The broken hearted usually cry out for an answer to one question — Why God?
Why God do I have cancer?
Why God did our child die?
Why God do the wicked prosper and the godly suffer?
When God remains silent, where do we turn? If we turn to the Psalms, we learn that God’s people throughout history have shared our confusion. “Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hid your face from me?” (Psalm 88:14) Suffering doesn’t make any sense sometimes. Only God knows the reasons. We hope that, one day, all the pieces will fit together like they did for Joseph (Genesis 37-50). But we have no promises that such insight will be given in this life. As happened with Job, God may never give us an explanation.
How, then, shall we live in our painful ignorance?
- Trust God because of Jesus: When we cannot know God’s reason, we can know His character. The unique hope of Christianity is that God has invaded human history and revealed himself to us. We are not left to our vain imaginations. When we see Jesus, we see God. We know God weeps with those who suffer. We see Jesus provide relief and healing. In Jesus, we have proof that God cares and He plans to end all suffering someday. Until then, we see God shares our suffering. Jesus knows pain and loss — personally and extensively. God sympathizes with our suffering, walks with us through it, and promises to never leave us.
- Know Your Limitations: Gottfried Leibniz coined the word theodicy meaning literally a justification of God’s ways to human beings. Tim Keller explains, “A theodicy attempts to reveal the reasons and purposes of God for suffering so listeners will be satisfied that his actions regarding evil and suffering are justified…The various theodicies can account for a great deal of human suffering — each theodicy provides some plausible explanations for some of the evil in the world — but they always fall short, in the end, of explaining all suffering. It is very hard to insist that any of them show convincingly how God would be fully justified in permitting all the evil we see in the world.”¹ Alvin Plantinga makes a distinction between theodicies and a defense. He argues that a theodicy sets a very high bar and warns that, according to the book of Job, it seems both futile and inappropriate to assume that any human mind could comprehend the reasons God may have for any instance of suffering. The Bible seems to warn against constructing a “water tight” argument for why God allows what he allows. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth,so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) As Evelyn Underhill said, “If God were small enough to be understood, he wouldn’t be big enough to be worshipped.” We may never know why God allows certain instances of evil and suffering. But, that does not mean God doesn’t have a good reason which we cannot know.
- Embrace the Possibilities: Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) It’s understandable that Jesus’ followers, who heard his desperate cry, lost hope. Their hero, beaten beyond recognition and hung up to die, was completely forsaken by God. Most of the disciples fled the scene because they were unable to summon enough courage to watch until the bitter end. But, when the resurrected Jesus appears three days later, he conquers their despair by showing them his pierced hands, feet and side. Why did the resurrected Jesus still carry scars? Those scars proved how the suffering and evil that Jesus endured had been transformed. They served as a sign and seal of complete victory. If God can turn the darkest moment in all of human history (the cross of Jesus Christ) into a victory; can you imagine what possibilities exist for your darkest days. How might God transform your deadly scars into something that ushers in new life?
- Imagine God’s Glorious Resolution: The resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. It means death will die, sin has been paid for, evil will be defeated, and eternal life is real. It means that heaven is not merely a consolation prize, but a restoration of all that was lost. We receive new bodies in a new cosmos! Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God…that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption.” (Romans 8:18,19,21)
While we may never know the exact reason we suffer, we already know what we need to know. So we can endure our painful ignorance with resolved hope.
¹ Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Riverhead books, 2013), pp. 89,95.