A poll was taken by the Ventura, Calif.-based Barna Group in which the question was asked, “If you could ask God one question and know that you would receive an answer, what would you ask?”
The most common response was, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?”
C. S. Lewis observed that the problem of pain is atheism’s most potent weapon against the Christian faith.
When a tragedy happens, the first question that comes to our minds is “Why?” Why would God allow such a thing to take place? Why would God allow a tsunami or an earthquake in which thousands die? Or to personalize it, why would God allow that person we know to get cancer? Why would God allow a child to be born with a disability? Why would God allow a young man in the prime of his life to die in an automobile accident?
Maybe you are angry with God because something has happened to you or to someone you loved, and you just can’t reconcile it. Maybe your parents divorced or a close loved one died unexpectedly. Maybe you were born with a disability. Or maybe someone you know has been hurt, and you ask, “Why?”
The reason we ask that is because our human intellects and notions of fairness reject the apparent contradiction between a God of love and a world of pain. The general tendency is to blame God for all the evil and suffering in the world, to pass all responsibility to Him.
But know this. In a broad sense, all sickness, all disabilities and even death are the result of sin – not of personal sin in particular, but of sin in general. God’s original plan was not for our bodies to break down and age. God’s original plan was for us to live forever in a perfect state. But our first parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. As a result, sin spread into the human race, and now we all inherit it.
Humanity is not basically good, as some want to believe. The Bible says, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23 NLT).
We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. It comes naturally. I never had to teach my sons how to be sinful. It came naturally to them, just like it did to me – and just as it did to you.
So why didn’t God make people so they wouldn’t sin? If that were the case, we would be like robots with no will of our own. Have you ever picked up a little doll and pushed a button or pulled a string, and it said something to you? Did you really get a charge out of that? Of course not. You knew that someone programmed it that way.
God did not make us that way. He gave us the ability to choose. So when we look at the tragedies in our world, in our own lives, and in the lives of those around us and ask why God allowed it, we find the answer by looking at a very similar question that was asked of Jesus. Apparently a tower had fallen on a group of Gentiles, and some were suggesting that it happened because it was God’s judgment. But Jesus said, “Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too” (Luke 13:4–5).
Effectively, Jesus was saying, “Look, guys. People die. Bad things happen. We don’t always have to say that it was God’s judgment. This happened, and it doesn’t always make sense. But listen. You had better get ready, because you could die, too.”
Death will knock at every single door. No one is exempt. It could happen to any of us. It could happen tonight or tomorrow. The statistics on death are quite impressive. One out of every one person will die. You can’t escape death. We all have an appointment with it. Job said, “O God, remember that my life is but a breath” (Job 7:7). And the Bible says, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 NKJV).
We don’t want to talk about death. We don’t want to discuss it. But we can’t avoid the inevitable.
So here is my question for you: What will happen to you after you die? According to the Bible, there are two options. There is heaven, and there is hell. There are no other choices. Maybe instead of asking the why question, then, we should be asking the what question: “What do I do now?”
The answer is to turn to Jesus Christ. No one ever suffered like Jesus did. Though He was God, He also was fully man. And when those spikes went into His hands, He felt pain just like you and I would feel. Real blood coursed through His veins and spilled to the ground as He hung on the cross and died for the sins of the world. It was real rejection that He felt as His own, handpicked disciples turned away from Him for the most part. It was real loneliness that He experienced as He hung on the cross.
The apostle Paul wrote, “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me” (Philippians 1:21–23 NLT).
I don’t think Paul was saying that he was looking forward to dying. Rather, he was saying that he knew what was on the other side. He knew what he had to look forward to. I think he also understood that in heaven, all of his questions would be answered. And if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then all of your questions – all of your whys – will one day be answered, too.