Life’s Toughest Questions: How Can A Good God Allow So Much Pain and Suffering?

The World Today

I had the pleasure of being present for the delivery of three of our four birth children. It was a totally different in the 1970’s from today’s Birthing Room experience. I stood in the Operating Room, all decked out in a gown, mask, and gloves. I looked like part of the team tasked with assisting the doctor in the delivery of our firstborn. Standing at the head of the operating table, as awkward as it was for both of us, all I wanted to do was to hold my wife’s hand. Despite Barbara’s incredible tolerance of pain, there were times when she was quite vocal. I’m sure I was thinking at some point through that experience, and I imagine she was as well, “God, if You are so good, why would You allow such pain in the birth of this child? Today, as we look around our world, and recognize the suffering that greets us everywhere we look, it’s easy to likewise ask why a good God would allow such suffering now?

I’m very much aware that it may seem odd to offer a sermon entitled, “How Can A Good God Allow So Much Pain and Suffering” on Mother’s Day. But I assure you that there’s a Mother’s Day message at the heart of our consideration today of this, one of “Life’s Toughest Questions.” It’s a question with which we all struggle. Those who survey, question, and study such things in today’s culture tell us that it’s the number one question people ask concerning matters of faith. They also tell us that it’s the number one struggle in matters of faith that causes people of all ages to turn away from God. An interesting side note is that, among willing respondents to polls and surveys concerning this question, most are married rather than single. Guys, I’m not sure of the correlation some people might feel about pain and marriage, but I’m leaving that one alone.

Our look at this question begins with yet another question. If God is an all-loving God, if He is an all-powerful and all-knowing God, why would He allow such pain and suffering? It’s a question that’s at the heart of why people walk away from God, why they walk away from their church and from their faith. They question that, if God isn’t all-loving, does it mean He’s indifferent to their life situations? If God isn’t all- powerful, does it mean He’s unable to do anything about their situation? If God isn’t all-knowing, does it mean that He doesn’t care?” Or, is it possible that all three of those concerns are true? Solomon spoke of his concern about such issues, “And I saw something else under the sun: In the place of judgment – wickedness was there, in the place of justice – wickedness was there” (Ecclesiastes 3:16). All around him, Solomon saw wickedness and asked where justice could be found. When you think of it, we can relate to that question. The Dallas Cowboys haven’t won the Super Bowl in more than 23 years! Where’s the justice?

Solomon goes on to describe the oppression and evil he recognized all around him, “Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 4:1). “. . . who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 4:3, NIV). All we need do is look at the latest television news or read the headlines in the morning paper to see stories of rape, genocide, terrorism, and much more – all pointing to the reality of pain in the world in which we live. Solomon sums up his frustration, saying, “Here’s something that happens all the time and makes no sense at all: Good people get what’s coming to the wicked, and bad people get what’s coming to the good. I tell you, this makes no sense. It’s smoke” (Ecclesiastes 8:14, MSG).

Is Solomon, in his cynicism, expressing an understanding that the idea of a good God is nothing more than smoke and mirrors? After all, why would a good God allow us to see and experience all the pain and suffering prevalent in our world today? As wise as he was, Solomon did not have the perspective of the life of Jesus, the Cross, and the empty tomb that we have. But, I believe he had a true yearning to believe that there is more to life than what we experience “under the sun.”

The Word Revealed

As we look for our own answers to the dilemmas Solomon expressed, I want to keep the notes you may choose to take on your bulletin insert brief. For that reason, there are only three words you’ll need to write in to make your notes complete. Three words that help make sense of pain and suffering: First, we need to consider that The supreme ethic that describes God, and our deepest desire for life is:

1. Love. There is no word that more clearly describes the God of Scripture, who God is. John nailed it when he wrote, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). If God is love, then pain and suffering is the last thing we would expect of Him! We are created in God’s image. His greatest desire is that we experience love, not pain. Life is the pursuit of love. Jesus testifies to that when asked about the greatest commandment, stating there are two that are equal – Love God and Love others.

