I love being a counselor…I really do. It’s a privilege to be invited into someone’s story and offered the opportunity to aid a healthier life. It’s amazing, but it’s also hard. I get front row seats to people’s pain and suffering and let me tell you, I experience it with them. Not in the way my clients do, but I feel it too. I could write a book on seeing life from a counselor’s perspective, but I’ll spare you for now. Instead, I’d like to try and answer a question I often hear: “Why did God allow my suffering? and/or “Where was God?”
I am using Tim Keller’s format from his book, “The Reason for God” (highly recommend this book!) to aid me in this lofty endeavor.
I’ll preface with the acknowledgment that there isn’t one answer to this question. Rarely is there one answer for questions such as these. I’ll give several answers, some of which apply to your suffering and some that don’t.
The 2 most popular answers to the problem of pain are this:
– the Free Will Theodicy– this says that God gave us free will so that we might choose him (as opposed to His ability to make us robots who serve Him mindlessly). He had no use for robots and instead wanted a relationship with us. He wanted us to love Him and love requires a choice. Unfortunately, this also gives us the opportunity to choose evil. Much of the suffering is not because of God, but the cruel, selfish, and evil choices of human beings.
– The Punishment Theodicy– most objections to suffering are because we don’t believe we deserve to suffer. We believe we deserve a comfortable life from God. However, this idea doesn’t have a Biblical basis. In fact, we find many stories of suffering in the Bible.
Both of these theodicies have value, but they are incomplete and still leave us wanting for more. What about natural disasters? and why does the distribution of suffering seem so random?
So what else? What does the Bible say about suffering? (Directly quoting Tim Keller’s “Reason for God” discussion guide, page 59)
It says that Christians suffer…
– for our own sake. to learn who God is (Psalm 46; Daniel 4:24-37), to learn to trust God (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) and obey Him (Psalm 119:67-72), to become more like Jesus (Romans 8:18-29), and to reach maturity of character (Romans 5:3-4, Hebrews 12:1-11)
– for the sake of others. That God’s people may have courage (Philippians 1:14) and power (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)
– for Christ’s sake. To identify with Christ (Galatians 2:0), and to share in His sufferings and glory (1 Peter 4:12-16, Philippians 1:29, 3:8-10, Romans 8:17-18, 2 Corinthians 4:17)
Another answer is that we simply cannot comprehend God’s reason for suffering. I, for one, cannot pretend to have the intellectual capacity to fully understand God or His reasons.
John 11:32- 35: “When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.“Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept.”
I added this verse to illustrate that God is not a passive observer to our pain. He weeps with us, He mourns with us, and like any good Father–he hates seeing us hurting. I can also tell you with certainty that He doesn’t abandon us either. I know it can feel as though He has, but we know He has always promised His presence.
I’ll also add this, and I’ll speak from my own experience: I would not be who I am today if not for my own pain and suffering. I wouldn’t be very good at counseling if I didn’t understand pain, loneliness, and despair. We have the ability to choose our response to suffering and pain: we can ask for help, allow our grief, and make it into something good by creating meaning for it. Does that make our suffering ok? No. but I believe it gives us a reason and purpose to continue living when it’d be easier to give up.