive at a considered response to the question raised.

Russell Stannard, OBE, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Open University.

John Morris presents a clear and rational approach to the question of how a loving God 'allows' suffering. His focus on the big picture, using a systematic approach drawing on science, leads to the conclusion that God has created the best possible world for the evolution of morality and creativity. He provides a refreshingly logical and helpful framework in which to understand God, his creation and the inevitability of suffering.

Jenny Nockolds, Senior IT Project Manager, IBM, retired.

This book is a brave shot at what is probably impossible - to know or explain the mind of God. In the process, it is full of fascinating insights - into scripture, science, human nature and the meaning of the apparently simple word 'good'.

Canon David Winter, former Head of BBC Religious Broadcasting.

John Morris's book is an excellent opportunity for students to explore the issues that arise from the extremely contentious issue of evil and suffering. Its clear and concise style makes it an ideal companion to all A Level syllabi but would also be suitable for able GCSE students with an interest beyond the syllabus. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Richard Harvey, Head of Religious Studies, Harrow School, Harrow on the Hill.

John Morris uses a unique blend of science, philosophy, scripture and personal experience to give a well-considered response to the age-old question 'Why does God allow suffering?' God seems to have paid a price in setting up the laws of the universe in that He doesn't appear to break them very frequently. Hence, suffering is introduced. Could there have been any other way? An excellent read. You will be hooked.

Dr James R. Smith, Senior Research Fellow, School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, University of Portsmouth.

Belief in God can be hard at times, especially when we think about the suffering and evil in the world. Morris writes in a way that is sensitive, intelligent and immensely helpful, making faith in God more credible and more possible. This is a book I shall read again and again.

Rt Revd Peter Hancock, Bishop of Bath and Wells, scientist.


a. See the 28 Amazon reviews (by Nov. 2017)

I have now read the book on Suffering and, like many others, think it excellent. I like its simplicity and directness, things very difficult to achieve. It is good, honest, thoughtful theology.

The Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury (February 2016 in a letter to John Morris).

c. Robin Gill considers a perennial argument about suffering.
THE implicit answer to the question in the title of this short, lively, and accessible book is: "Because human suffering is an inevitable part of an evolving world that has the capacity to produce human free-will and moral virtue." To get there, Dr Morris taps into those scientists, ranging from quantum physicists to cosmologists, who argue that evolution involves a tension between order and chaos to produce mutations that are fruitful for humankind (alongside, inevitably, other mutations that are not). Earthquakes and tsunamis, for example, are essential to earth-crust formation even though on occasions they can devastate city populations. A God who intervened constantly in this essential process would finally not be a loving God. There is nothing especially new about this "resolution" of the problem of unwarranted suffering, but it is expressed in pithy ways by this Anglican priest and former teacher and tempered by his having a much loved but very severely incapacitated grandchild. This, for example, is how he ridicules the notion of an overly interventionist God (as religious fundamentalists and dogmatic atheists alike require): "Were he to do everything for us and rescue us from each impending disaster, we would have smaller brains and remain immature children. There is no way round it: a loving parent-Father has to restrain himself and let his 'baby' of virtue climb onto its own two wobbly feet!" This will make an excellent, thought-provoking book for a study-group. But it misses some points. Tom McLeish's wonderful Faith and Wisdom in Science (OUP, 2014) would have helped to bolster his arguments about order and chaos in both science and the Bible. He could have explored the more novel idea that dogmatic atheists tend to make unscientific claims about the problem of unwarranted suffering. And his biblical exegesis is sometimes uncritical. Yet the 20 famous people (no fewer) that he has persuaded to endorse his book are basically right: this is a good read.
The Revd Professor Robin Gill is Editor of Theology.
Review in Church Times : God's self-restraint 07 Apr 2017

d. Baptist Times For reviews and John's "Remain or Leave" article just before the EU referendum 23 June 2016.


f. Some thoughts on Suffering A college friend of mine now in his late seventies, who is a non-stipendiary priest, has written a book on suffering sub-titled 'If God exists, why doesn't he stop it,? His background is relevant as he has a handicapped grandson, now in adolescence, who is effectively brain-dead and cannot walk. He goes to a special school during the week and comes to stay with my friend and his wife every other weekend.

