A number of years ago we lived next door to a lady who was always telling us ‘God’ was against her. One day whilst out driving she crashed her car head-on into another vehicle. She said to me “Why does that man upstairs hate me so much”. I was heartbroken for her because she had totally the wrong idea of God. It turned out that she had been driving along and had dropped her cigarette down to the break pedal. While leaning down to find it, the car drifted across the road into the other car. It then came out that one of the reasons she was so cross was that she hadn’t got any car insurance.
“If God is so loving why does she allow suffering to happen” she said.
Was her suffering because God was against her or because she had yet again made some silly decisions?
Some suffering is caused by us. We have to hold up our hands and take full responsibility for our actions. God isn’t out to get us, but our own silly ideas sometime cause us problems. But what about suffering that doesn’t seam to have any real human cause. Is God to blame for natural disasters, which we sometimes refer to as acts of God.
In the bible there is a story of a women called Naomi’s whose story is a dramatically painful one. Naomi’s husband had died because of a severe famine in the land and she was left with her two married sons. Before long the two sons also died leaving Naomi with nothing. Naomi’s story is the kind our hearts break over. Why couldn’t God have shared the suffering around? Loosing your husband and then your sons is too much for one human to bear. Naomi’s story begs the question “Where is God in her suffering”, why doesn’t God step in and say “wow you have had enough let’s share the suffering around a little”.
There are many ways to look at suffering. Some people say there is purpose to Naomi’s suffering. They would argue that the suffering teaches her, it moulds and shapes her, and it makes her better for it. Some would say she is stronger because of the suffering. Some people say when they look back they see God was teaching them something that transforms them. If this is true we need to ask a much bigger question. Are you saying God allows us to suffer to learn something? – If this is true what kind of sick teacher is he?
Others would argue that Naomi’s suffering is pointless. They would argue that the world is chaos and no one is in charge so suffering just happens, get over it. If this is true then God is a heartless ruler who doesn’t care about his creation.
But there is another way of seeing suffering. First we need to recognise that there is another at work, we are in a spiritual battle. This battle isn’t between God and us but between us and the Devil himself. Satan is out to deceive, corrupt and destroy anything that is good. He has no purpose other that to create suffering and point us away from God’s goodness.
If Satan can convince us suffering is all God’s fault then he’s successfully caused the pain and now pinned the blame on someone else. The Devil is the one who causes the suffering not God, and Jesus is the one who comes to take on the whole system on the cross.
If suffering isn’t God’s making then we need to understand where God sits in the whole scheme of things.
In Matthew 5:3-4 it says that ‘Blessed are those who mourn’. The original word for blessed in the Greek is makorios meaning - in a good place, in the hands of the divine. In other words when you’re mourning or suffering you’re in the hands of the divine. Where is God in our suffering? He’s holding us, treasuring us and making sure we can’t fall too far.
The most encouraging verse in the bible has to be John 11:35 which describes Jesus at his friend’s grave… “Jesus wept”.
Where is God in suffering? He’s grieving and weeping with us. He weeps because this was never meant to be how the world was to work.
The reality is we know that Jesus’ death changes things, we know that one day there will be a place without pain, suffering or tears but today we know we live in the kingdom that is “Now and not yet” We see God breaking in, God’s kingdom cutting through the darkness but we still sit in a place longing for more.
The story of Naomi ends with God rebuilding her life, with her daughter in law remarrying and having children; Naomi is a grandmother.
Where there was no hope, with God there is in fact new hope.
Where there were tears we find new life.
Where there was pain we find a new freedom.
And were there was death we now find celebration.
Where is God in suffering?
He’s there rebuilding, reworking and reshaping.
He’s transforming and renovating.
God isn’t sat on the side-line watching the pain without care, but he’s in and amongst, getting his hands dirty.
God is transforming Naomi’s sorrow and suffering into exultant joy!
As Christians we do not accept that the way things are, are really the way things are. But that God will not rest until all are healed, all is restored and all are transformed into something beautiful.