During our childhood, we experience the love of parents, family members, and friends. In middle school, we stumble across something new and intriguing, romantic love. Surprised by the feeling, we realize that we haven’t noticed it before! We pursue it throughout High School and college. Why? Because it’s love. Why do we marry? Because it’s love. Why do we have kids? It must be love, but when you consider that for 18-30 years of your life, all they do is take, it’s challenging. In no uncertain terms, they’re takers! It starts when they’re newborn. All they ever give you, day in and day out, is tears and dirty diapers. But, at the moment of their birth, your love for that little taker is instantaneous!

Is love risky? You bet! One day, you stood holding hands and gazing into the eyes of the one you chose to marry. At some point, during the exchange of those vows, you may have questioned in your own mind if they truly meant what they were saying. If you’ve ever had the thrill of living with a two-year-old or a teenager, the common denominator with that blessed experience is always the question, “will they ever love us back?” Love is always a risk. But there’s a greater truth about love we must also consider that Love does not exist without

2. Freedom. The ability to choose. The free will to accept or reject. Love doesn’t exist unless the person or object of your love has the choice to accept or reject you. God’s greatest desire for you is to choose to love Him back. For you to do so requires the exercise of something within you that He created, the freedom of choice. “And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden” (Genesis 2:16, NIV). Because of that promise of God to Adam, you are free to choose good or bad. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1, NIV). Would you want to live in a world where you had no choice as to whether you would love God? Would you desire to program another person to do what you said, with no harm to you or to them?

Think about it, parents. The children would never disobey you again. Ladies, your husband would always clean house and finish the honey-do list promptly with never a harsh word. Guys, when in a loving moment, you said to the love of your life, “Honey???, her answer would always be yes! If all three could be lumped into one, for a split second I might be tempted to say, “Sign me up!! But, in reality, there’s a true slippery slope that must be recognized and is summed up in the question: Without any Freedom to choose, can Love exist? Amazon sells an amazing Artificial Intelligence device called the Echo. You can ask “Alexa,” the voice of the device, to complete simple tasks within its capabilities and it’s done. You can ask any question and it will offer an answer. You can ask “Alexa” if she loves you or if she’ll marry you and you’ll hear a pre-programmed answer that is usually light-hearted or cute. A response that you might consider unnerving is offered every time you say to the device, “But Alexa, you love me, right?” In a soft and pleasing voice, “Alexa” will always answer, “Of course, I have no choice. I comply.” That is what love without freedom looks like and sounds like.

The greatest things in life involve freedom. A child runs up to you, jumps into arms, and hugs you. That child’s actions would mean nothing if they were programmed. Ladies, you were ecstatic when he asked you on that first date. He chose you over others, but how meaningless would it be if his words were programmed. Guys, if the frequency and the content of your Birthday, Anniversary, and Mother’s Day cards were programmed, it wouldn’t be love. One of the neatest things about love is that it involves the freedom to choose. Love requires freedom. Freedom opens the door to our last word: God’s gift of free will (choice) results in a world of both:

3. Goodness and Pain. In a world with the freedom to choose that’s incorporated into God’s design, pain will always be in our lives and manifest itself in several ways. We make a bad decision, doing something that’s illegal or contrary to God’s Word, all for the sake of our pleasure. Others make a bad decision that affect us in many ways such as abuse, neglect, or violence. Our world, in which freedom exists, is a broken, sinful world that offers sickness, disease, and natural disasters. The thought of which causes us to wonder if God could just snap His fingers and eliminate it all. Unfortunately, that would be like asking God for a world and a life in which there is no freedom. To do so would also be asking God for a world and a life in which love doesn’t exist. There is no Love w/o Freedom; there is no Freedom w/o Pain. To ask God to eliminate pain would rid our lives of freedom. To get rid of freedom would eradicate love. If we understand that love is the ultimate expression of who God is, we must accept that it’s impossible for Him to create you without the ability to love.

