Suffering – shootings, hurricanes, pedophiles, famine, disease, war, cancer, death. So much pain. Why God, why?
My friend Grace lives with permanent headaches from the brain tumors continually growing inside her head.
While Becky is raising two rambunctious kids alone after she was widowed eight months pregnant with baby number two.
Todd over in LA is in constant pain. A 7 to 8 on the ten-point pain scale (where 10 is “shoot me now”) is his normal daily pain level.
Such pain and heartache and these are just a few of my friends. A small drop in the world’s ocean of tears. No one needs to be convinced of the depth and breadth of pain and suffering.
With tragedy after tragedy spreading itself across the country, as Time magazine said, “If you could see grief on a map, there would be rings of anguish radiating from whole regions of the U.S. right now …No state would remain untouched by the events of 2017.”
The rest of the world wouldn’t escape either. We only need to turn on the TV or read the paper to know grief, anguish, pain, and heartache are not limited to the US or our own lives.
There is so much pain that it’s hard to know what to do, what to think. We want someone to blame.
In the darkest days of my cancer, still reeling from the death of my sister a couple of months earlier, I screamed at God,
“God, if you’re so loving and wonderful, why is there so much pain and suffering? Why does it hurt so much? Why are you allowing this?”
It turns out I’m not alone.
Do you know what the one question people would ask God if they got a chance?
Lee Strobel, the author of The Case for Christ, did a survey and asked that very question. Unanimously, if we got to ask God any question, it would be why does He allow suffering?
I’m speaking about this very topic at church next Sunday and write around its edges here on the blog, trying to help us find the full life God has for us even when life falls apart, so I guess I should know the answer, right?
Well, I don’t.
I don’t have a neat and tidy answer, gift wrapped with a pretty bow. I can’t give you an answer to ensure you never ask this question again.
I wish I did.
I wish I could eruditely spew my knowledge so we all breathe a sigh of relief and whoop, “Why didn’t anyone tell me? Now I get it. Now I can handle it, deal with my pain, and stop wondering.”
But I can’t.
Here’s what I can do though.
I can tell you what I do know, what the bible tells us, and then ask an even more important question.
Why Does God Allow Suffering?
5 things we know about God and suffering.
- We and the world are broken and fallen.
God is sovereign, yes, but this doesn’t mean He is the direct agent of pain and suffering. He created a perfect world free of suffering (Gen 1:31) which we messed up by rejecting Him. This allowed evil to enter the world and pain to follow hot on its heels. In our suffering it can feel like God is “doing this to us” but really it’s the result of our (or someone’s somewhere) choice and free will, which He’d never take from us. We suffer because the world is broken, and we hurt each other and ourselves.
- God isn’t punishing or testing us.
As I try and tell my teenagers, feeling the painful consequences of our choices is not punishment. If our pain is a direct result of our own or someone else’s decision we shouldn’t blame God or jump to the conclusion He’s punishing us. Not only is this warped logic but we need to remember He’s already set the punishment and Jesus took the full force of it. We stand on the resurrection side of Easter and must view our suffering in the shadow of the cross.
- God brings good out of our pain.
If there’s going to be pain and suffering in the world and in my own personal corner of it, I’m so glad God, in His ridiculously abundant love for His children, uses it for good (Rom 8:28). Deep in the void of grief or pain we rarely see the goodness He is weaving from the ripped and torn parts of our lives, but with time and hindsight we often get a glimpse of the gold He has spun from the dry straw remains of our hearts. If we look close enough, with the eyes of gratitude, we can see some of the rubies in the rubble. (My 7 Tools for Thriving, not just Surviving, can help you do that.)
- This life isn’t all there is.
In our self-centered, here-and-now focused way, that’s amplified by our pain, we forget the best is yet to come. One day there will be no more tears and pain and our present suffering will seem like a speck of dirt compared to the joy God has waiting for us. We want our cake on a plate while we wait but He has pie in the sky when we die too friends. Let’s try and hold onto that as we wade through today’s challenges. Hope is a powerful resource in our toolbox.
- God doesn’t leave us in our pain.
When our world shatters we feel alone in our pain. No one can take it, no one can make it go away, and no one is feeling our despair but us, no matter how much love and support we have. It’s normal to think God has packed His bags and abandoned us. Unable to feel Him, see Him, smell Him or touch Him, it’s easy to believe the lies we tell ourselves that He’s mad and will be back when we’ve got our lives sorted. But that’s nonsense. Utter rubbish. He’s promised to never leave us (Heb 12:5) and He’s a promise keeper, not a promise breaker (Deut 7:9). Not only is God with us but so is His peace, comfort and yes, even joy. He said He came to give us an abundant life but also said there’d be storms. I don’t believe these are separate in time and space, that we must wait for the storms to pass to live life to the full. It’s here for the taking, we just need to dig a little to find it. (Listen to my talk to hear more)
So doesn’t the question now change?
If all these things are true, surely the question becomes “Which way will I turn in my pain, towards God or away?”
Because we each have a choice. We don’t choose to suffer; cancer rampaging through our bones, the death of a dear one, or the washing away of our house and belongings, but we must choose what to do in our pain.
No choice is still a choice I’m afraid.
As we stand eye to eye with our grief and anguish do we turn to God or stay focused on our pain?
To turn or not to turn, that is that is the (real) question.As we stand eye to eye with our grief and anguish do we turn to God or stay focused on our pain? To turn or not to turn, that is that is the (real) question. Click To Tweet
What do you think? Why does God allow suffering?
Where are you turning in your pain?
Let’s wrestle with this question together in the comments.
PS. These are great points to wrestle with but NOT kind, loving things to say to someone who’s going through something painful and tough. If they ask specifically do share some thoughts, but these are not consoling words. When we are hurting we need people willing to just sit in the pain and agree that yes, it sucks and is painful. Need help figuring out what to say? I wrote a post about the crazy things people say which has some great ideas and links.
If you’re going through a really tough season I’m so sorry. I’ve pulled together a Resouce Library of all the tools I’ve made to help us turn towards God and find His abundant life, even when life falls apart.
You can download them all and get access to my resource library by CLICKING HERE
We wrestled with God and suffering over on Thrive on Thursday’s Facebook Live this week. Catch up here if you missed it. If you don’t want to miss out on future videos follow me and I’ll make sure you’re in the loop.
This article by Lee Strobel was a huge help in writing this post Like what you read and want to share it with the world or just your mum? Click the share buttons and spread the LOVE!