The question was asked, “If God is so good and loving then why is there so much suffering?” I asked this question to learn the different ways each of us have come to deal with it in our own lives, and how some of us have responded when others asked that question of us. This is the hardest question for everyone whether they are Christian or not, and I don't think there is one blanket answer.
Of the 30 inmates from seven different prisons in California that were asked this question, 6 men shared their thoughts. On Facebook over 300 were asked this question and not one person responded. 36 men were personally emailed the same question and only 1 man shared his thoughts. And, in a recovery group of 12 men, 2 men spoke up on this issue. I find it interesting that among those incarcerated and those actively working their recovery 1 out of 6 had something to share on this topic while most others remained silent on the subject.
It appears that this question is like Kryptonite to most Christians as they either attempt to change the subject or ignore the question all together. Yet, this question is the largest obstacle and objection among those who do not have a relationship with the triune God. This has caused me to wonder how would the Christians that I know answer this most imposing query.
The responses that I did receive were eye-opening. They ranged from trying to give God an alibi and blame it solely on the power of sin in the world which tended to make God appear that He is limited because of the presence of sin to the belief that no suffering ever comes from God, that He is all good and loving totally ignoring verses like Exodus 4:11 and Acts 9:15-16 among others.
Others were ready with theological arguments. The response that I received by email was a;most 2000 words in length with the author still wanting to say more. A note about getting deep into theology, one must remember that the goal is not to win the argument but to be fishers of men. Many arguments have been won with the unsaved person still lost in their sin and hell bound.
I think that the reason for the lack of response is that most Christians haven't been able to answer the question for themselves. They still struggle with that in their own lives. Why is my grandmother dying of cancer? Why did I lose my job? Why are there birth defects? Why doesn't daddy live with us anymore? And the list goes on.
What can we say that is short and to the point while still giving hope and opening up the opportunity for dialogue?
One of the best responses came from one of the men in the recovery group.
“To teach us humility and realize that we need to depend on God.” - William
Another response that I received was from a brother in Uganda. Brian Mpologoma said that he knows that there is suffering as we pass through this world and that God is so good to everyone. He also believed that these are tests and that in the end they will become testimonies. For this brother, suffering is just regular part of life.
However, one of my personal friends at CTF, J.P.F, on B yard wrote,
“I must admit that the “Question of the month” set me back a bit as I struggle with that very question often. Like all of us, I have endured great suffering. My son was killed by a drunk driver, I experienced four deployments in combat, and I have seen many animals abused in my work with the animal shelter. If this pain is a test of my faith, I must admit that I've failed because I posses anger towards God for the pain that I've suffered.”
He goes on to say that he is separated from his family in prison for something that he didn't do. He continues,
“To be 100% honest, my faith in God has been shattered as a result of life's events. Maybe you could explain to me if God is so good and loving then why is there so much suffering because I don't have an answer.”
Somehow quoting Romans 8:28 and saying that God will work things together for good just doesn't seem enough. And how much comfort and compassion is communicated by coming to this brother theologically, and even showing this brother that Joseph was wrongly imprisoned for a sex crime, the false claim of attempted rape of Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39) for almost 13 years may not be comforting to someone in J.P.F.'s situation. So how do you become part of this guys healing.
One thing to remember is that nothing but God's grace can change hearts and whatever we say or do must be done with gentleness and kindness (1 Peter 3:15).
Another point to remember is that this healing and disciplining happens through relationships and community with others in the body of Christ. After understanding this, you need to prayerfully and with humility give your defense for the hope you have. In other words, share how have you come to embrace this reality of a good God and a world of suffering in your own heart and life.
This is how it clicked for me.
As men, we avoid going to the doctor or hospital at any cost. When we get hurt or sick we will exhaust every household remedy and old wives tale until we can't endure the pain or immobility any longer. We will finally drag our sorry butts to the doctor and finally find some relief.
In my life, suffering was Gods way of drawing me to look to Him. As I continued to resist and refuse Him, He applied even more suffering in my life. The day finally came when I just quit fighting. I gave up and surrendered to His Lordship. It did not eliminate my suffering and hardships but they now had purpose.
Nobody in their right mind would lay in a tank and have it filled with live cockroaches. But given the possibility of getting a lot of money at the end, the TV show Fear Factor showed that there is no end to the people that will try because of the potential reward.
The Apostle Paul writes,
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory that is beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
No matter how bleak it looks or how overwhelmed you feel, you don't have to go through this for nothing.
So, if you have not surrendered your life to Christ, why keep fighting against Him? And if you do belong to Him, understand that this is going to make your eternal reward beyond your wildest imagination and part of that is sharing the hope that you have with anyone who will listen.
And to everyone that is going through more stuff then they can handle, Jesus says this to you,
“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
I really want to hear your thoughts on this topic. Two really good books on this subject are "If God is Good" by Randy Alcorn of Eternal Perspective Ministry, and "Where is God when it hurts?" by Philip Yancey. I found both are well worth reading.
You brother in Christ,