Where is God when it hurts? Is He absent in suffering?

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Why doesn’t God fix it?

Honestly I haven’t had a bad life.  I was homeschooled (which I consider to be a luxury), grew up with piano lessons, ballet lessons, went to a private university and graduated with very little debt—thanks to many scholarships.  My husband is a wonderful, caring man who works hard and allows me to be a stay at home mom.  I get to take my little girl to the Farmer’s Market and play in the park with her.  We chase butterflies and go down the slides together. All day long she brings me books to read to her, and asks me what color each of her toys are.  I feel extremely privileged to have this kind of lifestyle.

The hardest things I’ve gone through are watching people that I am close to suffer.  And sometimes that feels worse than if you were the one in pain!  For fifteen years I watched my mom endure an unhealthy marriage.  As the oldest child, I wanted to fix it, but I couldn’t. Why didn’t God heal my parents’ marriage?

When I met my sister-in-law she had already been diagnosed with cancer, and as we became best friends I watched her fighting for her life.  Throughout her illness, she trusted that God knew what He was doing, and that He is good.  But why did He not heal her?

And my suegra lives south of the border in a world that resembles more of a war zone with constant shoot-outs and kidnappings.  Poverty is now even more impossible to escape for millions not only in Mexico, but also throughout Central and South America, where subjected to drug cartels they have to live every moment in fear.  Why does God allow such widespread injustice?

Maybe the pain is NOT God’s will

Sometimes its worse to walk into a situation and realize the God you are trusting seems absent.  You realize that if you point to Him as the solution, He may not change the situation.  In fact, He could be blamed for it.  What place do I have to even walk up to a person who is struggling and mention the name “Jesus” to them?

First, I have to pause and consider what role God has in human suffering.  In the Bible I read that God’s will is “good, pleasing, and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)  So that makes me think that everything going on may not be exactly what He wants to see happening.

Yes, I am asserting that just because something  happens, doesn’t mean it was actually God’s will. If I hold to the belief that God is good, but the world is full of evil, then where is God?    Can a good God just give birth to a world and then sit back and watch it deteriorate as if it were a science experiment? Or are His hands tied?

Questioning God’s authority

Sometimes we blame God because He is the ultimate authority. It is easy to point the finger at someone we view as a totalitarian dictator, regulating every detail down to our next breath, our next thought, our next craving. Other times we cry out, “Where are you, God?”  because we feel like He has just left us on our own.  We wonder if maybe He is not so involved after all.  Instead of a heavy-handed ruler, maybe He is more of a hands-off Santa Clause showing up now and then to grant our wishes.  Did He just design us and leave us in motion to see what would happen as the world spins out on its own?

I need to take a closer look at the Bible to see how God is involved in the world today.  I remember a story Jesus told that was supposed to be an analogy for the good and evil that God allows to coexist.  This farmer, in the story, looks out at his field and realizes that someone snuck in and planted weeds among his good seeds.  So the farmer’s servant asks him, “should we pull up the weeds?”  And this is where it gets interesting.  Look at the farmer’s response, “he said, ‘No, because if you pull up the weeds, you might uproot some of the wheat at the same time. Let them both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest-time I will tell the reapers to collect the weeds first and tie them in bundles to be burned, but to gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:29-30, CJB)

Now before you start to think that Im just circling back to the topic of “How can a good God send people to Hell?” Wait.  Take a closer look.  Who the heck planted the weeds?  If God is the farmer in this story, WHY did He not stop that from happening?

 

Weedy fields

I started to research more about wheat farmers battling with weeds.  And it turns out it is a common problem!  No one has to plant weeds for this to happen.  In fact, even farmers who use heavy herbicides still get some amount of invasive grasses competing with their crops. So this is a pretty accurate representation of life.  Even good farmers get weeds.  And by weeds, I’m not just referring to “bad people.”  I think it can mean anything that threatens our root system.  ANYTHING bad that tries to choke us out.  Weeds could be negative thoughts of depression or suicide, they could be the drugs that coax us to escape reality, they could even be crippling illnesses such as cancer, AIDs, and multiple sclerosis.

There are so many bad things out there that fight to keep us from thriving.  As a teacher I encountered students that had been dealt a difficult hand in life.   Sometimes it seems like those negative influences are stronger and take hold more quickly, especially in young kids.  But I have to stop and realize that the bad does not always outweigh the good.  Still, even though God didn’t put the weeds there, He lets them stay.  I don’t know why, but maybe it’s so we will have to put our roots down deeper.

God is not a rapist, forcing himself or his will on other people. Even though His will is good, He let’s us choose.  And sometimes we are victims of the choices other people make.  This doesn’t mean God is out to get us.  It means we live in a world that is not perfect.  Before I start to harden my heart at God out of anger or pain, I have to stop and realize IT’S NOT HIS FAULT.  It’s not God’s fault that my best friend died of cancer.  It’s not God’s fault that my parents marriage crumbled in divorce.  And no, it’s not His fault either that good innocent, people are dying every day under the corruption of drug cartels.

 

So where is God in the middle of the suffering?

It would be great if we could just wear a cross around our neck and automatically be shielded from all the pain in life.  But then we would never find out if God’s love is big enough to get us through this life.  So instead of trying to point the finger and get riled up about who to blame for problems in my life and the world at large, I’ve got to stop and ask:  What IS God’s role amidst all this pain?  Has He abandoned us to cope alone?

We tend to think that being in control means micro-managing every aspect of our lives, or our children’s lives. If we have it all together that means we know exactly how much our next paycheck will be, and our taxes and retirement are all accounted for.  Maybe you are so “with it” that you even know how many rolls of toilet paper you need until the next month’s Amazon shipment hits your doorstep.  Now that’s having all your ducks in a row!  But God’s form of being in control is different.  Obviously He is not like an over-protective parent, removing all the things that could hurt us, or harm us, or trip us up.  But He has not just abandoned us to our own methods either.

I think about my toddler.  The most precious phrase she just learned is “Huh-elp-eee!”  That’s her way of saying, “help me.”  I let her try do more and more things on her own.  But she knows that if she gets stuck or frustrated, I will come over the second she says those words.  And it always makes me smile to hear her say it.  I won’t be able to fix all the problems she faces in life.  Every time she gets hurt, I won’t always be able to take the pain away.  But at least for now, I can be here to help her.  And when she is older and on her own, hopefully she will be able to draw from the love I have given her to know that she CAN find strength to face each challenge.

 

Grabbing God’s hand

Maybe in the same way God wants us to be independent, to be strong, to make our own choices.  But He loves it when we ask Him for help.  Even though He doesn’t physically show up and take the pain away, He puts His Spirit in us to fight.  That’s the same spirit I saw in my sister-in-law.  She never hardened her heart against God, but she didn’t give up either.  And that’s why I feel like she won.  She didn’t let the cancer steal her faith in God.  She knew He is good even though she couldn’t understand why this happened to her.  And that made her a stronger person.

In every challenge we face, we have a choice.  Even though our gut reaction is, “How can I get out of this situation?”  The real question is, will we walk through this weedy path holding God’s hand, or will we shut down and push Him away?  This doesn’t mean that the thorns and the cactus that tear at our flesh were God’s intent for us, but when we find ourselves ensnared by life, HE IS THERE.

What is the most painful experience you have had in life?  Have you considered that God did not want that to happen, but that it happened anyway because this world is so messed up?  What brought you comfort and strength in the middle of these situations?  I would love to hear your story and know about the resilience that brought you through.

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