Questions about suffering: Do you really believe that God is good?

whatever my lotI heard good news recently. The good news followed bad news, but regardless of what came before it, it was welcome news.

A friend has cancer (no, that’s not the “good” part). It had been in remission, and then it came back (still not to the good part yet). So the doctors had a treatment plan, and (here it comes) the various counts came back in a very encouraging way, suggesting that the transplant had excellent chances of success. And I thought, “God is so good!”

And He is. Of course He is. But I caught myself and asked this question: Would I have said the same if the test results had not been so encouraging? Did I say that God is good when the first cancer news came, or when my friend learned that the remission was not so permanent as we hoped?

Because that’s the test. Your real view of God is revealed, I believe, when the train comes off the tracks. It’s easy to say nice things about our Creator when everything is smooth and easy. The truth is revealed in what you say about God when the cut is still bleeding.

No matter who has cancer, and no matter how treatable it is, God still made me. He still loves me. I still reject Him on a practically continual basis, and yet He still sent His son to die for me. When we were enemies, He reached down in an unimaginable way and gave me something I did not deserve: a way to relate with Him that depends only on faith and not on works.

And that, people, is good. A goodness that remains good even if the path does not seem so easy. It is a goodness that remains good even if the doctor says that there is nothing more that she can do.

The question is, do I believe it? Do I say that God is good even when the news seems bad on the surface? Or do I only say that God is good when He does things that I agree with?

I want to be like Job. When Job had lost everything and had no clue what God was up to, Job said, “Though He slay me, still will I hope in Him.” (Job 13:15). That’s faith, folks. That’s a faith in the Father that does not depend on how good you feel at the moment.

I want to be like Horatio Spafford. He wrote the hymn we all love: It is well with my soul. He wrote it in the wake of the death of his four daughters, and Spafford’s words are what we all should be able to say:

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Whatever my lot. In good times or bad. God is good, either way.

The question is, do I believe that? Do I believe it and live by it in such a way that someone tossed around by those sea billows will say: What is up with you?

And then I can say, “Let me tell you about a Savior whose goodness does not depend upon your circumstances. Who is good even when the times are not.”

That’s who I want to be.

Questions about suffering: Why didn’t God create a world without pain?

sometimes

I was recently asked, “When God made the world, why didn’t he make one where people wouldn’t die or get hurt?”

This is an interesting question, and one we are all hard-wired to ask (as we’ll talk about below). It has to be answered on two levels, and the first is kind of simple.

Why didn’t God create a world without pain?

Well, he did.

In the beginning, when Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, there was no death. They had perfect communion with God, because they had not sinned. But when they gave in to the serpent’s temptation and sin entered the world, everything changed. So he kicked mankind out of the perfect garden and cursed humanity, so that work and childbirth would be marked by pain, and that at the end of his days, man would return to the dust (die). (Gen. 3).

I think one reason suffering bothers us so much is that deep in our souls, we remember Eden. “God set Eternity in the Heart of Man.” (Eccl. 3:11). We know within that the world is broken, that things are not the way they are supposed to be. It’s no wonder that we look at the death and pain around us and wonder, Why? Clearly, though, we aren’t in Eden anymore.

So let’s change the question a little and get to some of the deeper issues: Why did God not stop Adam and Eve from sinning, so that sin would never enter the world, and people could have stayed in Eden?

Because we are created in his image. He gave us brains and individuality. He allows us to make choices. We’d hardly even be alive if God forced every thought and decision we made (although he is sovereign and certainly could do that). God gives us freedom to love him, and freedom not to, and we all – every single one of us – choose at times not to love him.

Now let’s change it a little more: Why didn’t God just forgive Adam and Eve and let them stay in the garden? Why does there have to be punishment for sin?

Because of who God is. God, who is perfectly holy, cannot tolerate sin. Adam and Eve simply could not remain in his presence in their rebellion. And God, who is perfectly just, cannot ignore sin. Sin must be punished. If God looked the other way, he would not be God. And what was true for Adam and Eve is true for us as well. Every sin that ever happened or will happen must be punished, and that punishment will either fall on us, or, if we trust in the Cross, on Jesus. But the debt will be paid.

~~~

God created a world without pain, and we blew it. Because of our sin, this life will involve suffering. But it won’t always be this way. One day, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and those who trusted in Christ will live with him forever:

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4).

There was no suffering in Eden, and there will be no suffering in Heaven. But we live between Eden and Heaven.

Sometimes, it’s going to hurt.

~~~

If you have other ideas about why this world includes suffering, or a different question about suffering you would like to discuss, post it in the comments below.

Other posts about suffering:
Does God Care About My Suffering?
Rejoice in our trials?
Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Are You Sure It’s a “Bad Thing?”

Are you letting your past prevent someone from hearing the Gospel?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How many people would never have been drawn to Christ if the woman at the well thought she was unworthy to tell others about Jesus? If she had let her reputation and all the idle gossip make her afraid to stand up as a new woman of faith? Who … [Continue reading]

Is God really first in your life?

How long would you keep your job if you were as faithful to your employer as you are to Jesus

Is God really first in your life? How long would you get to keep your job if you showed the same commitment to your career that you show to Christ? If you attended when you felt like it, if you chipped in when it was convenient, if you gave only … [Continue reading]

He is risen!

James Tissot: Mary Magdalena and the Holy Women at the Tomb

The resurrection is hope. It is a bright light that cannot be extinguished no matter how dark your circumstances. It verifies where we came from, promises where we are going, and gives meaning to what we are to do in between. It gives … [Continue reading]

Palm Sunday: Following the crowd

James Tissot: The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem

Did you shout "Hosanna" on Palm Sunday? Good for you. But what are you going to say on Friday? It's easy to praise God when the crowd is doing the same. When it isn't Palm Sunday, though, and the crowds are calling for a crucifixion, what will you … [Continue reading]

What does it mean to be a man after God’s own heart?

people look at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart

Of all the remarkable things about David -- and when you are talking about a king/poet/musician/giant-slayer/lion-escaper, there are many to choose from -- what intrigues me the most is that God would describe David as "a man after my own … [Continue reading]

Where is your hope?

but i will hope continually.psalm 71-14

Where is your hope? When things are bleak and life is so hard that you have lost your way, where is your hope? When someone you love rejects you, where is your hope? When you've made a mistake you thought you would never make, where is your … [Continue reading]

What do you bring to Jesus?

The first recorded gifts to the incarnate Word were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Bible treats the wise men well for these gifts, because they were gifts of worship. (They certainly weren’t practical gifts. What can a baby do with gold? I’ve … [Continue reading]

Parenthood teaches us about God’s love

Sometimes it’s hard to believe God could ever love us. He knows what lies behind the mask. He knows all the secret thoughts and motives. All the times I’ve failed him, denied him, put others before him, or thought terrible things about his … [Continue reading]