Someone on an internet discussion forum recently asked about the purpose of life and why there is so much suffering in the world. Here is how I answered....
We are here on the earth plane for spiritual development. "Spiritual development" means becoming fit for a higher level in the spirit world. That means developing character traits that make us more loving, tolerant, forgiving, and also more persevering, cooperative, and wise.
In the afterlife, you can pursue many of the same interests you had in life such as music or art. There are also entertainments and subjects to study. We study our previous life and prepare for our next life. But eternity is a long time and after a handful of incarnations on the earth plane, we move on to other challenges. What are the tasks we attribute to God? Creation of the universe, creation of life on earth, responding to prayers. In our future, we will be doing similar tasks as agents of God. In order to do them well, we will need to be loving, forgiving, tolerant, persevering, cooperative, and wise. We incarnate to develop traits and learn lessons that we will need to do the work of advanced spirits.
Sometimes a spirit will incarnate to help another spirit learn a lesson. That might mean being a victim or victimizing another person. Everyone needs to experience all sides. You need to experience being a nasty person yourself to understand why someone might harm another person. This will enable you to forgive people who harm you because you will understand why they do what they do from your own experience doing nasty things. You also need to experience being harmed so you can understand why it is wrong to harm other people. If you know what it feels like to be harmed, you will not want to inflict harm on anyone else. Also, it will make you more sympathetic to people who are suffering and you will want to help them.
One of the most important lessons we learn is that helping others leads to joy and happiness. In order to learn this lesson, there have to be people who need your help. In order for others to learn this lesson, you need to be in a situation where you can be helped by other people. This is another reason lives are full of difficulties: so we can learn to help each other.
Sometimes learning does not occur until after death during the life review when you experience how you influenced other people from their perspective. The memories of the life review will be like your own memories. The joy you caused will be like a memory of joy you experienced. Suffering you caused will be like a memory of suffering you experienced. If you haven't learned it during life, then from the life review you will learn that doing good is desirable and doing harm is not desirable, that we are all one, that when you harm another you harm yourself, when you help another you bring joy to yourself.
You should not judge other people because you can't tell, by how a person acts or what happens to them, what a person's reason for incarnating is. Wealth doesn't mean anything. A new soul might be attracted to material things, an old soul might not be materialistic. However an old soul might need wealth to accomplish a higher purpose of changing society. Or, an old soul may be be serving the poor in some out of the way, unseen, thankless job. A successful businessman might be a new soul who wants to experience wealth. Or, he might be an old soul who wants to help our civilization develop a higher standard of living. But he also might have depression or have been abused as a child and may hate his life. You can't tell from outward appearances the spiritual nature and purpose of another person's life.
Rewards for good actions might come in the current lifetime or in the afterlife. You prepare the conditions you will experience in the afterlife by what you do in this life. From a spirit's point of view, the rewards in this life have very little value compared to the possible rewards in the afterlife. The positive character traits you develop in this life will stay with your throughout eternity. They are their own reward.
Before a spirit is born he plans the outlines of his life. The plan is made in consultation with advanced spirits. So whether some action will lead to adverse consequences in the afterlife depends on what the plan was and why that plan was made. If someone has a life plan and he agrees to harm another person so that person can learn why harming people is wrong, there would not be any adverse consequences of those actions.
Saying someone is "punished" in the afterlife is not correct. There is no vindictive punishment. The life review and reincarnation are done for learning not punishment. People experience the natural consequences of their actions. Good actions have good consequences, bad actions have bad consequences. Where you go in the spirit world, to a nice place or a not so nice place, is determined more by natural law, like gravity, than by judgment. There is no purgatory where souls are sentenced to specific punishments for certain crimes. You have learning experiences: the life review, reincarnation, levels in the spirit world where similar souls interact with each other. Anyone at any time anywhere here or hereafter, can decide to change their ways and start working their way up to the higher levels by trying to help others.
A nasty person, who doesn't recognize hurting other people is wrong, who won't "get with the program" and start helping other people in order to earn his way to the higher levels in the spirit world, may finds himself, after death, in a lower sphere with other nasty souls doing nasty things to each other, as is reported in hellish near-death experiences. That is not the same as God ordaining a specific punishment for a specific misdeed. It is simply putting similar souls together in the hope they learn from their experiences. The purpose of the suffering that occurs when such souls are allowed to harm each other is to help them in their spiritual development. Sometimes a particularly nasty, aggressive, cruel, arrogant spirit needs to learn humility and why it is better for us to help each other rather than harm each other and that we should act together for mutual benefit rather than act individually in pursuit of selfish goals. This understanding can come from the suffering that people observe happening during hellish near-death experiences. Sometimes it takes great suffering to lose pride, arrogance, and hate, and truly desire assistance, to do what is necessary to let go of egotistical attachment to the belief in individual power and self-sufficiency - to recognize the necessity of, and ask for, assistance from a higher power. Such souls have to recognize that they alone are not all-powerful, they need the good will of others to have a pleasant existence. For some souls, this realization will only be made after great suffering.