Why “Why?” is Okay: Pain, Suffering, and Tragedy Observed
When we look at the book of Job in Scripture many details rise to the top. Among other things, it details aspects of life we all have come to expect: that pain and suffering is an unfortunate part of the human experience and that life can be full of pain and despair. And while the Book of Job does not give easy, clear answers to these “problems” of life, it does show the problem as it really is and does not attempt to sugarcoat it at all. On the contrary, it reports an honest record of Job’s doubts and pain, removes some common ideas and ill-conceived notions about suffering, and then – thankfully – gives the reader (us) on this side of history the right and proper attitude about pain and suffering.
What we see, in reading this account, that Job did not know was that the all-powerful God was going to put Job through a “test” (if you will). We have the view of God and Satan in an interchange: “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”. Satan responded, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions and increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” God replies, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” Then, and only then, did Satan depart from the Lord to begin his destruction.
We will return to Job.
If I am asked the question, today, “Why did God allow (enter your reason)” the answer to that question, truthfully and honestly, is “I do not know”. And that answer is okay.
You see, people going through a tragedy do not need a theological treatise on their circumstance. An intellectual response will almost always come off as trite and deficient. What they need more desperately than anything is the real and comforting love from you as well as the presence of Jesus Christ in their lives. If you are there with them and for them, there may very well come a time where things may need to be pointed out to illuminate Biblical truths; however, what I would like to do is equip you with those Biblical truths that can be presented in a way without giving a Theological treatise.
That is the first question that comes during suffering and tragedy. It comes first because it is a very adequate question to be asked. “Why did God allow ‘this’ to happen?” Why didn’t God do ‘this’ instead?”
1) GOD DID NOT CREATE EVIL
God is the creator of all things, however, you will not find anywhere in scripture where God created the word and acts known as “evil” (natural as well as moral evil).
Genesis 1:31 says “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good…”
Our God who created ex nihilo (out of nothing) has existed eternally in a perfect union with the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit. So, as He created, it was in perfect love.
It will sound odd on its face, but a perfect depiction of God’s love is that there is actually a Hell. Huh? God loves us so much that He created free beings, fully capable of either accepting His love or denying it and not even God would force us into His presence against our will. If we do not choose him in the here and now, He would not dare force us to choose Him and be with Him for all eternity.
God did not create robots. We were created perfectly in His image, fully free to choose and love who we wish.
With that ability to freely choose, it did not take long for us to choose the pleasures of this world.
I am a Father. Before having children, I knew that there was a great possibility that any child of mine may at some point disappoint me, rebel against me, or cause me heartache or pain – but guess what? I still went through with it. Because even with that consideration, with children there is an even greater potential for deep love, joy, and tremendous meaning!
2) GOD CAN USE PAIN, SUFFERING, AND TRAGEDY TO ACCOMPLISH GOOD
Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”
We have to read this verse carefully. This is not an omission that God created evil, pain, and suffering, but rather a promise to cause good…for those who love him.
We must keep in mind that in our life we are not reading the story of Job. We do not have the view of God at our disposal to be able to answer, the question of “Why”? What God provides for us in the book of Job is that, yes, there is another view: a perfect view of a perfect plan.
There are plenty of examples of this in scripture and regardless of your religious view, the most prime example of this was Christ’s death on the cross. This was not a fanciful tell of God coming to earth to reign and correct all the failures of His freely created beings, to overthrow the government (as was expected during this time of the coming Messiah) as you may expect in a fairy tell. Rather, He comes to earth to be hung from a cross and die a most brutal of death in order to then be able to stand in our place, take our sins, so that we, then, may be able to, one day, reign with Him forever. He used pain, suffering, torment, and evil and turned that into the best thing imaginable: Salvation.
Let’s say for example that you on trial for your life. In this trial we are going to use the Ten Commandments to judge you and commit your sentence.
1) Have you ever had another god before Him (the God of the Bible)? Meaning have you ever put something else before the God of the Bible? Work, relationship, sex, alcohol, sports, etc. Did you pass that one? No? Let’s keep trying.
2) Have you ever made an idol? Meaning have you ever idolized anything before and over the God of the Bible? Work, relationship, gadgets, etc… Did you pass that one? No? Let’s try and find one.
3) You shall not murder. YES! Finally…right? Except that Jesus qualified this for us by teaching us that even if you have hate in your heart toward another person that you have committed murder against them. Dang it.
4) You shall not commit adultery. BAM! Except that Jesus also qualified this one as well by teaching us that if you have ever lusted after another person or thing that you have committed adultery in your heart.
Do we need to continue? Four out of four and we have failed them all. Let me make this simple for you, all 10 we all failed. Can you ask for forgiveness? Yep! However, let us not forget that a sin against an eternal, holy, perfect being like God never goes away. A bite of an apple had such the ripple effect that we all now have a sin nature and even the earth rebels against God. How much more then is a sin of murder, lying, stealing, adultery against a Holy God? It is massive.
The good news is that when the judgement is about to be handed down (as it should) we have the person of Jesus Christ come down the aisle, stand before us and the Holy Father and say “This one is with me”.
It isn’t that our sins go away, it is that our sins have been covered by the blood of a perfect savior. That “good” came from an unthinkable “evil”.
3) SUFFERING WILL END
The story does not end there. The Bible also teaches that there will come a day when all suffering, all pain, all tragedy, all tears will be wiped away for all of eternity. Then, evil will be judged and put away.
Because God hasn’t put away evil YET, it does not follow that God will not ever put evil away. To successfully read and understand any book you may pick up, it means you have to read it all the way through. That is logical, right? As we traverse through the fall of Genesis in chapter 3 and into all the other books of the Bible; eventually we get to the last two books of the Bible. The last two books of the Bible look very similar to the first two books of the Bible. The in-between is how we get there.
4) WHAT A VIEW IT WILL BE
When evil is eradicated from the human race and we return to our designed state, we then will have such an amazing view of all the prior things that have taken place in our lives.
C.S Lewis in “The Great Divorce” said it well: “..They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”
5) A CHOICE
Ultimately, we have the choice. To take pain, suffering, and tragedy and be angry and bitter towards God or turn and run into His loving and comforting arms.
BACK TO JOB:
You see, when Job lost his family, his health, his property, his everything he rightly asked the question of “Why?” His struggle was real, it was palpable, and his search for answers was gut-wrenching. As I said previously, a good reading of a book goes to the end. If we stopped reading Job in the middle, we may shut it and be discouraged. However, at the end, God restored Job’s health, he doubled his original wealth, and gave him 7 new sons and 3 new daughters. Many may read this and use it as a wealth-and-health, name-it-claim-it scheme (Trust me, I’ve heard it). But that is not the point of the story. In this story we have a view of God and His vision is perfect.
We will not always have the answer to life’s tragedies. It is okay to ask the question of “Why”. It is okay to grieve. Our job as Christian’s is to comfort those going through tough times and point them in the direction of the only one who can sustain us through these times. Be there: supply your shoulder to cry on; be attentive and listen actively to their strife; comfort them, and most important – Love them. What Job teaches, is that we serve a personal God who is intimately aware of each person and his or her needs and concerns. His plan is not just on a cosmic level: rather, He also has a plan on the individual level for everyone and is wisely, justly, and lovingly pursuing each of us.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”