God and Human Suffering: Part 1
Where was God in Las Vegas?
Part 1 of 3 on God and Human Suffering
We have heard the unbelievable story of craziness and tragedy too many times. This time, it was the horrific and merciless mass shooting in Las Vegas on the night of October 1, 2017 by a lone gunman, motives still unknown. He opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers leaving 58 people dead and 546 injured. The incident is the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in US history.
Whether verbalized or only thought, we ask ourselves, “Where was God in Las Vegas”? How was it fair for the people who lost their lives or for their grieving families
It’s not a new dilemma. “Where is God when it hurts” is the question people have been asking for centuries. It’s in most of our hearts. Let me give you an example as to why I say this. After ten years of being one of the teaching pastors at Northview Community Church in Abbotsford, I gave the congregation (3500+) the opportunity to choose the topic of my last message to them. The overwhelming vote of the people centered around one of the biggest soul questions left unanswered for so many Christians. Their choice for me to speak on was “Why Does God Allow Suffering?”
In the wake of this tragedy in Las Vegas and all the discussion surrounding it, I feel compelled to try to address this hard topic that has weakened men’s hearts and discouraged many a faith
The Types of Trials that We Face in Life
Hearing the hurts and tragedies of countless people in my roles as a pastor, teacher, counselor and travelling speaker over the 40 years of my ministry, I have come realize there are four kinds of life struggles and hardships that people commonly face. Most calamities we have in life fit into these categories
Assaults: When We are Wronged by Others
This is the Las Vegas shooting revisited. Do you remember the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut or Columbine, Colorado? What about the Boston Marathon bombing or the 911 terrorist attacks across the USA? And the latest, the mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Texas on November 5th. Where was God in those? Hard to understand but it is seems easier sometimes to move beyond these atrocities when they are far away – you know – out of sight, out of mind
Close – like a grenade – creates more damage. Just this week about a mile from my office, a much-loved police officer was shot and died related to a car theft chase. Or in November of last year in my hometown of Abbotsford, a 13-year-old student was stabbed in school by an intruder. This events brings back bad memories of the Abbotsford killer from 1995. It gets far harder to sort through suffering when it’s in your world not miles away. My dentist was attacked and robbed at gunpoint on vacation in Hawaii. A fellow student I went to grad school with was shot as spoke behind the pulpit overseas. Why God, why
Then I can see in my mind the faces of 300 plus sexual abuse and rape victims I have counseled. Every one of them in his or her heart wants to know – “Why did God allow this?” Fair question. I work this through with each one as best I can.
When there are intentional even premeditated selfish acts by one human against another with no regard for the victim though it causes such deep hurt, how can God just stand by? Why does He allow such wrongful actions?
Ailments: When We Face Health Challenges
The second type of challenge that humankind faces is related to the state of our bodies – threats to our very life and breath. You are never more grateful for your health than when someone close to you has theirs taken away. Better still, you see things really clearly about what’s important in life when you are flat on your back in a hospital bed. You see, like other tragic situations, the closer to home that sickness shows up – the harder it hits us.
Why should a 10-year-old boy be asked to carry cancer? How is that fair? A newborn is diagnosed with a seriously debilitating birth defect. What a start to life! What sense does it make for God to allow a young mother of two pre-teens to get ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) with its challenging, life-threatening implications? One young father has to have a leg amputated. Another family is involved in a serious car accident and the injuries take months to recover from. Another faces depression. One child gets bit by a tick and get’s lime’s disease, a condition that Health Canada doesn’t yet have a treatment plan for. Our physical trials come in so many variations
Who hasn’t lost a friend or family member to cancer? My wife has had two scares with the “C”-word and I lost my mother to acute leukemia. My daughter had a lump on her back at age 7 that had 3 seasoned medical specialists dumbfounded as to what it was. You think I didn’t ask God “why” with regard to these painful situations within my home?
Whether you or your family is paralyzed by illness, sickness, disease, disorders or injuries, it’s natural to ask the hard questions of our Creator. These ailments of innumerable kinds come on suddenly, seemingly randomly, and largely unexpectedly leaving us with new life complications, extra costs, more appointments that threaten our emotional wellbeing and bringing stress to the family. Is this really part of God’s plan?
Adversities: When Difficult Situations Create Hardship
Life’s got trials. That’s the third source of our adversities. They often take the wind out of our faith sails. Difficult circumstances, as multiple as imaginable, put emotional, physical and financial weights on us and those we love. There are external factors that threaten our stability like a job loss, a house fire or a car accident. You know the toll that a toxic work environment brings. Church fights make a mess of our faith and erode trust in God’s way. A flooded basement, an appliance that conks out, a roof leaking or worse, and even financial bankruptcy all kick the life out of us. Hardships hamper our joy and cause us to doubt in a Divine plan.
Natural disasters alone bring confusion. Wild and raging forest fires that threaten lives and homes impact many. Rogue flooding and other weather related phenomenon wreaks havoc on our well-being. Our insurance companies call these catastrophes of nature “an Act of God” thereby claiming that in no way are they responsible. Obvious implication – He is.
