If God is So Good, Why Do I Hurt So Badly?
April 27, 2019 | Brian Bill
We all have questions, don’t we? For the next four months, Lord willing, we’ll be addressing questions you’ve heard people ask. Sometimes inquiries are from those who don’t yet know Christ, and we wish we had better answers for them. Other times, we have our own questions.
You submitted over 100 questions we’ve arranged into 18 different categories. I’m hoping this series spurs us on to do some additional study.
The topic we’re tackling today is the most commonly asked question about God – it’s been referred to as the “Achilles Heel” of Christianity. Some time ago, George Barna polled adults: “If you could ask God one question, what would you ask?” The top response was, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?” I can’t think of anything more universal to the human experience than suffering. In fact, many people point to the problem of evil as their reason for not believing in God.
Answers can be elusive to this agonizing question. When I stopped for my senior coffee (stop laughing), at McDonald’s this week I saw a mom sitting at a table with a couple calendars open on the table in front of her. Additional papers and post-it-notes were piled up around her and she was holding her head. I told her it looked like she was trying to solve some really big problems. She said she was because she was trying to figure out her family calendar while balancing school and soccer schedules.
I remarked she was tackling something harder than my task. That got her attention, so she asked what I was working on and I told her I was simply trying to figure out why bad things happen. She smiled and said, “Good luck with that!” When she was preparing to leave, I asked if she had any insight for me. After all, I told her, “You’re a mom and moms know things.” As she walked away, she looked back and said, “I got nothin’.”
The good news is the Bible doesn’t have nothin’ when it comes to this topic, though the answer may not be what you’re expecting. If you’re not going through a hard time right now, just wait – you will. That’s the nature of living in a fallen world. Pain is guaranteed for anyone who takes on the task of living. Some of you are in the furnace of suffering right now. Others of you have just come out, and the rest of us will be there sooner or later because if you live long enough, you will suffer.
Going through tough times begs a couple questions, “If God is all-powerful and also good, then why is there so much pain and suffering?” “What have I done to deserve this kind of treatment?” “Why does God allow this to happen?” And so we wonder and wrestle while writhing in pain.
This is not just an intellectual issue to be packaged in a sermon: it’s an intensely emotional matter that can leave us with spiritual vertigo. One writer referred to the problem of pain as the “the question mark that turns like a fishhook in the human heart.”
These questions become very personal as evidenced by two that were submitted by the congregation:
- If God is a God of love, how can He watch while I suffer?
- Why does God take our loved ones before we’re ready to let them go? It hurts SO much!
The Bible doesn’t run away from questions like this. Listen to Psalm 10:1: “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” and Habakkuk 1:2: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?”
Reasons for Bad Things
One pastor makes a helpful distinction between micro reasons and macro reasons for suffering. We don’t know most of the reasons why we suffer on a micro level – why this way, why now, why this long? But we do know there are macro reasons that help us find some purpose in our problems. Here are at least four reasons why bad things happen.
1. Moral evil has been unleashed.
In order to understand this, we need to go back to the first book in the Bible. We read in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” God created Adam and Eve in His image, with the ability to make rational choices.
Sometimes we hear people say, “Why didn’t God create a world where tragedy and suffering didn’t exist?” He did…but it didn’t last very long. Listen to Genesis 1:31: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
God did not create evil. Rather, He created the possibility of evil when He created human beings. Some refer to this as free will. I prefer “meaningful choice” because we’ve been given the ability to make voluntary choices.
God gave Adam and Eve some moral parameters and clearly told them what they could and could not do in Genesis 2:16-17: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
By choosing to defy and disobey His standards, ever since that day, every one of us has been born with that same ability to make choices, and with the same rebellious bent for sin. Vince Vitale writes, “According to Christianity, what God values above all is relationship. But for relationship to be meaningful, it must be freely chosen; for relationship to be freely chosen, there must be the possibility of it being rejected; and wherever there is the possibility of rejecting relationship, there is also the possibility of pain and suffering.”
You may wonder why God doesn’t step in and prevent people from doing bad things to others. He surely could have stopped the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka. Except then we’d be robots.
Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a best-selling book many years ago called, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” His title is deceiving because the Bible says that apart from Christ there has never been a good person.
Sometimes we suffer because of sinful choices we make. When sinful people make decisions, God allows them to play out – and sometimes those consequences result in some bad things happening to us, and to others.