The story is told of a child with the condition known as Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis (CIPA). The child is born without the ability to feel pain or perspire. Many of the children, among mere hundreds reported world-wide, never reach the age of three. A CIPA mother tells the story of one night when she went to check on her infant daughter. She found her baby girl quietly lying in her crib, chewing her fingers to the point that they were bleeding. From that point forward, her nightly prayer as simply, “God, please allow my daughter to feel pain.” Could it be that in God’s infinite wisdom, He allows pain to point us to what’s missing in our lives, that something that caused Solomon to question if there was more to life than just what happens “under the sun?” I believe that God sometimes uses pain as a “megaphone” in our lives from which we hear His still, small voice.

Some of you are here today because of your pain. Others of you are here because, at some point, you gave your life to Christ in response to an episode of pain. Sometimes, God uses pain for good. You may be here today, going through pain and you haven’t seen any good coming out of your experience of pain. Right now, you’re asking how can you deal with it, how can you still trust God’s goodness and love? Maybe, you’re here today because you need to see this visual and hear what it’s saying to us all:

   When you’re in pain:

                                                Run towards God >

   < Not away from Him. 

Right now, you may feel it’s best to run or turn from God because you feel like He doesn’t love you or care about you. I’m here to assure you that nothing is further from the truth. He is nothing less than a God of love, a God of comfort, waiting for you to run to Him in the midst of your pain.

One of the most amazing things about Christianity, unlike other faiths, is that God understands our pain. Why? He sent Jesus, His only Son, to live as we live, to experience everything we experience, even the pain and suffering of death. He even has the scars to prove it. In Hebrew chapters 2 and 4, we read that ours is the confidence to know that in approaching God in prayer, He knows what we’re going through. Those chapters are important for they help us to know in our hearts that God is there to comfort us if we turn to Him instead of running away. A wonderful example of such faith in the midst of an experience of horrific pain can be seen in the story of Danielle Farley. Click the link below to view her story:

In our lives, as well as in Danielle’s, God chose to limit His power so we have the ability to experience love. It’s true that in the midst of that, we also experience pain. Pain isn’t meant to prove God’s love, it’s meant to validates it. The running streams in the video reminds us that, when it comes to dealing with our own pain and suffering, there is a choice that is ours to make. We can choose to live a life of going upstream, fighting against the inevitability of pain or we can choose a life that embraces pain, allowing God to take us through those difficult seasons of life.

There are three ways in which we can describe the experience of pain you are dealing with today: (1) In your pain, you are tempted to run away from God, run away from the church, and run away from your faith. God is asking you if you’ll “turn back to me? I love you, I’m here for you.” Your challenge is to take that first step back towards God, embracing Him and His love for you once more. (2) In your pain, you’ve turned to substitutes to find peace and comfort in your life. Instead of God, you’ve turned to your work, a hobby, or something harmful or illegal in which to find solace. The challenge that is before you is to set aside those cheap substitutes and turn to the only One who can truly comfort you. (3) Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones, at least for now, and you’re not experiencing any pain. Your response is far more critical. In the lives of those all around you who aren’t so fortunate, your task is to embrace and support them. Your challenge is to step towards them and offer your witness of God’s love for them.

Our Take Away points to Danielle’s example which is demonstrated in the video. In the aftermath of her husband’s untimely death, we see a powerful witness of her response to the unimaginable pain thrust upon her.

When you’re in pain:

                                                Run towards God >

< Not away from Him.

Let’s look back to what we’ve considered this morning. The supreme ethic that describes God and our deepest desire for life is love. Love doesn’t exist without the freedom to experience God’s gift of free will. Free will, the ability to choose good and bad, exists in a world of goodness and pain.

If we look at the flip side of that progression, it gives us another perspective. We experience pain because of the freedom we enjoy and the bad choices that we or others have made. In response to that pain, we run to cheap substitutes or to the one person whom we know in which we can find comfort, forgiveness, love. We run towards God because we knows He’s always there. When you think of it that way, and the assurance that in God we can find the comfort, forgiveness, and love we so desperately need, it brings back memories of our childhood. It reminds us of that special someone who was always there, bandaging a wound or kissing a tear away, especially in our darkest hours. Even if they aren’t physically with us today, their memory and the confidence that in God’s presence they’re still watching over us still sustain us. And for that, I humbly say:

Thanks, Mom!

Happy Mother’s Day!