Where is God in Suffering?
To say the past several months have been brutal is an understatement. From Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, to the fires in California, to the shootings in Las Vegas and Texas, suffering exists in a seemingly endless barrage of tragedies reminding us of the misery encompassing our temporary lives. Death and destruction surround us. Painful losses and sorrow plague our world. It is in the darkness of tragedy that we often fail to see the presence of a caring God. Focusing on calamity, it seems natural to question His existence, His power, and His love. In a world marred by brokenness and misery, the idea of a gracious King is easy to dismiss. However, we must not dismiss the hope so readily available in this dark place. The key, as Christians, is to change our perspective, elevating our eyes to Christ and recognizing His continued work in our broken world.
“If God is a loving God, how could He allow all of these terrible things to happen?” With an underlying sense of doubt and skepticism, this question rings out after a large-scale tragedy like a mass shooting or a natural disaster, or after a personal tragedy like the loss of a loved one. When surrounded by evil and calamity, it is easy to conclude that the idea of a loving, caring, good God is impossible. A loving God would surely step-in to stop a hurricane or shooting. A God who cares could not possibly watch as a family member dies of cancer. For thousands of years, suffering humans have looked to God and wondered where He was when their entire world crumbled before their eyes. Clutching the ashes of a former home, watching helplessly as sickness overtakes a child, crying out to God upon hearing news of devastation and death on a massive scale, His failure to immediately remedy the situation proves to them His inability or apathy to ease their plight.
It was God’s apparent apathy towards injustice and violence that sparked the prophet Habakkuk to seek from God an explanation. The prophet cries out to God,
“How long, O Lord, will I call for help,
And You will not hear?
I cry out to You, “Violence!”
Yet You do not save.
Why do You make me see iniquity,
And cause me to look on wickedness?
Yes, destruction and violence are before me;
Strife exists and contention arises.” (Habakkuk 1:2-3 NASB)
God responds by allowing Habakkuk to view a small portion of His perfect plan: He was raising up the Babylonians to destroy Israel. The absurdity of the plan baffled Habakkuk. Why would God fight suffering and wickedness with suffering and wickedness. How could God bring life through chaos? How could God view calamity and fail to intervene?
Yet, it was just two chapters later that Habakkuk uttered these poetic words:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom,
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
In two short chapters, Habakkuk grew from questioning God to trusting Him. The circumstances were unchanged. Death, destruction, violence, and wickedness all surrounded him. However, in the midst of this chaos, Habakkuk lifted his eyes to God, rejoicing in His sovereign plan for the world. Habakkuk learned that God was still working, and despite immense present suffering and pain, He had a plan for redemption and life. God showed Habakkuk the same thing He showed Joseph: what is intended for evil, God can use for good (Genesis 50:20).
Job suffered more than any human should. Losing his family, his possessions, his health, this blameless man sat in ashes demanding justice from God. However, after an encounter with the God who created and sustains all things, Job confessed to his ignorance, claiming God “can do all things, and that no purpose of [His] can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Even in unimaginable suffering, Job understood the power and sovereignty of God, trusting in His ability to make beauty from ashes. All sorrow in suffering faded at a glimpse of the unparalleled wisdom of the Father.
To understand the root of suffering, we must look back to the Garden of Eden, where sin and death entered the world. Prior to sin’s untimely entrance, life and peace abounded. However, the introduction of sin produced death and destruction on a previously unscarred world. Sin always corrupts and destroys, never producing a beneficial result. Hurricanes, fires, shootings, sickness, and so many other tragedies may not happen as a punishment for sin, but they would be impossible in a world free from transgression.
However, our powerful, loving, caring, holy God can take our brokenness and make us whole. Where sin is allowed to dwell, so are the sinners upon whom He desperately desires to pour His love, mercy, and grace. To that end, He can use our sufferings to further His good, glorious, gracious plan. When all seems hopeless, God is working to provide an everlasting hope. Our suffering is not forgotten or ignored; it can be used by a gracious Father to provide eternal life, hope, joy, and peace to a world that so desperately needs it.