Where is God in Our Pain?
JULY 25, 2018
You never get used to it. Starvation, war, suffering, persecution, sickness, pain, death. You never get used to it.
I’ve been doing this for a lot of years. I’ve cleaned up after more suicides, buried more babies, stood by more deathbeds and watched the pain of more people than I can even remember. And each time it’s fresh and horrible.
I remember when my father died of cancer, when my kid brother suddenly died at such a young age, and when my wife Anna and I nursed my dying mother in her final days, doing things for her that a son never thinks he will have to do. I remember the kind people from Hospice and the friends who tried to help, but could do very little.
You don’t get used to it. You never get used to it.
I try to remember that every time I talk to 10 people, 7 of them will have a broken heart. The abused. The afraid. Those who have lost loved ones and listen for footfalls that never come. Those who face horrible physical pain and struggle. Those who have secrets they can’t share. Those who just don’t know how they will make it financially.
I try to remember that every time I talk to 10 people, 7 of them will have a broken heart.
You don’t get used to it. You never get used to it.
The problem is this: If God is all-powerful and, at the same time, good and loving, why is there so much pain and evil? Using solely logic, either God isn’t all-powerful or God isn’t all-good. You can’t have it both ways.
Where is God in our pain? It is okay to ask. In fact, you’re a fool if you don’t have questions, if you don’t wince when thousands die and you don’t agonize when one loved one dies.
Every once in a while, I hear people say that they never asked “Why me?” in the face of their pain. Well, I do. If you don’t, then it didn’t hurt enough.
Job never stopped asking why. And that fact, I suspect, should give us permission to do the same.
You remember Job’s story. Satan comes into the throne room of God. God asks, “Have you seen my servant Job? Isn’t he something? Blameless, upright and turning from evil.” Then Satan says, “Big deal! You’ve given him everything. No wonder he is so good and loves you so much.” Then God gives permission to Satan to test Job, first by taking away everything Job has and then with physical suffering. (Frankly, I don’t want God to ever say that to Satan about me. I want to be just this side of blameless and upright.)
When Job had lost everything, his family and his goods, with sores all over his body, his wife comes and says to him, “Why don’t you just curse God and die?” Then Job says something very important, “‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).
To put all this into context, some other Scripture (in order) from Job: “‘Though he slay me, I will hope in him’” (Job 13:15). “‘Oh, that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!)’” (Job 31:35). “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding’” (Job 38:1-3). “Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes’” (Job 42:1-6). Then the book ends with God’s restoration and blessing of Job.
In response to the problem of evil and pain, the Christian must always start with Jesus and the incarnation. Everything else is a dead end road. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). No other religious or philosophical system deals with the problem of pain in the unique way with which the Christian faith deals with it.
God enters time and space, and suffers with his people.
The infinite God says to us in our finiteness: If you could understand it, I would explain, but you can’t understand it. Instead, I will come to suffer and die, not to keep you from suffering but to suffer as you suffer…not to keep you from your loneliness but to be lonely as you are lonely…not to keep you from asking your questions but to have mine, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus Christ has been there…and sometimes that is enough. He knows how much it hurts.
Where is God in our pain? How could he? Answers in the form of questions…
Why do you care?
Job’s friends cared and they were there.
There is an old story about a man whose son was killed by a man who owned the neighboring farm. The murderer went through some very hard times and his crops were destroyed. The murdered son’s father climbed over the fence and planted new crops in his neighbor’s field. He was asked why he did it and said, “I planted crops in my neighbor’s field that God might exist.” I would rather suggest that he planted crops in his enemy’s field because God does exist.
Not too long ago, I was speaking at a conference and used an illustration about a friend of mine who had turned away from God, gotten into drugs and did some bad things. To my great surprise, as I talked, I began crying. Not only that, I felt such sadness that I had trouble finishing the teaching. When I later prayed, “Lord, what was that about?” he said, “It wasn’t you…It was me.”
In response to suffering, God really can manifest himself and his love through us.
At my brother’s funeral, a man came up to me and shook my hand. I asked him, “Did you know my brother?” He said, “No, but I had to come.” Then he started crying and said, “I had to be here…for you, for your mother and for your brother.”
I don’t know why there is suffering in the world. When I see it, though, something in me is filled with pathos.
When we see suffering, there is something in us that naturally reaches out in compassion. We can’t help it. We are God’s people. God’s people have God’s Spirit within them. And God’s Spirit manifests pathos in the face of great pain. That’s what the cross is all about.
Why do you believe?
“Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15). Job, are you crazy? Are you crazy? Am I crazy too?
Someone has said that if a man from Mars landed on earth, picked up a newspaper and read about those who died in war, those who died in Africa, 9/11, the tsunami and hurricanes like Katrina, and someone then told him about a God of love, he would think we were out of our minds.
If the data suggests that there is no God or, at best, there is a malevolent God, where in the world did we get the idea that there is a God of love? Unless, that is, there really is one.
The thing is we believe some really hard stuff and the very fact that we believe it is an indication that it is true.
I could debate the existence of God…but, the truth is, I believe because I believe because I believe. It is insane that I believe but I do and the very fact that I do believe is an indication that it is true.
God is there. God is love. God can be trusted.
Why are you surprised?
The whole plot of the book of Job is built around a surprise that a good man would suffer so.
We are New Testament Christians though…and we shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation…” (John 16:33). Peter said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage in the third century, wrote to a young friend, “This seems a cheerful world, Donatus, when I view it from this fair garden, under the shadow of these vines. But if I climbed some great mountain and looked out over the wide land, you know very well what I would see…It is really a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world…”
It is and things haven’t changed.
I have some friends whose young son died. They said that the hardest thing they went through was trying to trust God again. They came out on the other side because they came to see that God had loved them and had never lied to them.
Let me ask you two questions: Has God ever loved you and shown it? Has God ever lied to you?
So hold on…until we get Home.
Why do you hope?
The book of Job has a happy ending. And the happy ending is, ultimately, the reality of the Christian faith.
You’re not Home yet. Try and remember that fact. Before you get there, you may have to suffer…so that the world can see the difference.
One of my past students, Bill Chapman, has a daughter. When she was five, she said that heaven will be a place “where you will never throw up…never have to brush your teeth…never get sick…live in a beautiful castle…see lots of pretty flowers…and no one will ever take your toys away.”
The Bible puts it this way: “‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:3-4).
So hold on to that hope. It will keep you going until we get there.
Don’t miss Steve’s article, Dark Night of the Soul, in the new digital Key Life Magazine