I’ve been meaning to write this article for quite some time now, even before I woke up to the news today of another mass shooting in the United States, this time in Orlando, Florida. It was yet again another reminder that evil, pain and suffering exist and happen not only in “other” parts of the world, but even right here at home. No one, and no place is exempt, even though some places and some people certainly endure or go through greater degree’s of tragedy, suffering and pain.
The last several months, our staff at ServeNow has been praying fervently for the niece of one of our staff members who is only 16 and in incredible pain that doctors cannot find a solution for. Only for a few hours at a time does she have some relief, even though the relief she has would be unbearable for the majority of us.
Our president’s daughter, the first president of ServeNow, last year went through chemotherapy for cancer and it has been a trying time for her and her family. This year, we found out that one of our board members sons, who is married with kids, has leukemia. When I pastored a church, I officiated thirty funerals in those six years. One included an 11 year boy in our church who was diagnosed with cancer and died about six months later. Another couple in our church had a son with a rare condition (trisomy 18) who wasn’t supposed to live at all, but did survive for 57 minutes before slipping into eternity. He was a fighter.
In all of these cases and more, there were those of us who prayed with intensity for healing. Some were healed. I’ve witnessed people being healed and believe God does work miracles in people’s lives still today. Several friends of mine were told they would never be able to have kids…but they have! My grandmother was healed of cancer after our family prayed with her and for her.
Others however were not healed.
Our family now lives in Colorado Springs. Colorado has witnessed it’s share of tragic shootings, from Columbine to Aurora to recently a shooting at a planned parenthood near us. I grew up in Lancaster county, PA and only about 7 minutes up the road from my house was a little town called Nickle Mines that no one had heard of, until a horrific Amish school house shooting in which several Amish children were shot and killed. My first real friend with whom I shared a fellowship in the Lord with was killed in a motorcycle accident at the age of just 18.
I could go on and on, but I really don’t need too. We all have experienced pain, suffering and tragedy in one shape or form. And the big question that is often wrestled with is that one three letter word…why? Even more than that a wrestling with God often occurs expressed in this way: “If there is a good, loving and powerful God how and why can he allow such pain and suffering in the world?” For some, this is the question that causes them to stumble and turn away from God. Many become bitter and keep a distance from God or the things of God because of what they have been through or witnessed.
This wrestling is nothing new. In fact it is the big question of the oldest written book in the bible…the book of Job. Job’s deepest fears actually came to pass. In one day tragedy struck resulting in the death of all his children, the loss of his business (and wealth) and eventually even his health. He and his wife were obviously utterly devastated. Job’s wife in fact became bitter with God, even encouraging Job to do the same…to curse God and die. Job however, choose to wrestle with and through the suffering and pain. Over and over again he asked the “why” question desperately wanting God to give him the reason for it all.
The interesting and important thing to note is that God never did.
Even when God appeared to Job and spoke to and with Job, you will not find a single reason given for why God allowed this to happen in his life. In fact, God basically simply reminds Job that he is God and Job is not. (See Job 38-40).
Job does eventually experience restoration, but never an answer…
The bible does however, give the theological reasons for why there is pain and suffering in the world. We live in a fallen world, because of sin and disobedience. This isn’t because God created an imperfect world, but because we have rebelled against him and because of that even nature itself has been corrupted and thrown off course, resulting in what we often refer to as “natural disasters.” We have rejected God and this has resulted in judgment as well as the opening of the door for evil and that which is not good to corrupt that which is good. And the bible speaks of the Evil One, the great enemy of the human race, Satan or the devil. He hates human beings with a vengeance, because he hates God with a vengeance and we have been made in his image and are the apple of his eyes. Since Satan couldn’t defeat and dethrone God, he goes after that which is most precious to God: human beings. Working through disobedient, fallen human beings, he twists the truth and warps the minds and hearts of sinful man, leading to the violence, rage and senseless slaughter we see time and time again. And lastly (though not the last “reason” that could be discussed), man is not inherently good. We are born in sin and with sin. We need redeemed, born-again, transformed and given a new nature (See John 3:1-21, 1 Corinthians 5:17-21).
But this is not the focus of this article or what sufficiently answers the “why” question when it becomes very personal and painful. The above are all true, but consider this: Jesus himself when hanging on the cross in anguish asked the “why” question: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” (Mark 15:34). Think about the significance of this. Here was the very Son of God, the Perfect, Holy, Righteous One, who came from God and is himself God in human flesh asking the why question in the midst of enduring excruciating pain.
His question was not answered either. There was only silence from heaven.
I feel like in regard to any question or objection people have regarding the Christian faith there is an adequate, logical, satisfying answer and reason that can be provided…except in this area. And yet, it is that very fact alone that once again, in my opinion, provides the most satisfying response that demonstrates the thoughtfulness and depth of the Christian faith.
Let me explain. Let’s consider the example of Jesus on the cross. Can you imagine if God the Father would have answered his Son with simply a theological answer? “Ahem…Son, remember, this is what you have come for, to die for the sins of the world.” You think Jesus in fact didn’t know why this was happening to him? Do you think he forgot?
The answer did not change or ease the reality of his pain one iota. It would have been insensitive in fact for an answer to be provided. The “why” question is not really an expression of a desire for a “reason”…it’s simply the anguished cry of the heart of someone suffering something that they wish they weren’t going through.
Let me put it another way. When my best friend was killed, there was much good that came out that tragedy, just as God’s word promises (Romans 8:28). People’s lives were impacted and changed for eternity. God used his story around the world to bring others to salvation or re-commitment. Yet, those “reasons” or the “good” that came from it…did not bring him back from the dead. It did not change the reality that he was gone. It did not replace the fact that a mother and father had lost their son. It did not remove the pain and sense of loss.
The one thing needed in the midst of suffering, pain, loss and sorrow is not “reasons” or even “answers” it is rather the comfort that only God can provide…and yet that comfort is in the midst of the pain, not in place of the pain. This side of heaven we will not always “know why” nor would the “why” make the pain go away anyway. But this we can be assured of: God is present in our pain and one day will make all things right and wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:1-5). This is in fact the culmination of the hope of the Gospel. Suffering, tragedy, sorrow, pain and death remind us that the world we live in is fallen and it directs our attention away from the “here and now” and to the “then and there” from the “earthly” to the “eternal.” Paradise has been lost, but one day it will be restored!
The one thing Christianity offers is not “easy, cliche, trite answers” but a Savior who has entered our world, suffered as we suffer…even suffered for us in our place and is able to perfectly understand, relate and comfort us in our sorrow. He is a God that is not distant, but is in fact, “close to the brokenhearted.” (Psalm 34:18). He is not a God that is “far away” but rather is known as: “Immanuel, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23). And that is where the only sense of true peace, hope and comfort can be found…in the reality of his presence with us as we grieve. He see’s. He knows. He cares. He walks with us, weeps us with and is there for us in the midst of our pain.