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A strong majority (80%) of U.S. adults say that suffering in the world is largely the result of human action, according to a Pew Research Center report published Nov. 23.

An even larger percentage of adults who believe in God or a higher power affirmed this perspective.

When presented with the question, “How well does each of the following reflect your own views?” and given six possible responses, 88% of adults who believe in God said that the statement, “Most of the suffering in the world comes from the actions of people, not from God,” describes their view “very well” (48%) or “somewhat well” (40%).

The responses for the other possible answers were as follows:

  • God chooses not to stop the suffering in the world because it is part of a larger plan: “very well” (24%); “somewhat well” (32%)
  • Satan is responsible for most of the suffering in the world: “very well” (21%); “somewhat well” (27%)
  • Sometimes the suffering in the world makes me doubt that God is entirely loving and kind: “very well” (5%); “somewhat well” (13%)
  • Sometimes the suffering in the world makes me doubt that God is all-powerful: “very well” (5%); “somewhat well” (12%)
  • Sometimes I think the suffering in the world is an indication that there is no God: “very well” (4%); “somewhat well” (11%)

Most respondents cited a reason other than God or a higher power when asked, “In your own words, why do you think terrible things happen to people through no apparent fault of their own?”

Only 13% offered a response that indicated God was responsible, while 35% said “life happens.”

By comparison, 28% said “don’t know / no response,” 8% “sin / sinful nature / evil,” 8% “free will,” 7% “destiny / fate / karma,” 6% “people / systems,” 4% “life lesson / balance of good and bad,” 4% “other / conspiracy-related / unclear.”

A strong majority (78%) of respondents who profess belief in God or a higher power affirmed that “human beings are free to act in ways that go against the plans of God,” compared to 19% of respondents who believe that “God or a higher power directly influences everything that occurs in the world.” The remaining 3% didn’t provide a response.

When asked why suffering exists, a majority (86%) of all respondents said “sometimes bad things just happen” describes their view “very well” (44%) or “somewhat well” (42%).

By comparison, 71% said “suffering is mostly a consequence of people’s own actions,” 69% “suffering is mostly a result of the way society is structured” and 62% “to provide an opportunity for people to come out stronger” fit their perspective “very well” or “somewhat well.”

The margin of error is plus-or-minus 1.9%. The full report is available here. The topline results are available here.

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