Where is God in Our Suffering?

I will never forget the day I met Victoria. It’s etched vividly in my mind.

The day began with a bizarre, disconnected incident. Police banging on the door of our home in Kyiv broke the solitude of my Saturday morning as two officers kept commanding me to open the door. I looked into my daughter, Rebecca’s, room, and was surprised to find her still asleep. I felt as if the walls were closing in, but I remained focused and called my older daughter who was meeting a friend for coffee.

“Don’t come home,” I said. “The police are at our door.” Then the silence outside was audible. I knew they were still there. Later a neighbor said the police were mistakenly investigating a reported homicide at our address.

On that morning, my husband, Mike, was on the other side of the city with a doctor and a few others meeting a frightened girl, Victoria, with a fragmented story. They took her to a temporary apartment and fed her a meal. On the first day, she sat in a chair, motionless, with a vacant stare. After a few days, she began to relax and smile as she held her first teddy bear and watched Disney movies. We didn’t return her to her abuser. Then we helped another girl, and another, and another. The list goes on. “The list is life.”

The girls we helped would sometimes ask, “Where was God when bad things were happening to me?” My first thought was, “You are safe now. God helped you by providing a way out.” But I realized my response was too shallow. The question of evil and suffering is a frequent objection to Christian faith. Since people endure deep suffering and pain, this question is never abstract. The biblical worldview does not deny evil and suffering, but provides a place where questions of suffering and pain are fully explored.

In Psalm 23, David said, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.” God is with us in the very PRESENCE of our enemies and in the midst of our greatest suffering. This cuts across the grain of shallow teachings that we will not suffer if God is with us. Throughout the Psalms, David articulated what our souls go through during adversity and he found resolution in God Himself – God’s goodness, lovingkindness, faithfulness, holiness, nearness, greatness and power. No matter what we suffer, God never wrongs us.

A loving God who is with us

God created a good world and created us in His image with the capacity to love and the capacity to choose. Therein lies the possibility to abuse that freedom when we choose to hate and harm. So why doesn’t God step in? He has stepped into our world in the person of Jesus. The incarnation is the greatest expression of love that has staggered the imagination of man. He comes to be with us. God offers hope when we suffer, but more so, He offers resolution.

A God who intervenes in our suffering

In his account of the Holocaust, Night, Elie Wiesel describes an incident in the camp when a boy was hanged with two men for a small infraction they did not commit. Under his breath, someone behind him said, “Where is God?” He was thinking the same as he watched the boy suffer. Then from within him, he heard a voice answer, “Hanging there right next to them. Where else?”

He suffered on the cross for us and was forsaken. When Jesus said, “It is finished”, this was and is the beginning of life and freedom for us. If you believe in karma, you believe in getting what you deserve. Karma says suffering is your responsibility, but God is not into karma. At the same time, sin has marred all of us and separated us from God. As Chesterton wrote in a letter to the editor of a publication, “Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly, G.K. Chesterton.”

As a result of the fall, we live in a world where we are affected by negative actions of others as well as our own sin. Jesus who was without sin took the penalty for our sin on Himself. He took the judgment for what we deserve so we can turn to Him and rest forgiven in His finished work and know that our suffering is momentary. He conquered death during the most pivotal event in history – the resurrection. We can also rest knowing that God will judge all evil and wrongdoing.

How do other worldviews answers the question of evil and suffering?

Atheist/naturalist – Atheism must invoke a god-system to explain evil. In the absence of design and purpose, we are left with indifference. Richard Dawkins said he can say he doesn’t like that the Holocaust happened, but he can’t say it was wrong.

Eastern philosophy – (Buddhism and Hinduism) says the distinction between good and evil are illusory because all of reality is one and impersonal. Morality is an illusion. What does this mean for suffering? A Zen Buddhist said Hitler’s gas chambers were silly. This thinking offers no comfort, no indignation, and no answer.

Suffering and evil are only explicable through a Christian worldview. C.S. Lewis explored theodicy, the defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil, in A Problem of Pain. But he also articulated his own deep, personal suffering through what he called a “mad midnight moment” after losing his wife in A Grief Observed.

The cry of the human heart not only points towards a God and towards a better world, it is satisfied in Jesus. There is an answer for the girls we have helped. There is an answer for you and me. There is an answer for all who suffer and are treated unjustly.

“But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.”– Edward Shillito, English minister who survived the horrors of trench warfare during World War I.

Photo by my brother, Dan.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Becky Porter says:

    Love the quote “But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.” He is right here with us.

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