pain: how could a good God allow…

he rose his hands as he sang, and it caught me completely off guard. you see, he is the kind of guy who doesn’t typically raise his hands while singing in church. even when the pastors make a point to ask us to raise our hands to a particular song as an act of obedience, he’s one of the few not to.

but this morning was different. as we sang, his arms were held outward and his palms faced upward. and it was only when my attention moved from this scene to the lyrics of the song we were singing did i realize why; the words explaining the mystery to me:

“you give and take away,
you give and take away,
my heart will choose to say,
Lord blessed be your name.”

it was only earlier that week that this man’s brother had lost a long fought battle with cancer. a battle our church had been praying for for a very long time. yet, here he was, a man who does not typically worship The Lord in songs with arms raised, praising the very Father who had ‘taken away’ his brother, leaving behind a wife and children. and i was left standing there in amazement.

the ‘why’ of pain

i can’t begin to write on the extent of pain in this world and hope to somehow make it seem as though i have seen even a hint of it. i haven’t. but i know that the issue of such pain is a reason so many choose not to believe in, or simply choose not to follow, God. yet, apparently, some can still say ‘blessed be your name’ even amongst the pain.

i am not sure what i would say to the mother who approaches me and asks, “if there is a God, and if He really is good, then how in the world could He allow my daughter to be raped?!” i don’t know. i don’t have the answers. and i can’t begin to act like i do. but i still believe Him to be good, i still believe Him to be righteous and all-loving. i believe in that with all that i have.

we can say the pain in this world is because of our original sin (which i believe to be true), because of Adam and Eve, and the decisions they made (as we so often like to do), but what does that achieve? anything? it certainly doesn’t make the pain go away.

we can say God allows the pain in this world to refine us (which i also believe to be true), to teach us to turn to Him and rely on His strength and comfort. as Packer pointed out, “this is the ultimate reason… why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort and another – it is to ensure that we shall learn to hold Him fast… when we walk along a clear road feeling fine, and someone takes our arm to help us, as likely as not we shall impatiently shake him off; but when we are caught in rough country in the dark, with a storm getting up and our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we shall thankfully lean on him.” (Knowing God, 227)

true, if all we know is the smooth road of a life without pain and hurt, we will have little need for a God who comes in love and holiness. but, unfortunately, i don’t think this point will do much better for someone in the midst of the loss of a loved one, the devastation of a rape, or another terribly painful situation.

or, we can say that God will act in these painful situations to bring about his redemptive plan, to bring about His goodness (again, which i believe to be true). yet, during the loss of a loved one, or another similarly painful situation, the only seemingly “good” plan would be to bring the loved one back.

i don’t have the answers. and i can’t begin to act like i do. and so often, i think those of us who profess to believe in an all-loving God feel as though we have to.

the alternative

i’ve often thought about the alternative – God always preventing us from the pain of this world – and that has helped provide some clarification for me on this point. for, if we imagine a God who never allowed His children to feel pain, to never hurt for a loved one, who simply snapped his fingers at our prayers, pulling us from a painful situation, then our love for Him would be no more than our love for a way out of pain.

as any parent would know, the love from a child that is based solely on the gifts they give is not the deep-rooted love between a child and a parent who loves them enough to not always give the gifts they want, or think they need. to put it another way, our love for The Father should not be based on what He gives or what He takes away, but, rather, on His holiness and on His love (which He has displayed for us with the death of His Son on the cross).

and it is for this reason that i believe He does not snap his fingers and take away our pain or remove us from painful situations (as He could, if His word is true).

just one question

and yet, i know that, if they were to have only one question answered by God, many, many people would ask something like this:

“if you really are the God of the Bible, an all-loving Father, then how could you allow _______ to happen?”

how will He answer? i’m not sure. i could attempt to write some pithy response. but, truly, i don’t know.

what i would say to such a person is this: The Bible tells us that God is love, that He loves us, that He is good and righteous, and that He is unchanging. as such, we must never think that any pain we feel, go through or hear of is a result of a lack of His love, Him not being good enough, or that He has somehow let up. for, if he is unchanging, He could not let up; He could not be more righteous; He could not love us more.

with that, i will conclude with one last attempt at consolation to this point: an analogy.

the grand canyon and God

i’ve never been to the grand canyon. i’ve seen pictures, of course, but i’ve never actually been there. what i hear from those who have, though, is that it’s simply breathtaking. that it makes you feel so very small, just by being there.

now, no one in there right mind would stand at the edge of the grand canyon and yell at it for not being more expansive or deeper. anyone who did would be considered out of their mind.

in the same way, i am confident that once we have the opportunity to see The Father of all Creation with eyes wide open, the last thing we could ever imagine doing is berate Him for not being more righteous or more loving. no more than you could ask water to be more wet. He simply could not be.

i still don’t know how God would answer this question, but, when the opportunity presents itself, somehow i believe the question will seem much, much less important than it does now. and, i am confident that the answer will have much less to do with His love and righteousness than many would seem to believe.

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