Pastor Nicky Gumbel, developer of the Alpha program, wrote a book called, “Searching Issues.” In it he tackled seven of the most common objections to the Christian faith. Chief among them was, “If God is good, why does God allow suffering?” Particularly, chronic suffering. Why does God let our pain go on? Nicky opened his chapter on this topic of suffering with the following story:
Glenn Chambers, a young New Yorker, had a lifelong dream to work for God in Ecuador. At the airport on the day of departure, he wanted to send a note to his mother, but he didn’t have time to buy a card. He noticed a piece of paper on the terminal floor and picked it up. It turned out to be an advertisement with “Why?” spread across it. He scribbled his note around the word “Why?”
That night, his airplane exploded into the fourteen thousand foot Colombian peak, El Tablazo. When his mother received the note after the news of his death, the question burned up at her from the page: “Why?”
Why? Why does God allow suffering? If God is good and God is love, why do people die young; children with cancer, people like Glenn Chambers in airplane crashes; why is there suffering, heartache, violence, chronic illness, great poverty, persecution, abandonment, etc.? It’s a fair question and I believe God doesn’t mind our asking.
So God, we’re asking…
C.S. Lewis, the theologian, in his book, The Problem of Pain, explained people’s struggle to come to God because of such frequent personal and worldwide suffering. He said our struggle comes from the fact that in Christianity it is said that God is good and He is all powerful. C.S. Lewis wrote that those who are resistant to believing in God because of the problem of suffering say this:
“If God were good He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore, God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.”
If we believe in God, many ask, why don’t we avoid trouble or why doesn’t God quickly end our troubles as soon as they start?
Who causes pain and suffering?
As we wonder, “Why doesn’t God end our suffering immediately, or help us avoid it in the first place?” we have to consider that sometimes our suffering is our own fault. Free will and choice making have been given to humanity – by God. We do something, or others do something to us. God hasn’t made it happen. We have.
One of the very first funerals I had to lead as a new pastor was for a much beloved woman. She was “a saint” in her community and her family adored her. She worked as a nurse in a local hospital and helped others every chance she got.
One day, she drove to work and died on the way. It was rainy. She apparently took a curve too fast for the slick road conditions, and went over the side of the road. The car was wrecked terribly and she died in the crash. Did God grab the wheel and take her away? Some people may have thought like that and blamed God. The death, the grief, the permanent loss to family and community, they might have hung it on Him. But I imagine if this lovely woman could have spoken to us, she’d have said, “Yep, I should have slowed down.”
And the rest of our pain?
There are so many ways others hurt us, too, with their greed, theft, incompetence, lack of taking safety precautions, drunk driving, assaults – we could create a long, long list of the way we are hurt by the sinfulness in the world. And the disease in the world – my goodness – there are so many ways for a body to be compromised and made ill. Even while believing in the powerful healing ministry of Christ, sometimes, people suffer with unhealed, chronic diseases. And sometimes they die from them. Why does God let our pain go on?
When we begin to get a belief system about why suffering occurs, we can take a first important step and that is, to not blame God for it. Remember, a lot of our struggles can be brought on by our enemy, the devil. Acts 10:38 NIV says this, “…God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power…he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him.”
Jesus came to tackle our suffering
There is a beautiful line in the last part of 1 John 3:8 NIV. It says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” That is an all-encompassing statement. The devil’s work includes our sin, other people’s sin, the devil’s attacks, disease, and death. And Jesus said, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.” (John 14:10 NKJV)
For those with a twisted view of the divine that Jesus is the soft Son and God the stern Father, this scripture I just quoted says, “the Father in Me does the works.” In other words, Jesus and the Father are in sync, of one heart. But the other matter that must be remembered is that Jesus is God. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They beat with one heart towards the salvation, healing, and deliverance of humanity.
The general and perfect will of God is that we would be healed, and prosper. 3 John 2 NKJV gives us a prayer that reflects God’s heart for us: “Beloved I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.
Ok, so why does God let our pain go on?
Hopefully, you get that our pain can have multiple sources other than God. But back to the question at the heart of this article. Does God, even though not the author of our pain, sometimes allow our suffering to continue? And when that happens, why does God let our pain go on? (Think Job in the Bible.)
In a previous blog on suffering, I listed some reasons for ongoing suffering:
- Suffering brings us closer to God. Builds intimacy with Him.
- Pain softens our hearts towards others’ pain.
- Adversity strengthens us so we no longer get pulled off track from trusting God.
- Suffering makes us Christlike.
And people are watching
Dr. Billy Graham in an article on suffering wrote: “…our attitude in suffering should glorify God. People are going to watch us as Christians. They will ask, “How is it that Christ is so in control of his or her life that he or she was able to help others?”
Sometimes, our suffering goes on so that we can be a glorious witness to others about what Christ enables us to do. His strength and power lifts us up though we are in pain. As people see us continue to love and serve God, have compassion for others, and just keep on, they are drawn to God and the goodness of having faith in Him. They want what we have.
Two dear friends who endured suffering in Christ
I will close this article about the goodness of God and the worth of sometimes suffering over a long time by sharing this video of two dear friends, Tammy and Jamie Newberry. Tammy became ill with Covid in 2021 and was hospitalized in such serious condition for a long time.
She suffered so much. Her family also suffered profoundly. But, their story of what it did for and through them will move you to tears. I hope it will inspire you to bear with your own pains/struggles. The love of so many others towards them will also inspire you. A big thank you to John Morris who created this video to help all of us to be motivated to trust God more.
Truly, we are not fools when we say, “God is good – all the time. All the time, God is good.”
Father, in the name of Jesus, I pray for any who came upon this article because they are in long term suffering, that You would touch them now with profound peace and Your great love. Help them know that what they are going through is not a sign of Your indifference. Rather, what they are going through can be a moment for them to find intimacy with You far greater than they have ever known.
Give them supernatural strength to be like Paul who said he found the secret of contentment in all things. He knew what it was to be in need or to have plenty…to be well fed or hungry. He said he could do all things through You who gave him strength. I pray for that strength from You to fill this reader. Now, Lord. Come, Holy Spirit and make them a profound witness of how You can carry us even through the valley of the shadow of death. Bring healing to them. In Jesus’ powerful name, I pray. Amen
If this post or another touches your heart, please share as that insures that many will be reached by the good news of Jesus. And I’d love to connect with you on social media platforms. Find my different links on my link tree page.
If you would like to receive highlighted posts, other faith building materials, and occasional free resources straight to your inbox, please scroll down and sign up for our email list! I would love to share more with you each month! Blessings!
Also, your comments are so valued! I love to interact with readers by email and social media. I’m delighted to help/pray through your needs by having further conversation.
I am a Charisma Media affiliate. On occasion, some things I recommend may come from Charisma and may earn me a small commission for funding ministry. Thank you for helping. Bless you!