I believe in a God whose love is so great that he is love. I also believe in a God who is so powerful that he is all-powerful. But sometimes my belief in such a God causes me to struggle.
When I see sad and desperate situations, compassion compels me to pray and to help. This is where I am sometimes confused by faith. Some struggle because they doubt; I sometimes struggle because I believe.
My faith does not waver: God can do something to help those who suffer. But when I cannot do anything to alleviate the pain and suffering, and neither do my prayers alleviate their suffering, I struggle to understand why God does not seem to answer the cries of my heart for those in need.
Worn Out from Calling on God
I realize that I am not the first to be conflicted over faith and suffering. I resonate with the psalmist who asked, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:1-2)
Things were so intense for the psalmist that he said, “I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. . . . Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble. Come near and rescue me” (Psalm 69:3, 16-18).
Many before me have struggled with an apparent uneven distribution of pain and suffering. Or with that age-old question of why righteous people suffer and the wicked appear to enjoy health and prosperity.
But on a much deeper level, I hold strong reservations about anyone being righteous enough to claim a good life from God. I believe in the verdict “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). I believe the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Death is such a horrible word and an even more horrible experience. But it is the just verdict pronounced over sinners like me. We are slowly experiencing it every day of our lives.
No Easy Answers
There is a sad back-story to our suffering and a glorious end-story for those whom God loves. Yes, pain in this life can be hard to reconcile with God’s love and power. The agonizing question I face is why God chooses to allow pain and suffering when I am praying so much for its relief. Why doesn’t he answer my prayers for those who suffer? I cannot endure superficial answers to this real-life question.
Skeptics offer answers ranging from atheism to deism. But these alternatives only lead to deeper levels of despair. They also force a degree of thoughtless dishonesty I cannot permit. If I must choose between “no God” or “a God who means well but either cannot or will not do much to help” I am left with even more perplexing questions on far more levels than human suffering.
I also know other weighty questions deserve reflection.
1. Why does God choose to love and to forgive rebellious creatures at all?
2. The back-story of human sin explains the source of suffering better than any other explanation (and there are not many on offer). So why would I think we deserve to have it better?
3. Why do I feel God should intervene? And what would intervention look like on a world scale?
4. If I want God’s love and power to converge to rescue us from our misery, isn’t this exactly what happened when he entered our world of suffering in the person of Christ and suffered for us (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)?
5. Finally, why does God provide such a glorious end-story for forgiven sinners?
I admit that I have become accustomed to—and even impatient for—solutions to pain and suffering. Advancements in science and medicine have strengthened my expectations. Is it possible that I am conditioned to hold an unrealistic expectation for health and gregariousness? Do I have a place for sadness and suffering in normal life?
Suffering and Sustaining Grace
These are not theoretical questions. When my father came down with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis in his mid-30s, I learned to carry a prayerful burden for a suffering loved one. It profoundly shaped my life and, gratefully, did not lead to bitterness. I learned so much about God’s sustaining grace and his redeeming power to bring good out of pain and suffering. I continued to learn when I entered pastoral ministry and began caring for many others.
These Scriptures carry me in times of struggle:
- 2 Corinthians 1:3-11; 4:16-18; 12:1-10
- James 1:2-9
- Psalm 62:8
- Proverbs 3:5-6
I will continue to pray and trust that suffering has a purpose even when I cannot see it. I will pray with one eye on the back-story and by faith with hope-filled longing for the glorious end-story for forgiven sinners like me (Colossians 3:1-4). I groan inwardly as I wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).
When God’s loved ones enter the place he has prepared for them, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:1-6; John 14:1-3). I long more and more for this day, for this place.