2. The earth is now an environment of disease and death.
Before Adam and Eve made their voluntary choice to rebel against God, there were no earthquakes, hurricanes, natural disasters or diseases but when they sinned, creation was cursed. Genetic disorders and multiple diseases were unleashed to do their work of destruction. Pain and death became a part of the human experience. Listen to how God describes the consequences of their decision in Genesis 3:17-18: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…” Their sin resulted in personal guilt and shame, alienation from God and others, and the disruption of nature.
Romans 8:22 describes the present state of our planet: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” The entire globe is groaning under the pressure of God’s judgment. This was all set in motion the moment Adam and Eve defied God’s parameters. A phrase from “Entrusted with a Child’s Heart” puts it well: “Choose to sin, choose to suffer.” Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, every person, along with the whole planet, is suffering.
3. Satan influences people to do evil.
Many bad things are the direct result of the devil’s destructive designs. Satan is ultimately behind all the hatred, war, oppression, and evil in the world. He inflames our passions and prompts us to make bad choices. How else do you explain how parents in Crystal Lake are now charged with the murder of their five-year-old son? Jesus referred to the evil one this way in John 8:44: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
The fourth reason will be difficult for some of you to swallow, but it’s the key to understanding adversity.
4. God sovereignly weaves His way and His will through suffering.
Listen. God is good even when bad things happen but some of God’s reasons are beyond our capacity to understand. God puts it this way in Isaiah 55:9: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” When good parents decide to move their family from one city to another, their children might not understand. They may become upset and even wonder if their parents hate them. But most of the time, the problem is they have limited understanding. Their parents are processing a lot of factors the kids are not even thinking about.
It’s time for each of us to surrender to the sovereignty of God
It’s time for each of us to surrender to the sovereignty of God because all things are under the rule and reign of God. Nothing happens without His direction or permission. Hold on to Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God is working all things for His glory and for the ultimate good of those who are called to live out His purposes!
A dear woman told me on Tuesday that her husband’s cancer is back. When I asked her how she was doing, she smiled and said, “We’re trusting in God’s sweet sovereignty.” When I complimented her for her faith, she said, “What other choice do we have? God is good and He’s always been so good to us.”
Another Edgewood member posted this on Facebook on Friday. Whenever she is tempted to ask God, “Why me?” instead she’s learning to ask, “Why NOT me?”
Practical Benefits of Hard Times
The Bible speaks of at least 4 good things that can come out of bad things.
1. Hard times can stretch us.
If we always get what we want, and cruise through life with no problems, we’ll stay the same and our character won’t change. James 1:2-4 puts it this way: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
2. Hard times can equip us.
Another reason we go through difficulties is so God can comfort us. Once we’re comforted, we can comfort others. Listen to 2 Corinthians 1:4: “The God of all comfort…comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
3. Hard times can teach us.
God may use the bad things you are experiencing to teach you something He can’t get through to you any other way. Hebrews 12:10-11 says, “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” When God wants to teach us something He often sends suffering.
4. Hard times can reach us.
It was C.S. Lewis who said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures; speaks in our conscience; but shouts in our pains. It’s His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” God can use hard times to get our attention, to help eternal realities break through.
In Luke 13, after bringing up those who were wiped out while they were worshipping and others who were killed in a construction accident, Jesus gives His answer to the question, “Why Do Bad Things Happen?” His reply is surprising, stunning and quite strong. You might want to buckle in. He says it twice so we don’t miss it. Look at verse 3 and verse 5: “I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Jesus reminds us we are fallen individuals, living in a fallen word
Here we see the heart of Jesus. He longs for us to repent of the way we’ve been living. We think we somehow deserve good things, that God owes us an easy life. Then, when things go wrong, we wig out because it wasn’t supposed to happen that way. Instead of wondering why bad things happen, Jesus reminds us we are fallen individuals, living in a fallen word. We should be amazed and thankful that we are given another day to live. While there’s still time, Jesus calls us to repentance.
Where is Job When It Hurts?
One of the most vivid examples of suffering in all literature is found in the Bible. It’s a case study of human suffering, chronicling the life of a man who underwent extreme misery. He lost everything: his job, his possessions, his family, his health, and his friends. His name is Job. The book that bears his name is the all-time classic on the problem of suffering. Hard times were used to stretch him, to equip him, to teach him, and to reach him.
Job’s trust wavered. He mourned. He protested. He questioned. He even cursed the day he was born. He desperately wanted to know why all these bad things had happened to him. God answered him, but the answer was not what Job expected.
