This question hits home with me very personally because I am a devout Catholic and our 5 month old baby girl died of pneumonia this year. She had a very short life full of suffering - a lot of time at the hospital because of heart defects and many uncomfortable medical interventions like feeding tubes and surgeries.
After many hardships she finally got to come home, but contracted pneumonia soon after. One evening she quietly died in her bassinet and we could do nothing to save her.
Of course I asked God "why??" Every Christian does when something hard to understand happens, and yes, it's hard to understand why the innocent suffer and what this suffering means.
Unlike the Protestants, we do not believe that every man is born a damned, depraved wretch.
Rather, we are naturally good, but with a sinful nature. That means that we are free to make choices and it is just when we suffer the consequences of bad choices. Those scumbags you are talking about do get their punishment, sometimes in this life but always in the next.
But we aren't talking about the scumbags. We are talking about the lambs.
To be honest with you, I came up with no pat answers to why our innocent baby suffered and died. But I am at peace. Why? First of all, because I am not God I don't expect to be able to think like He does, so I will never fully understand why He allows what He does. Faith prompts me to leave everything in His hands. I can trust God because He has a track record of goodness and He is faithful to His promises.
I can look back on my short life of 29 years and already see how God has brought about everything for good, even things that at the time were not what I wanted or which seemed unfair. This has happened so many times in my life I could not enumerate them all, and you will find the same thing echoed among millions of believers.
Secondly, God did not ask anything of my child that He did not experience Himself. The suffering and death of Jesus was painful and brutal on many levels and He deserved it even less than even the sweetest mortal child.
Because of what Jesus did, my child's suffering can now have meaning. He proved that suffering has worth and merit. It can save souls. It can wipe away the effects of sin. Protestants will balk at this but it is a hard and fast truth.
I know you are probably not a Christian and therefore do not accept the scriptural Canon but so that you might "get into my head" a little, consider this passage:
"For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him." Phil 1:29
and this one:
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." Phil 3:10-11
Suffering is hard and painful and yet the life of Christ also shows us it is glorious and beautiful. If Christ accomplished so much with His passion and death, surely we too (if we unite our sufferings with His) can accomplish great good?
As a sinful woman, I am in total awe of my tiny 5-month-old daughter who puts me to shame with her innocence....and with the grace and power she claimed by her suffering.
I now have an advocate in Heaven. Our family has a saint. And I can now put my own daily sufferings into perspective and find meaning in them.
When I became pregnant again this year we were overjoyed. The miseries of morning sickness soon followed, but you can bet that every time I leaned over the toilet I tried to consciously offer up my discomfort for some petition - the conversion of my father-in-law, my sister's upcoming marriage, etc.
Might sound silly, yes. Offering up morning sickness for sins and petitions, but I ask you. What answer do you have? What alternative can you offer?
Life is a tangle of good and evil - a mass of joy and sorrow - laughter and tears. Every man seeks meaning during times of suffering and I firmly believe that there IS an answer, and only God provides that answer.
Faith promps us to put our pain in perspective and to give it meaning. Failure to do so dooms us to life of skepticism and bitterness.
But we are creatures of hope! So there is no other alternative. There is no other possible satisfaction except the death of Christ.
For every question you have, look to the man on the cross, and there in some mysterious way, you have your answer.