Sometimes life is just plain hard. Heart-wrenching, gut-twisting, want-to-stay-in-bed-and-ignore-the-world difficult. But staying in bed is rarely an option. Okay, so it’s an option, just usually not a good one.
What do you do when life throws these punches your way? Let’s be honest here for a moment and not give the church answer that might have spring to mind. Pray? Of course. Trust God? Absolutely. Keep going. I’m looking for honest.
Cry a bit? Completely appropriate in many situations. Doubt God, that He cares or is going to show up? That’s the honesty I’m looking for. Throw a temper tantrum, yell at heaven? I’ve done that a time or two—once while walking outside during a fantastic thunderstorm that made at least one friend nervous about my health and sanity.
Maybe the question we need to ask is this: What does God really want from us when these times hit our lives?
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF PAIN AND SUFFERING
Pain demands the attention that is crucial to my recovery. ~Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts
How can God be good and allow pain or tragedy in my life? This is an eternal question that many books and blog posts strive to answer. But really, the answer to that question depends on your answer to two more basic questions:
- Is God good?
- Is God in control?
We humans struggle with the concept of a God who is both good and in control and yet allows tragedy. What is going on here? Is there more than perhaps we’ve considered before?
Often, when we think of God’s goodness, we tend to simplify two attributes of His character, which causes us great confusion when we discuss it.
First, God is Just
Most of us like justice. We want the person who wronged us to pay, even if the crime is somewhat removed from directly affecting our lives. For example, I want to person who shot a family I don’t know to go to jail because if he can shoot them without consequence, he could shoot me or my children. And that’s a problem!
Thankfully, the Bible tells us God is just. Isaiah 30:18 says, “The Lord is a God of justice,” and Job 34:12 says, “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice.”
Our problem, though, isn’t with God’s justice for us but that His goodness demands justice from us. We don’t mind the criminal down the street getting his punishment, but we don’t like to admit that those same criminal desires live within us, within our hearts.
Second, God is Holy
Because God is holy, He is most concerned with our holiness. That sounds good when we’re at church on Sunday dressed in our best with smiles on our faces surrounded by other Christians who are striving to love us as God loves them.
But on Monday night? When it’s been a tough day and big concerns plop themselves down nice and comfortably on our living room couch . . .
God is so concerned with our holiness that whatever He has to do or allow to develop that holy character in us is precisely what He is going to do or allow. Even though that thing may not be good in and of itself, it pushes us to seek God and allows God to act in us and through us for good.
Ouch. Yuck. Sigh . . .
Even though that thing circulating in your heart right now is probably not good, you seeking God for relief, for answers, is good. And when we get to that place—when we seek God and His righteousness first—we allow God to act in us and through us for good.
MARY AND MARTHA’S QUESTION
In the eleventh chapter of his Gospel, the apostle John lets us walk through a very intense scene. Jesus gest word that a dear friend, Lazarus, is ill. He knows Lazarus will die, yet on His Father’s instructions, He waits for that death to occur before He makes His way to Lazarus’s sisters.
Then John records the heart-breaking cry of everyone touched by intense pain.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (verse 21).
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (verse 32).
Can you relate? Haven’t you had moments when you’ve cried out, “Why didn’t you stop this from happening?”
1. I don’t know.
In the face of Job’s intense suffering, he lobs many questions like that at God. Instead of answering him directly, God throws a few curveballs. He asks:
- “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?”
- “Have you given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?”
- “Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are?'”
I can’t even tell you why bananas are yellow or if every single snowflake really is different. I don’t know why God is allowing that pain and suffering in your life.
2. I still love God.
Even though I don’t understand Him and I can’t predict His plan. I don’t know why the good perish along with the evil or why it seems sometimes that the evil prosper while the righteous suffer.
But I trust God’s goodness, His justice, and His mercy. And, oddly enough, it’s those moments of suffering that have deepened my trust in and love for Him.
3. I was cheated? No!
No matter what has happened to me before or what will happen in the future, I don’t believe I was cheated out of anything. Sure, maybe my childhood wasn’t protected like others or my marriage has rougher moments than some.
But, God’s plan is good. His plan . . . is . . . good. What was the purpose of pain and suffering in my life? I don’t fully know, but I do know that God’s good plan included those moments I wouldn’t have chosen for myself.
In God’s hands intended evil becomes eventual good. ~Max Lucado, You’ll Get Through This
Max Lucado asks a poignant question in his book You’ll Get Through This. He writes, “Is God good only when the outcome is?”
Most of us don’t like to consider that because we’d rather our life just be good so we can boldly declare that God is good. But, that’s not the way God works because that’s not the path to holiness. It’s not the way to dependence on God. Appreciation of God.
First Timothy 6:15 calls God the blessed and only Ruler. God tells us in Isaiah 55:9 that His ways are higher than our ways, and Romans 11:33 says, “How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” In light of all of this, Mr. Lucado asks another great question in his book that we should strive to hold tightly:
We can’t always see what God is doing, but can’t we assume he is up to something good?
Speaking of suffering, we’re just two weeks away from the release of my newest fiction book that addresses this topic!
More Than Meets the Eye
Deployment changed him, and she doesn’t know if she can live with it.
After her husband returns from a deployment to Saudi Arabia, Lori Braxton begins noticing little differences in his behavior. He’s withdrawn, moody, and can’t sleep. Could it be the stress of military life after the 9/11 attack on New York? Maybe it’s the new assignment in Montana or the financial problems he ignores. Perhaps it’s forces she can’t see and doesn’t know how to fight, or maybe she’s a bigger part of the problem than she wants to admit
What is God doing? Is He even paying attention?
Lori tries to attend church and do what God asks, but the truth is she doesn’t really hear Him speak. Between money strains, pregnancy hormones, and young ones underfoot, Lori spirals into depression.
What good could God possibly bring from the mess surrounding her?