Randy Alcorn writes, “When I need an adjustment to help me put affliction in perspective, I often read the last five chapters of Job. I never read these chapters without feeling that God has been put in His proper place and I’ve been put in mine.” Listen. Job had a much stronger basis for complaint than I’ll ever have so it makes sense to consider his case. If God’s response to Job satisfied him, it should satisfy us.
His candid questions are filled with angst and even anger.
6:11 – “What is my strength, that I should wait?”
7:20 – “Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you?”
In chapters 38-39, Job comes face-to-face with The God of Nature and in chapters 40-42, he encounters The Nature of God.
The God of Nature
Please turn to Job 38:1: “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.” You would think at this point God would appear like a gentle shepherd, comforting Job by telling him everything was going to get better. Or, He would begin to answer his specific questions. He does neither.
It’s time for God to ask some questions now. Listen to verses 2-3: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” Job’s jabs at Jehovah were just making things worse because he spoke about things he had no knowledge of. There’s a lot of that in our culture today, isn’t there?
God then challenges Job to a wrestling match. The phrase, “dress for action like a man” or “gird up now thy loins like a man” in the KJV, is an image taken directly from the ancient sport of belt-wrestling. In this sport, the contestants would grab each other’s belt in an attempt to throw the other down, with the ultimate goal being removing the opponent’s belt. Job is invited to the mat with the Almighty.
God takes Job through a crash course in Theology 101. I wish we had time to read all of chapters 38-39 but we don’t. Let’s look at verses 4-5: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?” God is eternal while Job just recently showed up on the scene.
In verse 31, the Almighty has Job gaze at the heavens: “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?” Astronomers believe there are 100 billion stars just in our Galaxy, with some estimating that there could be as many as 130 billion galaxies. If Job can’t move the stars around, then maybe he can make it rain in verses 34-35: “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings?”
In chapter 39, God turns to the animal kingdom: “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the does?” God delights in the animals He made from the awkward ostrich which lays eggs and then can’t remember where they are, to the mighty horses that eat up the ground as they run into battle. He wonders if Job can direct the flight path of hawks and eagles like He does.
I count 60 different questions God asked in these chapters. After each question, if you listen carefully you can almost hear Job whisper, “I’ll pass on that one.” If Job can’t answer one of sixty, there’s no way he can answer the 60 million other extravagant intricacies involved with sustaining the universe.
Job’s First Response
Jehovah and Job don’t shake hands and just go their separate ways. God wants Job to know He is sovereign and wise. Look at 40:2: “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” God pauses here to allow Job to respond. This reminds me of the words from Romans 9:20: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” Spurgeon put it like this: “He who demands a reason from God is not in a fit state to receive one.”
I was on the wrestling team in high school but I wasn’t that good. In fact, for homecoming my senior year I was captain of the team and got pinned in 7 seconds! I picture Job flat on his back in less than a nanosecond. As he looks up he has nothing to say. Look at 40:4-5: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”
Job was silenced in the presence of God’s power because he’s learning that God’s person and His plans are greater than he can grasp.
The Nature of God
Not surprisingly, Round One goes to God. The bell for Round Two goes off before he can catch his breath in 40:7-8: “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” This is a repeat of the gauntlet God laid down in 38:3. Job has asked enough questions; now God will do the questioning as he puts Job on the witness stand. While Job is quieted, he is not yet convinced; God grabs his belt and again puts him on his back.
Then God gets to the heart of Job’s problem. This had to hurt: “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” While Job’s initial reaction to loss in the beginning of the book was submissive worship, as his misery increased his confidence wavered and he began to insist on his own righteousness at the expense of God’s justice. Friend, be careful about condemning God to make yourself look better. Job thought he deserved an answer; that it was somehow his right. What he had done was set himself up as judge over Jehovah.
Referring to the Behemoth, which was possibly a dinosaur, God asks Job this question in 40:24: “Can one take him by his eyes, or pierce his nose with a snare?” Turning to the Leviathan, which could also be a dinosaur, God asks in 41:1: “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord?” If no one can control what God has created, how can man control the Creator?
Job’s Second Response
Job’s response to the Almighty’s second discourse is to say: “I’m powerless compared to your power and your plans.” Look at 42:2-3: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” Ray Stedman writes: “There is nothing more difficult for us than to see where we have been wrong when we were sure we were dead right.”
