God and Human Suffering: Part 2
Where is God When It Hurts?
Part 2 of 3 on God and Human Suffering
Tragedy after tragedy. Hurt upon hurt. Everyday it seems we hear more sad or heartbreaking news. Fill in the blanks with the latest story impacting your world. It seems there’s no end to the assaults, atrocities, adversities, ailments and accidents that we and those around us have to absorb. What makes it worse with today’s technology, is that any and all the world’s terrors and tragedies are in our face in an instant. We can see raw and unfiltered YouTube footage of horrific crimes, natural disasters and a myriad of other human sufferings.
We go on asking – Where is God in all this? Where is God when it hurts?
I find it funny though that often those within society who work the hardest in protest and even demand we take God out of our schools, courts and public institutions find it convenient to blame Him when disaster or calamity happens. They go from downplaying God’s relevance and denying His existence to decrying in outrage and declaring Him ultimately liable. Strange. Can they have it both ways?
Sometimes things get confusing for us too. Human suffering is not an easy topic to work through. It may be helpful though in sorting out our minds and hearts about God and life’s hard times to relook at some of the challenging truths about life’s tragedies, trials and troubles.
One of my dear friends and former co-host of the TV Talk show – Marriage Uncensored with Dave and Christie – once put it this way.
“We are either pre-storm, mid-storm or post-storm.”
Christie’s comment wasn’t displaying a fatalistic, disparaging and fearful paranoia that life is hard, dark and hopeless. If you knew her – you’d know that’s far from this woman’s optimistic and overcoming spirit. No, she was framing life in a realistic perspective that we will all have our share of life’s complexities. Life is filled with storms; there’s one coming, we’re going through one now or we are hopefully recovering and learning from the last one.
Let me revisit the needlepoint imagery from part 1 of the God and Human Suffering series. As a young child, I remember watching my mother do needlepoint. From my vantage point playing on the floor, the whole thing was a confusing mess with threads looping all over the back without intention or plan. Looking up, I saw nothing but complete randomness without purpose or pattern. But to my mother, looking down, her view displayed a clear and profound design where each stitch of thread had a specific part to play in the overall picture. It was a matter of perspective – hers versus mine. I find it equally true with God and our suffering too. It’s a matter of perspective – His versus ours.
Perspective is critical. Perspective helps us cope. Perspective is anchored in the knowledge that God can and will sensitively use even the hardest things we will ever face in life to both shape us and bring something good out of it. He alone can redeem and bring beauty from ashes. We’ll see this fully in Part 3 of the God and Human Suffering series when I present the reasons for our sufferings.
One famous verse, Romans 8:28, can bring either strength and hope or discouragement and despair. We read…
“And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans.”
Can we trust God? Sometimes without thinking through the timing of their delivery, well-meaning people say, “remember, all things work together for good…” Said at the wrong time in the wrong context – one can almost be assured of either causing deep hurt or getting a very negative reaction. We’d be wise to not use this verse as a pat and corrective moralistic answer when people are in their time of greatest hurt. We need a more sensitive handling of God’s truth. It is a matter of perspective and timing both. The truth of the verse still stands.
The following thoughts are designed to help give a corrected perspective regarding human tragedy and suffering in life. And though not intended to be a doctrinal treatise, this outlook might help you in correcting some possibly bad theology.
Suffering is a part of the human condition.
To be alive is to experience pain! Grant it – the extent and the level of the pain varies from person to person and from family to family. And yes, sometimes it doesn’t make sense that some people seem to carry greater loads of suffering. But it’s true; all humans go through trials at some stage of their lives. If nothing else, remember that death is the ultimate statistic since one out of one people die. You can’t avoid it. We will almost all need a doctor at some point of our existence. We can’t pray away all suffering! It’s part of life.
God gives humankind freewill.
We are not robots preprogrammed to love God. This perspective of man having freedom to determine his own destiny is so needed when we are trying to make sense of when people selfishly hurt or terrorize others. Try talking to a rape victim. You see, God gives people choice – that’s free will – to either respond positively to His love and plan for mankind, or to disregard His ideal and design for our lives. Each person has a right to walk away from God’s way. And yes, people do. In an expression of free will, they hurt others. Their selfish, sinful choices that cause such pain and injustice in others is never what God wants. Those horrific assaults and mindless atrocities fully expose what a life without God in control looks like. Their actions confirm the need for all people to make a full surrender to the better God-revealed plan of ‘doing unto others what you’d have them do unto you’. God never wants any of these tragedies to happen. The choice is man’s.
There is more to life than we could ever see or sense.
Most days, we live consciously aware only of our life in the here and now. We are stuck in an earthly frame of reference. That’s pretty normal. When younger, we think we’ll live forever and give no thought of our own non-existence. When friends drop dead in their 50’s or another friend’s spouse dies of cancer in late 40’s, the reality of our own time-frame for life starts to sink in. But let’s not forget that there is more to our existence than this life that we see and experience. Our lives – regardless of our belief systems – don’t end at death. There is life beyond. There is eternal life. We don’t see the whole picture yet. Remember, it’s a matter of perspective.
Christianity brings no immunity to life’s tragedies.
Some people think that being a Christian should somehow make us immune from human suffering. Hello? Read your Bible. Look at Job. Being a person of faith in God doesn’t mean a you live in a incubator of protection like we are wrapped in heavenly ‘bubble wrap’. Not true. God didn’t say he’d take us out of the trials in this life but that he’d walk with us through them. He is with us all the way through – pre-storm, mid-storm or post-storm. Keep a balance, too. Remember, for every Christian family that finds out today that cancer is now impacting the lifespan of one of their precious loved ones, some four or five families without God are finding out the same news.
God is far more concerned about my character than my comfort.
He is less concerned about my happiness and more concerned about both my wholeness and holiness. We’ll address this fully in Part 3 of this series but remember, God values our character development. He wants us to become like Jesus. Isn’t it true that some of our times of greatest spiritual growth are during those hard seasons – those times when we were at the end of ourselves? God has a purpose in suffering. He can redeem any hard situation. He doesn’t waste our pain.
Death is the door into detailed disclosure of God’s divine design.
More often than not, when asked the hard question of “why did this happen” – I am forced to say, “I don’t know.” The truth is, this question may remain unanswered while still in this life. Yet, I believe and see evidence in the Bible, that there is a heavenly needlepoint being created. From His perspective it all makes sense. The ‘whys’ will have a chance to become clear. I rest in 1 Peter 3:2 where it says, “When we see Him, we become like Him for we will see Him [and all of life] as it really is.” We are told we see and know things only in part now but will see and know things fully later (1 Corinthians 13:12). So many things in life will have a chance to fall in place and His purpose known when we are looking down with Him.
And on those incredibly hard events like the Las Vegas shooting where one man in his free will caused such harm, remember it was an act where God didn’t want one bullet to fire. Yet, He promises to be with people through these difficult tragedies to comfort and strengthen.
It is my hope that you may have corrected a few shaky perspectives regarding life’s tragedies. I believe it sets us up for the final discussion in Part 3 – Why does God Allow Suffering on Our Lives? I will share with you eight reasons or explanations as to what may be behind the hardest times in life.
Part 1 on God & Human Suffering, click HERE
Part 3 on God & Suffering, click HERE.
© Dr. Dave Currie – Nov 2017
Feature image used with permission by 123rf.com/33132260/©author: Phanuwat Nandee