Extended family feuds destroy seasonal gatherings. Within the home, our kids can create heartache – not coming home, running away, failing out of school or tripping out on drugs. A teenage daughter gets pregnant. A son gets hurt skiing. A daughter dates a loser. We rise and fall with each kids roller coaster ride through adolescence. Misfortunes, difficulties, troubles, complications within the home rob us of peace and make us wonder, “where is God in all this?”
Troubles within the marriage wreak havoc on us too. Your wife has an affair. Oh great. Your husband has a sexual addiction and is hooked on porn and more. Beautiful. Maybe worse, YOU have the addiction and just can’t seem to stop. You pray and it’s not going away and it’s killing you let alone destroying those you love. Maybe your mate is treating you worse than he would a cheating mechanic. A dad leaves a mom with the kids. You go through a divorce. Everything is going wrong in your marriage. You are saying inside, “God – I didn’t sign up for this!
We know the feeling of life’s misfortunes within our family. We lost our 2-year-old toddler, Mitch, for over 20 minutes in a mall during the Christmas rush. Three of the six of our immediate family have had reconstructive knee surgery due to sports injuries. One daughter had to quit her college sport due to too many concussions. We’ve had two home break-ins – one while we were home, six vehicles broken into and a car stolen. One daughter was deeply hurt by a self-centered boyfriend. A “friend” ripped me off financially in a car repair job. We lived below the poverty line while going to graduate school in Chicago and received bags of groceries from the US social services. I’ve even lost my job – fired. Sometimes, we like you feel like saying, “Enough is enough, God!”
Accidents: When Inadvertent Incidents Threaten Life
What if you face the ultimate tragedy – a parent’s worst nightmare? The police show up at the door or you get a call from the hospital with “there’s been an accident…” The news is devastating to the heart and debilitating to the faith. Why? Is this horrible event just chance? Is it a twist of fate? Or is it God’s plan? This is the final type of human calamity.
Where was God in the following heartbreaks – all of which have direct connection with our family? A 16-year-old drops dead on the ice during a hockey game after being hit in the chest with a puck. I coached him and spoke at his funeral. A young married man crushed by an auger in a work accident. My son was a pallbearer. A groom on his honeymoon struck by lightening while surfing. I was his professor. An eighteen year old died in a car accident with his drunken friend driving. I did the memorial and counselled the families. A toddler drowned at home. I prayed with the couple as they battled their horror and grief. A 28-year-old man falls 60 feet to his death while cliff climbing. We hugged and wept with his parents – our friends. A father carries the casket of his newborn. I did the graveside. Why? Why? Why?
We have taken direct hits as a family too. We lost an amazing nephew at age 16 in a car crash. A car hit one of our sons while his sisters watched in horror and shock. Our younger daughter was in a car accident. Our older daughter while driving with her husband and kids hit a massive buck on the highway. They immediately scrambled from the disabled car stranded in the middle of the road only to see a semi-track at full speed demolish their van only 15 seconds after they had gotten to the side of the road. Each mishap brought questions…hard questions. Does it matter if you pray for protection?
All these unfortunate incidents happen unexpectedly almost by chance or fate and without a clear cause or reason….that’s why they are called “accidents” I guess. The questions loom large.
Our Common Responses Regarding Trials and Tragedy
Where do our minds usually go? I see three common themes – the responses of deeply wounded hearts.
- Despairing His Presence: The initial thought is “Where are you God?” He must have left us or our families for other more important things. We feel abandoned. We feel alone. We are convinced that this hardship must have slipped off His radar. We think and say in our heart, “Why did you leave me?” God must have left, because I can’t believe that He would have allowed this if He were present. Even Jesus had this feeling: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
- Denying His Care: We can’t get our head wrapped around the idea that this hardship or catastrophe flows out of God’s love. We scream from our heart, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t let this happen”. We conclude in our fog of despair that God doesn’t care. We conclude that a loving God wouldn’t allow this tragedy. He is either callous (doesn’t care) or oblivious to my plight (isn’t aware). Either way – it’s sure not love. You don’t love us if you allow this – a loving God would not let this happen.
- Doubting His Will: How can this horrific atrocity or family tragedy be part of His plan? If this is His will then it makes no sense to me. We shout out, “God, how can anything good come out of this?” Why would He allow this to happen? Is this really God’s will? If it is, I for one don’t want it! Was it really a good plan in the first place? For sure we feel that He is incapable of stepping in or putting a stop to things. He doesn’t love me, He likely is punishing me. What did I do wrong?
The tragedies in life that we or others face can easily leave us questioning God. These doubts are magnified as the hardships get closer to home – literally impacting your family. That seems universal – especially at first. That’s okay. I believe God is big enough to take our questions and our criticisms. Recovery from loss and coping with heartache will involve a journey. Keep walking in the right direction – toward your Creator and not away.
Let me leave you with a thought about what’s coming in part 2 of the God and Human Suffering series. This image has helped me. Simple but true.
As a child under age 7, I remember while playing with my Dinky toy cars on the floor looking up at my mother doing needlepoint. This hobby handcraft was a challenging endeavor where thread in various colours was stitched in an intricate fashion to create a very distinct image. To me though, from my vantage point, looking up, the whole thing was a confusing mess with threads looping all over the back without intention or plan. 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 that true with God too. It’s a matter of perspective. Stay with me for Part 2.
Part 2 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/43028822/©author: bialasiewicz