On October 2, 2006, a married father of three young children walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, barricading himself inside with the children before shooting 10 girls and taking his own life. Unspeakably horrible.
In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan Karamazov explains he has no interest in serving a God who would allow cruel parents torture their five-year-old daughter, filling her mouth with excrement and leaving her locked in an outhouse in the bitter cold, pleading with God to help her.
Ivan has a point. Why worship a God who allows unspeakably horrible things to happen and doesn’t intervene?
Suffering – mine, those I love, and complete strangers – calls into question whether God is love. Why stay silent and seemingly passive when intervention would cost nothing? At least intervene for those who follow you and call on your name. But silence is unbearable and a huge test of our faith that God is good and loving.
And can we please jettison the unbiblical notion that God won’t give us more suffering than we can bear? Where does it say that? It’s fake news. I regularly witness suffering that exceeds the victim’s capacity to bear it. And even when the suffering is over, the balance sheet still comes out wrong with the “lessons learned” far less than the “suffering endured.”
The apostle Paul wrote, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death” (II Cor. 1:8-9). Sounds to me like it was more than Paul could hack.
Yes, sometimes wonderful things emerge from tragedies. But not always – at least not in this life. In the words of one suffering friend, she’d gladly give up whatever lessons she’s learned or character refinement she’s experienced not to have endured decades of pain. Suffering doesn’t always “net out positively” in this life. Sometimes, suffering and evil seems to have the last laugh.
And yet. If God loved me enough to die for me on the cross, then no matter what suffering I or those around me experience, there is reason to believe God still loves me and has a good plan to ultimately redeem suffering, though He seems silent.
Think about the good news that forms the foundation of our faith: the God who designed a perfect world free of sin and suffering prior to human rebellion made things right by sacrificing Himself on the cross. He paid the price we could never afford – with His own blood. That’s an infinitely loving act by the one who is Himself love. If God would make a way for us to escape our human-made hell and live with Him, free of pain and suffering and death in all eternity, then isn’t it reasonable to trust that He still loves us in our suffering? Doesn’t it make sense to trust Him in our relatively more limited suffering?
And can’t the same good and loving God take our worst tragedy and turn it into something much better, in this life or the next? If He could take the crucifixion – arguably the worst thing to ever happen – and turn it into the best thing that ever happened, isn’t it logical to think He’ll do the same with our suffering?
I hate suffering and evil and death. I hate them. I’m never okay with this world, no matter how good it can sometimes be. Even on my best days – usually on a sailboat with my family with fair winds and blue skies -- I can never forget that somewhere someone else has a mouth full of excrement. I just can’t.
But if we truly believe the good news of the Bible, if we really trust Jesus with our souls, how can we not trust Him with our present sufferings?
Of course, if the Gospel isn’t true, then our suffering is, indeed, meaningless. And it’s tempting to interpret the apparent senselessness of our present suffering as nullifying the Gospel. But the Gospel never pretends that suffering and evil will cease this side of heaven. Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble.” So did He.
It’s logical to interpret the opaque in light of the clear. If He loved us enough to die for us, it’s reasonable to believe He lets us endure suffering because He has a better plan, no matter that we can’t see the plan now. Isn’t our trusting faith in Him justified by what He did for us on the cross?
For me, yes. May God grant me grace to remember this in my darkest hour, come what may.