I was a young man in my early 20’s when I went to the hospital to visit an elderly man in his 80’s who was alone in the world and simply wanted to see an end to his pain and suffering. Never shall I forget the frustration and embarrassment I felt when he looked up and asked, “Why does God allow my suffering? Why doesn’t he just let me die and end all of this?” I’m still struggling to find a completely satisfying answer to that question, but I have come to understand that the old gentlemen who asked the question has lots of company when it comes to wondering why God allows certain things.
Whether it is an epidemic, an illness or an accident, whenever there is a tragedy people wonder where God is. A child is brought down with cancer, a wife and mother of three children is struck by a car, or—yes the mother of all disasters, a tsunami caused by an earthquake sends massive killer waves crashing on innocent people, taking the lives of 200,000 people.
The natural mind immediately thinks one of two things is true: Either God is too remote, too disinterested and too weak to step in and stop the tragedy, or else He is a powerful but harsh deity who pours forth his judgment on innocent people. But are those the only answers to the questions of why? Is there not a third answer?
First, the Bible declares in positive terms that God is a loving God who is merciful and compassionate. Isaiah wrote, “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him…. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:10-11). Fourteen Old Testament references speak of God as being compassionate.
The picture of God in the New Testament is reflected in the healing ministry of Jesus, who compassionately touched the lame, the deaf, the blind, and the fallen, who held little children in His arms and said, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
The Bible explains that with the entrance of sin into the world came a curse on planet earth. Writing to the Romans, Paul talked about the fact that Planet Earth has been made subject to decay and it groans, waiting to be recreated and purified at the end of the age when God will remake the heaven and the earth.
At creation God put certain physical laws into effect which control nature, such as the law of gravity, such as the fact that the movement of plates on the ocean floor will produce a tsunami. While there is no questioning the fact that God has the power to step in an to supersede those natural laws (and He does on occasion), He usually does not, and His power is reflected in the regularity of what happens, such as the sun rising and setting, the earth revolving around the sun producing seasons, and the fact that disease and pestilence will produce death.
If God should spare us from the effect of those natural laws, let’s face it, this would be heaven, not earth.
Ours is a broken world and we are impacted by the effects of that brokenness in pain and suffering; however, that does not mean God is indifferent to what happens to us. A father, whose 12-year-old son was stricken with cancer, summarizes the whole issue, saying, “We cannot explain what God hasn’t explained to us.” He’s right.