How in the world could a loving God allow this kind of thing to happen?
That question was voiced in anger by a pastor from Seattle as a small group of us stood over the emaciated and now dead body of a man on the streets of Bombay. (Now Mumbai)
I was in India for the first time almost thirty years ago, part of a group of pastors and lay people there to see the spiritual need for Bibles in India. We had been stepping over and going around hundreds of street dwellers every day and had passed this man still alive a half an hour before. We specifically remembered him because he was begging for money while coughing his lungs out, right in front of the restaurant where we were going to have dinner.
After we ordered, several of us had the same thought almost simultaneously. How in the world can we as Christians sit in here eating to our hearts content while this man is dying on the street fifty feet away? So we got up, went outside and found the man lying on a filthy blanket dead. Hence the anguished question. How in the world could a loving God allow this kind of thing to happen? Our host, a Scottish pastor looked us right in the eye, with his finger pointing and boldly declared, “God didn’t do this, you did!”
He went on to say, “God has provided Christians, particularly those of us from Europe and America all the financial resources we need to make sure every person on earth has a dry, warm place to sleep, adequate food and basic healthcare. It’s only our indifference to “the least of these” and the protection of our lifestyle that causes this kind of death. His eyes narrowed as he looked at us in righteous indignation and he finished with this; “So don’t you ever blame God for suffering that is within your power to prevent, but won’t and don’t. And don’t believe the lie that the problem is so immense that your contribution to resolving it really won’t make that much difference. That’s for Jesus to decide, not you.”
I’ll never forget his passionate defense of God. Guilty as charged. I returned to the U.S. and put my business up for sale six months later. That hasn’t made me the poster child for simple, selfless living, but it changed my perspective on human responsibility, versus God’s responsibility for some kinds of suffering and injustice. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” Proverbs 3:27
(Next week I’ll blog on the subject of how Christians can be “advocates for the poor” and practical ideas for making that a reality in your life.)
What about other kinds of suffering?
Let’s set aside for a moment the kinds of suffering that we as Christians could prevent or lessen. What about events like the Holocaust or 9/11? (However, the Christians of Germany might have prevented Hitler if they had taken his threats seriously, so I’m not ready to absolve Christians completely from their responsibility for the Holocaust, but I’ll leave it at that for now.)
We can never know what was in the mind of God in allowing these horrendous crimes against humanity. I’d love to know his end game, but I don’t. Having said that, I find it interesting that it was only this monstrous crime against the Jews under Hitler that caused the nations of the world enough guilt to consider for the first time granting the right to Jews to establish their own nation. As a result, in 1948, only three years after the Holocaust and for the first time in more than 2,000 years the people of God became a nation once again, one of the prerequisites for Jesus return.
Could God have done that without the death of six million Jews? Of course. And, why he didn’t is a mystery and we can only speculate on why God either caused or allowed this kind of senseless suffering.
We have a warped sense of justice
I had another epiphany many years ago. I briefly did a little prison ministry, but I was lousy at it. I got sick of hearing prisoners complain about the food, the guards, the long hours of boredom, the violence – the injustice of everything. Here’s what I wanted to scream out at them, “You have it all wrong, here’s what’s truly unjust. Taxpayers like me have to pay $31,000 a year to keep guys like you from hurting us. In spite of the fact that you knowingly violated the law, you get three warm meals a day, a warm place to sleep, T.V. to watch and you have the gall to complain about how unjust you’re being treated?” I was a relatively new Christian back then and obviously hadn’t earned my “grace” merit badge.
Years later, I had this thought; I’ll bet God has the same thought about us when he hears us complain about the perceived injustices in our lives. It helps if I remind myself that this world has a prison feel to it. “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” I John 5:19 Believers still live surrounded by this dominion of darkness.
Therefore, things happen to us “inmates” and those we love and from our perspective we’re being treated unfairly. So we ask, “Why doesn’t God fix it if he’s a God of justice and mercy?” You have to wonder if he’s looking at us, like I looked at that prisoner, incredulous that we who’ve been rescued spiritually, but not yet physically from this world would be so ungrateful for all the unbelievably good things he has provided us, and continues to provide for his children – shocked that we would have the gall to complain that life wasn’t better, more fair and more just. I think that we have more in common with prisoners than I’d like to admit.
The topic of suffering and the sovereignty of God is too immense to cover in a blog and I’m not expert enough to tackle it. I simply wanted the opportunity to pass on these stories, which have helped give me a new perspective on some suffering and justice. You may want to pass them on to others the next time you hear someone ask, “Why doesn’t God do something about… whatever.”
John Piper did a wonderful job in his address at the Desiring God Conference entitled, “Ten Aspects of God’s Sovereignty Over Suffering and Satan’s Hand in It. Read it at http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/ten-aspects-of-gods-sovereignty-over-suffering-and-satans-hand-in-it
One Girl’s Dream!
Take five minutes to watch this moving video, then talk to me again about “senseless suffering”. That term may turn out to be an oxymoron for Christians.
Question: What stories have you heard that have helped you gain a different perspective on suffering or justice that you can pass along to us?
Following Jesus In Real Life