“Why did you do this to us, God?”
The question, posed by a grief-stricken woman whose fishing village in Southern India had been devastated by one of the world’s most destructive tsunamis, reverberates around the globe.
Dec. 26, 2004, will be a morning we will not soon forget. Residents and tourists of several Asian countries in the Indian Ocean awoke to the thunderous pounding of a 40-foot wall of water, slamming into its coastal cities. With the ubiquitous presence of digital and video technology, we were able to see images unlike any we’ve ever seen in other natural disasters. We watched in horror as men, women, and children were swept away to their deaths in the raging waters of this tsunami, triggered by the most powerful earthquake in 40 years.
It tugs at our heartstrings. It confounds our thinking. It shakes our very soul.
Yet, we are surrounded by it. Perhaps not on as large a scale as the tsunami that devastated an entire region of the world. But our personal world is just as profoundly touched by pain.
A parent buries a child. A family is torn apart by divorce. A doctor gives you bad news.
Our human intellect and notion of fairness reject the “apparent contradiction” between a loving God and a world of pain. In the classic statement of the problem, “Either God is all powerful but not all good; therefore, he does not stop evil – or God is all good but not all powerful; therefore, he cannot stop evil.”
The general tendency is to blame God for evil and suffering and pass on all responsibility to Him. Yet, the Bible gives us some valuable insights into the “why” of suffering. In fact, it gives us reason to hope amid the most difficult of circumstances.
First, suffering happens. On this side of Heaven, people die. People endure pain and injustice. No one is exempt. Jesus discussed this point with his disciples, who questioned Jesus about the moral life of a man who had been blind from birth. They asked, “Teacher, why was this man born blind? Was it a result of his own sins or those of his parents?” (John 9:2, NLT).
We would like to believe that our behavior somehow grants us “immunity” from the “bad” things in this life. In this particular instance, Jesus shattered that thinking by saying that neither this man nor his parents had sinned. There was no correlation between this man’s condition and a specific personal sin.
We must remember that man was not created evil, but perfect – healthy, innocent, never to die. Yet, from the beginning, our first parents also had the ability to choose right or wrong. And the choice they made forever placed us under the curse of sin. The Bible puts it this way: “When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned” (Romans 5:12).
As a result, this world is not paradise – nor will our personal efforts ever change it into some sort of “utopia.” Still, we want life to be more than just living, surviving, and dying. And God, throughout the pages of the Bible, says, “Yes, it can be.”
Second, suffering can be corrective. God sometimes allows hardship to get the attention of his wayward children. Apologist C. S. Lewis once observed, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Consider the case of Jonah, the Old Testament prophet. When he refused to carry out God’s instructions and instead boarded a ship headed the opposite direction, God sent a storm – a storm which affected everyone on board – in order to get Jonah’s attention. After being thrown overboard and spending three days in the belly of a great fish, Jonah pleaded for God’s mercy and was given a second chance to make things right.
When tragedy or hardship hits close to home, it’s good to ask God, “Is there something you are trying to tell me in all of this?”
Third, suffering can be constructive. God may be trying to work in your life to produce a desired result. It may come as a surprise, but even the great missionary known as the Apostle Paul in the New Testament struggled with some persistent affliction in his life. He wrote, “Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time He said, ‘My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness'” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).
Amazingly, Paul did not respond to God’s reply with bitterness or anger. Instead, he said, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). And God did work through that man, as evidenced by the generations of Christian believers who have been forever changed by the words he penned in the New Testament.
Fourth, suffering can enable us to see and worship God. Returning to the story of the blind man, Jesus gave his disciples a surprising explanation for this man’s handicap: “He was born blind so the power of God could be seen in him” (John 9:3).
Then Jesus healed this man. This beggar who had only heard the shuffling of people’s feet could now see the face of the only One who could save him from his seemingly hopeless condition.
More often than not, suffering amplifies our helplessness and exposes our need for a Savior. Jesus, when he later spoke with the formerly blind man, described his mission this way: “I have come to judge the world. I have come to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind” (John 9:39).
With that in mind, it is fascinating to hear and watch people’s responses to this horrible tragedy in Asia. Some argue the need for better warning systems for tsunamis. Others grumble about the “red tape” involved in getting aid to these people. Relief agencies around the world scramble to help the millions left homeless in 11 countries from Indonesia to Somalia. Americans are opening their wallets to give more than any other time in our history.
While these are all good, even necessary, things to do, we must ask ourselves: “Are we blind to our real dilemma?”
We can have better technology, improved medicines, and faster response times, but we cannot escape the consequences of living in a fallen world. The problem of suffering can only find true relief in the Person of Jesus Christ.
A short time after healing that blind man, Jesus told his disciples, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness” (John 10:10).
It is my prayer that this tragedy will encourage us to look more closely at the Person who longs to give individuals blinded by pain the ability to see hope – perhaps for the first time.
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