It seems to me that there are two types of suffering, one which we we inflict on other people and one which the natural world inflicts upon us. The first type, whether it is the suffering caused by the person who steals your mobile phone or at the other end of the scale the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust, they are all the product of freewill. To put it simply God has given us freewill so that we can either choose to be saints or sinners or, in most cases, something in between. The second type of suffering, which the natural world inflicts upon us, most of us just accept and get on with our lives. It's only when we stop to think about it that the problems arise.

My friend points out that we have come to realise that our universe started many millions of years ago with a big bang: we also learn that one hundred million years ago in South America there lived giant titanosauruses, who weighed seventy tons the same as a WW2 Tiger tank: and now we realise that we are no more than a speck of dust in the corner of an infinite universe and, at that, the only speck of dust that produces intelligent life, and with it cancer and tsunamis and all the problems of the natural world. My friend goes on to suggest three alternative scenarios: the first is a world where God intervenes to stop nature's worst excesses: he rejects that because it would result in scientists not knowing where they were and progress would become impossible. The second is an earthly paradise like that in H. G. Wells' Time Machine, where there would be less need for virtues to flourish. The third is a world with flexible laws of physics, which would prevent people acting responsibly for good or ill. He ends up by saying that regular and remorseless laws of nature are our lot, a given.

Far be it from me to have an original idea, but it seems to me that freewill provides an opportunity for us to do good or do evil: but mankind is, apart from the odd wobble, gradually improving in morality improving in our awareness of what is moral/ethical to the extent that in the end a greater number of humans may approach the image of the God in which we were made. Similarly the natural world is capable of producing both good and bad, abundance and its opposite: however, we are quickly improving our knowledge of what makes the world function to the extent that in the end we will be able to prevent all disease at one end of the spectrum almost certainly no, because e.g. bacteria are creative and able to develop immunity to antibiotics and forecast tsunamis at the other, forecasting will not stop the waves and while our globe spins they are inevitable and the problem of that sort of suffering will go away. Alternatively is it better to can fall back on the words of the book of Job in chapter38 when God says: where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth: declare if thou hast understanding. Who has laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest. Or who has stretched the line upon it. Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner stone thereof? In other words it's all too large for our puny understanding.
Michael Jenkins, M.A. Corpus Christi College, Cambridge 22 Feb 16






Suffering :if God exists,why doesn't he stop it Front Cover

Back Cover Endorsements

What makes this book work for non-believers like me is Morris's intelligent approach to the questions we have. He may not have converted me, but he entertains and stimulates. So let's call it a score-draw!

John Humphrys, BBC, 'Today', 'Mastermind'.

One wishes that all theologians would write as clearly and succinctly as John Morris - his analysis of the 'problem of evil' will enlighten believers and unbelievers alike.

Lord (Martin) Rees, OM, Kt, FRS, Astronomer Royal.

Having lost our 7 year old son to cancer in 1967, after 3 years of suffering, we are especially interested in what is helpful to those facing sleepless nights. There are not many books that are. But this well done book is, so I can recommend it without reservation.

Rt Revd Charles L.Longest, DD, former Bishop Suffragan of Maryland.

Rooted in modern science, philosophy and Christian theology, here is the best short answer to the problem of suffering I have ever met. It is forged in the furnace of family suffering and yet resolutely believes in God’s ultimate good purpose. It is a great achievement to have produced something so thoughtful and yet so succinct.

Canon Dr Michael Green, theologian, university speaker worldwide, prolific author.

Equipment for Disabled Children

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Exeter University

Suffering: If God exists why doesnt he stop it

Remain or leave. Keep faith or give it up