Why Bad Things Happen and the Unending Love of God
“Why do children suffer from illness or even from abuse?” – Suffering
Trying to Answer:
I kind of knew a question like this was going to come in. Not this exact one, but someone questioning the nature of suffering that exists in this world. Many times, it is phrased as “why do righteous people suffer?” “Why do good people suffer?” “Why does anyone suffer?”
This phrasing, however, hits hard, because it is almost like we are asking “Why do some of the most innocent among us suffer?”
Unfortunately, there is no concrete answer to this, or at least that will appease people and their understanding of how the world should work.
Before we get too far in this sermon:
I do want to remind us that we live in a world that is broken and fragile. Bad things happen and suffering occurs. These are things we cannot escape. In the latest kids’ movie on Apple TV+, “Luck,” the moral of the story is that good luck and bad luck are random (even when they don’t feel like it). However, when you experience bad luck, you can either whine about it and get down on yourself or you can adapt and learn from it.
Before you come at me with interjecting that synopsis, I want you to take it with a grain of salt in reference to this sermon. I am sure many of you are now screaming in your minds, “Pastor, there is a difference between a little bad luck and some of the suffering I have seen in this world (especially among children).”
I understand that.
I also recognize that within the faith, there is:
- How we experience suffering
- …And how we respond.
Both of these perspectives play a heavy role in how we theologically view God. When suffering occurs, we often go one of two ways; we either firmly plant ourselves in our faith and try to find God’s purpose for the suffering, or we completely forsake God seeing them as the cause of our problems.
Responses to Suffering
- Maybe it was God’s plan.
- Maybe God wants you to have more faith.
- Perhaps you did something wrong and now God is punishing you.
Theological Issues with These Responses
Let’s unpack these for a moment, because especially when we consider the innocence of the child (no matter who their parent is), why would a child having cancer be a part of God’s plan? What possibly could this child have done to deserve being beaten and abused by someone who is supposed to love and care for them?
To understand suffering, we must begin by turning our focus on the cause of evil and suffering in the world away from our creator. As we begin to wrestle with this topic it is important to begin by noting that God is not the creator of evil. James writes in his letter;
“No one who is tested should say, ‘God is tempting me!’ This is because God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”James 1:13
Unfortunately, in many ways, the sad reality is that the one we should be pointing the blame at, is often ourselves when it comes to the nature of suffering. When we consider the suffering of children, we can often break it down, looking at the true fragility of the human body, the brokenness of the world, or the unfortunate circumstance of other people harming them. When we attach this to the human condition, we can quickly begin to understand and place humanity and the natural world in a place of brokenness.
When we consider sin and evil to be an absence of God, then it is the absence of God’s redeeming grace in creation that creates space for the suffering of, not just those who are evil, but all humankind.
As we reflect on that verse from James, and even look at it in context with verses from Peter, from John, and even Paul, we find that God is not to blame for our suffering. It takes the cause out of God’s hands and puts it on natural occurrences or on our hands.
We Then Become the Problem
Suffering and evil become human or environmental agents. Something that happens because of our abuse and misuse of our freedom. God blessed humanity with free will and dominion over this part of creation. It is in how not always individually, but as a society as well, that the nature of suffering becomes so impactful.
Brokenness and hurting in some humans lead to violent tendencies that tragically are taken out on children. We weep for the children and work to redeem the abusers and create safer spaces for the children moving forward. Children who succumb to disease and illness are often the pains of our grief. Nothing is worse than seeing a child suffer. Knowing the human body is fragile in many ways, doctors and researchers are looking for cures, remedies, and all sorts of manners of medicine to both help and prevent.
A Place for God
To look at suffering, we cannot sit back and complain that God played a part in these events, because it is not fair to God. To attach God to these horrific events attacks God’s love toward creations. However, if God is all loving then why does suffering exist? Why doesn’t God stop it before it starts?
This I cannot fully answer because God is mysterious. God is just in action. It is not that God doesn’t enact miracles to save people from suffering, but if miracles were a common occurrence, they would not be miracles. Miracles by their nature are rare. Rather it is God weeping and grieving alongside of us in our suffering that shows us God’s true nature. Not God’s absence in preventing the suffering, but God’s comforting presence in the midst of suffering. God grieves our mistakes and the mistakes of others and walks with us through them.
Instead of trying to blame God for causing the suffering we need to turn to God in our suffering and understand the role our faith and grace play in healing. Instead of forsaking the one who can console us, we should turn to our creator, our redeemer, and our friend.
Turning to Romans 8
This is where it becomes important to turn to passages like the one before us today. Not only do we recognize from passages like the one I mentioned earlier from James that God is not the cause of suffering, but we must also be bold to place God more in the space of healing. It is difficult when we see suffering because we do want someone or something to blame. Sometimes, we even want to view God’s lack of intervention as an apathy towards suffering. However, as Paul tells us,
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:28
So, let’s welcome God in to work for the good that God desires to do in the world.
Paul is speaking to Christians in the Roman Empire, and as we talked in reference to Revelation, we are keenly aware of the oppressive system the Romans held over people proclaiming the Christian faith. Therefore, in a similar message to that of God to Moses in reference to the Israelites in Egypt, we hear of the empathy God has for the people of God. We rest in the solace that God not only knows of our suffering but that God knows our suffering.
We live in a broken world full of broken people.
People who seek their own ambitions and not the ambitions of helping others. Through our abuse of creation, through natural occurrences of creation, from our own decisions, or even the decisions of others we know that suffering exists. While suffering is not caused by God God does help us by using our suffering to help us grow and strengthen in God’s beautiful image.
To me that middle refrain of rhetorical questions Paul offers, gives lots of insight into God’s perception of suffering. Paul writes,
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?Romans 8:31-35
I mean when we unpack the deep meaning behind these questions, we begin to unpack the narrative of God’s presence in our lives, and redefine what it means to respond to suffering. Unfortunately, there is suffering in the world, but are we just going to continue to allow it to be an experience or are we going to respond to it?
RESPOND to Suffering
It is in God’s great grace and love that we respond to suffering. When we see it and it breaks our heart it moves us to act, because we want no one else to experience that pain again. Think of a parent whose child suffers from a rare disease… That parent might bring awareness to the disease and ensure research is done.
Suffering produces fruits because, in God’s comfort, we know healing occurs.
I know it sounds like we are forsaking the grief, but we are not. There is space for our feelings and we must give the time and space to grieve suffering that happens to us or close to us. Unfortunately, there just isn’t a good answer as to why it happens, because often the right answer is the difficult one. The child is sick, because of some rare disease (1 in a million). The child is being abused because of an evil being perpetrated by the one doing the abuse.
However, in the midst of uncomfortable answers to the why, comes hope for healing.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:38-39
Nothing separates us from God’s love.
Not even the worst and most terrible acts of suffering, because when humanity lets us down, when natural disasters rip us apart when we get in our own ways, God is there to comfort us in our grief and heal us in redemption.