Some struggle with doubt but faith has often caused me to struggle.
Let me explain
- I believe that God’s love is so great that He is love.
- I believe God is all-powerful – as we sing, “There’s nothing that he cannot do.”
Sometimes, however, these beliefs are difficult to reconcile with life in this world.
When I see the desperate circumstances of others, compassion compels me to help and to pray. This is where faith can become a little confusing.
When I realize that I can’t do anything to alleviate the pain and suffering (especially of those whom I love), my faith is unwavering in the fact that God can do something to help.
Yet when I pray and do not observe any changes that alleviate the suffering, or, sometimes, it becomes worse, then I struggle to understand why God doesn’t seem to answer the cries of my heart for those in need. My faith creates a deeply felt problem for me.
- What role do faith and prayer play in the painful and perplexing drama of human suffering?
A common tension
I am not the first to be conflicted between faith and suffering. I resonate with the psalmist who cried out to God,
“How long, O Lord ? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:1-2).
“I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble. Come near and rescue me…” (Psalm 69:3, 16-18).
Like the psalmist, I struggled with an apparent uneven distribution of pain and suffering. This is the age-old question of why righteous people suffer and the wicked are healthy and prosperous (see: Psalm 73). Of course, I have strong reservations about anyone being righteous enough to lay claim to a good life from God.
Perspective is what I need
I believe in the verdict “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). I also believe that, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Death is such a horrible word and an even more horrible fact. But it is a just verdict pronounced over sinners like me. I am slowly experiencing it every day of my life.
I believe that there is a dark and sad back-story to our suffering and a glorious end-story for those whom God loves. Yet pain in this life is often hard to reconcile with God’s love and power.
The agonizing question we face is why God chooses to allow pain and suffering when I am praying so much for its relief. Why doesn’t He answer my agonizing prayers for those who suffer? I cannot endure superficial answers to this real-life question.
Skeptics offer answers ranging from atheism to deism.
For honest people, these alternatives only lead to deeper despair. If I must choose between “no God” or “a God who means well but either cannot or will not do much to help,” I am left with more perplexing questions about human suffering.
Let’s not ignore other questions equally worthy of reflection. Why does God choose to love and to forgive rebellious creatures? The back-story of human sin explains the source of human suffering better than any other explanation (and there are not many other explanations).
- Why would I think we deserve to have it better?
- Why do I feel that God should intervene?
- And what would intervention look like on a world scale?
If I am looking for God’s love and power to converge to rescue us from our misery, I should look at what happened when God entered our world of suffering in the person of Christ and suffered for us ? (see: II Corinthians 5:17-21).
Be honest about cultural conditioning
I admit that I have become accustom to (and even impatient for) solutions to pain and suffering. Advancements in science and medicine have strengthened my expectations. Is it possible that I am conditioned to hold unrealistic expectation for health and gregariousness? Do I have a place for sadness and suffering in normal life?
These are not theoretical questions for me. They have been real for most of my life. When my father came down with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis in his mid-thirties, I learned what it was like to carry a prayerful burden for a suffering loved one. It profoundly shaped my life and, gratefully, did not lead to bitterness. I learned so much about God’s sustaining grace and His redeeming power to bring good out of pain and suffering.
Scriptures that take me to better places when I struggle: II Corinthians 1:3-11; 4:16-18;12:1-10; James 1:2-9; Psalm 62:8; Proverbs 3:5-6.
One more question
- Why does God provide such an amazing end-story for forgiven sinners?
When those who are loved by God enter the place He has prepared for them, ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (see: Revelation 21:1-6; John 14:1-3). I find myself longing more and more for this day; for this place.
I will continue to pray and trust that suffering has a purpose even when I cannot see it. I will pray with one eye on the back-story and a hope-filled focus on the end-story (see: Colossians 3:1-4).
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:9-10).