None of us understands the reason for everything we see or experience. Pain, suffering, and the deaths of apparently good or innocent people is a potent challenge to faith. It must be dealt with somehow, or we begin to doubt God, begin not to trust Him, and begin to drift away from Him.
There are a couple of encouraging verses for us when we see injustice or pain:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:5-6)
This is true, I can tell you from experience. But I can also tell you from experience that sometimes the knowledge comes slowly, sometimes only after years of waiting and studying the Bible.
“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened!” Luke 11:9-10)
We are encouraged to ask and keep on asking about matters that are important to us. And we have important promises that specifically apply to this question of injustice and pain:
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied!” (Matthew 5: 4 and 6)
Those verses tell us that God is not indifferent to our agony of spirit. Jesus is telling us in those words that a day will come when there will be no more pain or injustice, and all our doubts and questions will be dealt with.When our reaction is indignation and resentment against God, because He could have prevented some tragedy, it helps to hang onto those promises, consider what we already know about God’s character and integrity, and wait, trust, and seek an answer until we get an answer that is helpful. Not forgetting that no one will get every question answered in this life.Life isn’t simple. No life is lived alone. All lives are closely entangled with many other lives, having direct and indirect influences on those other lives. We usually have no idea what the reasons are that God lets children – or adults – suffer horribly or die. We do know that He let His Son suffer terribly and die alone on the cross, and that’s a starting point for dealing with tragedy in our lives or others’ lives:
A pastor once offered this question as an explanation:
Suppose a railroad employee sees a train coming, and he’s supposed to hit the switch that will turn it onto the safe track it’s supposed to take. But as he reaches for the switch, he sees that his son was playing on that track and has gotten his foot stuck somehow. There’s only time for the employee to save his son or turn the train onto its safe track – the track his son is caught on. If he doesn’t switch the train to the safe track, it will crash, and many people will die or be injured. Should he ignore them and save his son? Or save them and let his son be killed?That’s the choice God made 2,000 years ago, when He let His Son die to save us.
That’s the kind of choice God has to make every day, every hour. He chooses, and someone dies, someone suffers horribly. And, maybe unseen by us, someone else lives, someone else does not suffer, or some powerful good is born out of the tragedy. Unlike us, God makes His choices based on infinite knowledge of people and the future. He has a reason for every decision He makes, and while it’s hard to believe at times, He makes every choice from love, a love that is far more pure and powerful than human love.Making decisions that hurt people, based on love, means that God is not immune from pain Himself. The most obvious example is King Jesus, down on His face in the Garden of Gethsemane, begging to be spared the ordeal of crucifixion. And God the Father was silent, and Jesus went to the cross.
Parents, how would you feel if your child was begging you to save them from some terrible agony? God the Father is called “Father” to tell us that He also feels emotions, He also loves and grieves for His Son just as we do for our loved ones.But God cares for the rest of humanity too:“And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why do you want to die, house of Israel?’ ” (Ezekiel 33:10-11)
Just before the Last Supper, Jesus, after delivering strong warnings of impending disaster to the scribes and Pharisees, gave a poignant farewell to Jerusalem:“Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ” (Matthew 23:37-39 and Luke 13:34)
Jesus, Who is God as well as human, grieved deeply over the wrath that the leaders of Jerusalem had called down on themselves and their nation by their rejection of Him. God was not indifferent to the disaster He was about to allow to destroy the nation of Israel, but He had to do so in order for the Gentiles to be able to represent Him and take the message of salvation by faith in Jesus to the rest of the world.
This next Scripture comes from the story of Jonah. Long story short: God had ordered the prophet Jonah to go to the nearby Gentile city of Nineveh and warn them that disastrous judgment was about to fall because of their wickedness. Jonah refused, God enlisted the aid of “a large fish” to persuade him, and Jonah saw the light. He finally delivered the warning. Nineveh, from the king on down, immediately repented sincerely, and God diverted the disaster. Jonah was angry, because he knew that the Ninevites were a danger to the Jews. Jonah went into a world-record pout, and then this conversation with God occurred:
“And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many cattle?” Jonah 4:10-11)
God cared about the Ninevites, even their animals, even though they were a truly wicked people. He knew the danger the Ninevites posed to Israel, but He still cared about the Ninevites.
We could take the attitude that God could make everything be alright, since His power is unlimited. But that would require the death of free will. We’d all have to be made into robots. Sock puppets. Maybe that seems preferable, especially when we are in emotional agony. But I don’t think it would be happy. It would just be existence. Not even real life, I think. For some reason, it seems to me, free will is essential to happiness, and when free will does not choose God’s way, disaster and death are inevitable.
But God has promised that in spite of the agonies we suffer now, in spite of what seems senseless, cruel, inconsolable loss, the day will come when those who trust Him will leave sorrow behind forever, and live in eternal happiness.
Will you trust Him? Trust the One Who sent His Son to die in agony for you? He has proved His love for you and His good plans for you beyond any shadow of doubt, on a cross at The Place Of The Skull two thousand years ago.