Don’t miss this. Job doesn’t get all his questions answered but He does get to know the Almighty. He had only heard of God before, but now he sees Him in all His glorious splendor and goodness. Job finally breaks down and in what is really the hinge of the entire book, says in 42:5-6: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
Did you catch that? Job repented, which means he changed his mind and went in a different direction and started trusting God again. Write this down: God not only has great might, He is always right. Job repented of thinking he had the right to judge Jehovah.
Ultimately the only answer God gave to Job was Himself. It was as if God said, “Job, I am your answer. Learn who I am. When you know me, you’ll know how to handle anything.” Job wasn’t asked to trust a plan but a Person – a personal God who is in ultimate control and knows what is best for us. This has been called the first rule of the Christian life: He is God, and we are not.
The main point of the book of Job is life is unfair, bad things do happen. The question really is not, “Where is God when it hurts?” Rather, the question is, “Where is Job when it hurts?” The most important battles take place inside of us. Let me personalize it a bit more: “Where are you when it hurts? Where am I?” The real question is not Job’s suffering but whether he will trust in the sweet sovereignty of God.
God basically challenged Job in the only thing he could control: his response. His response was his responsibility and your response is your responsibility. Blaming God got him nowhere; he needed to decide how he was going to respond. What was he going to do now? Was he going to get better, or get bitter? His response was his responsibility. Likewise, we can’t change our circumstances, but we can change how we respond to them.
Life Lessons from Job
Here are some lessons we can draw from Job.
- We need a new view of God and a new view of ourselves. God is in control even when He appears not to be. God is greater than we can grasp and we are smaller than we surmise. A.W. Tozer was right, “What we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
- God’s good will for each of us includes suffering. Suffering is used to refine us as we see in Job 23:10: “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” Remember these truths:
- God does know our sufferings – “He knows the way that I take.”
- We can grow through our sufferings – “When he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”
Don’t let your feelings lead you because trials can prove your faith and improve your faithfulness.
- God’s silence is not the same as His absence. When God feels far away it usually has more to do with us, or the problems we’re experiencing than with God Himself. It’s at times like this we must have faith in God’s promises even when we don’t feel His presence. Someone has said it this way: “Don’t doubt in the dark what God has told you in the light.”
- Our response needs to be one of repentance. God has the right to do whatever He wants with His creation. Acts 17:30 says one of God’s goals is to get everyone to repent: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” Instead of defending our right to be right, let’s start defending the right God has to be right. He’s the God of nature and the nature of God is that He is powerfully present and sovereign over the world He has created.
The God of the whirlwind took on human flesh and came to die on the cross. The mystery of suffering and sin should always take us to the Savior. If you have not yet put your faith and trust in Him for forgiveness of sins, it’s time to do so right now. Repent and receive the Redeemer. Job was able to say in 19:25: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” You can have that same certainty today.
God created us with the freedom to choose our actions, and then extended forgiveness to us. God’s ultimate answer to suffering isn’t an explanation; it’s the incarnation! The best answer to the problem of evil is Jesus Christ. God isn’t a detached, distant and disinterested deity. He sent His Son who entered our world of suffering, evil, and pain. He took the worst of it for me and for you. He died as your substitute, was raised to life as victor, ascended to Heaven as the conqueror and is coming again in glorious triumph!
When we suffer, we really have only two choices:
- We can hurt with God, or
- We can hurt without Him.
Corrie ten Boom often said, “No matter how deep our darkness, He is deeper still.” He may not shield us from all of life’s storms, but He does provide a shelter for us.
Randy Alcorn writes, “When you’re tempted to ask God, ‘Why did you do this TO me?’ Look at the cross and ask, ‘Why did you do that FOR me?’ Make sure you have received God’s gift of eternal life that will deliver you from all evil and suffering after you die.”
If you’re ready to repent and receive Christ right now, would you pray this prayer?
“God Almighty, I confess I have been angry in my search for answers. Like Job, I put my hand over my mouth and repent of my thoughts, my attitudes, my words and my behavior. I am a sinner in need of Jesus to be my Savior, so I turn from the way I’ve been living and receive the free gift of Your Son who suffered and died in my place on the cross and then was raised to new life. Please forgive me for my sins and make me into the person You want me to be. Help me to live with my sufferings, knowing one day You will wipe away every tear from my eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away. I surrender now to Your sweet sovereignty for the rest of my life, for You are God and I am not. I know my faith will be shaken but I also know I will never be forsaken because you are always faithful. Amen.”
God is good! All the time!
All the time! God is great!